Second Life’s New Red Light District

So what does this mean short-term and long-term?

As for myself, I can only say I’m much relieved by this announcement 🙂

Oh yes, I know that a lot of things will be quite hard on the poor residents — again. The discussion will continue, on forums, on blogs, in-world, everywhere. But… consider the alternative: that LL would not create an Adult Continent, and instead banned all mature content from the face of SL — forever — just like most of all other virtual worlds and social Web 2.0 sites. In fact, in certain areas, SL might be even promoted as a social thingy that explicitly allows adult content on “safe” areas (by preventing non-adults to enter them). I think this is a major selling point: it targets a huge sector of the Internet market (as said, 20% of the Internet is about sex; we cannot hide it, even if so many Puritan groups wished exactly that); it assures businesses and Puritans that “sex will be out of sight”; it makes sure that kids are safely away from adult content; but at the same time, or at least in the future, it will allow educators to bring their high school students into SL, while not restricting the adult content community to continue their activities — except, of course, by forcing them to verify their age (just like in RL) and restrict them to specific areas (again, just like in RL, at least on the most liberal countries).

But the alternative — no adult content whatsoever, and a grid full of kids — would be simply the end of SL as we know it. This way, there is a chance of going ahead, pretty much in the same way as before, with the difference that explicitly adult and extremely violent content will be limited to a specific area in the mainland (or in private islands).

Long-term, adding to that the advantage of shutting out griefers and certain types of scammers out of the Adult areas (“LL knows who you are”), that only sounds promising.

Short-term, of course, this is a mess 🙂

First of all, how will Linden Lab “enforce” the move? Will they turn all regions with sexually explicit or very violent content on the mainland into ‘Adult’ areas and ban everybody in it that does not comply with the new rules? How long will these residents have to pack and move away? The article claims “over the next few months”; a brief email exchange with Catherine Linden revealed that things would not be that dramatic (ie. no “kicking and banning” but a gradual flagging of Adult content and dealing with stragglers one by one). PG and Mature classifications will, at least for a while, continue to co-exist with Adult content (which has to be placed outside of those areas). So this seems to indicate that on Mature sims, casual sexual encounters, hidden away in skyboxes, might still be possible, so long as the content used for those is not extremely sexual or violent in nature. Put into other words: a common bed with sex poseballs, which only the owner controls, might be “mature”. A kinky chamber with a torture rack with spikes for BDSMers might be ‘Adult’ and will have to move.

Will Linden Lab compensate residents that are suddenly forced to move away? It’s obviously impossible to grandfather existing ‘adult’ content. But a nice show of goodwill would be to forfeit the cost of initial land purchase on the Adult Continent if you’re a landowner in a Mature sim willing to move. In practice, how would that work? LL only sells wholesale, ie. complete regions — parcelling is done by winners of auctions. So how will all those people be compensated financially? We’re not talking about “a few hundreds”, like during the days of the telehub drama. No, more likely we’re talking about dozens of thousands of residents that will have to move over. A huge push of epic proportions. Catherine Linden admits that this is one area where residents should provide their input; even though the move might take “months”, they’re aware that most of that time will be to define those mechanisms, and at least in some cases, Linden Lab will be listening to suggestions.

I’m not even going to address the issue of “who defines what Adult content is” because that was also clearly explained on the article: it will be LL defining it, with some resident input. Whatever content is forbidden now will continue to be forbidden (e.g. ageplay, paedophilia, possibly content inciting to discrimination by race, religion, gender, or age, which includes the display of certain symbols) — after all, LL has to abide by Californian law, as well as their interpretation of the laws of other countries. The fine dividing line will, of course, to decide what is “erotic” content (e.g. currently “mature”) and what clearly is “adult”. The word “clear” is ambiguous: it will depend on cultural norms, and to a degree, the residents will have little saying in that. We might have a bit more luck discussing compensation for being forced to move out.

And finally there is the question of how to enforce compliance. Imagine the simplest scenario: after a set date, all content on Mature sims becomes “forbidden”. Now, who will tag that content as being “Adult”? LL is hoping that residents will do that job. In some cases — if you’re well-versed in Californian law, for instance — you might correctly identify what is “adult”, and what is merely “erotic”. But remember that 60% of the resident population does not speak English as a first language, and a large proportion doesn’t speak English at all. Those are the residents that will find LL’s concept of “adult” a very strange thing indeed, e.g. a French or Spanish monokini merchant will never dream that their content is considered “adult”, so they will think that the rules don’t apply to them. A lingerie shop that sells normal underwear is definitely not “adult” (or malls wouldn’t have those shops iRL!) but will get Puritans back to their pills to fight anxiety and get recently-turned-18-year-olds, full of their hormones, drooling with erotic dreams. So will they be allowed? (The answer, for now, is “yes” — there will be no “dress code” imposed on residents except for what’s currently in place: no nudity on PG areas). And what about a club with furry pole dancers, is that adult content or not? (Catherine Linden insists that furries are not “adult” content; furries being tortured with chainsaws, on racks dripping blood and gore all over the place, is another question). And these are just extreme examples which will come up in anyone’s mind. How about the many fuzzy areas? A dance club for homosexuals, who don’t do anything “extremely sexual and violent” but just hang around and dance and chat and tell jokes — is that “adult” or “mature”? (I have no doubts what the die-hard religious fundamentalists will answer to that). Genderbenders are mature or adult (think about how they’re classified iRL)? Displaying pictures of nudes in your home, is that “mature art”, merely “art”, or “adult” content? Will it depend of what the pictures are depicting? Will that force some museums and art galleries to the Adult Continent? And so on. The grey areas are, indeed, quite numerous.

I’m pretty sure that LL’s list will not be exhaustive enough to catch all cases (neither does LL claim that on the article; rather, they just expect self-regulation). The problem, however, is who will be flagging those 2.2 billion assets out there? And who will validate that an asset is, indeed, ‘adult’? Imagine hundreds of thousands of residents flagging millions of items per day, who at LL will check each and every one of them for ‘adultness’? And how long will they take?

I had a long list of similar questions, but I’m sure you will be able to add quite a few more of your own. You’ll see that not even Linden Lab is clear about the way SL “ought” to change in the future. The co-existence of “mature” and “adult” content is intriguing and probably the most challenging issue for LL, as a lot of residents will claim that what they do is “erotic art” but LL will deem it to be “sexual perversion of the ultimate nature” and doom them to the Adult Continent. Granted, the good news is that the worst case scenario is being pushed to the Adult Continent and not out of SL. While this can be annoying for many (and we’re definitely not talking about

In any case, speaking for myself and a few of my clients, and in spite of the complexity of the issue, which involves moral and legal frameworks, I don’t think this “change” is for the worst. Then again, I have had a credit-card validated avatar since my 4th day in SL, 4½ years ago. And it was age-verified for over a year now. I won’t mind having the communities I live in flagged as Adult and be forced to move a house I have in one of them, if that’s what LL implies that will happen. And I’ll be more than happy to tell my corporate customers that SL is now “free of adult content”, while happily announcing to the educational customers that they can bring all their kids into SL without further mess, while at the same time I’ll continue to chat with friends and acquaintances on hard-core sex sims, if that’s the kind of place where they prefer to meet (yes, a few do). But then again, I’m hardly a typical resident, but very likely just one among the exceptionally tolerant and open-minded ones 🙂

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