Friday, February 3, 2012

The Teen Grid Merger One Year Later

It’s been about a year since the merger of the old Teen Grid with the main Second Life Grid. At the time, the news was greeted with a combination of optimism and worry. Some residents looked forward to the adolescents coming it over, seeing it as a chance to further fulfil the idea of Second Life as a place for education. A few offered to actively assist the teens. Others expressed worry, fearing an incident of teens in sexual escapades or caught looking at adult material on the Grid could get Linden Labs in serious trouble, or worse possibly someone arrested.

One year later, there haven’t been any incidents that the critics have feared. On the other hand, where are the teens? Among those offering help was the Isla Sonoita educational community. Josain Zsun announced at the time of the grid merger a “Teen in Residents” program in which those joining up would get skyboxes for six months plus 2000 Lindens. Getting in touch with Josain, he told the Newser none of the teens signed up for it, “Although announced several times in different related news groups, there were no takers.”

In his article on the subject, Daniel Voyager thought the teens had basically lost interest in Second Life and went elsewhere on the Internet. Others responding to him shared much the same view, one pointing out his daughter “didn’t want to hang out with a bunch of OLD people. One thought they as a whole left while those remaining were hanging out at sex clubs with older residents with similar mindsets.

Talking to club owner Nydia Tungsten, she had her own opinion, “They’re here, disguised as adults.” She had found several of them at her clubs and hangouts., “after a few signs, I confronted them and talked to them. Then they admitted it to me.” She told me after a “talking-to” they moved on.

Discussing things further with Nydia, she informed me the initial method of age verification, using one’s credit card number, social security number, drivers license, etc. had been quietly done away with. In it’s place was a simple question with a box for a checkmark affirming that the birthdate on the account was correct and over 18. That’s all, “they create avatars with false birth dates and since the verify is "click here if your over 18" and POOF from thirteen to 23 in a blink of an eye.”

For most of Second Life’s history, residents could come and go about freely more or less wherever they wished. Then a few years ago amid fears of the possibility of teenagers not telling the truth about their age and signing up, Linden Labs declared areas with explicit adult content a new “Adult” rating, and residents wanting access to those areas would have to be “Age Verified,” by giving Linden Lab a credit card number, social security number, drivers license, or similar proof of age. This move was not popular with residents, many whom complained over privacy grounds. If this information was somehow stolen from the Lab, there was the potential of people being fingered as traveling to pornographic areas.

To check Nydia’s story, I took another look at Age Verification. And indeed it had changed. No longer did you need some kind of ID. All you needed to do was click on a checkmark saying you indeed were 18 or over. No proof required. There really was nothing stopping a teen from lying about his or her age. Nydia did comment even if there was, all that was needed for a determined teen was to borrow a parent’s credit card.

Spotting teens in disguise isn’t always easy. While many use lines full of textspeak and acronyms, “U R LUSR! LOL!”, there are some who don’t. While some talk excessively about sex, “Where can I see the boobs?” unfortunately there are no shortage of adults whom haven’t quite grown up, and some teens are mature for their age and talk about it no more than anyone else. One should also keep in mind some adult residents have mental disabilities and may not be easy to tell apart from younger residents.

And what are the teens doing here? No doubt some are looking for sex clubs and girly bars. Others come here for pretty much the same reasons as other residents. But for some, unless they find others close to their age, Second Life’s attraction may fade.

And then there were a couple teens that got Nydia’s attention, “Two of the ones I found were experimenting because they didn't feel right about themselves in real life, their sexuality. Here, no one knows them, no kids in school to ‘out’ them and make their lives hell. I told them that their are real-life groups to help with that. But they were afraid.”

“So for someone to say ‘oh the teens went away to other things,’ no, they are still here among us on adult sims.”

Bixyl Shuftan


  1. My thinking is that the teens liked having their own private place -- the teen grid. There were no adults to tell them to behave, as it was a teen only zone. So they could say anything they wanted and do anything they wanted without worry about getting in trouble over it or some adult saying anything.

