Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prokofy's choice

I've been musing on the broadcast on Monday, in which Prokofy likened Linden Labs to some sort of secretive government, only willing to tell a partial truth about itself.

Anyone who has spent time in Second Life begins to wonder about the company at the heart of the world. Initially, I realised that I was quite immature in my relationship with them; having come from a gameworld (UruLive) where there was considerable control exercised because that game was still in betatest, and because there was a storyline and backstory which was in the creator's control, I expected a similar level of control from Linden Lab in Second Life. I wanted there to be a Father figure watching over the world, resolving disputes, providing guidance, being all-seeing and all-powerful, banishing the griefer and rewarding those who tried to make the virtual world a better place.

I grew out of that, but there is still a fascination to know how things are decided, how things are run, especially when there are contradictions which don't appear to make sense.

Many moons ago, for example, when private islands were first introduced, there arose a dispute over whether it was possible to "sell" land on islands. At that time, in the forums, Linden Lab policy was "absolutely not"... meanwhile they attended events at which they praised the person then notorious for doing this, Anshe Chung, for being a trailblazer for others, and the future of Second Life. It was infuriating for people who followed the rules, to see someone breaking the rules and yet getting praise for it. I see the better analogy than government, though, being with a parent who behaves unreasonably, or arbitrarily. Strangely Prokofy has always seemed fairly pro-Anshe and relatively anti-Linden Lab.

Prokofy has often written at length about her feeling that there is an injustice at the heart of Second Life, a feted inner core (FIC) which is privy to Linden bounty in the form of information, special treatment or contracts. My picture though, is not of a deliberate injustice or lack of openness in Linden labs but a rather chaotic style of management which sometimes works for the good of the platform and sometimes doesn't, and sometimes appears inexplicably contradictory.

The BIG difference though, between RL selectively closed governments, or even outright despots, and those in the virtual world is the element of choice. If I live in Zimbabwe, I may be constrained by economics, legal complications or education from escaping the government I live under. No-one (currently) is forced to live under the rule of the Lindens.

Indeed, some might say that they have put quite a lot of effort into not governing the world, except where real life laws put them under an obligation to do so. The interesting thing for people engaged in the platform and those watching virtual worlds for signs and portents of the future, is whether the apparent wild west of the Second Life platform is just a foretaste of the burgeoning worlds and territories that may lie before us in a multiverse which has no ostensible government at all: a cacophony of worlds springing up.

I find the relationship between the real world and the virtual one a fascinating study, and I guess the evidence of her blog is that Prokofy does too. When examining the decisions made by Linden Labs, and her irritation with them as unsatisfactory government, she must bear in mind: in the virtual world she still has a choice - and may have many more before the decade is out.

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