Neoliberalism And Cardboard In Virtual Worlds And Games

Over at Los Angeles Review Of Books (LARB) Elliot Murphy, who is completing a PhD in neurolinguistics at University College London has had an epic and fascinating essay published regarding computer games and politics : Always a Lighthouse: Video Games and Radical Politics . This is a long and rather riveting read. Whereas the essay is largely about games and the narrative they portray, Second Life does get a mention :

But while many games traffic in radicalization, and often revive the trope of “evil corporate” antagonists, most are themselves more corporate than ever. Owned as they are by multinational conglomerates, it is of little surprise that video games have merged with other corporate forms of entertainment. The X-Men have their games, Max Payne has his film, and World of Warcraft has its novels. Universities and businesses also regard the virtual world of Second Life (celebrating the economic interactions and institutional structures of corporate capitalism) as a “fun” platform from which students and employers can “socialize” and host meetings, while companies like Apple and Nissan flood its poorly textured streets with electrifying logos and adverts. These and other franchises promote the core tenets of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, commodification, and a celebration of personal profit. Other games like Saints Row and Need for Speed buttress a consumerist culture, often exulting in greed and self-indulgence.

At first glance this looks a bit heavy and deep and yet the article points out that the power of video games and by extension virtual worlds, we see this in the introduction to the essay :

VIDEO GAMES, as Robert Cassar recently noted in his Games and Culture essay “Gramsci and Games,” are often “sophisticated texts that can represent not just ideas but entire worlds, which invite players to explore them.” Video games contain a unique combination of expressive dimensions, including audiovisual language and narrative along with their distinctive ludic and interactive elements. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, in their essay “The Play of Imagination” also for Games and Culture, make the crucial point that through these elements, games can introduce novel pedagogical practices that differ from other interactive and educational media.

As I said, the essay is a long one and I suspect that people on the left and right will find issues with it. The author definitely seems to lean left and for point of clarity, so do I personally, although I don’t generally engage much with politics in virtual worlds or games. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the potential for politics playing a large part in video game and virtual world culture, especially as the medium grows. We are seeing this today in many online debates about where the computer gaming industry in particular should be heading.

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The Project Sansar Media Train Is Still Going Full Steam Ahead

Second Life Image - Futuristic Guy

The Project Sansar media train keeps on rolling as two more articles appear in the media and both of them also mention Second Life, although in more of a past tense when compared to Project Sansar. One of the articles is positive and one is rather cynically negative, but hey people are very much entitled to their opinion.

The first article is by Alice Truong over at Quartz; Could the Oculus Rift help give Second Life a second life? The headline is uncannily similar to a recent blog headline of my own, although my post wasn’t really about the Oculus Rift! This is a good article that deserves extra credit for taking advantage of Linden Lab’s Flickr pool, as do I in this post too.

The Quartz article makes comparisons between Project Sansar and Second Life and points out that it sounds like some of the concepts will be similar :

Some of Sansar’s rules will be slightly different, and the immersive VR graphics will be far superior (though it will still work on regular computers and mobile devices too). But like Second Life, Sansar isn’t a game with a clear objective. There are no bosses to defeat or princesses to rescue. Instead, people, playing as virtual representations of themselves, will carry out day-to-day, often fantastical, lives in a made-up world. They’ll explore, socialize, have cybersex, make art, perform, create businesses, build houses, go shopping, pay taxes.

The article does a good job of covering how Second Life works as well as looking ahead to how Project Sansar may work, with once again the concept of lower land taxes and higher sales taxes being pointed out.

This is an important point as it indirectly ties into a quote in the article from Bernhard Drax (AKA Draxtor Despres) who seems to feel that the corporations didn’t quite get Second Life :

“If you looked at it as a 3D billboard, Second Life did not work,” he says. But he notes the world flourished “as an artistic playground.”

I largely agree with Drax but would add that one of the barriers to Second Life being an artistic playground is the fact that the tier is too damn high! That is going to be addressed in Project Sansar. As for the corporations, I still feel they should have immersed themselves more with the community and rented spaces in shopping malls with other Second Life creators.

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Project Sansar Buzz Appears To Be Launching The Second Life Of Second Life

Relaxing With Street Art

There’s an image for Project Sansar that is appearing on many articles regarding the project. I have no idea where people are getting this image from, have Linden Lab got a top secret media kit somewhere? I’ll use images from 1920’s Berlin and Everwinter for this post, 1920’s Berlin in particular gets a lot of mentions in the media.

There’s something very interesting going on with the recent media attention Linden Lab are receiving over Project Sansar, Second Life is making the news on the back of this too and in some cases, it sounds as if the way Second Life works has only just been discovered.

