Monday, January 16, 2017

Commentary: Will Linden Lab Not Allow Adult Content in Sansar?

By Bixyl Shuftan

With the development of Sansar, Linden Lab is once again getting some attention from the media of the kind they enjoyed in their glory days of 2006-2008. They promise a virtual world rich in detail. But one thing that has almost never come up are questions about what rules and restrictions will it's users will be under, such as that of adult content. It's an issue that while some argue a libertarian approach is best, "let the customer decide," others feel the controversy generated by stories of virtual strip joints and pranks of flying genitalia attacks hurt Second Life and hindered it's acceptance by the general public, and Sansar allows for an opportunity to appeal to people wary of adult content.

About a decade ago, Second Life was the darling of the tech media. Computer magazines, business publications, and even mainstream media newspapers and television programs wrote about it. TV dramas had Second Life as part of an occasional plot. Politicians came to the virtual world. Major corporations had places here. But eventually the wonder people on the outside were expressing began to change, to the confusion about what to do and how to do it, the glitches and lag, and whispers about the adult content. Two infamous examples of the latter were a video of a child rape roleplay and the "flying penis" attack during a live interview of Second Life real estate baron Anshe Chung.

The result was that some considered Second Life an "adult" area, even though most places didn't cater to that kind of activity. One notable example is the "Twitch" live streaming service which considers broadcasting from Second Life a bannable offense. When I talked about Second Life with friends and coworkers, the majority brought up the porn, or "cyber noggie" as they sometimes called it. One writer I talked to about the matter called it part of a sad reality of human nature, that it is so much easier to get people to read about controversy than a story where people are doing something constructive.

When you allow people a great deal of freedom, for better or worse some healthy young adults, and some not so young, are going to take advantage of it to express or at least find a release of their more hormonal side. Fortunately most are willing to follow some rules about it, though as some women can attest, there's always a few whom seem to think of nothing but their baser desires and don't particularly care where they are or if others around would rather not deal with it. And of course there are the griefers whom get their jollies by harassing and shocking people, and a barrage of flying dongs or pictures of an obvious sexual nature will certainly do it.

As Linden Lab had created Second Life to be "Your World, Your Imagination," they didn't have any rules about sexual content at the beginning. Perhaps being computer programmers and engineers they never took into account how much people would take advantage of the freedom to create and engage in virtual porn. So it was simply a case of taking actions against griefers when enough people complained. But when the controversy of the child rape video came along, they realized they had to do something out of both personal revulsion and fear about their product getting blacklisted. So came the first rule in Second Life concerning adult activities: none concerning child avatars - period. There was enough paranoia about the matter for a time that some were wondering if Linden Lab was trying to discourage all use of child avatars, and to this day some in short but still adult and tiny avatars grumble about not being allowed in some areas where the rules allow adult activity but don't necessarily cater to it. But that's another issue.

In 2009, Linden Lab began taking another look at rules concerting adult content in Second Life. It established the "Adult" rating for areas allowing explicit content and activity, where before there was simply two ratings "PG" and "Mature." Their Adult Content Policy also affected the "Search." The result was large numbers of residents expressing concern, some alarm, that this was just the beginning of a widescale censorship campaign by Linden Lab, some suggesting that the newly created continent for adult-themed residential areas, Zindra, was actually a Trojan horse, saying that the Lab would soon restrict adult content and activity to the continent, and then get rid of it as a "cost saving measure" like they did with the Teen grid. Some even wondered in it's paranoia that Linden Lab would disallow nonhuman avatars out of fear they'd be used for exotic fantasy screenshots of an adult nature, or just simply out of meanness. Linden Lab got the message, and stepped back from enacting further rules rather than risk further alienating it's customer base.

So today, the issue of adult content in Second Life has more or less long been settled. But with the development of a new virtual world, Sansar, it's just a matter of time before it comes up there.

At the VWBPE conference in 2016, Ebbe Linden stated that Linden Lab had "no plans to disallow" adult content. But many of Second Life's core user base have continued to express skepticism about Sansar, and it's my observation more are feeling it's not a place they'll be spending most of their virtual world time in. So perhaps seeing the opportunity for a fresh start and that they don't have much to lose from a customer base that's happy with what they already have and reluctant to move over to their new product, they may decide to make rules discouraging, if not outright banning, adult content and activity.

Banning adult content in Sansar would mean that people with an attraction for that sort of material, and perhaps the more libertarian-minded, would be disinclined to try Sansar. But Linden Lab could easily argue if that's what they want, they can head to Second Life and say that by making their new virtual world free of it, they're doing a favor for those whom would rather not be exposed to it. Freedom from "flying penis" attacks by griefers. Freedom from Flashers. Freedom from horndogs rubbing up against you. Well, perhaps not 100% Freedom. Hackers whom are determined enough no doubt would be able to find a way to bring adult content in and grief with it. And of course it's possible the ban would not be widely enforced by Linden Lab so those whom searched for it long enough would eventually be able to find adult content and if they were careful would avoid being banned from Sansar.

Something else to think about is whom will Linden Lab be marketing Sansar to. In Second Life's early days, the majority of it's customers were from Generation X. While some Millennials have come to the virtual world over the years, they never took to it like the previous generation. While young adults in general have a reputation for having a taste for adult content, Generation Xers had a reputation for seeing it as less of a big deal when they were, and today are more in favor of more libertarian approaches. Millennials in contrast have had a reputation of having their parents looking over their shoulders a lot more and having monitors and "net nannies" restrict what they can and can't see. While no doubt there are still plenty of Millenials just as hard-nosed as the previous generation, the stories of "Safe Spaces" on campuses these days suggests a new generation with lower tolerances, or rather a reputation of such.. So while Second Life remains the virtual world where one can see it all, for better and worse, Sansar could become Linden Lab's "Safe Space," where users will be free from the sight of huge breasts, gore, and Donald Trump.

Or perhaps Linden Lab will simply carry over their adult content policy from Second Life to Sansar, either having forgotten the earlier controversy, deciding it's best to let individual customers decide and deal with the choices of others, or simply hoping for the best. We won't really know until we see it for ourselves.

Bixyl Shuftan