Dibbell’s interview event in SL

 Posted by (Visited 6587 times)  Game talk
Jul 312006
 

New World Notes: THE SECOND LIFE OF JULIAN DIBBELL has the transcript of the recent interview/Q&A that Julian did regarding his new book Play Money.

JD: Well jeez. I mean. The game in UO is leveling. The game in SL is building, or whatever social advancement that attains. The gold farmers are both playing the local game and serving others who want to play that game. The builders here, ditto.

Reuben Tapioca [from the audience]: I hear what you’re saying, but by that logic, is there any social system on earth (virtual or real) that isn’t a game?

  22 Responses to “Dibbell’s interview event in SL”

  1. “is there any social system that isn’t” competitive? I dunno. Are there any games that are not competitive? I’m genuinely asking, because other than solo puzzles I’m not sure.

    Also, as another teaser: Find an honest group activity in world history that is not competitive. I can think of only aesthetic religious orders that might not be really predicated on competition between individuals in a group. Or maybe other pesonal reflective activities and communities based around sharing similar desires and ideals (e.g. reading clubs, running clubs).

  2. I thought this quotation was the most poignant:

    Chris Lake [from the audience]: Land is the one scarce resource, so yes, there is money to be made there. But it toally misses the point here that one TRUE scarce resource we have in SL is TALENT! And that’s where money is to be made. Creativity.

    JD: No, again, fun is also a truly scarce commodity. The Linden’s can’t arbitrarily decide what the sweetspot between too easy and too hard is.

    It makes me ponder the idea of buying and selling fun. Since that’s what you do when you buy and sell a game, after all…

  3. I don’t see that quote as poignant at all. Them’s fighting words to me. Chris Lake is perpetuating a concept, that Philip Linden also touts, that land, property, cash do not constitute stake in Second Life — they aren’t of value (this goes beyond the technical TOS terms, updated, that talk about “no intrinsic value”; I mean that they deny social value as well).

    That is, Lindens and the creator caste have a real (ostensibly) egalitarian zeal to do away with what they view as the “injustices” and the “inequities” of RL and things they find suspect like “representative government” that they find “so old meatworld” and substitute in its place this world that is like a replication of the ancient medieval guild system, the Medicis (Linden Lab) fostering a artisan class (Michaelangelo) with the rest of us featured in walk-ons and bit-parts, peasants, consumers, barkeeps, etc. Value is only in the act of programming/designing; those 10 percent of the creators feeding the 90 percent of the consumers.

    Chris Like is wrong in saying there is a shortage of talent. That is, he may feel there is subjectively, because his particular brand of aesthetics may involve dissing most of the content that other people make as lame or amateur. And yet, who is to judge? There are fierce battles in SL about what is aesthetic. What is the proper canon of Second Life beauty? Somebody is always slamming somebody’s house with its kitchen and bathroom and saying this is pedestrian and mediocre and suburban and stupid because who needs those things in SL; and yet there are some tremendously eloquent and beautifully designed kitchens and bathrooms that create immersion, ambience, and serve as deep metaphors. (I find it profoundly humorous that those artists who most scathingly dump on the suburban tracts and sprawl that they believe is taking place all over SL (it isn’t; they don’t get out much) are holed up in Boardman, which is a rare Linden-zoned sim with a perfectly-replicated little suburbia, complete with lawn sprinklers, and that some of them have paid as much as $150 US to buy a little 1024 m2 square in this suburban enclave.

    Raph says video games can be art; well, we might find a lot of “video game art” derivative and all replicating all the designs of the men-in-tights stuff in books and movies always featuring Middle Ages. Middle Ages! When are we going to advance in time???Aren’t we in the future yet? If video games can be art, then I want to define just as democratically the content within video games and virtual worlds made by players.

    The idea that “creativity is where money is to be made” is also a pointer to this deeply-held — but minority — viewpoint that at its worst edges I call “creator-fascism”. “Make something or die” or “learn how to build and script really well or you are shit”.

    In fact, Dibbell has *another* quote in this talk I have to dredge up in which he says something like, “I could see how an exclusive artists’ class here could really be a problem.”

    Creativity is good; it’s good there are creative people and they contribute and make creative stuff, some of which is intrinsically cool and arty and beautiful in its own right, and some of which actually sells.

    But not all value in the world is in talent/creativity/the creator class and its dominion. Value is in land, too. Imagine that! You try to code it out of people; you try to break the land barons’ backs deliberately by constantly rolling it out, but people put emotion, labour, memories, connections into land — they bury their ancestors — and it aquires value, beyond the real-estate value which also is a value.

