I remember when I was first invited into the Sansar closed beta in December of 2016. That early community consisted of content creators who had been contacted by Linden Lab and asked if they wanted to take part in the beta test, and many of us eagerly accepted the invitation, even going so far as to recommend other people that LL could contact to add to the community.
It was a heady, exciting time. People were feeling energized and invigorated by the challenges of working on a brand-new, VR-capable platform. We used Slack as our main means of communication, as well as meetups in Sansar, and together we worked to test things to see what would break, and to report bugs and make suggestions for improvement to the team at Linden Lab. Jenn was out first community manager, working double-duty between Second Life and Sansar in those earliest days.
It’s now August 2019, thirty-two months later. Slack was replaced by Discord. Jenn went back to Second Life full-time, and was replaced as Sansar community manager by Eliot, who in turn was replaced by Galileo. Many new features have been added to Sansar in that time.
Many of the people who were heavily invested in the earlier days of Sansar have pulled back, or pulled out of Sansar completely. Each had their own personal reasons for doing so. Some left because they were frustrated at what they saw as slow development of features that they considered fundamental. Some left because they didn’t like the way that Linden Lab was running things with respect to fees and payments. Some left because of harassers, trolls and griefers, either on the Discord or in-world. Some left because they felt they weren’t earning enough money to make their work worthwhile. Others left because they just felt burned out, and they needed a break, and they simply never came back. And all of these are perfectly legitimate reasons. Communities grow and change over time. Some people leave; others join.
But I have noticed a particularly troubling and dispiriting trend in the Sansar Discord channels lately. In the early days, disputes and arguments were relatively few, and (usually) quickly settled. But the number of disputes, attacks, arguments, and just overall ill-will has risen sharply in recent months. People seem to have shorter tempers, and they seem to be much more likely to start attacking each other personally. And I’m as guilty of this as anybody else.
The earliest members of the Sansar community knew that things were not perfect, but almost all of us felt that Linden Lab was working hard and in good faith to fix the bugs and add the features we wanted to see for Sansar to be a success, if not immediately, then in the future. But now, it almost feels like everybody’s patience has been stretched too thin. We (and I do include myself) are quicker to take offense, quicker to lash out, and quicker to assume ill intentions from the actions of other people and from Linden Lab itself.
This is a problem that can’t be resolved just by moderation on the Discord and ejecting troublemakers in-world. Galileo and Lacie and Harley are good moderators and bouncers, but they can’t be around 24/7/365, and they shouldn’t have to be.
The problem is us. I—we—all of us—need to stop and look in the mirror before pointing fingers at other Sansar users, or at Linden Lab. We all need to address what we do in that infinitesimal gap between the trigger incident that made us upset or angry, and the response we choose to make. The response we CHOOSE to make. Hiding behind a username or an avatar is no excuse.
The solution starts with us. We need to communicate in ways that build people up instead of ripping them down. We need to disagree in ways where we don’t attack other people. We need a return to manners, civility, and etiquette. We need to emulate the behaviour we want to see in newcomers to our community. We need to become better people.
Behavioural scientist and researcher Jessica Outlaw has started a nine-part series on how to build a strong culture in social VR. So far, she has posted the first 3 parts:
- Want Social Norms? 9 Steps to Building a Strong Culture (Part 1): Heroes, Archetypes, and Mascots: Easier than Programming AI Moderators
- Want Social Norms? 9 Steps to Building a Strong Culture (Part 2): Symbols and Artifacts: Easier than Programming AI Moderators
- Want Social Norms? 9 Steps to Building a Strong Culture (Part 3): Language and Jokes: Easier than Programming AI Moderators
Please take the time to read Jessica’s articles, and please reflect on what we can do, individually and collectively, to make the Sansar community the best place it can be. We are the problem, but we are also the solution.