BY JONATHAN W. KINKLEY B.F.A., Art History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2003

THESIS Submitted as partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Art History in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Chicago, 2009 Chicago, Illinois This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my thesis committee—Drs. Peter Hales, Patricia Kelly, and Jason Leigh— for your insights, time, and encouragement. I am in awe of your interdisciplinary talents and inspired by your leadership in the humanities and the sciences. Lastly, the critical eye of my brilliant wife, Melissa, has greatly strengthened my writing. JWK


PREFACE My primary interest in Second Life and other virtual worlds is the myriad questions that their presence demands—particularly regarding the visual—and the breadth of possible answers to these questions. If you can look like anyone or anything, what do you look like? If there are no constraints of physics, like gravity or weather, and no limit on resources, what does the virtual built environment look like? Who are the pioneers and governors of virtual space? Who are its architects? What do these spaces tell us about our future? With these questions come the inevitable judgments of virtual space by technology evangelists, Luddites, and those in-between. To qualify my own opinion of virtual worlds and my general regard for them, I borrow the term critical utopian from MIT’s Dr. Henry Jenkins. Jenkins writes of his position to new cultural trends, many of which incorporate technology: “I think of myself as a critical utopian. As a utopian, I want to identify possibilities within our culture that might lead toward a better, more just society … This approach differs dramatically from what I call critical pessimism. Critical pessimists … focus primarily on the obstacles to achieving a more democratic society … The politics of critical utopianism is founded on a notion of empowerment; the politics of critical pessimism on a politics of victimization. One focuses on what we are doing with media, and the other on what media is doing to us. As with previous revolutions, the media reform movement is gaining momentum at a time when people are starting to feel more empowered, not when they are at their weakest.”1 I share Jenkins’ foundational approach. There is no denying that all discourse is politically charged to a degree; its authors are not writing in a vacuum but rather in a dense societal network. Although I may desire to remain as objective as am able, and try my best to draw clear, rational speculations after close analysis of my subject, my writing is still vulnerable to my own optimistic biases.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. (New York: New York University Press, 2006) 247-248. iii

In the case of Second Life, I see the potential for increased individual agency—the capacity to act in the world in regard to one’s physical, social, and political faculties. A command over physics; nearly infinite resources of marginal cost; facile social connections within small communities; the option of civic participation; and access to entire libraries of animations, objects, and scripts, are just a few examples of avatar agency in Second Life, the tools that users have access to. Many critics of this point argue instead that virtual worlds are in fact repositories of misguided agency. Their arguments suggest that participants in virtual worlds are driven to act within these spaces because of their lack of agency in the real world. My counterargument is that virtual worlds are every bit as much a part of reality as anything else in the physical world. A person physically walking down the street in Chicago or physically hunched over a computer screen controlling an avatar on a street in Second Life is performing an action that constitutes his or her lived experience. So if virtual worlds are actual navigable and interactive real spaces, then they are part of our reality, despite the fact that the type of experience radically differs from the types of experiences to be had in the physical world. So when a person builds a new city, becomes elected into a governing position, starts a business, has a romantic relationship, or codes a new program in Second Life, that person is performing a real action that has consequence for themselves and others in the physical world. Of course the case study of Second Life is merely an early prototype for future generations of virtual worlds that will one day become the metaverse imagined by science fiction writers. As a forerunner, it is has its share of flaws. Its parent, Linden Lab, administers a confusing, inconsistent record of governance, compounded by its dueling altruistic and economic motivations. Further, Second Life, like the internet, is hardly an egalitarian point of access. Broadband internet, a fast computer, a graphics card, and a complex user interface are only


several of the hurdles users must overcome to experience Second Life. However, its criticism cannot trump the wonder of experiencing miles of contiguous usercreated space; literally a patchwork quilt of human imagination. This is the matrix—except it wasn’t created by the evil machines for enslaved humans, but instead by willing advocates in pursuit of roleplay, fantasy, education, business, and simulation. I entered Second Life as an art historian and quickly realized that trying to study the art of this virtual world is akin to studying the art of the web—its simply too impossibly big of a project. What was needed was a foundational grounding from which further discourse could emerge. This foundation took the form of a several general questions: what types of spaces exist in Second Life? Who is creating them? And why? The only field broad enough to answer these questions is the field of visual studies, whose scope encompasses the entirety of visual culture. In approaching Second Life from a visual studies perspective, I tried to imagine it as newly discovered society. In order to write about this new art, architecture, and culture, I needed a method to interpret this space. For that reason I returned to the classic iconographic method of Erwin Panofsky. His timeless approach of looking, identifying, and locating subjects within a cultural and historical trajectory remains a practical means to consider the complex visual assemblages of Second Life as it was for reflecting on artworks from the Renaissance. I immediately discovered that Second Life isn’t an isolated culture with its own architectural styles and characteristics but an incredibly heterogeneous, interconnected one whose influences for art and architecture are pulled from everywhere. I feel historians, theorists, critics, and philosophers serve an important function within virtual worlds, namely to document and draw conclusions about the virtual artifacts of humanity. What do these artifacts tell us about ourselves? Especially within an internet-based, copy and


paste, simulation culture leveraging 3D models and images, we are seeing a heightened use and consideration of the visual by non-specialists. The purpose of this paper is to help build a foundation for future scholarship in the humanities on virtual worlds. As technology and science rapidly change society, it is the role of the humanities to monitor the human response to these changes. Virtual worlds are simultaneously a new media and new artifact for consideration. In this paper I have classified three types of spaces in Second Life, and attempted to aggregate the forces that helped shape these spaces. I am hopeful that virtual worlds will continue to be the subject of study and that this paper will help to inform this future scholarship. -Jonathan Kinkley (February 10, 2009) Chicago, IL



I. INTRODUCTION....................................................................................................................IX a. Thesis....................................................................................................................................ix b. Significance of Second Life..................................................................................................ix c. Visual Studies........................................................................................................................xi d. Methodology.......................................................................................................................xiv II. BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF SECOND LIFE..............................................................XVIII e. Survey...............................................................................................................................xviii f. Interface of a New Medium...............................................................................................xxiv g. History..............................................................................................................................xxix h. Second Life Demographics and Motivations...............................................................xxxviii i. Second Life Culture(s)..........................................................................................................xli III. THEMED SODALITIES...............................................................................................XLVII j. Sodality of Simulation........................................................................................................xlix k. Sodality without Geographic l. Experimentation with Virtual Space......................................................................................lx m. Sodalities as Temporary Autonomous Zones ...................................................................lxii IV. CRITIQUE AND CONCLUSION...................................................................................LXX n. Critique...............................................................................................................................lxx o. Conclusion and Summary ...............................................................................................lxxiii vii

V. CITED LITERATURE...........................................................................................................75 VI. LIST OF FIGURES...............................................................................................................81


I. INTRODUCTION a. Thesis The online virtual world Second Life teems with user-built societies of association. It is the hypothesis of this study that these social networks in constructed virtual space are visual evidence for new social formations enabled by internet technology. These group-built societies are based on shared interests and constructed from iconography deriving out of visual culture. Though behavior in Second Life is ostensibly governed by the end-user’s local laws and regulations as well as the virtual world’s Terms of Service agreement, in actuality it is largely not enforced—its only constraints are the programmatic code and hardware that constitutes Second Life itself. These sodalities are built and often governed by ad-hoc informal meritocracies. b. Significance of Second Life Whereas the internet has long been the repository for global networks and organizations on static 2D web pages, Second Life provides a 3D, immersive, interactive space as a platform for the construction and interaction of communities. It is a rich and diverse online world, where millions of users log in from all over the physical world2 to live, work, and play. Users create the entirety of its virtual landscape and are granted economic and legal ownership over their creations. The objects, architecture, and landscapes are all sculpted and scripted with an in-game 3D design application. Second Life is but one virtual world, a specific example amid a plethora of established and burgeoning application software, most commonly developed for the video gaming industry. Within this larger class of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), like the popular World

Physical world refers to the carbon-based world and can be distinguished from digital, virtual worlds that exist in computer servers and can be accessed by a client computer via the internet. Where many writers use the term “real” world, I feel experiencing digital space constitutes a real experience and that “physical” world is a more apt description of non-digital environments. In web parlance, the physical world is also charmingly referred to as meatspace. ix

of Warcraft, there is a type of software that cannot be identified as a game in a strict sense, although gaming technology has allowed for their existence. These software, like Active Worlds and Dotsoul, are virtual worlds comparable to Second Life in that they feature user-created content. Though all three applications contain in-world 3D modelers, Second Life can be distinguished from these other platforms by its scale, scripting language, and the attribution of legal and financial value to its virtual objects. Second Life is enormous; as of 2008, Second Life’s land area was 1,193 square kilometers or 740 square miles.3 The land area, termed the grid in Second Life, is contiguous and persistent. This means that one avatar can walk or fly from one end of the world to the other and world events continue even after the resident4 logs off. Second Life is more successful than other virtual world platforms because it holds incentives for content creation. Unlike Active Worlds and Dotsoul, residents of Second Life are able to script and animate content to behave in a specific manner. A resident may be able to build a clock in all three worlds, but only in Second Life can the resident program it to keep time and animate its hands and alarm to move accordingly. And only in Second Life does that clock become the intellectual property of its creator. This clock can also be sold and the profit can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. For these reasons, the content of Second Life is dynamic and complex, traits that seemingly appeal to its core user base.5 The presence of physical world properties of ownership and monetary worth adds additional layers of value and meaning for its users. Technology analysts project that 80% of global internet users will have some form of avatar in a

“Economic Statistics” Second Life Official website, (accessed on 5-19-08). 4 The term resident refers to a single registered account in Second Life where the user is represented by an avatar. 5 Nearly 14 million registered user accounts had been registered as of May 2008. However this number does not accurately reflect Second Life’s regular population of users. Also, many users hold multiple accounts, and numerous accounts had been abandoned. Linden Lab, “Economic Statistics.” Second Life Official website, (accessed on 5-19-08). x

virtual world by 2011.6 If they are correct, Second Life represents a leading early model for future virtual worlds embracing widespread adoption by global populations with access to broadband internet. Its scale, versatility, functionality, and popularity makes Second Life one of the most diverse and rich virtual worlds for scholarly inquiry. c. Visual Studies Studying Second Life’s virtual environment requires an understanding of the technologies that make it possible in addition to an analysis and synthesis of its visual interactive content. This crossdisciplinary inquiry can be framed by, and adopt a methodology from, the collective body of discourse known as visual studies. As a movement that emerged during the 1990s, numerous writers have tried to define visual studies. As a general consensus, visual studies is perceived as the study of visual culture that utilizes multiple disciplines and subjects like art history, anthropology, and sociology. It is particularly suited to popular culture, new media, and contemporary art because it shares a genealogy with cultural studies, which began addressing those concerns in the 1960s.7 Not only do visual studies expand and collide traditional disciplines, but also advocate new processes for seeing visual objects.8 Nicholas Mirzoeff links the global and the digital as formational components of visual culture in his Visual Culture Reader. For Mirzoeff, digital technology has transformed culture and come to characterize globalization.9 An informed analysis and critique of the formal characteristics and significance of shared virtual spaces falls under the umbrella field of visual studies. Technological interconnectedness, software and hardware media, popular culture, and social networks are hallmarks of virtual spaces and recurring subjects in discourse about visual culture.

Gartner, Inc. (May 2007) as cited by Wagner James Au. The Making of Second Life. (New York: Collins, 2008), xiv. 7 James Elkins. Visual Studies: A Skeptical Introduction. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 37. 8 W.J.T.Mitchell, “Showing Seeing: A Critique of Visual Culture,” The Visual Culture Reader, ed. Nicholas Mirzoeff (New York: Routledge, 2003), 86. 9 Nicholas Mirzoeff, The Visual Culture Reader. (New York: Routledge, 2003), 161. xi

A relic of traditional disciplines that persists in visual studies is the question of valid subject matter. For art history this quandary remains significant—if banal material becomes elevated by visual studies to the level of fine art, is everything then a legitimate subject? James Elkins observes that there are two responses to this question, the first being “high and low art remain importantly different,” and the second, “high and low art are no longer separate.”10 This paper embraces the latter approach: that no subject matter is too banal, only more or less relevant for specific audiences. Second Life is both a phenomenon worthy of analysis as a cultural artifact and a platform for the critique of diverse, discrete content as produced by millions of individuals from around the world. It is an important area of visual content because of its enormous user base; immense scale and breadth of diversity; quality and complexity of content; potential as a tool for communication, interaction, and creation; locale for escapist purposes; democratizing interface; and template for social organization beyond geographical nation-states. One of the leading articulators of visual studies discourse, W.J.T. Mitchell has identified a shift in academia and popular culture away from an emphasis on writing and speech and towards a visual means of communication that he terms the “pictorial turn.”11 This transformation occurs in a global culture that is “totally dominated by images.”12 Deriving from a web convention of 2D, textual websites with flat video and static pictures, Second Life, and other virtual worlds, are a marked shift of the pictorial turn to an immersive, persistent simulation of navigable space. In his keynote address for the 2007 Second Life Community Conference, Philip Rosedale, then

10 11

Elkins, 45-50 W.J.T. Mitchell. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 11. 12 Mitchell, 1994, 15. xii

CEO and founder of Linden Lab’s Second Life, demonstrated the potential for the virtual world as primarily a visual means of absorbing information over the internet. Rosedale unknowingly revealed how Second Life embodies Mitchell’s ‘pictorial turn’ on the internet by showing two slides on a digital projection. The first was the website of Japan National Tourist Organizationi with several small thumbnail photos of Japanese scenery, but overwhelmed with indecipherable Japanese text. Rosedale mentioned that language has often been a barrier to understanding a place like Japan. He observes, “The Web is a hyperlinked geography. The way you learn about things is clicking on text…. but once you get past the UI,13 the experience of learning about Tokyo can look like this.”14 Rosedale’s next slide showed a scene of Tokyo in the virtual world of Second Life.15ii The image is a screen shot of a Second Life avatar standing in front of a carefully constructed immersive landscape of Japanese imagery and stereotypes. The scene contains various visual elements that originate from or are commonly associated with traditional Japanese culture. There is a red-trimmed Pagoda; thick Bamboo shoots are visible in the corner of the screen; sand, gravel and rocks compose a Japanese rock garden; and a woman in a kimono pours tea in a Japanese tea ceremony. Each of the objects in this virtual Tokyo was created by a Second Life user, or resident, using a 3D modeler built into the Second Life user interface, programmed to behave in a certain manner and, if not meant to be static, then is animated. Each object was originally an idea, filtered through the

