I Can’t Define Inanity, But I Know It When I See It

Wagner James Au posts an article which argues that the only people that should be reporting on Second Life are people who play Second Life. Well, that’s certainly a common complaint, as anyone who read and played Asheron’s Call can attest. But of course, Second Life invents everything:

At the forefront of the Second Life backlash, of course, is Nick Denton’s Valleywag. After reading the endless flurry of adulatory press coverage, the rakish blogging mogul decided the place was “begging for a takedown.” And so he has wittily attempted.

I’ve asked Nick three separate times if he’s ever tried Second Life himself, but an answer has not been forthcoming; given the vagueness of his descriptions, and the choice of negative stories he selects (see below), I’m provisionally assuming there is in fact no seasoned Denton-spawned avatar to be found.

Au is, to be fair, forthcoming that he is deeply enmeshed in every conflict of interest possible with SL/Linden Labs. He also notes, correctly, that many of the critics of SL may simply not be able to operate the freakin’ thing. I personally needed a native guide just to instruct me how to WALK and LOOK AROUND. And I think it’s safe to say that I have a passing familiarity with computer games and user interfaces. The “I have a box on my head” icon I use for SL (now new and improved!) is not coincidental. The default action for an object container is to wear it. Which results in you having, well, a box on your head. This makes little sense in terms of user interface conventions, but it was unfixed for so long (edit: finally patched in August of this year) that it’s become a running gag among SL users.

With the existing interface, it is remarkably easy for the unitiated user to go stumbling helpless through the world and quickly assume it’s simply a chat room peopled only by gamblers and prostitutes. And me describing the larger promise of Second Life is like telling someone from Eastern Europe about the United States, and the variety of opportunities awaiting them there—but when they finally arrive, they end up trapped in Las Vegas International where the TSA insists on giving them a four hour body cavity search before they’re let through.

I’m not sure why there would be snarky “backlash” coverage about SL focusing on being a chat room peopled mostly by gamblers and prostitutes, and ignores the people off in their own little servlet curing cancer or singing folk songs or whatever. Perhaps they, I don’t know, logged into SL and hit the Search button.


It’s more than a little unreasonable to expect people to judge a game based on its potential when other games aren’t extended the same courtesy. Second Life’s pretensions to being a “metaverse” or “a new web” or “life’s operating system” or whatever else Snowcrashy buzzword is being flung about to the contrary – it’s a game. To be technical, it’s a graphical MUSH, and much like Everquest being the first graphical Dikumud, it’s setting the standards for all that follows.

Which, as Something Awful (who do play regularly) notes, is mostly gamblers, sexual minorities, and prostitutes, backed by a service which is frequently spotty.

Here’s my take. SL is a social MMO – if not the first, certainly one of the largest (only the often-ignored-especially-by-me Habbo Hotel is larger). And as such, it’s worthy of study, and not merely by the starry-eyed cognoscenti, but by the average user. UI issues, content issues, platform issues, and Linden’s relentless PR manipulation – all of these are worthy of discussion, and unless Lindenistas expect everyone on the planet to log into SL regularly (which they may well do) then some form of separation from the SL community has to be expected. And rather than try to minimize the focus on the more popular and more sleazy parts, maybe it’s worthwhile to examine why the most popular also happens to be the most sleazy. Maybe it’s because that’s what people tend to do when they’re given the freedom to do whatever they want. Liberated from the surly bounds of accountability, the first thing that the average user apparently wants to do is visit a strip club.

It’s not the story Linden wants the mainstream media discussing, but *I* certainly find it interesting. Or amusing at the least.

Adam “Tide” MacDonald has another take here, and Damion Schubert waxes truly wroth on his site.