Monday, November 24, 2014

Commentary: Should SL 2.0 Allow Adult Content, or Not?

By Bixyl Shuftan

When Linden Lab created Second Life, when they imagined what people could build, they were thinking landscapes and buildings. When imagining what people would do, they were thinking clean fun and educational places like the Sci-lands. If it came as anything but a complete surprise that people were making animations to simulate sexual intercourse, skins with nipples, and genitalia, the Lab wasn't talking. The Lindens have made efforts concerning sexual content before, such as the creation of the "Adult" rating and the Adult continent Zindra. For a time, residents were required to provide an ID number of some kind, such as a drivers license, in order to travel to adult rated places. But many residents reacted in alarm to the later and suspicions of the former, accusing the Lab of plotting to enact censorship. Soon the requirements for "adult verified" were relaxed.

In a sense, Linden Lab's upcoming next-generation virtual world that has yet to be officially named, which we'll call SL 2.0 for simplicity, allows the company a fresh start. It allows the company to take it's experiences from running Second Life, and using them as a guide in building and setting the rules for it's sequel. Some issues however, not everyone agrees on. Adult-rated content is among these issues.

Hamlet Au did a recent commentary on the matter, expressing the opinion that despite that a number of graphically violent games are in the works to be compatible with Oculus Rift and other VR technologies, Linden Lab should take the opportunity for a new beginning with SL 2.0 and bar adult content of a sexual nature. In his opinion, allowing it would keep the new virtual world from acceptance and use by the mainstream American public. He brought up a recent article branding Second Life as a sexual deviants' playground. As it turned out, the locations and incidents the writer referenced were from years ago. But in Hamlet's opinion, that doesn't matter, "Once that kind of content is out there in the social media ecosystem, it's impossible to retract, and thus becomes indelibly associated with the brand, with no way to disentangle it."

Responding to people who say the problem is just with a few socially conservative fuddy-duddies. "While conservatives do tend to be uncomfortable or offended by depictions of virtual sex for moral reasons, liberals also tend to find virtual sex offensive (especially that which seems misogynist and/or violent), or failing that, ridiculous and worthy of mockery. (During the Second Life media backlash, much of the negative publicity over sex in SL came from left-leaning media outlets like Gawker.) So it's a perfect storm of no-win bad publicity."

Hamlet felt SL 2.0, and other new platforms, were better off staying clear of sexual content until the American public can "first understand the full range of what's possible in a VR-powered world." An effort he admitted would take "many years."

There are a number of counterpoints to this opinion. One is the Libertarian persoective: the fewer rules the better (with the possible exception on dealing with griefers). Others feel censoring sexual content from all of SL 2.0 would end up discouraging creativity even in other fields. It's also been brought up that juvelile personalities will find ways around such restrictions, such as creating nude "mods," and even animations, for characters on popular games and posting them on youtube. For instance, it didn't take long for the writer of this article to find youtubes of mods allowing nudity and sex on Skyrim games. Plus, companies were investing in Second Life despite the stories early on about sexual content.

Another counterpoint is how would such restrictions be enforced? The adage "nothing sells like sex" has some truth to it, as evidenced by the ammount of sexual-related goods out in the market. Restrictions against it could simply mean only the quality of such content takes a hit. Plus creators of such content could use alts to get around any ban from the Lab. Of course Linden Lab could solve the problem by restricting content creation to a select licensed few that they could carefully watch. But such limitations on content creation in the new virtual world would have a much more chilling effect on SL 2.0 than any ammount of giggles and mockery from the less mature of the public ever would.

Ultimately the decision is up to Linden Lab. But what do you the readers think? Please share your thoughts below.

Bixyl Shuftan

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