13 14

User Interface. Philip Rosedale, “Second Life Community Convention Keynote,” trans. Joey Seiler. The Virtual World News Website, (accessed on August 25, 2007). 15 Ibid. xiii

resident’s memory of some physical world or imagined experience and realized within the domain of the Second Life server. As such, it is subject to the vagaries of human subjectivity—ideals, stereotypes, and prejudices notwithstanding. The resulting built environment is an enormous tableau of user-constructed content, where residents acquire meaning of this virtual landscape through visual and aural experience from a flat computer monitor screen. d. Methodology Framed within the context of visual studies, traditional art history—as a discipline entirely devoted to observation and interpretation—offers the most refined methods for visual analysis. One such art historian’s methods, those of Erwin Panofsky, have translated especially well to the movement of visual studies. For Mitchell, a revival of scholarship focused on the work of Panofsky is a symptom of the pictorial turn: “Panofsky’s magisterial range, his ability to move with authority from ancient to modern art, to borrow provocative and telling insights from philosophy, optics, theology, psychology, and philology, make him an inevitable model and starting point for any general account of what is now called ‘visual culture’.”16 As a virtual world of visual construction that Panofsky could have described as a “world of artistic motifs,” his art historical method becomes an essential tool for any discourse on the meaning of Second Life visual assemblages. Erwin Panofsky has been described as “one of the most prominent art historians of the twentieth century” and important, among other reasons, for providing “the classic definition of iconography.”17 Panofsky defines iconography as both “the branch of the history of art which concerns itself with the subject matter or meaning of the works of art, as opposed to their form”18 and “a description and
16 17

Mitchell, 1994, 16. Eric Fernie, Art History and Its Methods: A Critical Anthology. (London: Phaidon Press Limited, 1995) 103. 18 Erwin Panofsky. Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance. (New York: Harper and Row, 1939), 3. xiv

classification of images.”19 He explains iconology as “an iconography turned interpretative,” a “method of interpretation which arises from synthesis rather than analysis.” 20 Together these two methods analyze and synthesize visual culture. Panofsky famously uses an example of a man lifting his hat in greeting to illustrate his iconographical method. Taken formally, nothing occurs except a “change of certain details within a configuration forming part of a general pattern of color, lines and volumes which constitutes my world of vision.”21 When Panofsky identifies the change of forms as an event, like the raising of a hat, he has already left the limits of strict formal perception and entered into the first strata of meaning, that which he calls “factual meaning.” From this factual meaning, one can judge expressional meaning by using empathy to gauge a person’s mood or disposition. Together, factual and expressional meaning can be classified as a “primary meaning.”22 “Secondary meaning” is characterized by convention and “has been consciously imparted to the practical action by which it is conveyed.”23 In this specific example, Panofsky understands the meaning of the lifting of the hat as a polite greeting due to societal convention. In art history, secondary meaning is derived when “We connect artistic motifs and combination of artistic motifs (compositions) with themes or concepts.”24 As Panofsky points out, this is how audiences understand a group of men at a dinner table as Da Vinci’s Last Supper. The final strata of meaning, “intrinsic meaning,” “is apprehended by ascertaining those underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or


Erwin Panofsky. “Iconography and Iconology: An Introduction to the Study of Renaissance Art.” Meaning in the Visual Arts. (Garden City: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1955), 31. 20 Panofsky, 1955, 32. 21 Panofksy, 1955, 26. 22 Panofsky, 1955, 27. 23 Ibid. 24 Panofsky, 1955, 29. xv

philosophical persuasion—qualified by one personality and condensed into one work.”25 Panofsky continues with his example of Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, which when understood as “a document of Leonardo’s personality, or of the civilization of the Italian High Renaissance, or of a peculiar religious attitude,” the work of art becomes a symptom of something else, the synthesis of which becomes iconology rather than iconography.26 Though suitable for processing visual information, Panofsky’s methods alone fall short given the multi-sensorial medium of visual, aural, and textual information within Second Life. Every 3D model and image within the virtual world is infused with textual data, termed metadata. Clicking on a tree in Second Life will provide information about who created the tree, when it was created, its name, a brief description, how many virtual objects it consists of, whether or not it can be copied, how to contact the creator, etc. In addition, the tree conveys a great deal of other information. It may be animated to create the illusion of tranquility by slowly dropping its leaves. Alternatively, the tree could be scripted to emit the sound of leaves rustling—providing an impression of an impending storm or conveying the emotion of foreboding in the viewer/listener. Perhaps this tree was described in a novel and the creator chose to depict a visual manifestation of the tree’s textual origins. Given the inability of Panofsky’s iconographic methods to interpret dynamic aural and textual phenomena, both Mitchell and art historian Donald Preziosi have advocated a re-reading of Panofsky’s theories in light of the semiotician and art historian Jan Mukarovsky’s work. Mukarovsky linked the rhetoric of semiotics with artistic iconography in such a way that “every artwork was an autonomous sign composed of (1) an artifact functioning as perceivable signifier; (2) an aesthetic object registered in the consciousness of a community functioning as signification; and (3) a relationship to a thing signified —to the contextual sum of the social, philosophical, religious, political and economic fabric of any
25 26

Panofsky, 1955, 30. Panofsky, 1955, 31. xvi

given historical milieu.”27 For Mukarovsky, the visual can be understood within the subjective language, words, and thoughts of a community. As such, the image becomes assimilated within the same linguistic context that derives meaning from words and speech: semiotics. Using the same example of the tree, Mukarovsky would break the image down into a series of adjectives, verbs, and nouns to identify its role as a signifier for a specific signified meaning within a community. Both Mukarovsky and Panofsky would identify a picture of a pine tree with ornaments as a Christmas tree, but they would reach the same conclusion from different routes: Panofsky via its appearance and Mukarovsky through the words that describe its appearance. Only Mukarovsky’s approach—that of semiotics—could reach the same conclusion if the tree had been described in a novel or during a conversation, since Panofsky’s methods address the visual alone. Since trees in Second Life are visible and have textual information that can be accessed by clicking on them, Panofsky’s approach falls short. Despite the ease with which Mukarovsky’s blend of semiotics and art history traverses from image to text, his approach cannot wholly replace Panofsky’s methods. Preziosi criticizes Mukarovsky’s writings as caught between “Saussurian linguistics and traditional art history” and thus unable to describe the basic units of visual semiotics that he advocates.28 Not only can the visual not be reduced to individual units in the way that words constitute a novel, but the complex forces that govern human intuition—essential for iconological synthesis—cannot be completely broken down into individual parts. As Christine Hasenmueller—concerned with the shortcomings of the application of semiotics to iconography—has argued: “The essential tendencies of the human mind that are the basis of synthetic intuition constitute a conceptual modality rather than a code.”29 (italicization hers) Given the individual

Donald Preziosi. Rethinking Art History: Meditations on a Coy Science. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989) 116. 28 Preziosi, 116 –118. 29 Christine Hasenmueller. “Panofsky, Iconography, and Semiotics.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Vol. 36, No. 3, Critical Interpretation (1978): 298. xvii

shortcomings of the scholarship of Panofsky and Mukarovsky related to the meanings of words and images, it is clear that working in tandem, a more holistic synthesis of any given object’s meaning can be drawn. Using this resulting method, an observer can gain an understanding of a complex experience of a location such as the ubiquitous Second Life establishment: the dance club. The observer can derive synthetic understanding of this establishment by paying attention the visual iconography of the club (architecture, colors, textures, lighting, dancing animations, avatar costumes), the aural and textual sensory output (music, audible conversation, instant message text chat, signage, metadata popup windows, toolbar interface), and extract the ideas behind it all (emotions and intended impressionistic effects like hip, cool, frenzy, idiosyncrasy, European, or exclusive). Using the iconography of Panofsky as informed by Mukarovsky, I will analyze the visual culture of the virtual world of Second Life and derive meaning from its synthesis. II. BUILT ENVIRONMENT OF SECOND LIFE e. Survey The topography of Second Life is divided into regions. Each region can support 15,000 “prims,”30 Second Life’s atomic building blocks, plus a limited number of moving objects, like avatars. The contents of each region are stored into one server instance.31 The entire content of Second Life is stored on a network of Linux servers stored in San Francisco and Dallas, termed the grid, which allows, “the world to grow infinitely in any direction simply by adding more Linux boxes.”32


Prims are rudimentary 3D geometric shapes like a box or sphere that can be manipulated, textured, and bound together in Second Life’s in-world 3D modeler to create complex objects. 31 All the code data in a server’s program memory forms a class. An instance is a run of that class given the class’ functionality. 32 Linden Lab. “Second Life Product Fact Sheet.” (Accessed on 2-17-07) xviii

The geography of Second Life is heterogeneous and diverse. As an application distributed freely on the internet, and thus functional from anywhere in the physical world with a computer and a broadband internet connection, the variety of content found in Second Life is comparable to the variety of the web itself. As such, a cursory survey is a daunting task. However Linden Lab itself has built in a search tool into Second Life’s interface that can be approached as a useful introduction into Second Life’s content. Linden Lab has created 11 general categories in Second Life’s search function from which all places are tagged: Linden, Adult, Arts and Culture, Business, Educational, Gaming, Newcomer Friendly, Shopping, Parks and Nature, Residential and Other. These textual metadata categories, descriptive keywords that facilitate searches, are helpful to identify the breadth of Second Life content. The number of avatars in each category is tallied once the search results are compiled for each category so that an idea of a ranking of popularity for each location exists. Popular, characteristic places in each category include: Linden. The Linden category identifies places that have been built by the Lindens, the collective staff of Second Life’s creators, Linden Lab.33 There is a section of Second Life called Linden Village that contains several adjacent regions owned and built by Linden staff. Here Lindens hold office hours and conduct meetings with Second Life residents. Greek inspired temples give off an aura of Mount Olympus; it is home of the ‘gods’ who created Second Life.iii There is also a balloon tour of Linden Village, designed by Pathfinder Linden, that describes the residences and offices, geographical features, and art and sculpture of Linden Village.iv Pathfinder Linden has also installed a collection of resident art in an outdoor gallery featuring both physical world art and art exclusive to the Second Life medium.v Adult. Like the web, a large amount of content in Second Life has erotic and pornographic themes. This content takes the form of places like strip clubs, nude beaches, and sex clubs, but also

Also Linden Research Inc. xix

sexual animations and sexual avatar appendages—all of which contribute to a robust sex industry. One of the most heavily trafficked destinations for sexual content in Second Life is Orgy Island. Upon logging in to this region, avatars are first confronted with an array of shops selling sexual animations, detailed skins for their avatars that are more complex than the default appearance editor skin, a wide variety of genitalia, and other sexual The resident then walks from the shopping section onto a palm-lined beach that features an open air strip club, streaming pornographic video on wall-mounted screens, voyeurs, lurkers, and various orgy platforms in which any avatar passerby can take part by clicking on a pose ball.34vii Arts and Culture. The most prominent institutions for art and culture on the Second Life grid are museums and galleries. Second Louvre is one of the largest museums for Second Life art and contains images of physical world art scanned into Second Life and also art exclusively built in Second Life.viii ix Other examples include the Phoenix Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art.35 There are also many niche museums like the International Spaceflight Museum or the Star Trek Museum. Conventional museum designs can be traditional—like the Second Louvre36 mimicking physical-world architecture, open air—or unconventional—like the Open Source Museum of Open Source art where users can manipulate both the building and the work within. Business. There currently are numerous banks, stock exchanges, a Second Life Exchange  Commission, and ATMsx in Second Life. Regarding conventions used for the construction of places of  business in Second Life, Shira Boss of the New York Times observed that, “Banks and stock exchanges 


A pose ball is literally a floating ball in Second Life. By clicking on it, the resident can select from different animations or actions to engage in. Clicking in pose balls over chairs lets the resident sit down. Pose balls next to a cup of tea, allow the resident to drink. Etc. 35 Not affiliated with the Museum of Modern Art, New York City. 36 Not affiliated to the Louvre in Paris. xx

are housed in huge, formal structures draped in marble and glass.”37 The Second Life Capital exchange  illustrates her remark.xi As an example of business during a typical day, one US Dollar sold on average  for 272.6 Linden Dollars and $1,044,515 (U.S.) had been spent over the course of 24 hours.38  Demonstrating the financial potential of the virtual world, in November 2006 virtual real estate  developer Anshe Chung became Second Life’s first millionaire.39 Other content development companies —which sometimes employ as many as 70 people working from all over the world—meet and work almost exclusively in Second Life. Approximately 200 development companies in Second Life have a combined revenue of over $60 million and continue to grow at rapid rate.40 Educational. Universities have embraced the platform of Second Life for their purposes. The New Media Consortium, an organization of over 200 universities, museums, colleges, and learningbased companies that utilize technology as a tool for education, established a campus in Second Life. Individual universities and colleges have taken similar routes. DePaul University and Columbia College, both in Chicago, are two examples. Both institutions use different iconography based on their distinct identities. Depaul University emphasizes classical learning by displaying a lecture room outdoors in a Greek-inspired theatrexii while Columbia College’s lecture rooms are filled with media centers, contemporary architecture and plush, tiered seating.xiii Gaming. The platform of Second Life features districts where avatars can use violence and be injured or killed, behavior that is generally prohibited. These violent districts are often for the purpose of

