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Free for All: Why you shouldn't be worried while playing Second Life


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Recently I've taken a great interest in Second Life. For the record, I've been interested in the game -- er, world -- for the past seven years. More specifically, my seventh "birthday" is coming up on May 26th, 2011, meaning that I have been exploring, building, discussing and watching Second Life for a long, long time. I truly enjoy wandering into groups of other players who seem to think that my fairly basic avatar means that I am either new or ignorant about the game. I love telling them that I have been playing a long time, probably longer than they have. I'm actually proud of it.

Still, in spite of my history with the game, I do miss major developments. I am not consumed with the politics and goings on at Linden Lab (maker of Second Life). So when I heard about the changes that were being made concerning adult content, I sort of tuned it out and continued to play off and on. I typically disliked -- no, hated is a better word -- the adult content I came across in Second Life, so I simply avoided it.

If there is one thing I am asked about Second Life, it's "aren't there orgies going on all the time?" Seriously. I get asked about orgies more than anything. I wanted to go over the official rules to reassure those curious and wary potential players that they will not be shot in the face with a sex toy -- unless they want to be.

Click past the cut and let's discuss.

First I would like to thank Linden Lab for being so open to me and for allowing me to pester its devs with questions that have probably been answered over and over. I've learned that assumptions about common knowledge can often be wrong (like that annoying question "Is that game still around?"). Not all knowledge is common, as in the case with the rules of Second Life. I asked a few obvious questions and tried to clear up some sticking points. Let me just quickly go over the rules so that we can discuss what they mean in practice.

First of all, Second Life is totally free. It will only cost you real dough if you decide to own or rent land or if you want in-game money to shop with. You can literally log in with a free account, make something wonderful in a community sandbox (an area that allows for temporary projects at no charge), and sell it. Once you sell it, you can buy some land, rent land from another player (which requires no premium membership), go shopping, or even turn your Linden dollars in for real cash. You could, with enough time and effort, make a living from this game/world. Let's forget that, though. That prospect requires not only a lot of time (and possibly money up front) but a lot of trouble. You would be better off finding a second job.

Once you make your account and your avatar (that can take hours alone), you'll need to decide whether you would like to see adult content or not. You can verify your adult status either by adding a credit card to your account or by filling out a form on the official website. Of course, I am simplifying all of this, but you get the picture -- it works in similar ways in other MMOs.

"Now, it should be understood that Linden Lab cannot possibly police every single pixel that is uploaded to its world. The team knows this and has decided to reference real life when questions like mine come up."

Let's say you choose to avoid "Mature" content but are OK with "Moderate" or "General" settings. You simply indicate that in your game preferences, and then you will not be able to access areas that are marked as "Mature." Of course, I had to ask if these rules would stop a player from dressing like a giant sex organ and running across your lawn, to which LL replied: "This wouldn't be allowed in a General-rated region. While there isn't a technical component preventing an avatar from doing this, breaking the rules could get you reported to Linden Lab via the Abuse Report tool as a violation of our Terms of Service (which can result in suspension or cancellation of your account), and might result in being banned from the estate by the landowner."

In other words, it works the same as in any MMO. If someone does something bad, you can report him. How he is punished, you will never know.

Now, it should be understood that Linden Lab cannot possibly police every single pixel that is uploaded to its world. The team knows this and has decided to reference real life when questions like mine come up. Actually, I understand what the devs mean when they say that "the nature of Second Life as a creativity tool that allows real-time interaction with other users around the world means that, like in real life, there is some potential for another person to do something unexpected and break the rules." Either the devs are completely full of hot air or they truly believe that your Second Life should be treated as your first. You have the right to do anything as long as it does not harm someone else.

Of course, over the years, LL has had its problems with players who, for example, want to participate in incest fantasies -- something that the staff takes very, very seriously. I have heard stories about players who were banned so hard their computers only played Minesweeper afterward.

This brings me to the most burning question: Why allow the adult content at all? Why not just round up everyone who is wearing leather in game and do one mass ban? Simple, right? Well, not so if we consider that Second Life is supposed to be about creating some sort of virtual escape for many people. I am not stupid enough to say that I won't judge them, because I will (and so will most of you), but I will not pretend that playing sexy dress-up is the most evil thing in the world. I would even bet that for some folks it is a much-needed social outlet, something they might not physically or mentally be able to have otherwise. I get that.

Linden Lab gave me the expected answer about allowing the adult content in the first place. You know, the ol' "Second Life is a creativity tool that our customers use in a staggering variety of ways -- from immersive roleplaying games to live concerts, from shopping for virtual goods to learning another language, from charitable fundraising to filming machinima, exploring incredible spaces created by other users, meeting new friends from around the world, and much more. Adult content is just a single facet of the countless user-created experiences available in Second Life."

"We all know that the incoming cash from the cyber-sex scene isn't something that Linden Lab is going to turn down."

We all know that the incoming cash from the cyber-sex scene isn't something that Linden Lab is going to turn down. I'd bet that most of the cash LL makes comes from land fees paid by people who really just want to settle down for a quiet night of ball-gagging. You know what? I have zero problem with that. I'm going to clean up this old joke, but it goes something like this: "If there's one thing I care most about in the world, it's how I get mine. If there's one thing I care least about, it's how you get yours."

Still, I don't want to see it if I don't have to. So yes, besides the occasional streaker running across my newly planted flowers, I will forgive any run-ins with the darker side. Heck, some of those people are downright fun to be around. It's good to see that Linden Lab does take the issue seriously. The company has estimated that "around 2-4% of content on the mainland would be considered Adult according to our current thinking on defining that. For all of Second Life, our content research shows it is around 5%." It would seem that avoiding the "naughty" parts should be pretty easy, especially considering that the adult content is concentrated on a single continent called Zindra.

I want to thank Linden Lab again for being so frank with me. My goal here was to show new players that Second Life is indeed more than non-stop orgies. If it helps you feel any better, I have never been to an orgy in Second Life.

I was invited to one once, though.

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to!

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