~ Archive for Virtual Worlds ~

Creating government in an lawless world

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Henry Jenkin’s post on politics in Second Life reminded me of my own observations in Second Life which I’ve been meaning to write about. The interesting thing about Second life is that anarchy is default, yet we witness a terrible situation where a few griefers make life so miserable for the majority that people end up creating strict laws.

The first experience I had with griefers was on Berkman Island when I was taking the CyberOne course at Harvard. To encourage building, Berkman Island had a huge sandbox where people could come and build things. (Most areas do not allow people to build things without permission of the landowner, which makes it difficult for people who do not have a paid account to dabble with the building mechanisms in Second life) The Berkman sandbox was created with good intention, but we soon began to see people abusing it. We had to restrict building to 4 hours, and then we also had to create a monitoring system where people volunteered to be “virtual police” to deal with people who were deliberately trying to sabotage others’ projects, polluting the air with profanities, and so forth. This is an example of a self-monitoring society.

Berkman is an island with an owner; therefore we could impose the regulations. But what happens when you’re living on an island with no owner?

One of the worst-case scenarios happened to me. When I first set up “house” in Boksik, it was a peaceful place. My neighbors were all small home-owners like myself. We created small houses or shops; we all lived by our own rules. Then along came someone who started buying out all of the small plots. He bought about half of the plots in the neighborhood and started an escort service. I didn’t mind so much about the escort service as I did the obscene advertisement towers that he was putting up all over the neighborhood. The ad towers were so ugly and obtrusive, people didn’t like living in that neighborhood anymore, so they gave in to his offer and were bought out. I didn’t want to give him the benefit of getting what he wanted, but in turn, I had to deal with a glaring billboard outside my window.

It made me want to move to some other places like Caledon. In Caledon, which is a Victorian Second Life, there are very strict rules– not just about conduct, but also architecture, language, dress, etc. I was fortunate to be able to talk with residents of Caledon several times and it always felt like being swept back to the 18th century. Many of the sims owned by Anshe Chung also have rules regarding architecture. For instance, in an oriental sim, you can only build buildings that are of certain height and carry some type of Asian architectural motif.

Living in communities that have strict laws is not only expensive (there are even taxes in addition to the steep rent), but there is a high barrier to get in. If you are a poor resident with your small patch of land, you have to put up with obscene neighbors… which, I guess, is very similar to real life. It’s very sad that if you give people the freedom to all be “good” it never really works out because there is bound to be the bad apple that contaminates the rest of the barrel. Even in a virtual space, if you want to ensure the quality of your life, you have to pay that much more to go into a “barrel” that is highly regulated.

Second Life as an education tool

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Charlie Nesson spoke to the alumni association today about Second Life and some of the problems we must address if we are to use it as an educational platform.
He said that in the case of Second Life, he was concerned that in the course of developing educational strategies– which could scale to the breadth of the Internet– we have to develop within the framework of a corporation, Linden Labs.

One of the questions is whether the next generation of immersive 3-D environments can be seen as an open educational environment. Open in the sense of its fundamental organization as part of the university world. That is a challenge for those who are in the educational business.

He pointed out that the possibility of the Internet acting as “mode of communications that could aggregate willing energies of institutions towards a common goal of creating open education” has been in the background but now is coming towards the fore.

We have a growing realization that the Internet is our library of the future. Where we do our research. That open environment is one that suggests utility of all sorts, of which Second Life is interesting, but very much only one.

More photos from the event.

Laziness, DRM and Freebies

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It’s no surprise that the cable industry is growing despite the availability of allegedly “free” content available on the Web. People want content, but they are also lazy, and sometimes enjoy the being submissive to programming. (Why are we trying to get people to make difficult decisions and choices, when all they want to do is shut their mind and NOT think?) It’s wonderful and scary that my tastes can be categorized so that on channels like Pandora.com I can listen to the type of music I want with only a few “bad apples.”

That’s why I don’t understand why people are so opposed to DRM. I’m not saying that every product should be protected, but why isn’t it fair that people who develop advanced technology be asking a few bucks for the services that they offer? Obviously, from the number of people using TIVOs and iPods, people are willing to pay. It’s not a matter of whether people can use open technology, but a question of whether they have to. I can grow organic vegetables in my backyard, but I’d rather go to Whole Foods and buy something. It is being lazy and productive at the same time. Not everyone appreciates DIY.

It’s interesting that people talk a lot about DRM regarding music or videos, but not about photography. Though somewhat on a different level, how difficult is Sony, Nikon, and Canon making it for camera uses because their lens are not compatible? However, camera users (or at least those who use DSLRs) complain less about that compatibility because they are willing to accept the different quality and characteristics of the different products. The same goes with PS3 and Xbox360 players. They take a certain pride in knowing that their community is somewhat exclusive, compared to those people who can play free online games through the Internet.

In my ideal world, products would be like what they are in Second Life: the original maker of the product is “watermarked” regardless of the owner and people can choose how they products are distributed. Although some of the high-quality products and programs require money, there is an abundance of freebies and the quality of freebies keeps getting higher and higher. This stimulates the people (who charge for their products) to make even better products for those who are willing to pay. There are always people willing to pay.

Is that unfair? Because some people have money and some people don’t? Do people want a socialist society? In a completely ideal world, no one would have to develop anything and things would just grow on trees to pluck for free- where everyone is equal and has equal access to the same technology. Unfortunately, the Garden of Eden does not work in this society, and free riders can only get a free ride when there are alternatives of people who are paying for development and usage of the technology.

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Playing CSI in Second Life

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I went into Second Life to find the killer from the Oct. 24 episode of CSI:NY. The episode was quite interesting, although it made Second Life seemed way cooler than it really was. (They also used some fancy equipment to maneuver within SL instead of a keyboard and mouse, so that it looked like the experience was far more immersive.)

In the episode, the killer uses the avatar of a woman (who is some kind of cyber star in SL) to find people he/she wants to kill. The investigators have no idea what the killer looks like, but know that he/she is dressing up like the avatar.

The CSI site in Second Life isn’t really about the episode, but lets people who are interested in solving murder mysteries go into Second Life and take a look at some mock murder scenes and poke around for clues. It’s sort of like playing the computer game CSI but in a MMO environment. (Of course, the graphics or game elements in SL CSI are nowhere close to the computer game version)

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The “cases” in the CSI SL site change once a month, and I was able to take a look at a murder that happened in a butcher’s shop (dressed up in a slutty police outfit). Even though the graphics were not particularly great, it was still really gross: the victim was lying in a bloody pool, blood was spattered on the wall and surrounding him were footprints, a small scrap of paper, etc.

I met a guy who also happened to be on scene and we examined the scene together, trying to deduce what had happened. “The left footprint is slightly wider than the right. Maybe the killer has a limp,” he said.

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