    And services also have value — more and more, services are coming into being, and of course these range from the world’s oldest profession to the world’s other oldest profession (lobbying and influence-peddling). One enterprising fellow who says he is a lobbyist in RL Seattle is offering his services, including the currying of favours to accomplish your dream in SL.

    Why would only inventoriable content be valued, and sell? There is more to this metaverse than are dreamed up in your philosophy…

    You cannot be judgemental about this new media and dictate that only creativity is valued; only creativity is therefore in short supply. A, other things are creative than the accepted Boardman canonic aesthetic; B, not only created stuff/creating stuff is valued.

    And frankly, saying that “fun is a scarce commodity”. This sounds like a facile book jacket blurb. I’m not following the sense here. There is plenty of “fun” to be had in SL. I’m reminded of Seymour Glass and the magazine article his wife had open on the hotel room bed in “A Perfect Day for Banana Fish”. “Sex is FUN…or Hell”.

    I blogged about Julian’s visit too but in a different vein

  4. The part I liked:

    KT: So, you think any social space is fair game for people who want to make money?

    JD: These are great questions, though, that people in virtual world studies are constantly hashing and rehashing. Open game? No, obviously not. I Just think the nature of these games is that they were never so innocent to begin with. They’re built around the leveling treadmill, for starters. What is so utopian about that? And once that’s there, the snake is in the garden.

    I always like debating RMTing with the dogmatic zealots so opposed to it 🙂 But the point I keep trying to make is that RMTing itself is not the root of all of the problems in these games. It’s the very nature of the imbalance, the point that games about advancement will always have those who have, those who have not and those who want to bypass the arbitrary boundaries between them and their goal of the day.

    To me, a “leveling treadmill” is the same as farming. The former is about advancement of character and the latter of wealth, but the motivation behind each is fundamentally same. The focus shifts on playing for fun to playing for gain, morphing the experience from one of game to one of effort (“work”, to some).

    The imbalance becomes not about time so much as it is about focus. Those who focus on one thing can sometimes make up for any deficiency they may have on time. Of course, those who focus on one thing and have time, well, they win.

    Michael Chui quotes:
    one TRUE scarce resource we have in SL is TALENT

    The point about the scarcity of talent in SL is also interesting. For a game built by the sheer will of the players who, by their nature, seek to be more creative than most people, I find the game itself iterates life more than explores what’s possible in a world system with very few rules. It is almost as if some folks advance to master the tools and then sort of get stuck there.

    I am not one to criticize of course, as I am not even an amateur-level creator in SL. Further, with a background in Industrial Design, with a brain attuned to what’s feasible long before I even knew what ID was (as evidenced by my earliest drawings), I am not the most creative person in the CAD-osphere (can we get enough “ospheres”? 🙂 ). It just seems odd for a game as nice as SL to be populated by so many who find what is arguably the mundane real world to be so interesting as to emulate it in a space that in no way requires them to do so.

  5. I tried to read it but I couldn’t get past the care bear in the audience…

    $%#%^*& care bears.

  6. Found it:

    “[18:49] Julian Dibbell: i’m also leery of a kind of self-satisfied artistic elitism that could easily set in in a place like SL
    [18:50] Hamlet Au: !
    [18:50] Jeff Wakawaka: heh
    [18:50] moo Money: =O
    [18:50] Julian Dibbell: well … no?
    [18:50] Kealiha Trudeau: or flickr or digg or you tube…
    [18:50] Hamlet Au: Don’t make me flick the ashes of my Gaulois cigarette at you, dude.
    [18:50] Julian Dibbell: hehe, yeah maybe it’s the suit hamlet :)”

    Re: “It just seems odd for a game as nice as SL to be populated by so many who find what is arguably the mundane real world to be so interesting as to emulate it in a space that in no way requires them to do so.”

    Why do you think people don’t do as you say, and don’t go make CAD-o-spheric wonders?

    ?

    Maybe it just cannot be prescribed; maybe it isn’t fun; maybe you haven’t seen enough to know if in fact this doesn’t exist.

    More and more, these really flawlessly executed aesthetic concepts on lots make me feel like I have a Disney Viewmaster, not a 3-d streaming immersive world.

  7. I don’t think you quite understand what “scarcity” means, Prokofy… They’re speaking in economic terms. In that context, scarcity refers to a finite amount of a resource. Add in the idea that the resource is also tradeable, and you have an economy: I have something you want, and you have something I want, so we trade. If it wasn’t scarce, why trade?

