Sex and Second Life

I’ll be blunt: The majority of the media coverage of Second Life has been sub-par for far too long. It’s been a combination of an overhyping and dismissal as a “failed project” rollercoaster, and gossipy sensationalism focusing on the virtual world’s sexual aspect in a scandal-mongering manner. Another problem with much of the coverage SL has seen in its eleven years of existence is the attitude of many journalists / pundits: they don’t let facts get in the way of their story.

Marlon McDonald

Marlon McDonald, prolific contributor for Moviepilot.com, wrote yet another scandal-mongering article on sex in Second Life.

One would probably expect something better after all these years. But, sadly, cut-throat clickbait competition for notoriety and / or ad-generated revenue makes the gossipy, sensationalist, scandal-mongering, stereotype-milking approach every bit as attractive for web-based outlets and columnists as it’s ever been for their “old media” counterparts. So, I’m not surprised to see the same old stories get regurgitated ad nauseam by pundits new and “established”. A recent example of such a pundit is Mr. Marlon McDonald, prolific contributor to Moviepilot.com. In his quest for page views and notoriety which will get him featured on the website’s homepage in his chosen category, he wrote yet another article in which he presented Second Life as little more than a cesspool of debauchery, pornography, virtual prostitution etc. Inara Pey proceeded to write a very nice rebuttal to Mr. McDonald’s article, and I highly recommend that you share it with others. She also blogged about her rebuttal here.

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The much-criticised "bikini babes" ad.

The much-criticised “bikini babes” ad.

In my previous posts (here and here), I discussed – belatedly, I admit – the “bikini babes” banner ad that was used by Linden Lab to promote Second Life. There has been much criticism and outcry from all kinds of sides, for all sorts of reasons.

On the academic front, Liz Falconer, professor of Technology Enhanced Learning and Director of the Education Innovation Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE), said that this sort of marketing plays to a stereotype (the young male gamer) that is not attractive to the academic world. For more details, please listen to the 15th installment of The Drax Files Radio Hour podcast, where she was interviewed along with Stylianos Mystakidis, e-learning manager at the Library and Information Centre of the University of Patras, Greece.

Jo Yardley pointed out (rightly) that this ad, by being a campaign on its own rather than part of a more inclusive campaign, gave a skewed and one-sided view of Second Life to the public at large. Others said that such ads present SL as a sex haven, which presents problems for other parts of its user base – for instance, it’s been claimed that, because of such marketing, users with child avatars are more vulnerable to being wrongly accused of being paedophiles. There are aspects of these criticisms that still need to be discussed, and I intend to draw upon a comment posted here by Trinity Yazimoto, and upon discussions I’ve had with various people since I posted my first post on Saturday. So, I’ll dwell on this matter a little bit more.

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In my previous post, I discussed an attitude that tends to portray Second Life as a whole in a negative manner simply because there is a strong sexual side to it – what I have called the “X-rated smear of Second Life“. In that post, I touched upon the general culture that lies behind this attitude and targets mostly women, aiming to control and censor them. Today, I’m going to turn my attention more to the proponents of the “let’s appeal to the mainstream” line of argumentation, through the academia and its attitude towards SL that is largely driven by the same factor.

The Drax Files Radio Hour, Show #15. Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres.

The Drax Files Radio Hour, Show #15. Image courtesy of Draxtor Despres.

In the wake of the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education 2014 Conference, the 15th installment of The Drax Files Radio Hour podcast was dedicated to the usage of virtual worlds (and Second Life in particular) in education, and featured a joint interview with Liz Falconer, professor of Technology Enhanced Learning and Director of the Education Innovation Centre at the University of the West of England (UWE), and Stylianos Mystakidis, e-learning manager at the Library and Information Centre of the University of Patras, Greece. The interview provided some important insights for anyone interested in understanding the relationship of SL and virtual worlds in general with the educational sector.

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I guess you haven’t really arrived as a Second Life blogger or commentator unless you’ve reached the point where you frown upon “pixel sex”, openly sexualised avatars, or the “skanky” nature of female avatars’ attire in SL. It seems to me that coming to view your in-world romantic and sexual escapades (if any) with feelings of shame actually gives you bonus points. And the sooner you’ve denounced your desire to explore your sexuality in-world, the more respect you’re going to garner. Apparently, your opinions can’t be taken seriously if you’re viewed by others as a sexual person.

Showing myself in such an openly sexual manner, in a clearly fetishistic mode of (un)dress is generally not advised, if my writings are to be taken seriously by the mainstream crowd.

Showing myself in such an openly sexual manner, in a clearly fetishistic mode of (un)dress is generally not advised, if my writings are to be taken seriously by the mainstream crowd. As always, click on the image for the full-size version.

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Back in January, I had written a rather long article on why Second Life has not fulfilled its potential; that article was triggered by yet another “obligatory” and misinformed “ooh, Second Life has failed” article. Truth be told, from a business point of view, Second Life is not doing badly. It is still a highly profitable business (although the profits certainly are not of the kind that would afford its mother company’s CEO to own a megayacht, five Rolls-Royces, a villa in Mykonos, one in Ibiza and a large business jet), it is – by many a country mile – the most popular virtual world platform out there, there are plenty of communities in it (with varying levels of activity)… Yet, it is simply not cool. Worse: it has a tainted reputation. Strawberry Singh put it very succinctly in the following words:

I wish Second Life didn’t have such a bad reputation. I admit to feeling pretty ashamed at times about admitting that I’m on Second Life. Very few of my closest family and friends know that I have an SL avatar and only a handful know about my blog and all the activities I do here. I haven’t even told my parents about it. I hate having to feel that it’s something I should be ashamed of or I need to hide because I don’t want everyone to think I’m some kind of pervert (even though I kind of am) and only here for the sex and porn (even though that may be partially true). I recently started a relationship in real life and I can see it getting serious eventually and I admit I am dreading telling him anything about my virtual life. I’m not even sure how I’ll approach the subject. So yeah, I wish whenever there was any kind of new documentary about SL they didn’t always focus on people making sex furniture or making it seem like sex is all there is to SL. I wish Linden Lab would think of a better marketing scheme to promote this virtual world. I would love it if people saw the more creative and inventive side of SL. Kind of like what Draxtor Despres shows in The Drax Files.

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