Sex

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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Not long ago, sparked by an excellent article Gwyneth Llewelyn wrote, I wrote a piece on the “Second Life is just a game” attitude behind which many people hide. Actually, my experience has shown that there are three categories of Second Life users who adopt this attitude:

  • Those who use it as a shield from potential emotional harm and a barrier from getting uncomfortably (for them) involved in it;
  • Those who were burnt by abuse within SL and proceeded to quit in order to move on to places like Facebook, where people “don’t hide/fake” and “are real” (quite a delusion here);
  • Those who use it as an excuse to abuse others, claiming that their abusive behaviour is “harmless” and “innocent fun”.

The category I’m going to write about right now is the second one (the first one is inconsequential, as they just log in for a bit, have a bit of fun, explore, maybe have some pixelated hanky-panky and then get back to Real Life, having had their fill): the ones that ragequit SL after a series of negative experiences, which were related, at least in the case of one of Aria E Appleford‘s interviewees, with sexual relationships within SL. In a nutshell, they quit due to sex-related drama, i.e. an emotional frustration caused by power struggles and manipulations in sexual relationships. It must be noted again that, while they kept repeating the mantra that “Second Life is just a GAME“, their behaviour in-world was not that of someone who actually viewed and treated SL as a game: none of them was into any sort of roleplay, they made sure their avatars resembled their RL appearance as much as possible and they didn’t “pretend” to be somebody else – or even “pretend” to be a different version of themselves, emphasising on certain aspects of their RL personalities that could not be expressed easily in RL. They weren’t in SL to indulge in fantasies or escapism. They took everything seriously, with one notable exception: SL itself, which, to them, was not “serious”, but “only a game”.

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Through a recent post by Gwyneth Llewelyn, I once again came across the topic of how we perceive and treat Second Life. Gwyn uses a series of interviews by Aria E Appleford as her starting point, but I believe I’ve seen this pattern again in different manifestations. Whereas Aria reached out and interviewed former Second Life residents that gave up on virtual worlds, I’ve seen such people’s reactions to various situations on their SL profiles and/or their SL-related blogs – profile descriptions, profile picks and blog posts they made just before they ragequit SL.

The interviews’ topic was the interviewees’ involvement in SL, what they did, why they stayed in SL for so long and, finally, why they left. An interesting trend that surfaced in the first two interviews was that both were from content creators who had a “vision” about what they wanted to do in SL and a desire to meet like-minded people. This didn’t exactly work out as they had planned it.

In both cases, the reason was drama. Or, to be more precise, sex-related drama. Interestingly, for both interviewees, drama is defined as an emotional frustration caused by power struggles and manipulations in sexual relationships. Another interesting point is that they both begin with the assumption that “Second Life is just a GAME” – and at the same time they explain that neither of them was into any sort of role-playing. Instead, they made sure their avatars’ appearance was as close as possible to their real life appearance and they didn’t “pretend” to be somebody else – or even “pretend” to be a different version of themselves, emphasising on certain aspects of their RL personalities that could not be expressed easily in RL. They weren’t in SL to indulge in fantasies or escapism. They took everything seriously, with one notable exception: SL itself, which, to them, was not “serious”, but “only a game”.

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