Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Buying, Being, Creating and Consuming in Second Life - Part 1

This post began more than a month ago as a (thankfully unpublished) rant about what I termed "The Cult of the Creator Class" in Second Life. It was born out of my frustrated attempts to move purchased assets such as shape, skin, clothes and furniture from Second Life to an Open Simulator Grid. But as I pondered the reasons behind the draconian Digital Rights Management I battled, a number of questions came to mind that defied easy answers:
  • Why are the vast majority of digital goods in Second Life -even freebies - hobbled by copy, modification or transfer restrictions?
  • Why hasn't the incredible grassroots creativity in Second Life spawned a Share/Remix culture, instead of the current one that supports the hording of IP rights and control?
  • Why is the program feature that permanently embeds a creator's name into every Second Life object generally perceived as an ethical imperative?
  • What do many creators I speak with get so riled up at the thought of someone "taking credit" for their work, even if there is no financial impact?
I realize there are financial dimensions to these questions and promise to address those factors in a subsequent post. For now I pose the question:

Do you think I'm hot?

After almost a year since Botgirl's rezday, I am still taken aback when someone says something like "You're so beautiful" in reference to the visual form of the Botgirl avatar. Obviously "I" am not the pixelated form they see, right? A more accurate statement would be "Your avatar is beautiful," but I can't remember a single instance of anyone phrasing the sentiment in such a fashion. I don't think the blurring of our selves and our digital forms is just fuzzy semantics. In fact, I think the language is a pretty accurate reflection of our psychological perception.

So what the hell does this have to do with DRM and intellectual property? It seems to me that in the pseudonymous environment of Second Life our creations are experienced as significant and perhaps inseparable aspects of our digital identity; of who we are. Our atomic identities are the complex result of decades of life experience. Our digital personas are a year or two old and formed from a relatively narrow realm of relationships and activities.

Our creations in Second Life are viscerally experienced as essential aspects of our digital identity. And by creations, I don't just mean the prims we build, but also the creative activity of combining purchased items to form our bodies, wardrobes and environments.

I think there is a kind of inherent tension between creators and consumers in virtual worlds that transcends economics and does not have a clear comparable in the atomic world. The tension is between the identification of the creator with the objects they birth, and the identification of the consumer with the objects she acquires and integrates into her form and environment.

I'll leave it here for now. Stay tuned for Part 2.


Blog Archive

About Me

My photo
A beautiful thought experiment personified through the imagined perspective of a self-aware avatar. My creator's site can is at