    The idea isn’t “This is better than that,” but that “This isn’t something everyone can get free.” Which means you can make a profit by trading it to people who don’t have it. Talent has always been scarce. That’s why you pay talented people money in return for their expressions and creations.

  8. Michael,

    So is anything above average: service, land, resources, IP, etc.

    Above average things are scarce.

    The comment is poignant, but also can be fighting words to others. You can make a business selling “above average” fun. Maybe you should create a SL theme park 🙂

    To spice this comment thread, I’ll throw out another “proverb”: it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

    Frank

  9. it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

    Or put another way, pain is the only non-trivial thing in the world.

  10. I don’t think you quite understand what “scarcity” means, Prokofy… They’re speaking in economic terms. In that context, scarcity refers to a finite amount of a resource.

    Gosh. DUH. Now why wouldn’t I understand what scarcity means, Michael? What on EARTH and on the INTERNET would may you conceive of such a silly thing? Of course I realize it means economic scarcity. And DUH there are many that try to inflict on us this idea that only creativity/talent/invention/programming is “the scarce resource”. But guess what! That’s not TRUE. People put VALUE into land. They value it; they make something of it; they add content, relationships, homes, connections, neighbours (gasp, I know that’s really an unpopular concept, people you relate to on contiguous geographic spaces!)

    The idea isn’t “This is better than that,” but that “This isn’t something everyone can get free.” Which means you can make a profit by trading it to people who don’t have it. Talent has always been scarce. That’s why you pay talented people money in return for their expressions and creations.

    But valuation *is* about “this is better than that*. People cannot get land for free. To be sure, the Lindens can keep rolling it out. They might move to some socialist shelf-paper sort of model. Yet location, geographical features, neighbours, history — these all get added, just as in RL. Relationships and groups are valued.

    Talent is not scarce in SL. There are a million talented kids logging on. They all played Final Fantasy, they all know PSP, they all learn the tools, and they all can make really kick-ass realistic looking FF style armour. Oh, and Star Wars, too.

    Next?

  11. Prokofy, I almost pulled out that quote myself, but decided that maybe people would see me as bashing SL again if I did. 😉

    Darniaq, it’s been argued by some (such as Christopher Alexander) that the reason why mundanity persists is in part because it’s what feels right to human entities. Why wouldn’t mundanity be what we echo is cyberspace?

    If anything, the SL avatars in the pics of the meeting were breathtakingly — derivative, mundane, predictable. A carebear, a leather jacket, a bouffant hairdo on a (likely self-professed) tart.

  12. So Ive never played SL (although after this I might have to load it up and try it this weekend) but let me get this straight:

    People log into SL, and create thier own content using thier own abilities. What I dont understand is that people would actually replicate what has been discussed in this thread, if I understand correctly:

    1. People given the ability to create content replicate real world sociatal constructs? Suburbs? Exclusive gated communities with sprinklers?
    Bars? VIP Clubs? yeesh…..

    or

    2. Things like what Raph previously blogged in a thread, an island with a functional ecosystem and etc.

    or

    3. As Prokofy pointed out “community” value (the way I understood the post)via social networking and attachment to said network.

    I can understand the need or motive to recreate realistic social networks, humans are by nature social animals. I can understand the need and desire to create an asthetic thought experiment like a island with a working ecosystem, I personally could understand the motive behind creating something like a 3D graphical representation of mathmatical constructs which would conceptually represent a neural network (whoot!). However whats the motive to recreate an exclusive gated suburb? That seems a bit more than odd to me, but eh, everyone enjoys content on thier own terms…

    Is this player created content in SL asthetically regulated? Is the barrier to entry ability and LD’s? If the content is unregulated, and the barrier to entry is ability or money then I dont see an issue, those are objective assignments of value in a system. Assigning value to a social network/community is a subjective exercise. I dont think we’re solved this little problem in the “meatworld” much less a VW.

    Economically we can see the value in valuing your customers through fostering good community relations, and therby what they care about (social networks). If a business dosnt, well they lose that customer….

    Is content in SL vetted through some kind of consensus or organization? (regulated) if not then its a market based on creative ability as I understand this interview and the SL site?

  13. Talent has always been scarce.

    True

    Talent is not scarce in SL.

    Um, so this is false.

    There are a million talented kids logging on.

    And this is the false premise that it’s based on. Not all of those kids are talented. Some are. What sorts the talented ones from the not-so? Or more importantly to the person logging into Second Life for the first time, how can he find the good content?

    Some places, I’ll point to youtube.com as a random example of someone online using this model, let you search by “most watched” and “Highest rated”, and lets people vote on the content there. Is that the best way? Well, to be sure some ballot boxes get stuffed sometimes, but it’s a good way.

