Neualtenburg – SL`s Most Hated Project


City of Rothenburg, the model for Neualtenburg

Several unpopular projects have been started in SL, and, beyond projects, we have unpopular residents, and unpopular groups of residents. It’s not so easy to find a cause for all of them, but I have hinted in this blog at some of the reasons:

  • Organisation vs. anarchy;
  • Capitalism vs. common propriety;
  • Elitism (closed groups) vs. hermitism (living for yourself).

If you take a look at the world’s societies, you’ll see that the ones we consider more “successfull” are the ones who have more (and better) organisation, a thrust towards capitalism, and a group of people who rules the society, which we can only hope that they will do it “for the best”.

However, SL is different – its population reflects more the idealists who reject “successfull societies” and prefer to concentrate on “utopias” instead. Anarchy and chaos rule, and people do whatever they want in SL, unless it goes against the Terms of Service (ToS), which are pretty much tolerant of behaviour, generally speaking. And people gang together for “collaborative work” only as an exception; most prefer to build for themselves and sever the connection to the “outside world” – only friends are able to participate. Elitism – what I call the SL artistocracy, and which is usually termed as “the feted inner core” – is shunned upon, as well as rampant capitalism. Several residents, motivated by a strong community drive, envy, jealousy, or ethics, also despise “money”, believing it to be the root of all evil – turning SL into a “clone” of RL, where greed seems to become slowly the major driving force behind SL’s growth.

There is no question about it – SL is becoming more and more “fragmented” between idealists/utopists and greedy capitalists. Fortunately, both are extremes in the very flattened Gauss curve depicting all residents – most of us are “in the middle” and away from the most heated discussions…

Enter Neualtenburg. From the beginning of the project, everything has been really polemic about the City of Neualtenburg. For starters, it was lead by Ulrika Zugzwang – one of the most polemic residents in Second Life, winner of the June 2004 animation contest featuring a syncronized dance recreating Michael Jackson’s Thriller video using SL animations. Ulrika promoted “organisation” and a “resident government” as a way to give continuity to long-term projects in SL. There were very good reasons behind this proposal: first, almost all projects in SL are relatively short-term, no matter the enthusiasm of their leaders, because people tend to have more or less free time in RL, and projects get easily abandoned. As soon as the project leader loses interest, the project disappears. Worse than that, when the leader appoints a successor, thus is usualy viewed with suspicion/envy, and the group generally falls apart at that time. There are too many bad examples to list here, but, generally speaking, new projects in SL almost inevitably start around a strong, charismatic leader, and will exist as long as that leader is present.

Secondly, “in-world government” is (as I’ve written before) viewed as the worst thing that could be done to SL. It runs contrary to all feelings of “anarchy”, “idealism” and “utopia” which most of the residents promote – according to unofficial polls, over 95% of the residents want anarchy, and not residents organising other residents. This is an acceptable view for a small-sized community – around 20,000 people or so. As soon as SL starts to grow more and more, clashes are going to be more and more frequent. The same 95% that promote anarchy want more control by Linden Lab to enforce the Terms of Service – never any attempt by residents to self-organise! “Government” is almost anathema on the forums or in-world. If you really think that people should organised themselves, you’re a dangerous radical, and should be thrown off the game as soon as possible, in order not to “taint” other residents. What residents want is more Linden control – not less. Ulrika’s proposals invariably met with very strong resistance and even hate and anger at proposing resident-based control (through democratically elected groups of “supervisors”, nicknamed “the Government”).

Around August 2004, Linden Lab admitted some frustration with the snow sims – introduced probably because their competitors There and the Sims Online already featured winter-based areas. The problem is, the current levels of anarchy made the residents covet the lovely snow sims, but build exactly the same way as elsewhere. This means you get your hot tubs and sunny esplanades on the snow sims as well, and sellers of “winter clothing” never really made it. Skiing never became a trend as parachuting, for instance. In a word, snow sims are just normal sims with white textures for the ground! So, Linden Lab thought it was a good idea to have some “reserved” areas for snow-themed builds, and they launched a contest “for the preservation of the snow sims”.

There was only one contestant – Ulrika and her plan of building a medieval-style German city up in the mountains which would fit in the overall snow theme. Of course, the city would be ruled by a democratically elected government, in order to survive even if the original building team left SL. The good thing about a government is spreading responsabilities among several members, and assure some rotativity, so as to better reflect the state of SL and the wishes of the group members.

All these issues make sense from a RL point of view: if you want to organise something and make it enduring, the best way we frail humans know to achieve that purpose, is having a democratically elected association of people to work together. That’s what Neualtenburg is about – a project which belongs to the whole group, and not just to a few “group officers”. It seems to be working. The currently elected “president” of the Representative Assembly – the law-passing body of the City Government – is neither a founding member, has no building skills whatsoever, is not an officer of the group, and has not contributed tier or money to the project 🙂 This is completely alien to the whole concept of Second Life – either from the anarchistic or the capitalist group. And, thus, being alien, the project is viewed with serious distrust.

The worse aspect of the whole project is that it seems to be working, and, by working, it could encourage LL to try the same model on other regions as well. This sent panic waves across the forum landscape – to a point where LL had to remove all support to project funding in SL and change their very benevolent finantial policy towards a model where only residents support projects, and not LL.

The interesting thing about the Neualtenburg project is not that it has a City Government which works – but the way it successfully deals with zoning problems, controlled builds, community discussions about what is allowed to be done and not, sharing responsabilities, delegating tasks, and, well, in a word, organising stuff. The consequences are now slowly emerging. While the notion of a “government” still scares too many residents, the truth is, “zoned sims” are spontaneously appearing all over the place. While many are still tied to a single leader, the truth is, in almost all those new communities, there are mechanisms for feedback. So, if your neighbour is building a huge tower with rotating textures in clashing colours and blocking your view, you have a way to complain and have the “leader” of the community remove the offending building. This gives residents a certain degree of protection of the value of their real estate – there won’t be laggy clubs, malls, or casinos around – and quite a large group are willing to move to such communities. The Ravenglass Rentals group, for instance, offers new residents a pre-designed home (which can be customized) which fits into the surroundings and environment, and is designed by RL architects. Anshe Chung – another very polemic character in RL due to her success as an established real estate agent – promotes now a system where the land can be “owned” and even sold for a profit, while mantaining a degree of control of what is allowed and what is not. The new owners have to abide by the same rules as the original builders, thus, self-perpetuating the community. These are just two recent examples of what seems to be an emerging trend.

What is astonishing is to see how so many residents who were originally against any sort of “resident control” – mostly meaning telling people how to behave and what is allowed or not – are now actively promoting “zoned sims” where there are restrictions to creating “bad content”. Again, we’re at the verge of a new turning point in SL, where residents are tired of chaos, anarchy, and griefing, and slowly turning to “organisation”.

Maybe this will also mean that Neualtenburg will slowly get more acceptance in the highly complex society of SL 🙂

Neualtenburg has been renamed Neufreistadt and its site can now be visited at http://neufreistadt.info

CC BY 4.0 Neualtenburg – SL`s Most Hated Project by Gwyneth Llewelyn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

About Gwyneth Llewelyn

I'm just a virtual girl in a virtual world...