 Shira Boss. “Even in a Virtual World, ‘Stuff’ Matters.” New York Times. (accessed on 9-9-07) 38 “US Dollars spent in Second Life over last 24 hours” Reuters. (September 19, 2007) 39 Roger Parloff. “Anshe Chung: First Virtual Millionaire,” (accessed on 2-10-09) 40 Cory Ondrejka. “Collapsing Geography: Second Life, Innovation and the Future of National Power.” Innovations. ed. Philip E. Auerswald and Iqbal Z. Quadir. Volume 2, Issue 3 (2007): 41. xxi

video gaming. Dark Life 2 and Midgar are some of the most popular games in Second Life.xiv These games, and others in Second Life often resemble MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, because of the nature of the Second Life platform as a persistent, multiplayer world. They often contain medieval fantasy or science fiction settings and the iconography to support each theme. Newcomer Friendly. Both Lindens and residents have created welcome areas to transition a resident into Second Life. These sites often feature free items, lists of interesting places in Second Life, and experienced users often become guides to new users. These areas are characterized by large open spaces for conversation, dance floors, pools, and gigantic wall space covered in advertisements for free animations and objects.xv Shopping. Shopping and advertisements for saleable objects are nearly ubiquitous in Second Life. Shopping is a mixture of objects designed for Second Life and physical world corporations promoting themselves through the platform of Second Life. xvi These objects are sold in expansive malls that often take the form of giant warehouses corrugated into different rented blocks for retailers. Other shopping centers take themed approaches like a marketplace from a medieval time period.xvii Parks and Nature. The inclusion of simulated nature in Second Life is encouraged by Linden Lab. Though each tree, bush, grass, or flower may be a complex object, they do not infringe heavily on the prim count limit for each region, which can only support 15,000 prims. Linden Lab counts all flora as a single prim to encourage the greening of Second Life, otherwise designers may reserve the precious prim count for important buildings and structures rather than the aesthetic garnish of greenery. The resultant landscape is decorated with simulations of plant life that sway lightly in the algorithm of air currents. Some parks, like the Gardens of Apollo, feature sublime landscapes and elaborate floral arrangements. Others, like Svarga, contain simulated ecosystems, complete with genomic algorithms applied to flowers, pollinating bees, and unpredictable weather.xviii


Residential. Owning private land and creating residential spaces is a popular pastime in Second Life. Since a fully loaded mansion can be built for free or purchased for under $10, private residences are not limited by expense or resources. Land can be more expensive; it is possible for residents to spend large amounts of money buying virtual islands, or paying high prices to live in developed communities. After interviewing architectural societies, development companies, Linden Lab employees and residents, Seth Kugel of the New York Times has observed that after months of living wild fantasies, Second Life residents tend to focus their activities on designing or buying homes, furniture, and gardens.41 People seem to desire slightly better versions of their physical world homes, rather than their wild fantasy homes. Writes Pauline Woolley, editor of Second Life design magazine Prim Perfect: “You have people who go for the castles, palaces, the fantastic … But many, many people buy the rather nice suburban house that they can’t afford to live in real life.”42 Other. Many regions cannot be neatly compartmentalized into a specific category. There exist regions devoted to fan culture related to TV shows, movies, and video games; politically related regions from which political opponents lobby for governmental positions in Second Life and in physical world positions; whole built environments based on fictional places or literary genres; and settings for scientific experimentation, artificial intelligence, or philosophical discourse. The expansiveness and variety of the internet assumes a 3D form in Second Life. As an introduction to Second Life visual culture, these searchable categories are grouped by themes and ideas. They are located entirely on privately owned land and islands, which are infinitely expandable. Linden Lab routinely introduces ‘new land’ that is made available for inexpensive sale to new residents. This new land is literally created from the ether of cyberspace and is the product of an addition of a new server to the grid. Linden Lab adds new land ostensibly to balance the increases in

Seth Kugel. “A House That’s Just Unreal.” New York Times. August 9, 2007. (accessed on 8-9-07). 42 Ibid. xxiii

resident accounts.43 Another form of new land is the private island—a region or regions that were purchased by corporations like IBM or Dell, or institutions like universities, from Linden Lab for a fee. Unlike physical world boundaries that are defined usually by geographic terrain like rivers, oceans, and mountains, boundaries in Second Life are cordoned into private space open or closed to traffic as determined by residents of that area. Once a resident purchases a plot of land, he or she can check a box in their property pop-up window to either enable or disable public traffic. Disabling the checkbox will erect an invisible barrier surrounding the perimeter of the land. Residents attempting to cross this invisible wall will bounce back from it and be prompted with a message stating that the land is restricted access. If the owner of the land grants the trespasser access, then he or she will be able to cross the invisible barrier. Generally the majority of Second Life land functions by these rules—all land is privately owned, but private residents sometimes grant access to residents, especially residents attempting to sell virtual objects or animations. f. Interface of a New Medium The external interface of Second Life is that of the high performing personal computer with broadband internet access, keyboard, and mouse. The user accesses Second Life through a webbrowsing client and can then retrieve the data stored on the servers of Linden Lab. The content streams from the server to the client in real time at broadband bandwidth levels. After downloading the client, the user selects a name, a password, a pre-constructed avatar template, and agrees to a Terms of Service policy. Then the user logs into Second Life and the constructed virtual landscape streams to his or her computer’s monitor.


New land is often quickly snatched up by unscrupulous land barons. I spent several weeks trying in vain to purchase new land. As quickly as it is offered on the auction site, barons create an alternate avatar, purchase the land, and then transfer the title to their main accounts. xxiv

Internally, residents navigate around Second Life using arrow keys and interact with their environment via the mouse. The standard camera viewpoint is fixed slightly above and behind the user’s avatar. When the avatar walks, the camera follows. However, users can also switch the camera so they feel they are looking through their avatar’s eyes in the first person viewpoint. They also have the option to zoom in or out with precision on any object or area. Residents are able to communicate with one another by typing in a chat pop up window, although Linden Lab has installed an update that allows residents to use a headset to speak to other avatars in Second Life. To transport from one place to another, users open the map window and double click on a satellite view of the surrounding terrain. Otherwise they can execute a search command from the search engine and select teleport from the search results. Building can only occur in designated ‘sandbox’ areas or on the resident owned land. To create actual content in Second Life, the resident right clicks on the ground and selects ‘Create’ from the pieshaped option menu that pops up. This opens the ‘Build Window.’ With the build window open, the resident selects a prim and it appears in the world. The resident can then render the object using Second Life’s 3D parametric modeler. Dissimilar to other modeling software, Second Life parametric modeling is less computation intensive because, “it describes objects using a few simple parameters rather than explicitly describing every part of every object like other modeling techniques do.”44 Though this modeler does not have the versatility and detail as other modelers, Second Life wouldn’t be possible without it because the user’s broadband internet could not stream the data from server to client fast enough to make the world functional. As a tradeoff, Second Life graphics often lack the detail, complexity, and polish of contemporary video games. Using color-coded object handles, residents can move, rotate, and stretch their prim object.

Michael Rymaszeswski, et al. Second Life: The Official Guide. (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2007) 134. xxv

Second Life also allows for multiple residents to collaborate on a single object in real time. Additional rendering features include transparency, material properties, physics, color, luminosity, and duplication. Textures can be uploaded in .tga, .bmp, and .jpg file formats. Each object can consist of between 1 and 255 prims. Each region can only hold a finite amount of prims and avatars. If too many objects or avatars congregate in the same area, the servers supporting that region will be taxed and animation on the screen will slow to a crawl. Any object, once created, can be scripted and receives a 16-byte string known as a Universally Unique Identifier (UUID).45 The internal, event driven scripting language that Second Life uses, Linden Scripting Language (LSL), was written by former Chief Technology Officer of Linden Lab, Cory Ondrejka, and has syntactical similarities to C or Java. LSL allows the user to modify the behavior of virtual objects—to bring a static object to dynamic life. Ondrejka has concisely described the creation process with an example of a piano, which I quote here at length: “In Second Life, the resident would start building the piano in real time, creating primitives as needed. These primitives would be scaled, textured, colored, and combined to create the piano. Sound could be added to the keys, so it could be played. A symphony could be composed on it. Rather than simple decoration, this is a piano. If the builder needed help, she could reach out to other members of the Second Life community for resources, including building tutorials, models, textures, audio samples, and help with the scripting. Of course, since these are primitives, the piano could also fly or follow the resident around like a pet. Copies of the piano could be given away or sold with practically no marginal cost of reproduction. When the piano was no longer needed, it could be removed from the world and stored for later use. By endowing every primitive in the world with physical and behavioral properties, primitives become the basic building blocks of everything from hats to houses, cats to cars. Rather than the real world’s hundred different atoms with limitations on how they can be combined, Second Life is made up of several simple primitive types with the flexibility to generate a limitless set of possibilities.”46
45 46

Rymaszewski et al., 8-9. Cory Ondrejka. “Escaping the Gilded Cage: User Created Content and Building the Metaverse. (accessed on 1-25-07) 34. xxvi

Ondrejka’s piano example hints at the possibilities of 3D modeling coupled with programming. An especially salient site, that contains a virtual ecosystem of artificially intelligent models interacting with one another, is called Svarga. Created by resident Laukosargas Svarog, Svarga’s ecosystem contains flowers, plants, bees, bats, and clouds. Each entity in Svarog’s ecosystem is scripted to behave in a certain manner within certain constraints. The entities are actually alive in the sense that Svarog does not need to closely monitor their behavior: they act autonomously. Trees grow from seeds, bees distribute pollen from flower to flower, and clouds soak up water and rain. Svarog claims to have even seen limited examples of emergent behavior in her simulation; at one point blue became the dominant scripted gene color for flowers in a meadow.47 Many peripheral software tools are used by residents to create content for Second Life. One of the most common is Avimator, an open source software animation tool for editing avatar movements. Residents routinely use programs like this and other animation packages like Maya and Poser to create dance maneuvers, running and walking movements, and any other specialty animation not already found within Second Life. These animations can then be uploaded and sold. Photoshop and other graphical editing software programs allow users to create and edit textures and upload images into Second Life. Also, machinima video capture tools like DigiG and Adobe Premier enable prospective machinima filmmakers to film in virtual spaces like Second Life.48 The in-world 3D modeler used to construct 3D content has some limitations, it can only contain up to 255 prims. To circumvent these constraints imposed by the ratio between the number of servers capable of supporting a region, content developers in Second Life utilize external, more complex 3D modelers like Maya or Blender to create sculpted prims. Sculpted prims, or sculpties, are prims “whose

Laukosargas Svarog, an interview with James Wagner Au on “God Game” New World Notes Blog, (4-9-07) 48 Machinima refers to production tools capable of recording computer-generated imagery in virtual worlds and video games. xxvii

shape is determined by an array of <math><x, y, z></math> coordinates stored as RGB values in an image file (a Sculpt Texture or Sculpt Map). Sculpted prims can be used to create more complex, organic shapes that were not previously possible with Second Life's prim system.”49xix Each sculpted prim, when uploaded as an image file to Second Life, counts as a single prim. Sculpted prims have greatly increased the quality of content. A final, significant part of the Second Life interface is the capacity to form groups. Two or more residents can form a group by clicking on their avatar and selecting “Group” from the pie menu. Once a resident forms a group, he or she becomes that group’s founder and is able to appoint successors. Groups are often themed around a common interest that may or may not include the use of land. There are no restrictions on the size of group owned land, the organization of its members, or the number of group members. Detailed data of the group’s membership, charter, dues, etc. are included in an information


Linden Lab “Sculpted Prims.” The Second Life Wiki, posted on October 9, 2007 (Accessed 11-28-07) xxviii

window. The group feature in the Second Life interface has facilitated and allowed for the networking, organization, identity, and communication of myriad Second Life societies of association. g. History Second Life has two intertwining histories: the external history of the conception, development, and administration of a software enterprise in the early 2000s and the internal history of avatars, their interactions, and their creations within the domain of Second Life. Events in Second Life directly impacted the actions of Linden Lab, whose decisions in turn have defined Second Life’s changing nature as application software and hardware. Both histories continue to be subject to shifting social, economic, political, and cultural forces in a rapidly globalizing world. 50


Second Life’s history is documented in detail by Second Life journalist Wagner James Au, whose research and anecdotes I borrow heavily from in this section. His value as an eyewitness is substantial. Yet as someone with a personal investment in Second Life, I maintain an alertness towards his personal judgments about the virtual world. In the interest of transparency, I quote his disclaimer from his book The Making of Second Life: “My observations of Linden’s inner office workings are based on interviews with staff and management (past and present), and on scattered occasions, my own experience as a part-time contractor. As with my reporting in-world, my observations should not be construed as definitive judgment of the company’s policies then or now, and instead should be read as my own personal interpretations, and mine alone.” …“I have no financial stake in Linden Lab, and this book is tied to no contractual agreement with the company. At the end of our business relationship, Linden transferred to me the intellectual property rights to all I had written in New World Notes while on their payroll as a contractor, with no existing obligations. That said my personal and professional investment in Second Life is still considerable.”xxi Wagner James Au. The Making of Second Life. (New York: Collins, 2008) xxi­xxii, xxi. xxix

Virtual worlds themselves first emerged as text based online games called Multi-User Dungeons or Multi-User Domans (MUD). Players navigated through descriptions of fantasy settings by typing in commands and imagining their environs. These games often featured themes of fantasy and science fiction and became a popular game platform for role playing games. Following MUDs, science fiction authors began to imagine and pen novels about dark future realities where loner hackers navigated between the real world and ‘cyberspace,’ a term which was coined by William Gibson in his short story “Burning Chrome.”51 Gibson’s novel, Neuromancer, was the crystallizing book of this genre, known as ‘cyberpunk.’52 This genre produced a work by author Neal Stephenson in 1992 called Snow Crash.53 Second Life journalist Wagner James Au has observed that “It was Snow Crash that made a virtual world (there called the Metaverse) an accessible, fully formed concept to a wider readership.”54 Stephenson describes his Metaverse as millions of pieces of software, made available for public access by a word-wide fiber-optics network, under the jurisdiction of a corporate entity known as the Global Multimedia Protocol Group.55 To enter the Metaverse from reality, the novel’s main character, Hiro Protagonist, dons a pair of goggles and earphones, which provide audio and visual information of the Metaverse. “By drawing the moving three-dimensional image at a resolution of 2K pixels on a side, it can be as sharp as the eye can perceive, and by pumping stereo digital sound through the little earphones, the moving 3-D pictures can have a perfectly realistic soundtrack.”56 The Metaverse is the graphical representation of software spliced together to create a virtual world of buildings, streets, and avatars where it is always nighttime and a user’s programming acumen determines the quality of the built environment. Also, when a user logs onto the Metaverse, they
51 52

