Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Linden Lab's™ Triple Burden: The Creepy Treehouse
Location: Reading Student Blogs
This thought came to me after the Jon Himoff talk we just held. Even as educators consider other virtual worlds, Second Life® soldiers on and has successes like the UT system-wide rollout I noted recently. SL™ moves forward, however, with a triple burden on its back.
First, there are the heavy and ham-handed regulations such as the ongoing squabble about educators and the SL trademark. Then there is the issue of trusting the Lab to protect our creations on their servers, without any recourse to backup locally, beyond the textures we create and upload.
Finally, and least accurately, among too many educators, administrators, and fire-breathing politicians SL has an overstated reputation as a haven for sexual activity, sims full of Gorean slave-girls and yiffing furries, or events ruined by squadrons of "flying penises" ready to descend upon serious events.
It's really too bad that Anshe Chung got griefed (warning: link shows sexually offensive images) that way, but that image from the old days of SL sticks. Now such stupidity can be avoided by anyone with a brain and land permissions (which excludes me, given the nuclear-bomb placement on my land). Yet the rhetorical power of SL's first real-life millionaire under siege from phloating phalli made that image definitive for some brilliant folks in educational technology. And beyond the ring of digerati, it's worse.
An editor at the Richmond Times Dispatch said "Second Life is just about sex," when I proposed my old blog at the conservative paper (now in deep trouble, like most print news sources). His Web editor and I convinced him otherwise, but my early posts got heavily edited and any risque references were taken out.
I don't know that Linden Lab will ever shake these sad images, even with the wise move to open the adult-rated continent, Zindra.
Currently, their product offers educators the best choice for simulations hard to achieve on our college campuses or communities, as when my students change race or gender for a week. To have educational value, those sorts of simulation need immersion, or the Uncanny Valley moment when a simulation becomes so compelling or realistic that we forget, momentarily, that we are in a simulation. The usual reaction is revulsion, according to the traditional definition of the term. As I have heard the term used recently, however, it evokes any moment of awe, whether in terror or wonder.
Right now, Second Life offers two great advantages over the competition: a large community in-world and a lot of excellently made content. As the gap between it and other worlds closes, we'll have to make a decision.
Second Life may simply need a new name: the very term evokes the "Creepy Treehouse" metaphor that we educators need to shed. That level of change rests with the controversial firm with its brick-and-mortar offices in downtown San Francisco.