Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Squatter communities and Virtual Worlds

If you have followed my Twitter microblog for at least the past few days, you may have noticed that I have been traveling to certain places in SL that would seem "seedy" at first glance. Specifically I visited places that on some level or another, represent the favelas of Brazil and Portugal, such as Cidade De Deus(City of God) and Favela Do Capao Redondo.

I was inspired to do so after stumbling onto a video presentation by Robert Neuwirth, a journalist who has spent two years of his life living in squatter communities in four continents(quite an achievement, I'd say). He argues that these squatter communities are "the cities of tomorrow". To a surprising extent, he may be very right. In fact, Robert's argument is playing out right now in the context of virtual worlds.

When Second Life began as LindenWorld, everything was a blank slate to explore, build and develop on. The pioneers of LindenWorld began creating little communities, with merely a fraction of the creation abilities of today's Second Life. Yesterday's LindenWorld beared very little resemblance to Second Life. It was "the virtual world of tomorrow".

As Second Life became more and more mainstream, it simultaneously became more restrictive in certain ways. First it was the gambling ban. Then it was banking. Then ageplay became practically verboten. Most recently adult content is getting thrown into an age-verified only red light district called Zindra. At every point many communities complained it would strip a piece of their freedoms away, but they were ultimately silenced because Linden Lab "had to do this to stay legitimate".

As something of a response to the increasing restrictive complexity, other but less developed virtual worlds have emerged. Most notably is OpenSim, a clean-room reverse engineered implementation of a Second Life sim server. With this, you can host your own sim and hook it up to an existing online grid.

In this sense, OpenSim and it's derivatives can be seen in a similar light as the shantytowns and favelas Mr. Neuwirth talks of so fondly: it offers the kind of freedom Second Life does not. Everybody owns a sim, but property rights are either loose or non-existant. Everything that was once commonplace but now forbidden in SL can be seen on OSGrid or any number of smaller clusters of sims. They are the "virtual favelas" where those who have been disenfranchised by SL may wind up going. This is the competition to SL that it and its' residents must not shun, but rather engage with if SL and the virtual world community at large are to prosper in the long term.

Thankfully, we are seeing a bit or progress on that front, as LL's Content Management Roadmap blog post speaks of best practices for inter-virtual world content interoperability. It is a good first step, but much more engagement and debate must be made on all sides. Otherwise, SL may wind up like Vault 101 from the Fallout 3 video game: sealed off, isolated and left behind. On that, I hope I'm wrong actually, but that's what it seems to me.

So, what's your take? Does SL need these "virtual squatter communities", or am I simply being foolish praising "virtual slums"? Comments are open for discussion :)

My bad sionChicken experience

A few days ago, I had read of the plight of Second Life's most infamous resident, Prokofy Neva, in her quest to raise a group of sionChickens on a farm. I had read about sionChickens before, as they seem to be the latest craze in SL. As I was reading Prok's post, I started to get curious about getting into the chicken craziness. At the end of her post was a SLurl that went directly to her farm. I decided I would go there, observe the chickens in action, and perhaps even ask Prok why chicken farming in SL is worth it. In hindsight, that was the most stupid and naive decision I've ever made in SL.

What happened? Well, I got to the farm, and it had most of the staples of a chicken farm: a chicken coop, a hen house and a chicken range. I had even seen Prok's favorite chick "Hope". Adorable little things, for sure, as they moved around on their own, pecked around and did stuff just like RL chickens. I was careful to keep a distance though, because I had read that it's very easy to kill a sionChicken(too easy, IMO).

So I observed the chickens for about two minutes, and then guess who teleports in? Yup, it's Prok. What happened next?
[20:54] Antonius Misfit: Halllooooo
[20:54] Prokofy Neva ejected and banned you from this land.
[20:54] Antonius Misfit: figures

I simply say "Hi", and I get banned for it? Later on I figure that she believed I was going to kill her chickens, because in her eyes "open source=criminal griefer". A day or two later, she reveals that Hope had gotten killed by a griefer called "Soviet Admiral". I thought about her entire ordeal, and I realized that the griefings and chicken killings could have been avoided if she had made a few simple checkbox clicks in the land management tab. A parcel lockdown would have given her peace of mind. I posed that as a question both on Twitter and her blog comments.

What did I get as a response? A silent comment deletion on her blog(not entirely unexpected, but again... being naive struck me again), and these two little doozies on Twitter(she's protected her individual tweets, but still visible via her Twitter home page):
@antoniusmisfit oh, shut the fuck up. We aren't required to live in parcel lockdown just to keep you assholes away. Grow up.

@antoniusmisfit What a spectacle, violent griefing assholes philosophizing abt how victims didn't lock down. Seriously, go fuck yourself.

Wow. If there were anything such as a baptism by fire, I just received a taste of it. I'm a "philosophizing violent griefer asshole" now, according to her. Yet, she has the balls to harass a Linden with an alt account(ironically named "Dear Leader", Prok must have a crush on Kim Jeong Il), get that account banned, and actually post all the details of it on her blog? Compare that to what I did, and decide for yourself who is the griefer.

In a way I should thank her, though. Just after she had banned me from Belarus, I had read in the Herald that the EULA for sionChickens is actually illegal. So between that and Prok's ban-and-flame routine, I'm now of the opinion that sionChickens are cute but devious little scams. They induce lag, die too easily, upgrades are mandatory per EULA(and not free or discounted either), and if Sion or his employees believe you are criticizing their products(even if you aren't but think you are), you are irrevocably blacklisted.

So I decided to offer an alternative to sionChickens. It won't die, won't force you to buy expensive accessories or food, and can be totally modified to make it uniquely your own. It is technically a parody item, but just like the RL Pet Rock craze, it offers something that no other pet does - a stress-free experience, and for some people that makes all the difference :)

What's your opinion? Is Prok right, or has she gone off the deep end(yet again)? Am I right about sionChickens, or are they just misunderstood? Comments are open(unlike on Prok's blog).