William Gibson. “Burning Chrome.” Burning Chrome. (New York: Ace, 2003). Bruce Bethke. “The Etymology of “Cyberpunk.” Bruce Bethke website. (5-17-08) 53 Neal Stephenson. Snow Crash. (New York: Bantam Dell, 1992). 54 Au, 2008, 6-7. 55 Stephenson, 25. 56 Stephenson, 24. xxx

can appear as whatever type of avatar they like: “You can look like a gorilla or a dragon or a giant talking penis in the Metaverse.”57 This book was one symptom of a larger movement of California-centric techno-utopianism driven in part by the writings of virtual reality enthusiast Howard Rheingold58 and the libertarian technology magazine Wired. Within this cultural moment in California, future Second Life creator Philip Rosedale was given a birthday present of Snow Crash in 1992 and was alerted to the idea of Stephenson’s Metaverse.59 While Rosedale’s interest in virtual worlds gestated, he created a compression software called FreeVue with a friend that allowed streaming video on dial-up internet connections. After serving as chief technology officer for RealNetworks, Rosedale accepted an ‘entrepreneur-in-residence’ position at venture firm Accel Partners under the wing of Lotus Development Corporation founder and one of the facilitators of the personal computer revolution, Mitch Kapor. This entrepreneurship led to the official incorporation of Linden Lab in 2001, funded by Kapor and Jed Smith from venture firm Catamount. 60 Linden Lab began as a decidedly for-profit venture, but was granted an extended period for development by its investors; Kapor remarked that he was prepared “for several years before anything happened in terms of revenue, much less profitability.”61 This venture began at the tail end of the sweeping dot-com boom that was defined by overzealous capitalistic speculation in untested internet technology companies and eventual bust. Au, in recounting the history of Linden Lab, acknowledges that during this period “capitalistic excess and idealism overlapped and merged and from up close, seemed indistinguishable” but maintains that an important, formative event separated Linden Lab from other corporations interested solely in turning a profit.62 That event was Philip Rosedale’s journey to the
57 58

Stephenson, 36. Au, 7. 59 Au, 16. 60 Au, 18. 61 Mitch Kapor, as quoted by Au, 19. 62 Au, 20. xxxi

Black Rock Desert to experience Burning Man, the “freeform, quasi-gnostic art experience and improvisational community” that was shared by “high-tech millionaires” and “impoverished bohemians.”63 Rosedale remarked that Burning Man was “template for an online world — a place where people could be whatever they wanted to be”64 and was impressed with its ethos of condescension against commerce and brands.65 Burning Man advocates a gift economy where cash transactions are not permitted.66 It is important to note here that two of Burning Man’s ten principles are “radical self reliance” and “radical self expression” which bear a resemblance to liberty and autonomy, the central values of the political philosophy of anarchism.67 The Burning Man website concedes its similarity to philosophic anarchism, but maintains that “anti-social” actions have not been tolerated.68 Later, the influence of Burning Man’s principles on Second Life’s experience will be unpacked and paralleled with the world’s Terms of Service and Community Standards policies, which govern resident behavior within Second Life. Before its public launch, Second Life had more game-like characteristics that involved primitive avatars shooting artificially intelligent creatures. However, Au remembers a board meeting that has become “a milestone in SL mythology” where investors watched a Linden employee create a “giant, evil snowman, while another was busy creating a mass of little snowmen, gathered around their titan Frosty

63 64

Ibid. Kevin Maney, “The king of alter egos is surprisingly humble guy” USA Today, (as accessed on 3-507) 65 Au, 20. 66 “Preparation.” Burning Man website. (As accessed on 5-17-08) 67 Giorel Curran. 21st Century Dissent: Anarchism, Anti-Globalization and Environmentalism. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan 2006), 20. 68 “Media Myths” Burning Man website. (as accessed on 5-17-08) xxxii

to worship him.”69 The investors responded enthusiastically to this moment where users could build collaboratively in shared environment and spontaneously play off one another’s work. Its appeal shifted from that of a game, to something like a jazz improvisation – only with powerful content creation tools. During its beta testing years, a limited number of users were permitted to access Second Life to create content. During this period, Linden Lab began to experiment with social engineering. In order to reward residents who created compelling content, Linden Lab awarded a monthly sum of Linden Dollars to resident establishments like dance clubs or casinos who attracted the most visitors. In response to this policy, innovative residents set up chairs within their establishments and actually paid people a few Linden Dollars an hour to sit there; those attracted by the prospect of free money came to sit and simultaneously increased traffic to the owning resident’s area, which in turn resulted in a reward for the owner. In response to this phenomenon, Linden Lab ended this policy. At the time of its launch, Linden Lab was challenged to turn a profit on Second Life, and created a business model that revolved around a monthly subscription fee for residents. Since elaborate content created by residents demanded more hardware construction for Linden Lab, residents who built more objects than their monthly allotment were taxed. A group called Americana, who created many public virtual monuments to U.S. landmarks, protested this tax because of the high cost—they were essentially being penalized for creating quality content with high prim counts.70 Americana mimicked the American Revolution in Second Life by creating iconography like muskets, tea crates, and the Gadsden flag to mark their complaints. These protests, combined with internal policy discussion, and consultation with Stanford law professor Lawrence Lessig, led to a revenue model based on land use sale and taxes, a laissez-faire policy on buying and selling Linden dollars for real currency, and the recognition of intellectual-property rights over objects and scripts in Second Life.71
69 70

Au, 30. Michael Rymaszewski et al, 282. 71 Ibid. xxxiii

Importantly, at the time of Linden Lab’s decision to generate revenue by selling virtual land, the company’s consultation with Lessig and economics professor Edward Castranova led to broader physical world questions about how governments and economies nurture development in countries. The group decided that Linden Lab would mimic the neoliberal economic policy advocated by economic theorist Hernando De Soto.72 De Soto’s policy advocates clear private property rights and the protection of those rights—policies that have lead to widespread acclaim and positive economic and political reform in Peru.73 Rosedale read De Soto’s theories as a way to spur rapid content development: “The fundamental basis of a successful developing nation is property ownership.”74 As a result, economic and legal ownership was transferred to Second Life’s residents in its Terms of Service agreement. Critically speaking, Linden Lab has not been an efficient facilitator of De Soto’s economic policy, which mandates the enforcement of property protection and the elimination of bureaucratic hurdles to property ownership. To purchase land, a resident had to follow a laborious twelve-step process that “provoked the rise of so-called land barons,” who mastered the process, and rented or sold their lands at a higher rate to other residents.75 Given the difficulty of purchasing land, it is a wonder that development flourished. The fact that it did undermines De Soto’s economic theory that development is stunted by bureaucratic red tape. De Soto also maintains that land ownership allows for entrepreneurship because individuals can use properties as collateral to gain credit.76 Since, to my knowledge, no Second Life resident takes loans
72 73

Au, 127. “Hernando De Soto Biography.” Cato Institute Website. (As accessed on 5-18-08) 74 “Second Life and the Virtual Property Boom: Interview with Philip Rosedale” Aleks Krotoski blog, oom.html (as accessed on 5-18-08) 75 Au, 151. 76 Hernando De Soto. The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. (New York: Basic Books, 2003) 6. xxxiv

using their land as collateral, the continued flourishing of development must be attributed elsewhere, like the protection of property rights. For De Soto, the enforcement of owner rights over property (land, objects, or other) allows these objects to function as an asset capable of being turned into capital.77 Here his economic theory rings true as a catalyst for rapid development of virtual space in Second Life and explains the uproar over copy software that appeared in Second Life in 2006. The program at the root of the uproar, called CopyBot, was capable of copying any intellectual property of Seccond Life’s residents. Au reports that the presence of this application, and Linden Lab’s seeming ambivalence to it, resulted in “the largest and most substantial collective protest staged against Linden Lab policy since the tax protest of 2003;” residents began to boycott Second Life and creation of original content essentially halted.78 The protest was resolved when the Second Life Terms of Service were amended to make CopyBot illegal. As confidence in Linden Lab as protector of rights returned, the rapid pace of content creation recovered. Copybot had been introduced by a group of residents, whose mission was to “reverse engineer a modified version of the Second Life program” and “create limitless versions of the client, operating on thousands of independent servers.”79 This group, called Libsecondlife, had used CopyBot for debugging purposes, but this tool began to be sold in Second Life and prompted the boycott. Libsecondlife, which is part of the open source movement,80 holds the belief that Second Life is bigger than Linden Lab and should reject its corporate parenthood and assume the decentralized nature of the web. The open source influence (and its anarchic characteristics) on Second Life will be explored in greater detail in the section on Second Life culture. Linden Lab itself actually sanctions Libsecondlife and has begun to open its source code. In a
77 78

De Soto, 6. Au, 132. 79 Au, 130. 80 Open source refers to a method of public collaboration to develop software or other tools. xxxv

blog post on January 8, 2007, Linden Lab’s Phoenix Linden made available the source code to the Second Life client.81 The client is the viewer and interface, from which users access and interact with Second Life content stored on Linden Lab servers. By making its source code available, Linden Lab allowed individual programmers to manipulate and improve upon their interface client, which previously was seen as not user friendly and unwieldy. Phoenix Linden cited the historical precedent set by Netscape Communication, which released its web browser source code, an action which culminated in open standard projects like Mozilla, Firefox, and Thunderbird.82 By analogizing Second Life’s open source act with Netscape, Phoenix Linden reinforced the trope of Second Life as a form of 3D internet.83 This analogy anticipates Second Life as an open standard environment that will function as the foundation for the internet as a 3D space in the future. Even more significant than the release of the client source code was Phoenix Linden’s reference to an impending rift in the grid’s infrastructural model. Rather than remain housed within a network of servers maintained by Linden Lab, Phoenix hinted at “a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups.”84 A transition of this magnitude would completely eliminate Second Life as a privately maintained and hosted software (as subject to the rules and regulations of its country of origin) and cement itself as a completely decentralized space. The grid and client would then be completely subjected to community standards and protocols. Linden Lab’s relationship with Second Life would need to be completely redefined because the company would no longer accrue money from monopolies on land taxes and fees since other individuals and groups could host their own servers.

Phoenix Linden. “Embracing the Inevitable” Official Second Life Blog. (as accessed on 1-8-07) 82 Ibid. 83 Netscape Communication released their code to combat Mosaic, the free, easily downloadable browser developed by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications that is the foundation of the web with text and inline images as it exists today. 84 Phoenix Linden. xxxvi

In December 2007, Cory Ondrejka left Linden Lab due to “irreconcilable” differences with Philip Rosedale.85 Soon afterwards Philip Rosedale stepped down from his position of Chief Executive Officer and assumed the position as Chairman of the Board.86 The loss of two of Second Life’s most formative architects, whose actions and vision has been utopian and idyllic without being overly consumed by desire for capital return, suggests a change in direction for Linden Lab. A new CEO, Mark Kingdon, was announced by Rosedale in April 2008; Kingdon has a background in marketing and business from private professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and advertising agency Omnicom Group.87 While at the time of writing Linden Lab has not released its server-side code, it has partnered with IBM and an open source third party titled Open Simulator to expand the virtual world beyond the Second Life grid. Open Simulator is project to enable individual computers to function as servers for virtual worlds like Second Life. In 2008, IBM and Linden Lab successfully transported the first avatar from Second Life into the one of Open Simulator’s servers.88 Why would Linden Lab promote a competitor that would erode Linden’s land-based revenue model? Vice President Joe Miller claims that Open Simulator will help to expand the market for virtual worlds and that Linden’s new role will be to provide “valued added services” like “economic services, trading services, search services.”89 As Miller


Adam Reuters. “CTO Ondrejka Out of Linden Lab” Second Life Reuters News Center. (As accessed on 5-18-08) 86 Adam Reuters. “EXCLUSIVE - Rosedale to step down as Linden Lab CEO” Second Life Reuters News Center As accessed on 5-18-08 from 87 Philip Rosedale. “Announcing Our New CEO!” Official Second Life blog. (As accessed on 5-18-08) 88 Eric Reuters. “Interview: Linden Prepares for an OpenSim Future.” Reuters Second Life News Center. Jul 11, 2008 (as accessed on 2-24-09) 89 Ibid. xxxvii

observes, the market for virtual worlds needs to be “several orders of magnitude larger than it is today.”90 It remains to be seen whether increases in internet users, the expansion of broadband services for world communities, the production of faster graphics cards, and the invention of unconventional interface hardware will translate to expanded usage of virtual worlds. h. Second Life Demographics and Motivations Now that I have outlined a brief geographic survey, discussed its interface, and introduced its history; I will begin to explore who is actually using this virtual world and why. The answers to these questions will help explain the ideas and motives behind the construction of the digital built environment. Fortunately, Linden Lab provides detailed public data about Second Life usage and social scientists have collected extensive data about the behavior of online gamers. According to Linden Lab, there are currently approximately 14 million registered Second Life accounts that have been created since 2004,91 although many have been abandoned or represent more than one account per user. A more accurate number of regular users are those who have logged in within the past seven days: about half a million.92 The majority of residents—about 37%—are Americans while the remaining 63% hail from abroad. Germany and the United Kingdom are the two second highest countries of origin at about 8% users each. Japan and France each have about 5% of the active accounts; and Italy and Brazil each represent roughly 4% of users.93 Of these total accounts, slightly more than half are men (59%). In terms of age, 35% fall in the 25-34 age group; 24% are in the 35-44 age group; 23% are between 18-24; 16% are 45 or higher; and almost 1% are 13-17. As these statistics show, the most typical Second Life user is a male American in his late twenties
90 91

Joe Miller as quoted by Eric Reuters. “Economic Statistics” Second Life Official website. (As accessed on 5-19-08) 92 Ibid. 93 “Second Life Virtual Economy Key Metrics April 2008” Second Life Official website. (As accessed on 5-19-08) xxxviii

or early thirties—but not by a landslide. Women users, users in their late teens and early twenties, and users in their late thirties and early forties all constitute major populations in Second Life. And by far, more people have tried Second Life from other countries than from the U.S. To answer the question why people use Second Life, I draw upon the research of Stanford’s Nick Yee, who has asked 30,000 online gamers why they use virtual spaces. Though Yee’s survey was directed towards online gaming, and not virtual worlds like Second Life, there are many similarities between virtual worlds and MMORPGs. Namely, users of both virtual worlds and MMORPGs control onscreen avatars in a shared, persistent, immersive, and contiguous virtual space. The key difference of course is that Second Life is not a game per se, despite the fact it houses many games under its umbrella. However, this difference is minimized by experts of virtual space, Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace, who detail the substantial crossover between MMORPGs and virtual worlds.94 According to Yee’s research, there are three central player motivations: achievement, social, and immersion.95 Each of these motivations holds several subcomponents. Achievement player types desire power, wealth, status, competition, and /or an understanding of the game’s physics to facilitate progress.96 Other players who fall under the social motivation are interested in relationships, socializing, and/or working with a team.97 Lastly, the immersion driven players seek discovery, roleplay, avatar customization and/or escape from physical world issues.98 Yee also found that players may have more than one motivation for participation.99 These findings provide a strong empirical backing and correspond with my own observations of Second Life residents, as well as the anecdotal experience of