    At Second Life, it’s capitalism in action. A good salesman with an OK product will do better than a bad salesman with a better product. But unlike in real capitalism there is no filter between the consumer and the creator. I can’t sell TV dinners out of the back of my truck. If I wanted to sell a food product for real and in quantity I would need to get a Supermarket chain to agree to carry my product. A pretty high bar to cross. That doesn’t mean that supermarkets never carry bad things, but it does mean that as a consumer I can walk up and down the freezer section and feel confident that it wasn’t just the creator that thought it was a good idea but a team of professionals, many of whom have sold frozen good for years, also thought there was a good reason to carry that product. Thus I’m faced with just a few brands to pick from.

    And in Second Life every day more kids log on, and create more content. Only some of it is good. And really the Second Life game appears to only fun if you like digging thru content looking for gold nuggets or if you want to play the “Buy my content” game. The second is logically going to be more popular.

  14. […] Today, Raph published a link and a quick quote from an interview event in Second Life with Julian Dibbell. For a man with so much history and commentary on the genre, and a new book, I found his interview very readable and entertaining. […]

  15. Rik, my point about the million kids, is that the million kids all make the same armour from FF. Or the million adults all make the same goth castles/Arabian palaces they imagine from some BDSM roleplay Gor novel or whatever. They can be very competantly executed, very aesthetically fine, and people will even point to that and say, see, that’s not suburbia and sprinklers, gosh, isn’t that creative!

    But I wish I had a dollar for every FF armour, Arabian slave silks, and Goth Castle there are in SL — I’d be rich. They are all over, lots of people make them, they are all aesthetic, and they are all talented. And that’s just my point. What is talent? Talent is often defined as making superbly built or textured creations by CAD and PSP jockeys. But is that talent? Is the humble newbie shack where some far more interesting social/artistic/thought/group experiment going on perhaps the better and higher example? Who is to say?

    In this discussion on SL architecture here, Jauani Wu tries to announce by fiat a Builder’s Manifesto. And quite a few of us resist this sort of Zhdanovism, or making any kind of Soviet Artists’ Union sort of canon for the arts.

    No, Allen, there isn’t any sort of committee that has to regulate content or clear on aesthetics. That is, not yet, if we can help it! but there are many who in fact would love to see one come into being! The Lindens themselves talk out of two sides of their mouths on this one and probably don’t agree among themselves. On the one hand, they want to tout user-created content and freedom. On the other, they’ll privately tell you that they find all the clutter and dreck out there not helping them sell the platform — there’s a tension between touting user freedom and then having to make sure the PR cameras stay fixed on the user-created content that makes the world look its best — by THEIR lights — and don’t stray on to the junk that is off-putting.

    I don’t know how to say this gently, so I won’t: Allen, you must be a geek, and you’re the one who is odd in a setting like this, not the others. That is, you assume that what people love doing when they come on to a virtual world is experimenting with mathematical concepts and shapes, or that making data representational, and showing neural networks or whatever is going to be “fun” or “creative”. That’s because you’ve made an assumption that games, virtual worlds, etc. are just for geeks like yourself, and that this geeky world-view on aesthetics — aesthetics are non-suburbia — is the “norm” if you will, or even “the highest standard”.

    But it isn’t. Lots of people come into worlds. Millions and millions more. Non-gamers. Non-geeks. They replicate suburbia. In fact, the people who live in crowded urban settings in apartments or who live in poor countries in Europe and Asia without suburban ranch homes are in fact precisely the people who like to kit out their SL parcels with kick-ass split-level surban homes with lawns and sprinklers. You may find this mediocre, tasteless, Babbitt-like, etc. but there it is — people want to be free, and they don’t want your shimmering and whirling data representation cubes cluttering up their waterfront view, thank you very much. They want to simulate and replicate RL versimilitude. They find that gives them a comfort level in virtual worlds. And why can’t they? And why can’t that world have its own aesthetic criteria, too, so that there is excellence even in replicating downtown Denver or suburban Colorado Springs? Of course there can be.

    Go do your thing, and find the other 17 and a half people who want to do your thing with you, but don’t spout in indignation that the rest of the world doesn’t want to do this thing and doesn’t find it compelling or original *shrugs*.

    Why would the rest of the world have to have your tastes imposed on it? You don’t like THEIR tastes imposed on you, sensitive, original creative innovative type that you are, ever seeking to represent data in new and exciting ways visually. So don’t do it to others.

