Posts from January, 2007

January 2, 2007

Archive Repost: Second Life in Fall 2003

[The MUD-DEV archives have been offline for several years and I know some folks have linked to the following post (and now have dead links). Since I re-tell parts of this story often, I thought I’d archive it here for posterity. There is no special meaning to me re-posting it now.]

From : “F. Randall Farmer”
To : “Discussion of MUD system design, development,and implementation”
Subject : RE: [MUD-Dev] The State of Play: On the Second Life Tax Revolt
Date : Tue, 23 Sep 2003 23:12:33 -0700

Monday, September 22, 2003 8:16 AM, J C Lawrence said:

> The State of Play: On the Second Life Tax Revolt Posted by James
> Grimmelmann on Sunday, September 21 @ 19:11:48 EDT Governance

I couldn’t let this one go without comment:

JC quotes a rather lengthy article attempting to tie a “tax revolt” in Second Life to an emergent democracy. As a long-time beta tester of Second Life (and a a User Experience/UI design contractor a few months back), I’d have to say that it is all much ado about nothing. The ‘protest’ was neither widespread, nor was it as ‘intense’ as as it could have been (see below). Virtual Press photos had to be re-enacted for the staff-written newsletter and the vast bulk of users didn’t know it had happened until he wrote about it, days later.

Specifically, Grimmelmann said:

> Other than quitting the game entirely (the threat which lurks
> behind all such protests), a street party is just about the only
> action you can take that will even come to the attention of the
> authorities.

This is an understatement of some scale for all systems, but especially Second Life.

A protest party is pretty much the _easiest_ action you can take in SL.

I personally (along with many others) have generated significant attention and action from ‘the authorities’ (and fellow citizens) using the built-in scripting, object creation mechanisms, and persuasive reasoning on the game Forums.

During beta, I built an invisible teleporting auto-cannon that fired 100 invisible rounds per minute and unleashed it in an area of WWII Online folks who had been at ‘war’ with my clan. It killed hundreds for about an hour before I was asked by the ‘authorities’ to remove it. Changes were made so that invisible objects can be seen in authoring mode.

After release, I created a world-touring, talking airship ALA Blade-Runner. Logs indicate that thousands of people had seen and interacted with over a two month period. It became well known, and the subject of some debate. This airship (along with various user-run air taxi services) often became ‘stuck’ over people’s land because of a mis-tuned property feature. One good rant posted on
their forums stating a rational case and citing Lawrence Lessig citing the Supreme Court’s decision in US V. CAUSBY and the problem was fixed in the next build. [See full post for excerpted discussion thread.]

And I’m not even close the most skilled or prolific scripters/artists/politicos on that system. Though my personal reputation may have helped convince the authorities in the case of the airship right-of-way discussion, that serves to reinforce my point: Well considered and executed individual action often facilitates change more efficiently than any mob-party.

Honestly, the Tea-Party in Second-Life had little in common with the historic event: Destroying ships and tea did real financial harm to the King of England (and loyalist businesses). The tea crates in the SL protest were bought and paid for by the protesters, who were taxed for them anyway. On the other hand, those few who tore down the structures that they knew Linden Labs liked to visit during their press demos (thus removing value from the system) were closer to those great American terrorists of old. :-) They were few and far between.

Most of the tax protesters aren’t all that serious. They aren’t en-mass taking the actions that would cause a change, because it isn’t that important to them. It is a street-party because they’ll keep playing even if the tax structure doesn’t ever change.

So, asserting that a real-time ‘street-party’ protest within a virtual world is the most effective form of facilitating change we can hope-for/expect is a supposition that I think deserves serious challenge. Users can (and will) do so much more.

The so-called Second Life Tax Revolt is a bad example of ’emergent governance’ for the reasons stated above: Taxes don’t matter enough for the users to do anything significant, even though they have the power and the skills.

Randy [September 23, 2003]

»» Archive Repost: Second Life in Fall 2003