See the description of the crossover between The Sims Online and Second Life. Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace. The Second Life Herald: The Virtual Tabloid That Witnessed The Dawn Of The Metaverse. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2007) 95  Nick Yee. Motivations of Play in Online Games. Journal of CyberPsychology and Behavior (2007): 9, 772-775. 96 Yee, 2007, 5. 97 Yee, 2007, 6. 98 Yee, 2007, 6. 99 Ibid. xxxix

others. Translated within Second Life, the achievement motivational factor can be identified in residents pursuing business ventures, political hierarchies, and content creation. Seeking money, the virtual world is filled with entrepreneurs, landowners and renters, businesses, and services. These individuals have cultivated a substantial market—last month nearly 450,000 residents spent linden dollars.100 For residents seeking political power, at some level politics and governance can be found in nearly every shared community and vary in type dramatically. Potential political aspirations may range from the system administrator of a MMORPG within Second Life to being king of a medieval fantasy community. This topic of governance will be expanded upon in a later section. Finally, achievers can also take the form of content creators like musicians, artists, architects, animators, and programmers. This area of motivation often overlaps with financial and social aspirations as skilled builders can benefit from increased respect and social standing as well as lucrative contracts for new content. The social motivational factor correlates with the preponderance of social networks on the internet. The social networking site Facebook currently is the fifth most visited website worldwide.101 Similarly, Myspace and Friendster rank 9th and 47th respectively.102 Users all over the world log in and create a profile, upload pictures, write blogs, peruse friend pages, email contacts, and post messages to other users. Online dating services such as and eHarmony offer similar templates for users to post information about themselves and interact with one another. People are clearly using virtual spaces, such as Second Life, as a way to meet people and forge relationships. Its 3D nature allows for a richer interactive experience between individuals than static 2D websites. Residents indulge in all forms of gestures, appearances, and
100 101

“Economic Statistics,” 2009. Alexa Internet, “Traffic Rankings: Global Top 500.” (as accessed on 2-24-09) 102 Ibid. xl

animations that simulate many physical world animations between individuals—allowing for high level of social interaction. Lastly, the Immersion factor accounts for the large amounts of virtual tourists who scour Second Life for interesting sites, as well as the residents who roleplay with their appearance and identities. Among residents, a marketing company found that 23% of residents played as a different gender and 22% wore a different skin color.103 Additionally, roleplay extends well beyond gender and skin color, to include experimentation with sexual orientation, age, non-human identities, and even emotional behavior. But this factor also includes escapists, those who retreat from physical world issues or problems. Even Second Life founder Philip Rosedale has even postulated that escapism is a driving factor in Second Life usage: “Users in big cities such as New York or Los Angeles were least likely to spend time in Second Life, not only because they were busy but because they had less need to escape to an alternative, anonymous world. Bad weather, oppressive regimes, poor economic conditions — that’s what makes an SL user.”104 Here Rosedale perhaps overestimates escape as a motivating factor, as it merely accounts for a small subset of Yee’s immersion category. i. Second Life Culture(s) Second Life culture shares many similarities to the greater movement of participatory culture, where consumers assume active rather than passive roles. The organization of this culture of content producers closely resembles the open source meritocracies on the web. Second Life is one recent phenomenon within a long history of user-created content on the internet. Media theorist Henry Jenkins has written extensively on 21st century participatory culture, media convergence, and collective intelligence—topics related closely to Second Life. Linden Lab
103 104

Au, 79. Reuters Newswire. “New Linden CEO could be named within weeks.” Reuters Second Life. 421-08. at (As accessed on 5-20-08) xli

embodies the type of company that Jenkins has termed “collaborationist.” He explains: “new media companies are experimenting with new approaches that see fans as important collaborators in the production of content and as grassroots intermediaries helping to promote the franchise.”105 In this model of a company, the delineation between consumers and producers becomes complicated. Jenkins envisions new consumers as “active,” “migratory,” “socially connected,” “noisy and public,” as compared to the old consumer who is “passive,” “predictable,” “loyal,” and “isolated.”106 The new consumers represent a participatory culture that wants to vote for an American Idol, write a blog, watch and upload videos on, and network with friends on The same participatory culture uses Second Life to participate in the creation of virtual 3D space. As a characteristic of contemporary consumers, groups within Second Life participate in the construction of the landscapes of their shared interests. The enormous, expanding landscape of Second Life is testament to the prolific character of participatory culture. Certain open source projects within it recognize the power of participation and rely on it for the construction of 3D space. One example is Second Life’s Open Source Museum of Open Source Art (OSMOSA), conceived of by several students from Brown University. A website witnessed the museum’s opening: “The modding107 got under way at the opening party Tuesday night: an alreadyaltered image of Manet’s Olympia (with space helmets added to make it more excellent) came out the other end of the night with some interesting additions and adjustments.”108 The museum is organized so that any user can manipulate the structure of the museum or the art within it. This example also illustrates the frequently repeated trope that Second Life functions as a 3D wiki.
105 106

Jenkins, 134. Jenkins, 19. 107 Modding: modification. 108 Mark Wallace, comment titled “Open-Source Museum Opens in Second Life,” The Blog, comment posted May 7, 2007. (accessed on 5-7-07) xlii

Fan culture in particular forms large swaths of regions in Second Life because of the platform’s potential for roleplay. A fan or fans of a particular movie, book, band, artwork, political party, sports team, celebrity icon, or videogame can be so enthusiastic about their particular interest that they create a virtual space of immersion for themselves and other fans. Before video games and virtual worlds, fan culture took the form of fan fiction, websites, clubs, conventions, and magazines. Executing a quick search command for “star + wars + fan” from the Second Life group search window, the user is prompted with 101 unique groups related to the topic from all over the grid. A search for “star + wars” from the place menu returns dozens of shops, sims, and gaming environments. The first link, Little Mos Eisley – Star Wars City, teleports the avatar to a spaceship hangar. Upon arrival, a 20 foot Darth Vadar breathes heavily during an anachronistic role play conversation with light-sabre toting avatars. Jenkins has defined fan culture as “the appropriation and transformation of materials borrowed from mass culture; it was the application of folk culture practices to mass culture content.”109 Traditional grassroots folk culture practices, like story telling and barn dancing, were eclipsed by mass media in the 20th century. The creativity of these folk practices now emerges with access to inexpensive new technologies that enable mass culture, “to archive, annotate, appropriate, and re-circulate media content.”110 Jenkins sees fan culture as advocating a participatory culture relationship between the masses and media, in which fans take an active role in the production of content.111 Several examples of the results of participatory culture include reality TV, fan fiction, and interactive video games. Like other web-based open source projects involving user participation, these projects tend to take the form of a meritocracy, a social system that rewards ability. Cory Ondrejka has noted of the meritocracy system in open standard projects, “When members of a community are actively contributing to the success of the project, and their contributions are measurable in concrete ways, trust in the
109 110

Jenkins, 246. Jenkins, 136. 111 Jenkins, 131-135. xliii

knowledge and expertise of various community members builds rapidly. Often this expertise is codified in community structures, governance, or hierarchy, making it easier for new members to know whom to trust on specific issues.”112 He cites a specific example of a meritocracy based in Second Life in the form of content developers. Developers are hired based on their accomplishments rather than an interview system. This is also the model that the Second Life community programmers utilize when refining the open source Second Life client. This informal meritocracy structure in open source movements and Second Life development and content creation models has many parallels to informal social anarchism. Political Science Professor Giorel Curran traces the utilization of the internet by the anarchism movement. He writes that “the internet’s early development reveals an embeddedness in a quasi-anarchical ‘gift’ culture driven by free and open access to an informational commons.”113 Free software developed through open source collaboration such as Firefox and Linux are ready examples of this trait. The structure of the internet allows for a certain democratization of websites, where all sites can be accessed through IP address and conform to the same scale of the web browser window; this equal platform is analogous to anarchism’s non-hierarchical ethos. One thing that all Second Life users have in common is a degree of internet savvy, and are familiar with the free software and open source culture of the web (if they are not already members of these communities). For years, informal social anarchists and cyberspace libertarians have been at war with the regulations of traditional nation-states. One of the most emboldened responses followed the United States’ Telecommunications Act of 1996 which updated legislation for regulation of communications media. Former Grateful Dead lyricist, cattle rancher, and founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation114 John Perry Barlow vocalized the emotions of many cyber-libertarians in his “Declaration
112 113

Ondrejka, 2007, 40. Curran, 76 114 A nonprofit devoted to free speech and civil liberties in technology. xliv

of the Independence of Cyberspace.”115 Barlow’s rant is addressed to “Governments of the Industrial World,” and declares that governments are not “welcome,” “have no sovereignty,” and use false claims “to invade our precincts.”116 He defines cyberspace as “a world that is both everywhere and nowhere” where “all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth.”117 He claims that the users of cyberspace will determine their own governance, with its own social contract. While Barlow does not specify the nature of this governance, he does mention that “the only law that all our constituent cultures would generally recognize is the Golden Rule.”118 Of course, Barlow’s reference to the golden rule is less of a formal law and more of an unspoken relationship of mutual respect and treatment between individuals. Barlow’s declaration gained popularity and was reposted numerous times on different websites and is indicative of the ethos that pervaded amongst internet users of the early 1990s. Barlow’s ire countered the brash Telecommunications Act, which violated free speech by trying to regulate indecency and obscenity on the internet, among other shortcomings.119 Though he has acknowledged that he would like to revise his declaration so that it is clear that cyberspace is closely linked to the physical world, Barlow continues to maintain that cyberspace has its own social ethics and is an example of “working anarchy.”120 He further states that the anarchy of the internet “inspires people to try practical anarchy as a social form in the physical world;” he cites the example of Burning Man where a large group of people exist with no crime or government.121 Barlow’s rhetoric rejects the

John Perry Barlow. “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace.” Electronic Frontier Foundation Website. (As accessed on 5-1808) 116 Barlow. 117 Barlow. 118 Ibid. 119 Partially overturned by the landmark ACLU vs. Reno in 1997. 120 Roshni Jayaker “Interview: John Perry Barlow” Business Today Website. at (As accessed on 5-17-08) 121 Ibid. xlv

influence of governments on the internet because as a decentralized network spreading across the world, one government cannot regulate global internet operation. Barlow’s praise for the anarchic qualities of the internet—which takes physical world incarnation at events like Burning Man—is indicative of a general interest in anarchy’s ideas, but lacks the formal regimen of anarchism with a capital A. Curran has referred to this growing interpretation of anarchism as “Post-ideological anarchism” which “refers to the looser and more flexible embrace of anarchist ideas and strategies in the armoury of radical dissent. Post-ideological anarchists are inspired by anarchism’s principles and ideas, drawing from them freely and openly to construct their own autonomous politics.”122 These post-ideological anarchists can be found in the open-source movement, hacker culture, the file-sharers of copyrighted material, and in relatively un-enforced virtual spaces like Second Life. While Curran has recognized that anarchism takes forms like individual anarchism, anarchosyndicalism, and anarcho-communism,123 he essentializes anarchism into two distinct paradigms: individual and social anarchism. In Curran’s post-ideological era of anarchy, the open source meritocracies in Second Life and beyond represent social anarchism, which he defines as those who “favor communal responses to social problems. While viewing the individual as the key, social anarchists believe that individual flourishing can only occur in a communitarian society.”124 These online communities are necessary for “bypassing the state to effect change.”125

122 123

Curran, 2. Curran, 22. 124 Curran, 23. 125 Curran, 62. xlvi

Curran’s informal, social, anarchistic communities closely resemble the meritocracies that Ondrejka outlines in Second Life and the open source movement. The societies of Second Life are also the products of participatory culture, where users craft their experiences. The next section will examine the built environment of Second Life communities, as constructions that share characteristics of anarchic meritocracies and participatory culture.

III. THEMED SODALITIES Forces of globalization have completely transformed the structures of society worldwide. Everywhere, social groups and global corporations are increasingly assuming a postnational nature, even in the face of extreme nationalism.126 When masses of people migrate across borders and communicate around the world via technology, national borders become less relevant. Building on these observations, Ondrejka notes that “nations must reexamine their sources of, and claims to, national power. Traditional models based on natural resources and population are no longer sufficient.”127 He urges nations to rethink traditional forms of material natural resources and instead focus on the natural resources of innovation and human capital in the future. Of this phenomenon, cultural anthropologist Arjun Appadurai has observed that the idea of a territorialized nation is becoming obsolete for global populations—to be replaced by different social forms.128 “These formations are now organized around principles of finance, recruitment, coordination, communication, and reproduction that are fundamentally postnational and not just multinational or international.”129 He cites examples like the transnational philanthropic organization Habitat for

To be sure, nations are still very central to physical world identity and society. But Second Life is a deterritorialized space on the web and Appadurai’s observations reflect what relatively unregulated spaces might look like. 127 Ondrejka, 2007, 29. 128 Arjun Appadurai. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996), 169. 129 Appadurai, 167. xlvii

Humanity, terrorist groups, and international fashion networks.130 Other postnational groups include religious organizations, sport fan clubs, or academic specialists. These sodalities in the physical world, defined as societies of association, share many traits with similar societies of association in Second Life and appear to be experimental templates for societal organization in a postnational world. With Second Life, there are sodalities of shared language, interests, religions, and missions; sodalities formed around ideas of utopia or dystopia; sodalities of roleplay and entertainment; and also sodalities organized for education, business and politics. Some specific examples include the communities of the Goreans, manifestations of John Norman’s science fiction novels about sexual master/slave relationships; the Star Wars themed Dantooine sim; the Goth societies of the Vampire Empire; and regions of woodland in Luskwood where residents dress up as animals, called furries to name a few. Operating on the deterritorialized web, these societies are created and inhabited by residents from all over the world in a shared space. A closer analysis reveals that there are three different types of societies of association: spaces that simulate actual places in physical world geography; spaces that represent imagined places that do not exist in the physical world; and communities that lie somewhere in between. At the vanguard of the development of these spaces are artists, architects, and entrepreneurs who defy physical world limitations and conventions and distinguish Second Life as a unique medium for the production of 3D space. I will cite three examples to illustrate each of these user-constructed spaces: first a virtual Japan that simulates stereotypes of Japan; second, the Independent State of Caledon exemplifies a sodality based on shared literary fiction tastes; and lastly the artist Dancoyote Antonelli who uses the Second Life medium to create a new form of aesthetic experience that has little grounding in physical world conventions. I approach each of these examples from an iconographical methodology.