    >If the content is unregulated, and the barrier to entry is ability or money then I dont see an issue, those are objective assignments of value in a system. Assigning value to a social network/community is a subjective exercise. I dont think we’re solved this little problem in the “meatworld” much less a VW.

    In fact, the barrier has even less friction — you don’t have to have “ability” because you can come in and buy other’s work and reassemble it or deploy it. The money of $1.50 US or $10 US for prefabs means the money is not a significant barrier at least for those in the U.S.

    The social networks that people subjectively create mean most to them. If the setting for those networks happens to be an old fishing hole on a dock with scripted fishing rods and various cluttery-signs and old tin cans and tires in the water, that’s what they like. You could say, hey, go move into this new aesthetic modern stone and glass build, and they’ll ignore it and leave it untrafficked.

    >I can’t sell TV dinners out of the back of my truck. If I wanted to sell a food product for real and in quantity I would need to get a Supermarket chain to agree to carry my product. A pretty high bar to cross.

    This is a curious notion, Rik, I’m not sure where you are picking it up. Do you mean to say that you can’t sell anything effectively without a large parcel of land? But that’s not true. People without any land use the third-party shopping sites that take a small commission out of their sales — no world friction at all. People buy stuff for their avatars on their lunch hours, and use credit cards and don’t even log in.

    Or people use vendors, that packs many products into one or two prims that have flippable pages, and for $25 a week they rent a stall somewhere, or they take a free 512 land and put out a store on it that people p2p to.

    Of course, to have the greatest sales, the greatest name recognition, they’ll probably need to spend $4 per prim in a high-end mall; spend $50 US on the classifieds list per week; have tier per month of at least $25, etc. Still, given the huge amounts of sales that come in for content, the friction isn’t that great, the bar not that high. If you can have a $40,000 income US for a year by paying even $300 US per month, many would find that a more than acceptible cost. If you only get $500 income a month and pay $30 for that, it may also not all be characterized as any kind of “friction”.

    What I find skewed about the capitalistic model of SL is that it is capitalist when it wants to be, and socialist when it wants to be, i.e. state capitalism. The land-creators, the Lindens, land-glut when they want to, periodically, to break the backs of the land baron class. They do this by their own admission willingly and readily to keep land priced at an average of $5/m so that ordinary people coming in don’t find land prices so high that they start screaming on the forums. So the only class allowed to thrive is the content-creation class — and among these, only those creators who advance the platform as a whole. So that somebody inventing, say, new HUD or search functions is going to enjoy more beaming Linden attention, approval, and mentions in media interviews, that people who just make some popular dress or piece of furniture.

    The free market is not determining the value; there is another, internal, if you will, market of reputational enhancement and Linden approval when you are in sync with their own company’s goals, that constitutes the “real” market.

    People spent all these years in MUDs and video games fantasizing that they were back in the Middle Ages wearing tights and clashing with swords to fight monsters and save damsels in distress in castles. With SL, they now have the opportunity to actually live in a real guild-like medieval economy, too, and be at the mercy of the artisan class and their mercantile backers.

  16. everyone enjoys content on thier own terms…

    You may have missed that….

    Prokofy-

    Perhaps Im unclear in my post, so I’ll attempt to clarify. I frankly dont care if someone replicates the endless suburns of San Jose in a VW, if thats thier flavor let em have it. Especially if they are paying to create it.

    You’ll note that I actually support your view of valuing community/social networks, trust me Im about as pro-gamer as anyone. Its just that on a philosophical fundamental level when treating a system that objectivly assigns value to an economic system, (which is what the interview was fndamentally about) you cannot use the same objective criteria for valuation of a social/community network.

    Its subjective, this is the realm of sociology, anthropology, not economy. Well some have tried, Marx, Friedman, Keynes and come close, but all models are flawed. We can assign value based on what people are willing to pay, quantifiable value. That you are willing to pay your monthly fee for a game, even if its only to socialize participate is the quantifiable value of your network. But if the fee goes up to 100? 200? 500? a month….see your threshold tolerance is economically based.

    Now if you ask me to assign value to your community of freinds and what theyve created. Well I cant economically assign a valuation to your friends or your level of immersion. I can say, yes thats important, because its your community that brings you back, fundamentally keeps you a customer, and its important to foster community, otherwise MMO’s dont exist for you or me….

