Thursday, April 23, 2009

Artists consider Adult Content ratings in Second Life, and I reach my own conclusions

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

Let me first say that I understand Linden Lab's motivations for rating (see "Upcoming Changes for Adult Content and sections of the Second Life® grid. In fact, about three months ago, I decided to rate my own sim PG in support of my desire to make it newbie friendly. Newbies already have a lot to deal with when they arrive, and rezzing next to a couple that's copulating in the woods (I still don't get why people do this in very public spaces, but eh) is, in my view, too much of a test, not that I enjoy coming upon these situations myself.

However, I do prefer environments that provide for the greatest level of individual freedoms within a framework of accountability, and I always worry when any entity takes it upon itself to tighten controls over what is right and wrong. I do believe that Linden Lab will rue the day it ever decided to walk this lawsuit-happy path. Notwithstanding special viewers and other automated processes, they are going to devote copious amounts of precious time and resources in arbitration.

Tateru Nino over at Massively is still working on her coverage of this story. "I can't find three people in SL that can all agree on what's allowable in a PG sim," she told me. She shared a few more very fascinating insights in a Not Possible IRL group IM immediately following the announcement, so I'm especially looking forward to her post, which may come as soon as tomorrow.

I was immediately curious to hear what people in Second Life's art community opined on this topic so I did a quick roundup.

New media superstar Gazira Babeli was busy making some interesting changes to how the Odyssey sim will appear on the map when we spoke (we'll have to wait for the next system refresh to see it). Gaz and I agree that this is going to consume a great deal of Linden Lab's time and resources. "That means decadence. Resources lost in details always result in decadence," she said.

Artist and lead creator of many of the grid's most popular sims, including the Greenies, Pavig Lok: Part of me says "about time" and part of me says "best option available" and part of me says "dammit the unicorns and fae have gone from our world, curse you loss of innocence!"

Artist and founder of Second Life's art-critique mecca Brooklyn is Watching, Jay Newt, responded to my email this way:

"It's a really interesting question. It seems to me a little like the movie rating system, and I like the movie system, because it is voluntary. There is the category "unrated" and you know that that means: "who the hell knows what it is going to be." I wish they would make these categories for SL content voluntary in that way so you could advertise your content as fitting into one of those categories or you could elect not to participate in that particular categorization scheme and then people would know that they are just taking their chances coming to your sim.

I also think that SL artists will likely get upset over this because of what they think will happen as a result and the truth is that none us of us knows what will happen as a result. It could be that most places will list themselves as "adult" just to have the freedom to do what they want, even if they aren't about sex or violence, and there will be no stigma attached to that label...

We're all jumping ship from SL as soon as there's a large enough community on some un-regulated open source distributed server system anyway, right? :)"

Hyperformalist and producer/director of ZeroG SkyDancers DanCoyote Antonelli offered an intriguing perspective: "If any company leans on the US legal system in their Terms of Service and are protected by US laws, they should also follow through and support the right to free speech provided for in the US Constitution. Want to be protected by US law? Then provide US rights as outlined in the Bill of Rights.

Leading fashion designer and artist, Eshi Otawara: "If the concern is children, this still will not stop them from entering Second Life and pursuing their curiosities. It's the responsibility of the parent to supervise their child. As far as adult content being 'offensive' to adults, I am sorry to say- there is far more of both natural and less natural human activity that offends a lot of us on a more profound level then adult content ever can. But in those cases it is socially acceptable so those who don't agree must conform or keep quiet in the least.

"For me, this is just another step that Linden Lab, unfortunately, must make - to protect the company from the people whose state of mind is so unfortunately fragile they cannot handle functions of their own bodies and who are indoctrinated into false pretensions that assuming what is commonly and unfortunately for human kind referred to as 'purity' vs. embracing the human nature provided to them at birth by whatever/whom ever one chooses to put faith towards makes them somehow more in control of anything. For the rest of us, there are always contentedness, laughter and hope Darwin takes care of it in the long run."