Ibid. xlviii

j. Sodality of Simulation Second Life holds numerous sites that reproduce actual geographic locations from the physical world, either as an exact scale replica or as a conglomeration of symbols, stereotypes, and archetypes. Nagaya, a Second Life site that simulates the physical world city of Kyoto, Japan, is a point of access to the sodalities of simulation. When transporting into Nagaya, residents encounter a virtual region that has been constructed out of hundreds of icons that evoke Japan.xx A building titled Juho Castle is immediately reminiscent of Japanese architecture, with its curving roof and tiered stories, despite the reality that this particular structure is constructed of minimal amounts of prims and appears quite rudimentary. Nearby is a welldeveloped model of a Japanese pagoda, a decent build in the region by resident Rumi Simpson, with a moderate level of detail and complexity.xxi In addition to architecture, builders have incorporated flora like iconic cherry trees, sakura, and fauna like the Japanese carp, koi. Clothing and animations are sold on the streets of Nagaya from unmanned, artificially intelligent booths, capable of making automatic transactions. In this way, visitors can purchase kimonos for several U.S. cents and walk as one would within its fabric arrangement. There are even animations for men or women to sit in the seiza position as one would in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony.xxii The purely formal observations of the forms, colors, movements, and sounds correspond to Panofsky’s “primary” or “factual” strata of meaning. The curved roofs, kimonos, koi and cherry trees are


easily recognized. Along with these formal elements, the viewer also gains a sense of the expressive qualities imbued upon the reconstruction of a city. It is clearly a peaceful, tranquil, non-confrontational space as evidenced by animations of swaying trees and swimming fish; and the sounds of bubbling water and a gentle breeze. It is at Panofsky’s secondary strata of iconographic analysis that the viewer realizes that the sum total of the space’s visual culture constitutes a feeling of “Japan-ness.” The sights and sounds are instantly recognizable stereotypes advanced by popular culture in the physical world. It is important to note that this space does not mirror an exact geographical architecture or map (although places like this exist in Second Life), it is rather a microcosm of someone’s interpretation of the visual culture of Kyoto. But beyond referencing an actual city and country, Nagaya also functions as a site for tourism. Maps and signs are posted around the area and many buildings do not have an entrance or interior—rather they are created as purely viewable architectural curiosities only. Other tourist metaphors abound, like the abundance of shops or the explanatory text found in the popup boxes of individual objects. After observing its forms and reflecting upon its meanings, Panofsky would then speculate about the site’s “intrinsic meaning. ” He would ask, what are the “underlying principles which reveal the basic attitude of a nation, a period, a class, a religious or philosophical persuasion-qualified by one personality and condensed into one work?” 131 While this question is relevant and valuable, the wording of the question is confined to a period in which solitary artists created solitary artworks. There certainly are artists who continue to operate in this manner both in Second Life and the physical world, but a short jaunt around Nagaya reveals that it is a patchwork quilt of virtual space assembled by many avatars: Randy Kamabok, Rumi Simpson, and Lilith Heart among others. The relative anonymity of Second Life makes it difficult to know whether any given avatar is from China or Cleveland. Biographical knowledge aside, the casual observer can still ascertain who created what within

Panofsky. 1955, 30. l

any space by clicking on the objects. Rumi Simpson created some of the more elaborate builds in this region, like the aforementioned pagoda and the shamusho, a Japanese religious building. Lilith Heart created much of the Japanese flora, like the white and pink cherry blossom trees. Randy Kamabok created some of the stores and sushi shops in the area and owns much of the content. Together, this small group of avatars of varying 3D modeling skills collaborated to create a space that simulates tropes of an actual geographical city. This collaboration clashes with Panofsky’s definition of intrinsic meaning, as constrained by “one work,” and needs to be expanded to include many works within one space that collectively form its visual culture. This amendment to his methodology is especially essential for considering most Second Life regions, which tend almost universally to be created by multiple builders. These collaborations are due to the world’s modeling interface, which was designed to accommodate multiple builders;132 sharing the cost of virtual real estate to keep costs low; and finally, the existence of themed sodalities requires group consensus and teamwork to create a mutually appealing built environment. Collaborative building is also a way to erect architecturally complex communities in a short amount of time. Panofsky’s revised inquiry, then, might read: what are the fundamental traits of collective space as qualified by multiple artists—and what do these traits reveal about the nature of the culture(s) from which it was produced? As I’ve already established, residents are involved with Second Life for social reasons, achievement motivations, and for an experience of illusion. All three factors are at work in Nagaya. Achievers looking to turn a Linden buck and create an attractive environment have set up shops and designed its built environment. The illusory setting also functions as a site for roleplay and escape, where virtual tourists can buy kimonos and animations and pretend to be someone else somewhere else. It is also a site for social interaction as tourists rarely come alone.133
132 133

Ondrejka, 2007, 34. Anecdotally, I spent nearly 20 minutes trying on kimonos, swinging samurai swords, and sipping tea with some tourist avatars. li

Aside from the motives of its creators and patrons, what else does this site of simulation tell us about the culture that created it? Cultural theorist Jean Baudrillard might claim that this virtual world location may not differ that drastically from places within the physical world. After all, he claimed that certain places in the United States weren’t really real, even before the creation of virtual worlds. His writings concerned the visual environment as a place where the real has effectively vanished, with disastrous consequences. Describing this phenomenon as hyperrealism, as “the meticulous reduplication of the real, preferably through another reproductive medium,”134 Baudrillard cites Disneyland as an example of a place whose appearance is so far removed from its original references that it becomes a simulacrum, a new real.135 He describes different phases of images that begin with a reflection of basic reality and end with images that are simulacra of themselves.136 Given the obvious parallels, Baudrillard would agree that the visual culture of Nagaya operates in the same way as the Japan pavilion in the World Showcase of Epcot Park at the Walt Disney World Resort; because both leverage traditional notions of Japanese iconography and stereotypes to convey a sense of place. They both feature pagodas,xxiii pools, gardens, clothing, and bonsai trees. While linking  Second Life tourist destinations with Disneyland, researcher Betsy Book observes that in Second Life,  objects “are a new order of simulacra, even more hyper­real than the classic simulacra of Disney  World.”137 Regarding Disneyland (and one can assume Second Life by association) Baudrillard held a decidedly low opinion. He writes that the hyperreal world is the product of the media and capitalism


Jean Baudrillard. “The Hyper-realism of Simulation.” Jean Baudrillard: Selected Writings, ed. Mark Poster. (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1988), 143. 135  Jean Baudrillard. “Simulacra and Simulations.” Selected Writings, Edited by Mark Poster.  (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 1998), 168­169. 136 Ibid. 137 Betsy Book, "Traveling through Cyberspace: Tourism and Photography in Virtual Worlds" (accessed 6-1-03) lii

which both remove the equation of an object’s value with true meaning and significance. 138 The hyperreal are the “deterrents of every principle and of every objective,” which can be combated by attempts to “reinject realness and referentiality everywhere.”139 For Baudrillard, the simulacrum should be avoided at all costs. But why would Baudrillard—one of the formative writers of the virtual—so dislike worlds of simulation. After all, his thinking helped to bring into existence one of the most widespread fictional manifestations of virtual worlds: the Wachowski brothers’ The Matrix. Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulations, as an inspiration for the illusory computer-generated environment known as the matrix, was openly credited in the film by the Wachowski brothers, who inserted the book into one of the scenes. In the film, the Wachowskis follow suit with Baudrillard’s dismissal of the hyppereal. The matrix is a computer simulation created by evil machines to enslave humans, who are farmed as an energy source. Humans are unaware of their physical realities, and instead hallucinate their existences within the matrix. The protagonist leads a revolution against the machines to destroy the matrix and the machines, a plot that occupies the bulk of the film trilogy. Both Baudrillard and the Wachowski’s simulacraum, whether constructions of the media and capitalism or sentient machines, was a despicable alternative to

138 139

Baudrillard. 168-169. Ibid. liii

reality, no matter how abysmal. Audiences and critics held a different opinion of the matrix. It garnered Academy Awards, critical acclaim, and hundreds of millions of dollars worldwide. The film’s popularity is largely because of the superhuman physical agency of main characters acting within the matrix, and the resulting special effects. Once in the matrix and wise to its existence as a computer simulation, enlightened characters were capable of uploading programs to augment their capabilities. They could select weapons from a library of millions of armaments; bend the physics of the matrix by jumping incredible distances, moving at prodigious speeds, and flying; and instantly learn anything, from martial arts to how to fly a helicopter. The plotline of the struggle between good and evil took a backseat to the matrix, the star of the film where humans could reach levels of knowledge and empowerment well above the physical world. The key difference between Second Life and the negative critiques of the simulacrum by Baudrillard  and the Wachowskis is that Second Life content is built by its active, participatory users in contrast to  Disneyland’s plutocratic corporate parent, the Walt Disney Company, or the hegemony of the machines 


in The Matrix. It represents a grass roots rather than top down model of content creation. This content is  not dictated by an arbiter, but rather created organically around shared interests and projects. 

k. Sodality without Geographic Reference While Nagaya uses simulation to evoke a sense of an actual physical world place, a different region uses representation to construct a world that is a conflation of 19th century Victorian-era English history and literary fiction. Its users draw from the physical world subculture of steampunk, a group that takes the lone punk attitude present in cyberpunk fiction and melds it with an era of steam technology associated with invention, decency, polite conversation, and enlightenment. 140 This brand of roleplay allows its users to immerse themselves in a rich virtual environment where they are able to recreate fantastic settings and hold lavish social affairs like ballroom dances. This place is called the Independent State of Caledon, a sodality in Second Life that does not


Peter Berbergal. “The Age of Steampunk.” Boston Globe. Posted August 26, 2007 lv

have a referent in the geography of the physical world. It is an anachronistic themed community whose architecture, etiquette, speech, and government derive from a period in the history of the British Empire as it stood under Queen Victoria. Formative writers that helped define this subculture include Lewis Carroll, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mervyn Peake, and K.W. Jeter. Upon entering Caledon’s capital, Victoria City, the viewer is inundated with a blitz of known and unknown iconography whose antecedents range from literature, film, and history. xxiv These collective steampunk motifs present the blunt irony of Caledon: web savvy users exploit the most up-to-the-minute technology of streaming virtual worlds to roleplay an existence that is mired in an age of steam technology. Its sheer variety of content is complicated by the fact that the region holds sub-themes within its umbrella steampunk theme. For example, Caledon Tanglewood is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Caledon Lionsgate contains objects and devices from H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau. Motifs like monocles, steam engines, crinoline dresses, and top hats are indicative of a specific place in time and are apparent as such to the viewer. This entire region occupies 29 sims owned by ‘Guvnah’ Desmond Shang, upon which 600 residents pay monthly land tiers141 to occupy their lands.142xxv In general, simulated technology equates to what it was during that period in history, with the exception of various unrealized contraptions as imagined by Jules Verne. Part of Caledon’s theme is a hierarchical government with a monarch-like Governor, who is primarily a figurehead, and an artistocracy based on land owners.143 The history,

Linden Lab charges a base rate of $9.95 a month for residents to own land. After that, rates fluctuate based on how much land is owned. 512 square meters costs $5/month, while a whole region of 65,536 square meters is $195 /month. Residents can choose to sublet the land that they own, which is how Caledon works. Prices range from several dollars a month for areas with low prim counts or square meters, to $20-$30 for substantially larger areas. Linden Lab. “Land Pricing and Use Fees.” (accessed on 2-19-08) 142 “Independent State of Caledon.” Second Life Wikia. (accessed November 30, 2007) 143 Caledon Forum Blog, lvi

policies, and discussion pertaining to Caledon is maintained on an external user forum website. Through agreed-upon community standards, Caledon residents manage a rich, immersive, themed environment to sustain a platform for steampunk roleplay.xxvi Though created as a mechanism for roleplay, Caledon’s complex social structure and governance goes well beyond any game. The fiscal and political realities of its governance demand serious work and responsibilities by its leaders. Detailed in the Caledon forum history, ‘Guvnah’ Desmond Shang provides an insightful account into the formative process of the development of a Second Life sodality government. When populations were smaller, Caledon was initially governed by a series of stewards, which changed over intervals. However, expansion of Caledon society brought higher tiers of responsibility for a position that many wanted just for the chance at roleplay. Shang writes: “Many citizens turned down the honour, for fear of presiding over tens of thousands of USD worth of regions, and making a mistake. Also, reign over Caledon was not a duty easily borne – the citizenry and émigrés had many, many needs. Lastly, a Steward had such power that they could raze every single object and avatar in Caledon in just minutes flat. Not a power to be passed lightly to anyone, simply by virtue of brief residency!”144 As a result the steward structure of government was abandoned in favor of an authoritarian government resembling a monarchy. The responsibilities of governance resemble less and less simple roleplay, but rather actual governance with real consequences. As a place composed of the visual culture of the imaginary, Caledon’s built environment is notable for the methods its architects and artists employ. These content creators, of various skill levels, draw upon both written and visual iconography from numerous references. This process of creating an image or model based on textual description or ideas was once reserved to the specialty realm of artists, sculptors, and illustrators. Now it is the foundation for an entire multi-faceted industry of design that includes illustrated print media, film set design, video game design, and advertising. Often created from

Desmond Shang, comment posted Apr 11, 2007 on “History of the Independent State of Caledon in Second Life” lvii

scripts, abstracts, game concept descriptions, novels, conversations, screenplays, or the basic human imagination, it is the product of concept artists and film producers who obtain university degrees based on the visual interpretation and representation of text or ideas. Second Life provides the software and interface for amateurs operating under the auspices of play, to engage in the same creative process by professionals. Thus, the landscape of Second Life has been constructed with varying degrees of skill, ranging from a first time build by an amateur to the products of a professional, content and development design team that can be hired contractually. Multimillion (U.S. Dollar) Second Life development companies like Anshe Chung Studios use the same 3D modeling tools to develop virtual space that laymen use.145 Caledon, like other sodalities, has a high rate of content creation among its users and Second Life in general holds a higher rate than other parallel forms of web content production. Ondrejka notices that, “While websites based on user-created content are becoming increasingly popular, a relatively small percentage of Web users actually create content. Despite the explosion of Weblogs, fewer than 10% of Web users have created a blog. Even Wikipedia, with complete dependence on its community for content, receives contributions from less than 5% of its readers. In comparison, over 50% of Second Life users experiment with making content in any given month. Amazingly, over 15% write script code, despite the complexities and difficulties of mastering Second Life’s C-like scripting language.”146 Ondrejka has attributed these high statistics of user content to the ownership of intellectual-property by the creators of objects. He quantifies his point with a representative statistic: “As of June 2007, residents were adding over 300 gigabytes of data to the world every day.”147 This type of imaginative content creation by novices resonates with the observations of