    Now you cant rail against the powers that be in SL on socio-political terms, on the one hand railing against a communist soviet politik and on the other promoting free marketeer principles and on another complaining harshly about the Merchantile Artisan class. Get your politics and economics right, either your pro-market or your in the middle, or your not, theres a full spectrum of political phlosophy to choose from, and everyone has thier preferances. But please at least try and not jump from one political spectrum to the next, by paragraph. And dont confuse a political system with a economic system, democracy does not equate to capitalism. Just as totalitarian states do not always equate to closed markets. (ref. Plato “The Republic” for a clean breakdown) so perhaps what your experiancing in SL is related to this confusion.

    You completely invalidate your arguements and well yeah, Im a geek, I have a penchant for liking things logical, and I dont mind rabid involvement in ones preferred hobby, but at least try to avoid appearing to be an irrational crazed (if somewhat politically confused) SL player, you assume to much when you assume that because someone wants to understand the system you are playing that they actually care about its socio-political issues.

    I cant assign value to your network/community because Im not a member of it, if I was then I could, but that dosnt mean I dont want to understand it or care about it. I think its important to understand it, as its a game, and your a player of it, and as I said Im pro player. My concern is not whats wrong with it, but whats right about it and how can it be even better. So your off base if you think Im making value (or asthetic)judgements about a game I admitted to not playing and know nothing about. I dont form opinions out of ignorance. So I’d prefer to stick to some objective criteria rather than the obvious beef you have with either the content creation caste of your particular game or its dominant social class (Lindens), and your need for player rights.

    So what do you actually like about SL Prokofy? And how could it be better?

  17. […] Comments […]

  18. Allen, I’m not the one who jumps around from social system to social system, LL and SL do. I didn’t invent it; they did. I wasn’t there at the beginning or the first years; other people were. So it’s their mixture, and you hardly can slam me for that, as I represent what I think is a healthy corrective force to this madness — I just wish there were more of me : ) What I do is try to identify this or that strain and see if it conforms to RL equivalent systems — of course it doesn’t entirely, being virtual and accelerated.

    Democracy tends to go together with capitalism. That is, you might have capitalism in a society with less of a liberal democracy like a Russia or a Singapore or a Russia, but then you really begin to question what democracy is, and whether it isn’t socialism or state capitalism, and a variant of socialism, all over again. If you’re going to put in the qualifier of *liberal* democracy, it’s hard to find a country that doesn’t also have capitalism, at least of the shopkeepers’ type, even if they have nationalized industries and transportation.

    The social networks that people value — they always gush that they hate games or are tired of games and worlds “except for the people, they’re great” — aren’t so valuable as to keep people paying $500 or $100 a month.
    In fact, you’ll find they may not pay $50. Usually what happens is they discover when their world or game is REALLY played out, their social network, once converted to Yahoo Messenger, where they have to hear more about people’s mundane RL day-to-day problems and less about their heroic exploits on quests, etc., begins to pale. So I’m not sure that you can so easily separate the land/builds/game of the worlds from the social networks, though people think you can.

    Plato’s Republic is an ideal, with few if any RL counterparts. The Soviet Union or the Ottoman Empire are real things that we can study, however. And what’s dismaying is that the SL world replicates all the problems of those empires, and adds on to them a few new horrors (like the ability to instantly scrape all the personal information and sales data and communications off every single citizen inworld).

    I spend a lot of time on my blog not only complaining, as so many do, but making very detailed and specific proposals, like proposals on how to fix the auction system or the group tools. And the interesting thing is, if you follow group tools reform, the Lindens actually came around on this, making an interesting trajectory over a year. Some day, scholars will study this — they don’t find it interesting now, but they will. Here’s my very short and very subjective summary:

    In the beginning, as tekkies in a wiki with all the wiktopian and wiktatorship sensibilities that go with it, the Lindens fashioned what I like to call “the hippie dope smoking tools” which distributed all income of any sort equally to every single member of a group, regardless of whether he had put in more tier or labour or products to the group, and also enabled any officer of the group to steal the land out from under the other officers. The members could also trigger “officer recall,” so that if I, as officer, bought land with my hard-earned RL dollar, and put tenants on it, they could rebel, and push me off my land and take it over, even though they had never paid a dime on it.

    Come in and get a snapshot of this now; it’s a marvel. It’s as close as anyone has ever done to coding and actually programming the deep flaws of the Soviet Union into a simulated format; to coding the crime that is at the heart of socialism. When income distributes equally, nobody can do anything coherent with it and they cease to value and respect it; then inevitably someone will steal it for their own good — they will commit crime. When land is held in common, when it is nobody’s and “group land” it leads to this sort of crime, very commonly.