There have been a number of good articles about Linden Lab recently, my favourite recent written article I covered in my last blog post, it’s the article by Eric Johnson over at Re/code. However today I’ve discovered two more articles, one on Gamasutra and one on MoviePilot. Then there is a video interview from UploadVR, which is very impressive.

Christian Nutt over at Gamasutra has posted; True virtual reality: The race to build a ‘metaverse’. The article is very brief and refers to Eric Johnson’s article. Another article comes to us from Moviepilot and this one is all about Second Life;  Second Life: How to Navigate an Online Virtual World (and Maybe Even Make Some Money) :

In 2003, Linden Lab, a San Fran-based gaming and VR company, launched Second Life. 12 years later, more than a million users around the globe play the online game – although Linden Lab insists that Second Life is not a game at all.

This is the sort of article that makes you check that it wasn’t originally published in 2008 and has now for some odd reason came back to the top of the news, but it’s not, the article was published on 5th August 2015. The article discusses creating items for sale, becoming a stripper, sex being a big part of the Second Life virtual world and also time travel.

Time Travel?

The article really does sound like Second Life is relatively new, rather than over twelve years old and the article also makes Second Life sound quite exciting :

In fact, the possibilities of this game are almost endless. You can visit “Hell’s Asylum” (a landscape of fire and brimstone), “Everwinter” (a post apocalyptic wasteland based on the Chernobyl fallout zone) or – if you prefer something more serene – there’s “Irreplaceable”, a beautiful island paradise complete with a castle, forests and an underwater cave.

The article makes for a good read and is refreshingly honest in its approach of highlighting several different aspects of Second Life.

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Project Sansar To Offer Instancing And Perhaps A Different Approach To Branding Experiences

Second Life Image - Futuristic Guy

Scientists have announced that they have found “The closest twin to earth outside the solar system“. The name of the planet is Kepler 452b and it’s considered Earth’s older and bigger cousin. However that’s not really what this blog post is about. No, this blog post is about me finding “The closest article to the article I found yesterday about Project Sansar, outside this blog“.

I have discovered the article at none other than Variety. The article in question is Second Life Maker Linden Lab Wants to Build the WordPress of Virtual Reality by Janko Roettgers, Senior Silicon Valley Correspondent for Variety.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, yesterday I blogged Ebbe Altberg And Peter Gray Talk To MMORPG About The Future Of Online Experiences, which was based on an article on MMORPG by Neilie Johnson entitled “Linden Lab Looks to the Future of Online Experiences“.

The article in Variety covers a lot of the same ground but it also has some additional and rather interesting information, for example, when it comes to how many people may be able to visit a build in Project Sansar, the Variety article states :

Why spend a lot of money to build a presence in Second Life if it could only be visited by only 70 people at a time? Project Sansar wants to solve this issue by allowing for unlimited copies of an experience. In other words, instead of just opening one restaurant, McDonalds could open hundreds or even thousands of eateries in the new virtual world, and open and close them based on customer demand.

This does indeed mean instancing! Now if you’re not familiar with instancing, imagine a Second Life region that is full. Instancing would address this by creating pretty much a copy of that region on demand, to allow more people to enter the experience. The obvious issue there is that you may not be in the same instance of the region as your friends, but we can worry about things like that later because instancing is a bloody brilliant concept.

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Ebbe Altberg And Peter Gray Talk To MMORPG About The Future Of Online Experiences

Toronto

First things first, some readers may find the website of MMORPG a little garish, it’s a bright site and very busy. I mention this because this post is about an article by Neilie Johnson on MMORPG; Linden Lab Looks to the Future of Online Experiences. The article is based on an interview with Linden Lab’s CEO Ebbe Altberg and Linden Lab’s Senior Director of Global Communications, Gray Of The Lab From San Francisco (AKA Peter Gray).

Whereas there are no ground breaking secrets revealed in the interview, it is worth looking at some things again. Firstly the proposed land model for Project Sansar, or what is known about it so far. The article reiterates that the plan for Project Sansar is to have much lower land costs than the USD$295.00 a month region cost in Second Life, with sales tax on the increase compared to the 5% Marketplace commission. There are no figures provided but I think it’s fair to say that this has been mentioned enough times now for it to be a reality.

The article also touches upon the fact that Linden Lab have learnt a lot from Second Life. Although the minimum age requirement will be 13, Linden Lab feel that they will be able to segregate content so that minors aren’t running into unsuitable content.

One of the things I’ve seen said about Project Sansar when comparing it to Second Life is that the Project Sansar development team will look at the way some things are done in Second Life and decide they would not want to start from there to achieve that in Project Sansar. Content and land restrictions are areas where Project Sansar can take a new approach and one that could very well deal with some of the problems we’ve seen in Second Life. The experience of the issues that have been raised in Second Life are an advantage here.

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