    Once they were brought to PG and told to watch their mouths and no, they cannot go running around shooting everyone like in the teen grid, the teens said the same thing so many others in SL are saying now -- if we aren't permitted to have fun, why bother logging in?

    The disaster I predicted failed to occur. But I put that down to the unexpected reaction of the teens to quit or to continue fraudulently operating as adults. It never dawned on me that the teens wouldn't like being in the main grid and that they had more fun away from adult eyes.

    1. Looking at PG sandboxes on the main grid, they don't seem any different than the teen grid sandboxes, other than boxed merchandise laid out in the masses for unpacking as well the regulars often being 1-2 feet taller, tanned and sporting exaggerated bodily proportions. Shooting and running your mouth doesn't seem any different in either area. Bans for griefing, shooting, spamming and excessive cursing happened on the teen grid too. Not all of them are foul mouthed monsters running rampant. The fact remains that there were never many obvious and open teens to begin with. Looking at legitimate teen accounts, we're quite the minority. I've kept in touch with my friends and contacts after the merge happened, and around 3 of them at most simply disappeared while a handful of others turned 18.

      What I have noticed though, is the "Building up the teen community" spirit in the merge has pretty well died completely. The original TG estates meant to showcase work by teens have been wiped clean. Several of the teen development organizations have ceased activity. Chimp Labs died and Terrence Linden no longer exists. Linden Labs still seems to want to try and build up said community by expanding Chimp Labs. Their plan was horribly disorganized and poorly executed (Stick 12 new sims on the main grid, fill it with combat, entertainment and sandboxes and call it a welcome area)

      From the looks of things, these are some of the possibilities.

      1) Everyone got bored. The vastness of the main grid is a tad overwhelming. On the teen grid, people managed to get around easily by memorizing region names because there were so few active regions. Now, there is a heavy dependance on landmarks. The world just got too open, and in many places, too empty. This also opened us to a wider variety of content quality. I took a look at some of the featured areas in the destination guide, and to be honest, I found them fairly uninteresting. Not to say that all locations in there are uninteresting, it has also allowed me to discover some beautifully crafted regions, but it has also led me to ghost towns, masses of poorly created builds, or really small areas of hardly any value in exploration. The variety of activities on the main grid also provides options that are of little to no interest to most teens.

      2) The age difference. Let's face it. It's hard for a 16 year old to have any sort of strong connection with a 35 year old. Daily life and interests are just too different. During the early days of the merge, I had befriended a few adults who were more than welcoming. They never heard from me again. I couldn't connect with these people on a very personal level to go as far as being friends. Though the age groups in SL are very diverse, they don't always interest everyone.

      3) Teens just want to keeping doing what they've already been doing before the merge. Creating, selling, socializing, event hosting, etc. The grids merged, that doesn't necessarily change their usual activities.

      I feel most of the excitement over the grid merge was rooted in how we perceived the main grid to be "the great beyond." It was unknown territory, and the idea of gaining early access was quite inviting. Now that it's happened, and all has settled down, there's not as much excitement as there was before. It's more or less the same old Second Life. On several occasions, I forget I'm actually on the maingrid. Second Life was also never really marketed as a virtual world for teens, which would explain why we constitute such a low percentage of the population.

      I'll be honest, it was in no way, what I thought it would be, and in a few ways, quite disappointing. Despite all that, I've found my place, and it's no different than how I was on the teen grid. Building, living in sandboxes, and visiting occasional sims frequented by friends, or out of curiosity of exploration and fun seeking. That's about it.

  2. I think something is missing to that analysis, and a disaster still occured that went maybe un-noticed for most SL analysts. It had a tremendous negative impact on SL commerce, in the form of content segregation and what I call the "SL Adult Ghetto". People running mature or adult sims got isolated from the grid and we could notice a sharp decrease in traffic as the new content discrimination system got enabled. Before, I could sell my non-adult oriented products on my adult sim to the general public. But now, unless all customers are age verified, they cannot enter my sim anymore. This was the largest negative impact about that merge, IMOHO. As for the educational aspect of SL, we saw what LL thinks about it when they removed the educational discount. Most edu institutions got out the door.

    Just my two cents.