    In fact, the deeded objects became the smartest thing in this system, an inanimate object housed the greatest truth: when any officer pressed “return all objects from parcel” the deeded object didn’t know what to do. It didn’t know where to go. It couldn’t go back into the lost and found folder of any one officer; it was “the group’s”. So it did the only sensible thing in such an awful system; it self-destructed, deleted, never to be retrievable from anything ever again. Gah, lost a lot of L$1500 group-deeded TVS that way.

    I began pushing reform of this circle-jerk about 18 months ago, in long posts, in short posts, in group meetings in world, in meeting with Lindens. I just banged away on this like you cannot imagine. In utter exasperation with these Lindens, I finally wrote a satirical post, What if the Pizza Guy Stole LL? which I think they finally read at the lunch table at the lab there, in between fatty breaks, so to speak. I invited them to try to imagine if they had to run Linden Lab the way they were forcing us to run our groups inworld — I think that concentrated the mind more wonderfully, but in fairness, many of them were already trying to figure out how to fix these group tools even for such mundane things as communications among their own volunteers’ groups.

    Of course there were other people pushing along with me — most of the land dealers had a hellish time trying to get land groups to work right and had to devise all these workarounds. The Lindens confessed that in fact groups had never been conceived to hold land and work as businesses — they just imagined themselves endlessly doing those tekkie wikis.

    Originally, LL put a bonus into the groups of 10 percent free tier coverage, or free land credits to buy more land without additional monthly maintenance, i.e. 50,000 m2 would generate 500 m2 tier free. It wasn’t used very much except for some mainland groups like mine. The groups they especially wished would use it, groups with a more utopian concept of group ownership and collaboration, or “collectives,” like Lusk, turned out to be a tiny minority.

    A war on the forums ensued and in IRC and everywhere else. It wasn’t a very visible war. You can see the transcripts of some of the group public meetings in the forums section called Group Covenants, etc. It worked like this: land dealers and businesses of the modern type with one CEO and a board, and a few investors who were “officers” but didn’t want to see any one of their number steal the whole thing, lobbied for changes in the group tools — at least to be able to toggle the switches to make “CEO and board” or “hippie commune” or even “slave and subs,” i.e. one officer ruling over the rest of the group who had no privileges.

    Yet the communists, fearing that their obsessive equality ideals were going to be undone by even having the *option* of toggling them OFF, began to rally for their kind of changes, which didn’t emphasise ensuring CHOICE.

    One Linden told me that it was easier to code the King and his knights model of one strong CEO and members, rather than having the group collective — they *deliberately* made a harder thing to code *to fit their ideology*. Some might deny this now; this was the history told to me by at least one no longer there now.

    So these new reviewed group tools that will enable you to opt in or opt out or select whether you want the hippie commune or the modern business with a CEO and board or anything in between, or a dom and subs, are now in preview. And the ideological battle around them is still fierce. The Lindens have their favourites in this battle, of course, because some Lindens are still clinging to the idea that there are all these selfless, utopian tekkie wiki types out there who dream of all putting in exactly the same amount of money and tier into a group, and all happily sharing their proceeds like good socialists. The reality of the grid though, just as in real life, keeps defying their notions. The one socialist experiment inworld that even in true socialist form got a free sim from the Lindens to start (unlike the rest of us capitalists who had to buy our sims at retail prices!) struggled for a few years never growing much beyond itself, had a huge drama and constitutional crisis, and split into warring factions and had huge emergency lock-out type of confrontations where the people who originally created the content were locked out of their own creation.

    So to try to challenge me with a statement like, well what do you actually like? And what do think could make it better? and what are YOU doing to make it better — the age-old exhortations of socialist leaders who tell intellectuals they should shut up and help bring in the harvest for the People — is simply inapplicable to me. I work REALLY hard to change things. In fact, I think I had some effect!

  19. Prokofy, that was simply an awesome post really. Now I can totally understand where your coming from and why. Seriously its players who put in the time to effect change that matter.

    It seems that in a game like SL, where content and social network/community, and accompanying commerce are for lack of a better term “the game” rather than go about designing utopia, and attempting to hard code it socially (therein lies the problem, pesky human behavior seems resistant to coding, rulesets, laws etc) with some some “group-think” ideology, they would apply loose rulesets and allow for a more organic growth, in other words allow (I hope I understood you right)to choose from (eg. socialistic, cumministic, democratic, liberal, conservative, facist, oligarchy, capitalistic) kind of like a buffet of socio-political frameworks.

