Monday, April 16, 2007

Michael's Diary and Annotations

This article is a quick intro to the behind the scenes action of the SL economy and very funny—although I don’t think it was supposed to be. It is to me because they are basically emulating the US economy (of course building at a much faster rate—15% growth now and I don’t know how long its been going), something they must have learned was good for some reason (US education?) and are likely heading for disaster. Whether virtual or real life, combining “intense competition in the market place,” a desire for low inflation (ie, covering up inflation), “central bank toolkits” and Alan Greenspan-esque ideas with more power than he had—makes for an economy that is likely to speed right off a cliff. Wait and see.

This article describes the “virtual version of the US Capitol” Democrats used to promote their new power-laden “agenda” in SL. This follows the theme of the “intersections” of real life American politics and SL, I read about in the above article. I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing the Linden Labs (original makers?) started SL without any political foundations and are now just looking at how successful the US government is for America, and copying it. Of course, viritualizing an unjust system was likely to create movements like the SL Liberation Army. And make SL politics all the more interesting to people like say, THE FBI? Oh wait, I’m sure they were just interested in the gambling.

This study has some interesting findings. I was thinking about the socio-economic status of people who participate in SL to begin with, and although I didn’t check the full study or anywhere else—I’m guessing they come from similar classes, if not the same. So taking one’s RL wealth and happiness into the virtual world kind of sums up the study if I’m not mistaken. Interesting also that “there is no middle class” in SL, so I guess not everyone is transferring their real life into SL. Or maybe it is already prophetic of the future RL.̢۪s-put-the-future-behind-us/

Interesting Warren Ellis article about the “three-dimensional statements of where Second Life came from.” In introduced me to the author, William Gibson, and his views and actualizations of “cyberpunk.” The dystopian and pessimistic views of the science-fiction writers and game designers of the 1980s, were fascinating to read about and I plan on doing more in the future (if that’s where such things are done?).

So I’ve only read about 10 or so articles on Reuters but I’m pretty sure this Warren Ellis one has the most profound statement about SL ever written—“Sometimes, the users are Second Life’s own worst enemy.” Indeed. The description about how guns are needed (and plenty available) to defend your avatar in SL (apparently the Linden Labs have not figured how good police forces are for domestic control) seems to be just another description of some distorted RL notions inserting themselves into SL. I only read once or so about how SL is supposed to be a utopia, but I read more about the dystopia it is and will be in the future. Not that this is pessimism or an attack on SL, but I don’t see how it is going to work if it just emulates, speeds up, and exacerbates real American life.

A Rape in Cyberspace

I don’t think I was as frustrated as others would be reading the chapter; how someone could be ‘virtually’ raped and have it resonate RL feelings. For me, the boundaries between RL signifiers, signified[s], facts, etc., and whatever happens in “semifictional digital otherworlds (MUDs)” or any other realities, are more porous than not. Dibell describes that LambdaMOO was “designed to give users the vivid impression of moving through a physical space that in reality exists only as words filed away on a hard drive” (3). Is this so different than RL, where we experience vivid impressions from words stored away in our brains? He even describes how virtual sex makes one experience the exchange of signs first hand, not intellectually, which makes the experience seem “profoundly, compellingly, and emotionally true” (4). That said, Dibell does also acknowledge that the rape and everything subsequent only happened and make sense in virtual reality. In this reality, some other interesting things include the mob-like call for a ‘toading’, and not having the power to do so—described as “a quick-and-dirty means of social control” (5). Also, how the community was forced to define itself once the wizards gave up control, and didn’t really seem able to do so. And it was extremely interesting when the community started turning away from the call for capital punishment when there was “the opportunity to probe the rapist’s mind, to find out what made it tick and if possible how to get it to tick differently” (8). Then they quickly labeled him as a “sociopath” and the toading was carried out soon after. I think the overall importance of the chapter has to do with the new platform technology has given to performative speech acts—how something so horrible as rape could be carried out with just signs.

Multi-User Dimensions and Alternate Realities

In Reingold’s chapter, I first noticed the importance of literacy in MUDs. He builds his entire argument off ‘The Great Divide’ theory (in question itself) between modern literate and ancient oral cultures. So MUDs are a place (like RL) where, in order to succeed in any way, one has to acquire the “mastery of the MUDs’ world-building languages” and “meet certain challenges.” He also says that “knowledge of how the world works can translate into power over the other inhabitants.” All of this means that the mastery of this discourse brings power over those less literate. The masters become a class (the MUD illuminati), and are able to reinforce their power with the “certain challenges.” And that means that there is likely to be the same injustice in VR as in RL, since it seems they are just copying the RL model. That said, Reingold also mentions the egalitarian ideals of MUDs and how most users go out of their way to help others. This is part of the overall sense I got from our readings: that people participate in MUDs or are attracted to them because of the egalitarian, democratic possibilities—something they are not able to find in RL. As Dibell writes—there are possibilities there to build “societies more decent and free than those mapped onto dirt and concrete and capital.” But, as I mentioned about SL, there seems to be (at least what I've read so far) more dystopian aspects than utopian ones. Maybe digital communities will be the place where a just civilization can be forged and I don’t even think RL is the ultimate reality, but I don’t see the point in trying to escape from it. So here is my value judgment: Why fight injustice in another reality and not this one? I got the sense that MUDders do not do much fighting in this reality (although maybe that’s what MUDding is), so I am left wondering what RL would look like if MUDders spent 80 hours a week doing so.

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