Second Life’s New Red Light District

The Adult Continent

Look around the map, and you’ll see that the mainland is a checkerboard of PG and Mature areas. Sometimes they’re “aggregated” (ie. several mature regions all next to each other) but they’re mostly all intermixed. Private islands are slightly different, depending on who owns them, they might form mini-continents that are all Mature or all PG — a mix is rarer (but not unheard of). The problem here is that if you buy some land that is, effectively, PG, you have no way to prevent the sex club across the sim border to be established there. You have to live with it, or move away to a sim fully surrounded by other PG sims. Zoning, without a visual barrier, is pretty much irrelevant.

The same applies to shops and even residents walking around. You might have just left your favourite pole dancing club, appropriately attired for the special occasion, and drop into the PG conference room for a presentation about SL businesses across the street… or, rather, across the sim border. Most veteran residents are fine with that: the pole dancer will definitely behave when sitting for the presentation, and the keynote speaker will not frown at a display of flesh, leather, and whips — when the rest of the audience are dragons, vampires, robots, or floating orbs. This is part of our culture in SL, and we’re used to it.

Replace the word “SL business” with “RL business” and things start to change. With a lot of exceptions, most are not too happy about the example above. So Linden Lab has a simple solution. The soon-to-be-created Adult Continent will become Second Life’s Red Light District. You can only enter it if you’re age-verified — and unlike what was attempted in late December 2007, Linden Lab is open to credit-card-based validation, as well as “other methods” (I’m assuming sending over your faxed ID card).

This definitely means that the ones interested in only having access to adult content will be living in a ghetto. But… we have to understand something about the concept. In real life, most people don’t live all the time in a Red Light District, even if they often go there (in the sense that they go there at least once per day). So in conceptual terms, this model fits pretty well with reality. Linden Lab can safely tell educators and businesses, and even the Puritans, that whoever is an adult and wishes to see adult content, or engage into virtual sex, have a place just for that: one that is away from the Puritan eyes, away from the kiddies, away from everything, and they will actively enforce that.

Reality is, however, a bit more tricky. In real life, most people engage in sexual activities and watch adult content at home, or at least, in private (which will include, for instance, hotels). Having sex with your partner in a hotel is definitely not something you can only do in a Red Light District! Alas, in SL, you’re out of luck: since there is no real privacy, as the camera can go anywhere, that’s not possible.

Thus even casual adult activities will not be possible outside the Red Light District. This, I believe, is a major problem with Linden Lab’s proposed model. Granted, having a place where all the pole dancing clubs and sex shops are is a good idea. There will be more competition, but also more sales: all shops in a specific area where people come deliberately for adult content will, naturally, get a boost in sales. Club owners might complain about having to compete more aggressively, but, alas, they will probably require less advertisement — people will naturally go to the places they can find the content they like, even without much promotion.

Casual users, however, are out of luck. They have to shame themselves down to go to the Adult Continent if they want a night out with their partners for some fun. Unless, of course, your particular kink is not deemed “extremely sexual in nature”, in which case it might just be flagged Mature and continue to be allowed. It’s complex and not easy to understand the separation.

And, of course, “mostly PG” communities that allowed people to do whatever they wished inside their homes or on skyboxes (and thus had their regions flagged Mature) are also out of luck. Either they move into the Adult Continent too, or buy their own private islands (where they’re allowed to flag it “Adult”). Or, well, they can correctly identify what is “mature” and what is “adult” and can allow some mature activity in their communities, so long as that resident with their slave bondage dungeon goes away. The rest will be allowed to engage in mature, but not adult, activities. Whatever the difference is!

So what does this mean in the long term? For LL, more business in selling private islands. Anyone who wants to create a “mostly PG” community, where casual viewing of adult content is not forbidden, will try to avoid the stigma of “living in the Red Light District” and just get away from the mainland — a good move in terms of more business selling private islands, although it’s a counter-move to LL’s own initiatives to promote a more vibrant mainland. The Adult Continent, of course, will be a success. And obviously the tiny minority of religious fanatics will be happy to see the sex clubs gone from the mainland.

Unless, of course, Linden Lab does a further step.

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