“About Us,” Anshe Chung Studios, (Accessed on November 30, 2007) 146 Ondrejka, 3007, 35. 147 Ondrejka, 3007, 35. lviii

anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, who has argued that there is a link between the emergence of a postnational political world and the work of the imagination due to mass migration and mass media.148 Within the physical world that Appadurai describes, “electronic mediation and mass migration…impel (and sometimes compel) the work of the imagination.”149 Of the imagination, Appadurai has observed a few crucial traits: “First, the imagination has broken out of the special expressive space of art, myth and ritual and has now become a part of the quotidian mental work of ordinary people in societies…The second distinction is between imagination and fantasy…The imagination is today a staging ground for action, and not only for escape.”150 Here, Appadurai’s links the practice of imagination with ordinary people, rather than specialists, and that it is no longer merely an escapist practice, but a means to better lives. He cites individuals who watch films or television about different ways of life to reinvent or improve their realities by moving to different places or changing their behaviors. His observations of the imagination within the physical

148 149

Appadurai, 22. Appadurai, 4. 150 Appadurai, 5-8. lix

world corresponds well to content creation in Second Life. Its sodalities consist of like-minded individuals who utilize their imaginations to roleplay and create the built environment of their shared interests. This practice of the imagination goes well beyond simple roleplay for entertainment ends. Rather it resembles a way of life. l. Experimentation with Virtual Space Converse to the regions of Nagaya, which simulates a microcosm of Japan, or Caledon, which represents a literary offshoot of historical 19th century reality, are regions in Second Life that purposefully divorce themselves from all physical world referents. These virtual spaces are experimented and driven by artists, architects, and programmers. Avant-garde artists have historically employed new technologies, media, and ideas to push the limits of the constitution of art. As a result, the artistic community in Second Life is prevalent. These artists are part of a trajectory of the avant-garde’s relationship with technology that began two centuries ago. Lev Manovich has charted the evolution of new media from the early 19th century with the invention of the process of the daguerreotype and Charles Babbage’s design of the analytic engine, the precursor to the computer.151 Artists incorporated diverse forms of media under the pretense of the art historical avant-garde to expand upon their traditional practices. This tradition of experimentation and novelty in the arts caused the exploration of new media as a means to consider new art considerations. Man Ray’s films, Alfred Stieglitz’s photography, Marcel Duchamp’s readymades, and John Cage’s experimental music are all examples of avant-garde artists exploring new media in the early 20th century, in opposition to the traditional media (painting and sculpture) that dominated the previous millennia. These new traditions continue to branch into different media, across disciplinary fields and into varied environments.

Lev Manovich. The Language of New Media. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2001) 32. lx

One such virtual region that focuses on Second Life as a medium, can be found on the New Media Consortium’s campus in a region reserved for ‘Arts and Letters.’152 Artist DanCoyote Antonelli, known in the real world as DC Spensley, commandeered the entire sim for an enormous art installation.xxvii The sim consists of about a dozen viewing platforms for viewers to observe a central towering sculptural conglomeration of animated, interactive abstract forms. Antonelli refers to his brand of sculpture in Second Life as Hyperformalism, which he defines as a “formalist abstraction in hyper medium.”153154 Viewers of the exhibition begin their exploration with signage, placed by Antonelli, which encourages visitors to ‘turn off’ features of the Second Life viewer that show land, sky and water. The user’s viewing client no longer leverages a horizon line as a metaphor for the physical world. Antonelli’s stated purpose is to “encourage guests to take advantage of Second Life's ability to ‘cut the tethers’ that hold us in the gravity based world and gently release real life concepts like "Ground" and "Water" in favor of another, less encumbered experiential space.”155 Once visitors comply with the signage, they lose elements of scale and context that allow Second Life users to navigate space in a traditional way as they had in the physical world. Antonelli’s installation offers an alternative model for virtual space. The programmers and engineers of Linden Lab who conceived the functionality of Second Life acknowledge the decision between simulation and non-simulation: “So why model a digital world on the real world? … Place has meaning. Up and down has meaning. Most people look more or less human. By providing a digital

The New Media Consortium is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit network of over 200 universities, colleges, and museums from around the world that holds a campus in Second Life. 153 DanCoyote Antonelli. “Full Immersion Hyperformalism.” On Second Life Art Blog at (accessed on 5-17-08) 154 It should be noted that Antonelli’s art distinguishes from the large majority of artists in Second Life. Most artists simply photograph their art from the physical world, upload the image file into Second Life and hang it in a gallery space. Antonelli’s art utilizes the medium of Second Life both as a 3D modeler and scripting tool. 155 The Second Life Art Blog, (accessed on 5-17-08) lxi

world that allows its residents to build upon this massive well of cultural knowledge, Second Life offers enough familiarity to not baffle new residents and creators.”156 Thus, a sun, moon, horizon-line, earth, and atmosphere were conscious decisions on the part of Linden Lab. Second Life architects also question the necessity for the simulation of physical world gravity, earth and sky. Keystone Bouchard, an architect in Second Life, working with programmer Fumon Kubo, produced an interactive architectural space that reacts based on the position of the avatar. Doors become unnecessary as walls recess into the ground when an avatar approaches and smaller spaces increase in size when occupied by an avatar. Bouchard explains that "In real life, architecture is relatively static and rigid. For the most part, the first generation of virtual architecture has been an attempt to import and recreate that sense of rigidity. However, virtual architecture has the capacity to be less like a solid artifact, and more fluid and dynamic like a liquid…prims change size, shape, color and, in some cases, play a sound as an avatar approaches. Each variable (distance, size, time, etc.) can be fine-tuned in the script to achieve the desired effect."157 Architects and artists like Bouchard are helping to distinguish what is unique to Second Life as a medium to the physical world and other virtual spaces. m. Sodalities as Temporary Autonomous Zones Despite being ostensibly regulated by corporate terms of service and community standards; the laws of the end-user’s country; and the physics enabled by its own code structure, behavior within Second Life is largely unregulated. In fact, at times it has resembled what has been described by Hakim Bey as a “temporary autonomous zone,”158 an ephemeral space of genuine freedom. As Second Life

Cory Ondrejka. “A Piece of Place: Modeling the Digital on the Real in Second Life” " (June 7, 2004) 157 Keystone Bouchard. “Carving Space: Responsive Virtual Architectural Tools go Open Source” (Accessed on Wednesday, September 12, 2007) 158 Hakim Bey, “Temporary Autonomous Zone,” Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, ed. Peter Ludlow (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2001) lxii

grows in value and population, it will face increasing regulation by nation-states, yet its model serves as a point of departure for other temporary autonomous zones that will operate beyond scrutiny of corporate or government oversight. Within these spaces, people can experiment with new forms of society. Already, the themed sodalities of Second Life are exemplary of these new social formations within these unregulated spaces. As a service provided by a corporation, Second Life is governed by Linden Lab and the laws of the state of California and the United States. This governance takes the form of the requisite Terms of Service that all users must sign prior to creating an account. The resident also agrees to abide by Second Life’s Community Standards, which lists a set of behaviors that are banned. Failure to comply may result in termination of the resident’s account. The Second Life Terms of Service describes a relatively laissez-faire approach to administering a service. An example of this approach is described in section 1.2 “Linden Lab generally does not regulate the content of communications between users or users' interactions with the Service. As a result, Linden Lab has very limited control, if any, over the quality, safety, morality, legality, truthfulness or accuracy of various aspects of the Service.”159 However, by signing the agreement, the user acknowledges that other users may hold copyrights to their content that they create in Second Life and that they “accept full responsibility and liability for your use of any Content in violation of any such rights.”160 In this way, Linden Lab protects itself legally in the event of a dispute. Residents are required to be wary of using material that may or may not be under copyright. Significantly, Linden Lab mandates that all users be required to create Second Life accounts with true and accurate registration information. Linden Lab also positions its relationship to the currency of Linden dollars. Linden lawyers widely protected the company against financial quarrels by granting itself total financial authority; the policy

“Terms of Service” Second Life Official Website. As accessed on 5-20-08 at 160 Ibid. lxiii

reads “Linden Lab has the absolute right to manage, regulate, control, modify and/or eliminate such Currency as it sees fit in its sole discretion, in any general or specific case, and that Linden Lab will have no liability to you based on its exercise of such right.” Linden Lab also runs the LindeX Currency Exchange through which Second Life users can buy or sell the virtual currency of Linden Dollars for real currency. Regarding this service, Linden Lab has inserted into the Terms of Service that they maintain total authority over the right to deny or sell Linden currency to anyone at any time for any reason.161 The intellectual property rights of users are explained in section 3.2: “You retain copyright and other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create in Second Life, to the extent that you have such rights under applicable law.”162 Since currently all of Second Life’s servers are hosted on U.S. soil, the content of all users is protected by U.S. copyright law as long as that content remains stored in servers within the U.S. If Linden Lab open sources its servers and allows independent users to host content from servers in different countries, or if Linden Lab chooses to deploy servers to different countries to expedite service speed, users would have to abide “by the laws of the nations where those servers were physically based.”163 One of these laws, as specified in the Terms of Service, is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which criminalizes efforts to go around existing copyright protection mechanisms. By signing this agreement, the user’s actions in Second Life become “governed in all respects by the laws of the State of California without regard to conflict of law principles or the United Nations Convention on the International Sale of Goods.”164 Thus, California law becomes the effective governing rule rather than international law. At the same time though, residents from non-U.S. countries are also “are responsible for compliance with applicable local laws.”165
161 162, 2008. Ibid. 163 Au, 240. 164, 2008. 165 Ibid. lxiv

While the Terms of Service spell out the rights and regulation from existing physical world laws and government policy, the Second Life Community Standards, also referenced in the Terms of Service, functions as Linden Lab policy. These rules generally follow the spirit of mutual respect. The policy states: “treat each other with respect and without harassment, adhere to local standards as indicated by simulator ratings, and refrain from any hate activity which slurs a real-world individual or real-world community.”166 The behaviors that are banned are known as the “Big Six”; they are Intolerance, Harassment, Assault, Disclosure, Indecency, and Disturbing the Peace.167 The violation of the ‘big six’ of the community standards “will result in suspension or, with repeated violations, expulsion from the Second Life Community.”168 These rules protect residents in general from unwanted behavior like racial slander, sexual harassment, violent acts in safe areas, sharing personal information about avatars, nudity in PG areas, or hacker behavior that crashes regions. If a resident feels as if they have been transgressed, the protocol is to report the abuse using the Abuse Reporter tool found on the Help menu on the Second Life interface. Second Life critic and journalist Peter Ludlow has pointed out the serious issues with Linden Lab’s terms of service, namely its right to terminate a resident’s account or contentfor any reason or no reason at all.169 He neatly summarizes his objects to Linden Lab’s inconsistent and spotty record of governance here: “Philip Rosedale, the founder and CEO of Linden Lab, says he is not building a game, he is ’building a country.’ If so, it is a country whose citizens have no formal voice, and which is run suspiciously as if it were, in fact, a game. Second Life’s seven thousand-word Terms of Service document contains all the same caveats as that of any game company’s. Users do retain the intellectual property rights to their creations, but Linden Lab or anyone else on the Grid can use those creations as they see fit. LL can kick you out or delete your stuff ‘for any reason
166 167

Ibid. Ibid. 168 Ibid. 169 Ludlow and Wallace, 215-216. lxv

or no reason.’ And the Terms of Service and Community Standards, the documents that effectively constitute the civil, criminal, and constitutional laws of the world, change so often and with so little notice that it’s impossible to know exactly where you stand at any given moment. As a virtual world, Second Life is the coolest thing going. As a country, it is failing badly.”170 Ludlow’s reservations about Linden Lab’s administration are well founded. Yet he does not acknowledge the company’s early attempts at ceding governance responsibilities to its users. Au remembers “In 2004, Linden Lab asked Residents if they were interested in self-governance but garnered a tepid response; in 2005, the company introduced a voting mechanism whereby the community could nominate new features for the Lindens to work on—which attracted, at most a mere 478 voters.”171 Though Au has suggested this lackluster response can be attributed in part to voter apathy in the United States,172 it demonstrates that residents are generally unconcerned with governing the entire Second Life platform. Rather, as the case of Caledon demonstrates, Second Life users do want to govern their own sodalities. However, residents have shown dramatic public response to changes in the functionality of Second Life, as evidenced by the tax revolt and CopyBot incidents. This behavior demonstrates strong reaction against the code that defines Second Life’s functionality—the way it works—rather than a movement to form of government. The code that determines the physics of the virtual world controls what is or is not possible. As such, it functions as the most fundamental layer of governance within virtual worlds. In Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Lessig describes the notion of code as law as both the “greatest threat” as well as the “greatest promise” for libertarian ideals.173 He argues that the code needs to be written to accommodate the values that its users hold dear.174 Beyond Linden Lab’s policies as a service provider and the architecture of its code, the space of
170 171

Ludlow and Wallace, 251. Au, 64-65. 172 Au, 65. 173 Lawrence Lessig. Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. (New York: Basic Books, 2000) 6. 174 Lessig, 6. lxvi