    But heres the rub, and where I could see an “elitist artisan caste” (I think that was the term from the interview) system comming (and possibly egoism) comming into play

    If I design a system from the perspective of communal ownership, and the system naturally progresses organically weather I like it or not (as any human system is wont to do), and I am forced at some point to formally offer “options” for organizing groups socially, as it were. I have a vested interest in maintaining that the orgional (as the patron of the system) ideals will be more successful than those which subsequently follow. This for control, and for egoism purposes. For how could the origionator, or creator be wrong???

    Or rather the question is then this:
    Did the designer make a mistake in the origonal design? If so then the design is flawed? (*insert horrified gasps from the audiance here*)

    It takes an enlightened designer to admit they made a mistake…..

    This seems to be what your fighting in SL Prokofy, and if it is thats an admirable fight because tekkie geek content creation types of people…well youll be hard pressed to get them to admit to having a flawed design…ever. Thats my experiance anyhow

    My advice: take your wins where you can, even incrimental progress is better than none at all 🙂

  20. Allen, yes, that’s pretty much how it is. Lindens might deny that they made a design flaw as technogeeks because many deny that they ever foresaw that groups would be used in this way — I don’t accept this claim anymore ever since that one Linden explained to me that coding in the King and his subjects was the easier coding job, and coding the hippie commune was the harder job, and they deliberately chose the hippie commune. I just have no idea if this is true or not; would love to know.

    I can’t tell yet whether they are still standing by their bias. I still see some of them clinging to this notion that all these people are going to be painting happy little trees in the corner, and each one will deed to the Group their 512 on command, “as one,” and each one is only looking for tools to help them all hold hands and jump in the pool together. So I keep pushing back on this. We’ll see how they turn out.

    I’m fully aware that it might turn out down the line that some of the features of the old hippie tool set will turn out to have been terribly important, and that once we’ve lost them and gone to this new granulated tool set, we’ll realize it.

    I don’t know enough about how to project and predict all the paths that the programming and its results will lead to.

    One thing I see right away that’s a bummer is that “open groups” no longer means anything.

    That is, I’ve always maintained, in an idealistic way unlike any other rentals agent or mall owner, an open group that anyone can join by pressing JOIN. That means that I have to put up with a certain percentage of deliberate griefers who join in order to invade group-set objects and strew malicious scripts into them. In fact, groups have gotten a lot less groupy by having to undo this “group set” option lately to prevent the wave of griefing based on this feature (it’s not an exploit, but misuse of a feature originally intended for collaboration).

    So now…sure, people can join and come in as what you might call Everyman. or “basic member”. Everyman is the default rung with the perms that all will have. So Everyman perms might involve, say, the right to put out your objects on group land.

    But I can’t have Everyman have ALL the perms, like the next rung up that one might call “tenant” or “officer” because if I open up a group with perms intended for the next granulated level, like ‘able to deed group objects” or “able to set ban lists,” where any griefer can come in and deed prims and undeed prims to the group, they might go around not only destroying everybody’s TV but also banning them from their own property. It’s hard to figure out how to give the perm to everybody without having to risk some of them will use it to grief each other.

    Nevertheless, I do hope to issue all those perms and keep the groups all open, possibly after a 24 hour or 3 day wait or something.

  21. I’m more confused than ever about what side Proke is on.

    – Should people be able to vote “game-god” creators (Linden Labs) out of control of their own assets, as he has virulently proposed in the past, or

    – Should people who create things (like Linden Labs) have some sort of natural authority over it that hippie egalitarian-types can’t touch?

  22. Well, Jam, to answer your questions:

    — When the game gods’ “assets” are in fact rented and paid for by the population, and a very large portion of expenses and profit come from the customers themselves paying for the servers, yet, they should get to have a say over the control over these assets, as partners. The concept of “voting them off their own servers,” is extreme, since they lease them and own the code for the server software. But far more democracy, participation, and control can be yielded to residents in many ways precisely because they pay the freight and make the content.

    — I guess you don’t get into Second Life very much? What did Linden Lab make? They made some software that accesses servers and also they give you a client to download to access those servers. That’s the basic tabula resa. But you, as residents, particularly the content-creation class and land-owning class, *invest your own money, and sometimes LOTS of money* into what overlays those servers and that basic software. There are millions of pieces of resident-designed content and scripts and textures. LL concedes copyright over these items (it’s of limited nature due to their TOS caveats, but generally you can make, buy, sell, and cash out without interference). Given that residents make the world, it’s *their property” we’re talking about — and THEY are the hippie egalitarians if they think we are all supposed to throw everything in the pot and THEY get to take it like socialist thiefs in the night, and we don’t get to benefit from it or contribute to decisions about it.

    I hope that will put paid to your cynical little attempt to play gotcha on me.

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