Finally, artist and co-founder of Arthole, the often-controversial arts center that will surely be affected by these new rules because it sits on the mainland, Nebulosus Severine, wrote back a very thoughtful response.

"As you know, I have some very strong opinions on the upcoming changes in SL that would restrict a lot of so-called Adult content. The way LL is handling it is still so unclear to me, and I keep going back and forth from optimism to pessimism.

I don't have to worry about all aspects of this new policy. I am already payment verified, so my presence in SL won't be limited; that is at least some relief to me.

However, I have already taken preliminary steps in considering what will have to be done with Arthole. Arahan and I will be talking soon to figure out what to do. I know he and I both agree that we must have absolute creative freedom to address any subject matter with our art. As we frequently choose controversial topics, I think the safest bet would be to move Arthole to an Adult piece of land.

However, this will limit the access of several friends who, although adults, are not age-verified (for their own personal reasons), and wouldn't be able to come visit Arthole, if it does end up on Adult land. That is really frustrating and heartbreaking.

Not to mention that I have had the same piece of land in Kress for nearly 4 years. I suppose a move isn't that big of a deal, but it's still an inconvenience to say the least.

When it comes right down to it, I believe that LL is censoring SL. I've read their arguments to the contrary, and I don't trust their supposed reasoning. And with their proposed definitions of what "Adult" is, it seems as though they'd have an easier time making a new PG continent and keeping THAT all together. The Mature rating is effectively useless, too. Why not divide the grid geographically into "Adult" and "All Ages" and keep it simple?

Seriously... "illicit drug use" will be considered "adult"? I have never been to a live concert in SL that did NOT have an avatar (or three, or ten) smoking on a prim joint or tripping on scripted 'shrooms.

Anyway, I could go on and on. My bottom line is that I distrust and despise ANYTHING that would seek to restrict freedom of expression. I consider censorship to be one of the biggest violations of human rights. I know LL is a private company, but the more that censorship is imposed on people in any community, the more people start to just accept it as a fact of life, and THAT is dangerous," concluded Nebulosus.


"Why not divide the grid geographically into 'Adult' and 'All Ages' and keep it simple?" suggests Nebulosus. This sounds appealing, smart and effective doesn't it? And cost and resource thin, right? Oh, wait! Isn't that what is already in place? Which leads me to conclude...

Why change a system that just needs to be implemented properly?

Is this just busy work that will result in the same-ole same-ole put in place just to hush some fundamentalist and ultra conservative groups, at the great expense of art facilities like Arthole?

See also: What will happen to art?


Thingy said...

Jerry Springer's audience has discoverd SL and fancy crap like art doesn't really matter. The residents just want their daily fix of gossip and drama. and who can blame 'em. It's not exactly a smooth experience trying to explore SL.

LL's only concern is the 'Online Now' number. They would happily take a dump on the Mona Lisa if it resulted in a bigger 'Online Now' number.

DanCoyote said...


I'm not sure I agree with you about LL's focus. ALL industries are embroiled in this controversy and LL is trying to respond. Granted corporations have different priorities than artists or residents, and sure they have made mistakes in the past, however if they were all that draconian they would not be seeking any resident input. Their track record is a lot less oppressive than say AOL or others.

Where do people get the idea that SL is an entitlement? I think they do a fair job at servicing a mostly ungrateful and critical group of people, and mostly FOR FREE.

I don't work for LL and they wouldn't have me if I wanted to, and sure they are a stinking corporation, but they are OUR stinking corporation, one that we depend on for a service.

I have been saying for years that SL'ers are a colony, and that we are nearly to the point where as a colony we should have a say in our own destiny and the rules that govern our activity in OUR community.

So sooner or later this colony will get its act together and put all our good ideas into print and share in governance and represent our own interests regarding intellectual property, free speech standards etc.

Let's make it sooner than later folks. If we all get together as a block, we have power and influence. As individuals all we can do is hiss and moan about it.

your loyal desert doggie

DanCoyote (whois DC Spensley in RL)

Thingy said...


I don't think LL is draconian. They provide a service. It's normal for a service provider to measure its success by the number of users.

I have no problem with LL.