Second Life is largely free from intervention by nation-states. Any user of Second Life will acknowledge that anything can and does happen, illegal or otherwise. Even if Linden or a country were to take a more active role in policing virtual space, there clearly would be no way to regulate the sheer quantity of users and spaces. Currently Linden Lab only investigates incidents that were reported in formal complaints, so if an illegal activity goes unseen or unreported, then there is no penalty. Much of the space is privately owned restricted property that do not allow unsolicited visitors, which is a way to block activities from the public or Linden Lab. Further, Linden Lab’s greatest threat is terminating a perpetrator’s account. However, offenders can get around this penalty by borrowing a friend’s credit card and creating a new avatar under a different name. Yet especially as its economy and population continues to grow, Second Life will likely face scrutiny and regulation by nation-states. One major example of this was a ban on gambling in July 2007, after a probe by the Federal Bureau of Investigation April 2007.175 Though not mandated by the U.S., this decision was a preemptive measure to avoid being prosecuted along with other illegal gambling websites.176 The FBI would have held Linden Lab—rather than its residents—accountable for illegal gambling. Second Life, or other platforms modeled after it, could escape regulation by following the lead of illegal sites that exist in plain view of the authorities, enabled by the deterritorialized nature of the internet. Massive file sharing networks like the infamous Napster and its myriad replacements, i.e. Pirate Bay, are the most visible embodiments of this phenomenon. In the face of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998, and similar legislation from other countries, illegal file sharing networks have flourished. Even if authorities are able to shut down file sharing websites, they simply reopen under

Adam Reuters, “FBI probes Second Life gambling” Second Life News Center. 176 Robin Linden. “Wagering in Second Life: New Policy” Second Life. lxvii

different names at different web addresses, often hosted from different countries. Sweden-based file sharing site Pirate Bay, has opened servers in Belgium and Russia in the event that its base of operations in Sweden is terminated.177 They have even explored the purchase of the micronation Sealand, which has no restrictions on file sharing, and would provide a safe, legal haven for hosting a file sharing service.178 As noted in the section on the history of Second Life, open source projects like Open Simulator have enabled the Second Life protocol to be run from private servers unaffiliated with Linden Lab. In this way, users can interact with one another on private sims, making it even more difficult for the regulation of space by any single entity. These types of spaces, operating just out of the reach of regulation, find a parallel in a longstanding cultural myth linking individual destiny, group action, and geographical space: the frontier. The most pervasive and long-standing articulation of this myth dates back more than a century. In 1893, Frederick Jackson Turner proposed that the presence and influence of the American frontier allowed individuals to forge many anti-authoritarian, autonomous, and individualistic groups and paradigms.179 Turner describes how some areas, like the Upland South, “acted independently of governmental organs and restraints.”180 Communities on the frontier frequently created their own ad-hoc governance; Turner writes: “Western democracy included individual liberty, as well as equality. The frontiersman was impatient of restraints. He knew how to preserve order, even in the absence of legal authority. If there were cattle thieves, lynch law was sudden and effective.”181 The main parallels between the fledgling societies of the American frontier and the colonizers of virtual space in Second Life are the capacity to

Jan Libbenga. "Pirate Bay resurfaces, while protesters walk the street". The Register 5-6-06. (As accessed on 10-1-08) 178 Ibid. 179 Frederick Jackson Turner. “The Significance of the Frontier in American History.” The Frontier in American History. from (As accessed on 5-22-08) 38. 180 Turner, “The Ohio valley in American History,”166. 181 Turner, “The Problem of the West,” 212. lxviii

invent a new reality, the ability to depart from authoritarian restrictions, and the establishment of informal ad-hoc governing bodies. Whether operating unregulated within Second Life, or on private, isolated OpenSimulator servers, social groups fit the description of what writer Peter Lamborn Wilson (aka Hakim Bey) has termed “Temporary Autonomous Zones (TAZ).”182 Bey’s conception of the TAZ is derived from the unregulated 18th century pirate utopia islands and also the experimental societies of living on the Net from science fiction Bruce Sterling’s novel Islands In the Net.183 He writes: “The TAZ is like an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it…Perhaps certain small TAZs have lasted whole lifetimes because they went unnoticed, like hillbilly enclaves.”184 This definition of a TAZ fittingly describes the themed sodalities of Second Life that operate largely beyond the purview of governments. Within these spaces, new experiments in living and social structure can occur. Responding to Bey’s TAZs, Ludlow has significantly identified the usefulness of these spaces beyond escapist purposes: “Their transience and permeability is ultimately important, for they should not be locations for escape from the world but rather places where we can rest, have fun, educate ourselves, and yet never lose sight of the business of helping each other.”185 The rise of the internet has allowed for individuals to circumvent the hegemony of government and economic systems. Networks on the web assume informal meritocratic forms to engage in social anarchism-like behavior to effect change in the world. These networks are governed primarily by the parameters of the internet’s code base. The relative freedom granted by the code attracts users who
182 183

Bey, 402. Ibid. 184 Bey, 404. 185 Peter Ludlow, “New Foundations: On the Emergence of Sovereign Cyberstates and Their Governance Structures,” Crypto Anarchy, Cyberstates, and Pirate Utopias, ed. Peter Ludlow (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2001), 23. lxix

prefer the scale and liberty of the web and virtual worlds. Though existing governments and corporate internet service providers ostensibly control virtual space, the decentralized nature of the web has enabled networks to flourish free from the oversight of regulators. These networks are postnational in nature and represent models for social formation, as seen historically before in societies on the American frontier or as theorized as TAZs, and will continue to emerge in the infinitely expandable space of virtual worlds as long as they are unenforced.

IV. CRITIQUE AND CONCLUSION n. Critique Magazine, newspaper, and blogger critics of Second Life frequently condemn its quality as a product and view the utopian claims of its advocates with skepticism. However, most of the criticism pertains to issues created by Second Life’s openness as a web-based platform and its state of constant development. Recurring themes include frequent crashes of regions, or the entire grid; the relatively poor graphics when compared to video games; slow moving animation frame rates; a complex and difficult user interface; the decision to allow users access to Second Life with only an email address, rather than a credit card; and misleading statistics of Second Life users published on its website due to the trend for residents to hold multiple accounts. More broadly, critics have argue that Second Life resembles a giant pyramid scheme; and even that Second Life is largely devoid of human presence and is just a mass of abandoned towns. These persistent complaints are insignificant when compared to the moral protestations based on the claims of child pornography. Most of these accusations can be parried by the same rationale that justifies the internet. The web provides a network for accessing heterogeneous content of all types. As a web platform, Second Life is equally diverse in breadth of content. Without moral judgment, this paper entertains criticism of Second


Life that relates to its central argument—that the sodalities of Second Life exemplify experimental models for societies in an increasingly postnational world. Acknowledging the erosion of the geographical nation-state in MIT’s journal, Innovations, Linden Lab’s Cory Ondrejka evaluates citizenship and geography as limitations for innovation in national settings and proposes that Second Life offers the solution as a world without boundaries. Anthropology Professor Thomas Malaby and Law Professor Paul R. Verkuil, critique Ondrejka’s argument. Whereas Ondrejka holds that the removal of constraints like material costs, or geographical barriers allows for higher levels of innovation, Malaby argues that the reduction of any constraint, including geography, hampers human innovation.186 Verkuil illustrates this claim by arguing for the value of actual physical presence at a university atmosphere. While Second Life may offer a more direct and inexpensive model for education and innovation, Verkuil observes that Second Life cannot recreate the values students obtain at residential universities.187 Geography as a context for value, rather than a limitation, certainly is an argument with merit. Second Life in its current form cannot possibly simulate the level of immersion that physical-world presence provides; however, this point is moot. Just because a traditional model for education allows a context for values does not mean that newer models cannot provide contextual values in a different format. Students from all over the world attending a single virtual classroom may not experience the full archetypical collegiate lifestyle but new forms of locally instilled values may arise. Community colleges, commuter colleges, correspondence colleges, and city colleges have functioned as alternative models to the isolated university village as a standard, and all maintain their own distinct values.

Thomas Malaby. “Contriving Constraints: The Gameness of Second Life and the Persistence of Scarcity.” Innovations, ed. Philip E. Auerswald and Iqbal Z. Quadir. Volume 2, Issue 3 (2007): 65 187 Paul R.Verkuil . The Values and Limits of Substitutional Sovereignty: Innovations Case Discussion: Second Life. .” Innovations ed. Philip E. Auerswald and Iqbal Z. Quadir. Volume 2, Issue 3 - Summer 2007. 69 lxxi

Malaby also challenges Ondrejka’s description of the nation on the grounds that he places too strong an emphasis on geography and ethnicity proposing, in contrast, that “nationalism relies just as much on claims about shared language, cultural practice, and kinship as it does upon shared territory.”188 Failing to take into account these developments of nations, Malaby says, is the result of over reliance on traditional, territorial perspectives of nationhood.189 Malaby’s point is legitimate when applied to national identity, but he does not qualify the waning relevance of the nation for individuals. One could argue that shared language across countries facilitates the migration of peoples and leads to kinship internationally, rather than solidifying a national identity. Similarly, cultural practice is largely not tied to the nation. Malaby, Verkuil, and Ondrejka do not address a remaining component of social formation: association with a society based on shared interest or ideas. As nations adapt to new perceptions of the nation-state, they orient themselves as defenders of beliefs and lifestyles. The most salient and sweeping global division of ideologies around the world is the U.S. government’s war on terror, a war that is waged against an idea held by a decentralized group of people from multiple nations rather than a country as a traditional entity. Similarly, religious societies of association like Muslims and Christians may influence politics in a particular nation but in general are not limited by geography in an electronic age of mass media and technology that allows ideas to permeate national borders. Second Life will likely face increased influence by governments. The more Second Life ceases to be viewed as a game, and increasingly functions as a place of consequence with legal implications, the more likely Linden Lab will be policed by external governing entities. As Verkuil notes, Second Life “invites governance by real world legal rules” as long as it continues to function more like an economic market than a game.190
188 189

Malaby, 67. Malaby, 66 190 Verkuil, 68. lxxii

Of course the Open Simulator project has already taken steps to open Second Life by hosting virtual space from its users’ own servers, already in the alpha phase of development. In the Open Sim model, residents would navigate from one region to another on an a global network of computer servers. Servers might be owned and operated by worldwide corporations, governments, nonprofits, or individuals—all in the same contiguous, persistent space. As a decentered, web-based network, both the client viewer and the grid would then be subject to community standards and open source protocols worldwide. As it exists right now, Verkuil has observed that Linden Lab governs as a form of benign, monopolistic dictatorship.191 This new model for Second Life would mimic the infrastructure of the web and the way a user surfs from one website to the next—instead of servers publishing websites, they would now be publishing simulated 3D space.

o. Conclusion and Summary Second Life is the most advanced, and most evocative, online virtual world among many that provide platforms for global populations to construct virtual space in a shared environment. It actively blurs the line between the physical and virtual worlds through the attribution of legal ownership to virtual property and the existence of an economy that can be exchanged for U.S. dollars. Users form groups and develop cities and landscapes in Second Life to create a rich and immersive context for social interaction. These sodalities are built using iconography that simulates physical world places as well as imaginative spaces depicted graphically and in literature. The tradition of the art historical avantgarde and societies of virtual architects are actively redefining and exploring the potential of these new virtual spaces and its tools. The high level of user participation in the construction of sodalities evidences a new trend in the practice of the imagination as a result of shifts in technology and creative industries that allow people to

Verkuil, 70. lxxiii

re-imagine their lives. The movement of masses of people around the world and the new connections enabled by technology are also changing the ways in which the traditional nation functions. Less constrained by geography, the nation functions more as an ideological construct that describes a certain set of ideals and ideas. Without limitations of geography, with low cost-barriers, in a largely unenforced domain, the virtual world offers resources and space for individuals seeking to play, work, and socialize. An iconological reading of these sodalities reveals a postmodern culture that recycles iconography via cut-and-paste applications and implements 3D modeling tools for the construction of original content. This culture has a decentralized shape, relies upon technology, and regularly uses its constituents’ imaginations to mine from physical world visual culture to create their own virtual worlds of visual culture to their own tastes. Second Life provides an open democratizing platform for users to appropriate the image for the construction of 3D space—a commodity previously held exclusively by video game, film, and TV designers. Second Life is Baudrillard’s simulacrum realized—without the pejorative social critique as a lament for the loss of reality. Rather it is a very real place of customizable and multiple realities for entertainment, socializing, business, and education. As Ondrejka has argued, “Second Life demonstrates the power of using place within a communications medium.”192 It is both a form of communication and a geography that leverages ideas, text, and images from the physical world. It is the current apotheosis of the interconnectedness afforded by the internet where physical world location becomes unimportant. A platform for innovation, Second Life’s sodalities indicate the shape, as societies of shared interest, that human networks are assuming in unregulated virtual spaces.


Ondrejka. 2007, 28. lxxiv

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 A screenshot from Japan National Tourist Organization (accessed 10­10­07)


 Rosedale showed an image similar to this. Posted by Ana Lutetia on 1­31­07 on


 Linden Village. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author.


 Linden Village. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author.


 Linden Village. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author.


 Orgy Island. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author

vii viii

 Second Louvre. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author. 


 Second Louvre. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author.


 Virtual ATM, Currency Converters. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by author.


 Second Life Capital Exchange. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by the author.


 DePaul University lecture space. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by the author.


Columbia College lecture room. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by the author.


 The MMORPG Dark Life. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by the author.


 The Hangout. Snapshot taken on 9­18­07 by the author.


 Advertisements featuring Second Life services and products as well as physical world companies  with Second Life presences like Toyota and Reuters. Snapshot taken on 3­2­07 by the author.


 Medieval theme marketplace. Snapshot taken on 3­2­07 by the author.


 Svarga Posted on 10­12­2006 by 2086 Tester on 


 Sculpted Prims from on 11­15­07.


 Stereotypical Japanese castle, Snapshot taken on 3­2­07 by the author.


 Japanese Pagoda. Snapshot taken on 3­2­07 by the author.


 Kimonos and animations for sale. Snapshots taken on 3­2­07 by the author.


 Japan Pavilion, Epcot, Disney World, Florida, Posted to Flickr on June 2, 2007 by bunnygoth. Last accessed on 11-2507 at


 Welcome area of Caledon in Victoria City. Posted by Primperfect on 11­22­07 on


 Independent State of Caledon. Posted by Primperfect on 11­22­07 on


 Caledon with SteamSkyCity. Uploaded on November 16, 2007 by Simondo Nebestanka to This snapshot was taken in the test viewer because the sky and lighting were produced  through the WindLight atmospheric rending available through Linden Lab’s acquisition of Windward  Mark. 


 Dancoyote Antonelli’s “Exploding Starax”, an interactive, animated 3d installation on New Media  Consortium’s Arts and Letters sim. This installation appears to feature Boids (artifical intelligence  forms). Snapshot taken by the author on 10­7­07.

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