Following the many online communities that have sprung up around various virtual worlds over the past decade (especially Second Life), I often find myself wondering about what it is about them that seems to bring out such a high level of conflict and drama.
God knows, I have (accidentally or on purpose) stirred up drama myself at times. The last time it happened was back in January, when I got angry when Linden Lab asked me to take down the pictures I had taken of their Aech’s Garage experience in Sansar. In a diva fit, I even stopped blogging for several weeks.
Looking back, I’m not proud of how I reacted then, even if everything turned out okay in the end. (Better than okay, in fact. I used that incident as an impetus to rebrand and refocus my blog, and it has really made a big difference in my overall perspective on, and writing about, social VR spaces, virtual worlds and the metaverse. I’ve gotten a lot of positive personal feedback on the change, too.)
The continued popularity of websites such as SLSecrets, where a seemingly endless succession of avatars can talk smack about each other, never fails to amaze me (yes, I know it’s wrong, but I visit it revery so often anyway). Discussion forums such the official Second Life forums and the long-running, venerable SLUniverse are infamous for the dust-ups which can occur there. Why does this happen?
First, some people seem to think that they can hide behind an avatar, and act out, lash out, or sow dissension. A very recent example: one of my female alts was listening to the music and dancing at Muddy’s Music Café, and I decided to move her from one position to another on the dancefloor where it was less crowded. Immediately, someone IMed me, “LOL nobody’s paying any attention to YOU bitch ROTFLMAO!”
And I thought to myself, “Why did he even bother saying that to me? Did he think I was drawing unnecessary attention to myself?” He just said that to mess with my mind, and he (partially, temporarily) succeeded. Some people are just toxic, and best avoided.
Of course, such continued negative and antisocial behaviour can lead to a lot of repercussions, everything from to being blocked, to a kick from a sim, to a full ban from Second Life. (I do actually have one SL avatar who is notable for being banned from the Emerald sim, home to the White Armory and Silvan Moon Designs. I’m afraid that I don’t actually remember what I did to deserve the swift kick and ban by one of the sim owners, but I’m pretty sure it was something they didn’t like. It might have had something to do with bagpipes ;-P )
Another area of conflict is in what people consider to be the underlying behavioural rules of the virtual world. For example, some people prefer to strictly separate real life from Second Life (or whatever virtual world they are using). Others don’t. When these two types of people mix, conflict and drama are almost inevitable. That’s because they are playing by different ground rules.
And finally, it’s not just virtual worlds that incite drama. It’s EVERYWHERE online. Facebook. Reddit. You name the place, and there’s drama and conflict.
So, what to do about it in virtual worlds? Well, having proper, explicit community standards and policies in place (preferably written down in the Terms of Service you agreed to when you first joined) helps. Being able to enforce those policies through provided in-world tools such as mute, block, kick, and ban helps too. I should probably define these four terms:
- Mute: Turn off an avatar’s sound so you cannot hear them.
- Block: Turn off an avatar’s appearance so you cannot see them.
- Kick: Being able to remove an avatar from an experience/domain/region.
- Ban: Being able to permanently keep an avatar from visiting an experience/domain/region (at worst, the entire virtual world platform).
Current social VR spaces/virtual worlds have different levels of implementation of these tools. For example, you can mute, but not block, an avatar in Sansar.
So, how do you choose to deal with the inevitable conflict, drama, and poor behaviour that seem to happen in virtual worlds? What tips and tricks have you found to work? Sound off in the comments!