..or Jerry Springer's audience. :)

xlent1 said...

a vague policy without clear enforcement doesn't really inspire confidence. The grey area here is too big and LL will struggle to deliver this and be fair in how they try.

Adric said...

Why is it that no matter what the question, we run to get the "SL Artist" view which as a whole is about as large as the "SL Making Ton O'Money" group?

Truthseeker Young said...

I dunno, Adric, could it be because this blog features a lot of SL artists, and it's likely that even more SL artists read it?

Or is it a different 'we' you're referring to? In which case I have no idea...

LEE said...

Adric,the question was asked of SL artists because their work is dependent in large part on the right of free expression: any censorship severely limits an artists' scope from the outset, and even if an artist doesn't create "adult" content, he or she is still working in the shadow of censorship. And lastly, why not artists? Who would you prefer?
I am as confused as everyone else as to why LL didn't simply create a "Disneyland" PG version of SL for the delicate of psyche and leave everyone else alone, but you would have to read the threads in the forum for any possible answers to that question. I personally believe, as does Nebulosus, that LL is censoring SL for the purpose of eventually driving the "undesirable elements " out.

Bryan said...

(made a stupid type-o, re-posting)

Let me be clear, I am not for censorship. But...

I have to disagree with this "censorship severely limits an artists' scope" notion. In the professional commercial art circles I deal with it is an excepted fact that part of being creative is working within the restrictions and limitations imposed by a client while finding creative ways to outshine those limitations. For many commercial artists, censorship isn't a limitation, it is a challenge to conquer.

This also happens in the case of music censorship. For instance there are a number of UK bands on the record about how their creative inspiration was pushed by BBC censorship rules and their desire to not only get a top 10 song but have it be something incredibly crude in the process (The Police are big example that comes to mind here as they have spoken about this at length in interviews).

How about here in the U.S. with bands such as ZZ Top (would "Perl Necklace" be a better song if they just said "She wants me to cum on her neck"?). What about even more recent songs such as Rihanna's "Shut Up and Drive" which is a very sexually charged song.

As far as music goes, sometimes I get tired of all the rap music that is nothing more than a string of profanities. I find that type of music uninspired and tired. But give me a song with colorful euphemisms and creative metaphors that challenges the system and I'm up for a listen, of course this can get tired and formulaic as well so again there has to be a balance.

I think the reality is that LL isn't going to be able to be the Uber Police (they can't without crossing the line that costs them accounts). Their activity will be spastic and reactionary by the very nature of what they set out to do.

Me personally I look forward to the artists who work at challenging the system. I can't wait to the see the chaos that comes out of order.

Ruina Kessel said...

Bryan: I think there is a big difference between an artist who does work for other people and has to work within the limitations given to them, and an artist that does art for the sake of doing art. As an artist of the latter category, I have to say censorship does indeed limit the scope of my work. Why? Because it means that I either have to be worrying about the content of my creation instead of organically creating it, or I have to make art without worrying while I create it and then watch it get censored. And, as a part of the audience for artwork, I'm DEFINITELY affected because of what will be taken away from me via censorship.

This doesn't mean I can't challenge the system, but it does mean that what I create, what I view is still "affected".

CM Pauluh aka Nebulosus Severine said...

Bryan, I definitely agree with Ruina.

(For the record, I am not a commercial artist. I don't have "clients," and I work however I please.)

I sometimes relish the idea of working within limitations; I do enjoy working around them and it can be a fun challenge. Prim limitations, for example, have helped me to work efficiently and to come up with creative solutions for some of my builds.

However, outright censorship is entirely different -- it's more than a limitation; it's a restriction, it's a prison.

Much of the art I've already done would never have gotten made in the first place if I had to worry about censorship. It would have compromised my vision and made it less intense -- and my art is meant to be intense. That's part of the point to my work; it's made to grab you by the throat and shake you.

As far as challenging the system goes -- well, count me in. I aim to challenge every limitation, rule, or guideline presented to me. I've always been like that and always will be. Certain people may dismiss some of my work in that case, others may love it because it's challenging. So be it.