At the start of the year, Barry Collins (news editor at PC Pro magazine) published an interesting piece on how he had recently revisited Second Life having three years earlier found it to be packed full of folk doing lots of things including having lots of virtual sex, only to find that the place was now virtually deserted. Except, that is, in those areas where people can have virtual sex of course, which were as busy as ever.
Linden Lab CEO Mark Kingdon took issue with this image of Second Life being some kind of dirty virtual world where sex is the driving force. While admitting that there is indeed an 'adults-only continent within the Second Life landscape where you have to be age-verified in order to participate and where sexual activity does take place, he was pretty damn keen to point out that sex is not the main focus of the Second Life population. Talking to PC Pro Kingdon insists that only "about 6 percent of the regions in Second Life are zoned adult" and claims that it is "very average in terms of the prevalence of adult content" as a whole.
When I was researching my book Being Virtual there was no doubt that Second Life was a huge landscape covering a virtual area bigger than that of New York. When you consider that New York has been the largest city in the US since 1790 and has, I am reliably informed, a population exceeding 8 million all stuffed into a 332 square mile footprint. Second Life has only been around since 2003 but has a population of 18 million (or one million if you measure in terms of numbers logging in during the last month or two rather than total membership) and covers more than 500 virtual square miles.
Kingdon reckons it is the layout of the virtual world, with a combination of large land masses which are in the minority and small islands which make up the majority of the populated area of Second Life, that accounts for the perceived predominance of adult activity. The adult continent, Zindra, is one of the big mainland areas and the adult activity is concentrated within in, giving the wrong impression to those who may pay a fleeting visit to the virtual landscape. He also blamed the poor search tools available to Second Life inhabitants for giving a false impression that much of the place, apart from 'bonking central' AKA Zindra, is empty. "We haven't been as effective as we'd like in building search tools... that make it possible for people to find the people, places and things that might be relevant to them" he told PC Pro.
That's as maybe, but whenever I visit Second Life I have to admit that I have no trouble finding adult content. Indeed, it's rather hard to avoid much of the time. Certainly virtual sex is not just limited to one particular part of the world, and if you'll excuse the rude pun you will find it popping up all over the place.
I would concur that perhaps sex was not the driving force of Second Life in the early days, although relationship building and an escape into fantasy do often lead down the adult content route. However, the big companies are no longer issuing press releases or shouting about using the place as business meeting venue from the rooftops. And while there can be no arguing that real business is what many come to the virtual world for, with some 250,000 virtual items being created every day and a healthy trading economy continues to develop, to suggest that the pleasure side of the coin is not important strikes me as doing a rather good impression of an ostrich.
I'm a hacker turned writer and consultant, specialising in IT security. I've been a freelance word punk for over 20 years and along the way I have seen 23 of my books published, produced and presented programmes for TV and radio, picked up a bunch of awards and continue being a contributing editor with PC Pro - the best selling IT magazine in the UK .
How ironic that looking up Second Life economic info for an in-world adult business lead me to see this article. As the primary builder and business partner of one of Second Life's oldest and most enjoyable places for adult activities (ya, its Orgy Island!), and having survived several transitions like Linden Lab's bannishment of adult business to Zindra, I could not help but laugh at how Mark Kingdon tries to paint a pixel picture that is as unreal as the virtual world he runs. Since I have limited text, please allow me these three breif observations in response to the article and Mr. Kingdon's comments:
1. Only ADVERTISED adult content is limited to Zindra, so anyone can still streak through a meeting or have sex in their virtual home while screaming explicit commentary to their lover(s) anywhere throughout the grid. Adult content is everywhere in Second Life just as it is in Real Life but probably not as much. Don't believe me? Ask yourself how often you got naked today in Real Life and then how often you did while in a virtual world! :)
2. Even with all the effort to limit the adult industry in Second Life, it still holds on and flurishes. Perhaps because its a natural part of life that some of the hardest working and most talented creators I know regularly get hired to do adult content or have it as their main business. That leads us to push the virtual bounderies of all levels of content for which the adult industry gets little recognition. Even so, reguardless of the motivation behind it, adult content is going to stay a part of Second Life until it is outright banned.
3. The reason why Second Life looks vacant is because it is except for the few places (like Orgy Island) that provide various levels of entertainment. PLUS Linden Lab keeps adding land masses without the simplest comprehension of supply and demand economics (remember how I found this article in the first place?) or considering the impact on their virtual markets. For instance, the once-flourishing land sale & rental businesses is going to crash and burn for the final time this month with Linden Lab opening up free homes.
With virtual realtors being pushed out of the way and Real Life big business looking elsewhere, Second Life's adult industry is about to become king of the grid. If you don't believe me, come to Orgy Island and see me in June, I will give you a free lap dance if I am wrong! :) That is unless Linden Lab bans adult content in which case the grid will be shut down as the company works through its Chapter 11 filing!
About six months ago statistics from Second Life showed that the "heaviest users" were the past 50 crowd. Probably a good number of these people are social misfits who need to find a fantasy alternative to the drab lives they lead. So it makes sense that there would be a reasonable amount of sex on Second Life. Virtual sex is about all these losers can get.
For some reason, there is a contingent of web denizens who feel compelled to bash Second Life. As it has been shown in the past many times, if you find sex in Second Life, or in real life for that matter, it is because you are looking for it, if sub-consciously. It also depends on how you define sexual content. I have been a participant in Second Life for over three years and rarely, I repeat -rarely- witness any overt sexual content. Of course, sex in a virtual world is not what I am seeking. I do venture to places where I meet intelligent, creative people and view, hear, and discuss amazing new works of art. Second Life is merely a service for the user base. The users define what is produced and available. If you want sex and flamers, it is there. If you want intelligence and creativity however, it is there also.
I find SanFranExpert's contempt for Second Life residents faulty and insulting. Sure many that log in to SL, have IRL psychological issues, or have kinks or fetishes, and sure some may have ulterior or selfish motives, but certainly not all. And, I would beg to differ that even those that are here a lot, have never had any IRL relationships at all or enjoyed adult intimacy.
I'm gratified to find discussion of virtual worlds here on Daniweb, and Second Life in particular. I've been a long time away from Daniweb and only came back today because of their missive about Google's new search algorithm and their desire for posts. I'm no longer an active developer because it has proved impossible for me as an independent to compete with larger companies in web development and database applications. I've recently decided to investigate opportunities in virtual worlds. I've been in Second Life for only a couple of months and yes I've noticed a great deal of sexually oriented content. I've also noticed a large number of literary groups and music groups. I'm particularly intrigued by the anthropological opportunities virtual worlds present and the phenomena I refer to as Monsters from the Id. I don't know what the future holds for Second Life. I suspect bigger and better platforms will be made available. But just like Real Life, it is what you make it. Incidentally, I have an avatar named SLClemens. He can be found doing readings from the works of Mark Twain at different venues within Second Life, or at least I hope to get him scheduled as various venues.