On Friday I did something I had never done before—I participated in the taping of Draxtor Despres (a.k. Bernhard Drax in real life)’s regular podcast/broadcast The Drax Files.
I saw Drax posting a link to the private Sansar experience where he records his show on his Slack channel, and I decided to come and crash the party! Drax has asked me several times in the past to take part in his broadcast, but I never could do it before today, because I am at work when he records. On Friday, I was on holidays from my job so I could take part.
Among the many people present at Drax’s taping of the episode was the anthropologist Dr. Tom Boellstorff, who conducted the research project that Drax was documenting, as well as the following people who were profiled in the documentary:
All my life, from childhood on, I have struggled with my weight. At the moment I am at my heaviest, and it does bother me a great deal. Losing weight is so hard; keeping it off is even harder! I need to haul my raggedy ass back to Weight Watchers…
I want to make this very clear: everybody has the right to choose the avatar that they feel best represents them! In no way do I want to tell people what to do with their own avatar appearance. You do what you want!
In Second Life, there is a mesh avatar body and clothing store that is unashamedly up-front with its negative opinions about fat people (I’m not going to post a SLURL, although you can probably figure out the store from the photograph):
Realm of Ice and Fire (ROIAF) is one of the more popular Game of Thrones roleplay sims in Second Life. Today I decided to load up my medieval roleplay avatar, Scarborough Fair, and pay a visit to see what’s going on. (Yes, I got lucky with that avatar name. “Fair” was only available as a last name for a two week period in spring of 2008!)
The level of care and energy which players have invested in their ROIAF avatars’ appearance is evident even from the lobby at the entry point of the sim:
That’s Scarborough Fair in the middle in the bottom picture. She is wearing:
Mesh Head: Lulu Bento mesh head by Akeruka (Over the past year, Akeruka has had four different dollarbie Bento mesh heads—two female, and two male—as group gifts for members of the [AK] Heads, News & Support group; the group join fee was L$150, so that works out to 38.5 Linden dollars per head, an amazing deal! So you might want to join this group, in case they decide to offer other dollarbie deals on Bento mesh heads.)
Some avatars lasted only a couple of days before I deleted them; others have been with me since the very beginning of my adventures in Second Life. Witches and wizards and wolves, pirates and painters, sergeants and satyrs, barbarians and ballerinas, harlequins and hippies, gladiators and geishas… my hobby has given me endless hours of pleasure and escape. Some were exclusively for role-play purposes; others were just a means to live inside somebody else’s skin for an hour while strolling the grid. Others were created specifically to evoke reactions from passers-by. I could be whatever I wanted, and I was: an angel, a fairy, a goth girl, Elvis, Queen Elizabeth the First, Lady Gaga, Santa Claus, a supermodel, a hobo, a spaceman, a Na’vi from the movie Avatar, a medieval minstrel.
Here is a photo mosaic of all the avatars I had created during my first five years in Second Life. (I created this photo mosaic back in 2012, as a sort of ceremonial way to wean myself off SL and move on. Of course, that didn’t really happen! I took a long break and came back in 2016.) Many, if not most, of these avatars I have since deleted, but I have kept the rest of them.
I understand that it is currently against the Linden Lab Terms of Service (TOS) to give your SL avatar to another person. I believe that we need to make an exception. I would take great pleasure from knowing that some of my Second Life avatars, on which I lovingly spent so much time and money, would live on after I die. It would be a kind of digital immortality.
Of course, I understand that Linden Lab does not want avatar accounts to become a commodity, something that is bought and sold on the marketplace. I was surprised to find that there are even some places online where people actually sell their old avatar accounts, especially those legacy accounts created with a proper first name and last name; this might even be one of the reasons why LL is bringing back avatar last names.
I would never want to sell one of my avatars; I find the very idea repugnant. But it would give me great pleasure to be able to freely give one of my avatars as a gift or a legacy to a friend or family member. And I want Linden Lab to explicitly allow this.
Second Life is soon turning 15 years old. I’m certain that this sort of thing has happened in the past. And I’m quite certain that some of the people driving an avatar in SL are not the original creators. As more of SL’s original userbase starts to die off, this will be a perfectly natural thing for some avid SL users to want to do.
And no, I don’t think it’s creepy at all. The people to whom I would leave my avatars would be free to do as they please with them, redesign them, or give them on in turn.
This is my heartfelt plea to Linden Lab: please allow this (if you don’t already), and update your Terms of Service accordingly. Thank you!
How do I bequeath my Second Life account and its assets in the event of my real life death?
In your will, you must include the legal (real life) name of the person who you want to inherit your Second Life account and assets in the event of your death.
Pursuant to Section 4.1 of our Terms of Service:
You may not sell, transfer or assign your Account or its contractual rights, licenses and obligations, to any third party (including, for the avoidance of doubt, permitting another individual to access your Account) without the prior written consent of Linden Lab.
I need to notify Linden Lab of the real life death of a Resident; what documentation does Linden Lab need?
The Second Life support team requires the death certificate and may require other additional testamentary letters or orders, as may be required by law. Additional verification of any party’s identity, including the deceased, may also be required.
In general, the team requires:
Copy of the death certificate
Copy of the will
Copy of a government-issued ID sufficient to identify you
Testamentary letter or other appropriate order (as appropriate)
If I die in real life, can you let my Second Life friends know?
Maybe. Linden Lab can only act on instructions that are part of a legally-recognized document such as a valid will. You would have to specify in your will that you want this action performed (for example, notifying everyone in your friends list), and we would need a copy of the will and any other verifying documents we deem necessary.
There was a particularly irritating troll at Alfy’s Voices of Sansar competition this past Saturday. Trying to find and mute her (currently the only tool available to us in Sansar) was an exercise in frustration, hovering my cursor over each avatar in the crowd watching the show until I found her. Gindipple has released some software that might help us the next time we get hit by a troll at an event:
We’ve been pretty lucky in Sansar so far; we haven’t seen anything like the levels of trolling and harassment that occur in the more popular social VR spaces like VRChat and AltspaceVR. (VRChat, in particular, is infamous for its griefing.) But we Sansarians all know the onslaught of trolls is coming, and every social VR platform is going to have to come up with its own technical solutions to the problem of trolls.
So, how are the other social VR platforms dealing with this issue?
Sinespace has pretty limited options as well. You can basically report and ignore other avatars around you:
Hello, VRChat! We’ve been working on some new “Trust” systems to help make VRChat a friendlier place. These systems will be used to help gate various features until users have proven themselves to be a friendly member of the community. One of the first parts of the Trust system is called “Content Gating”. This system is designed to reduce abusive or annoying behavior involving avatars or other content.
Here’s generally how it works. When a user first creates a new VRChat account, they will be unable to upload custom content like worlds or avatars. After spending some time in the app and having positive interactions with other users, they will eventually receive in-app and email notifications that their account has access to world and avatar creation capability. This time may vary from user to user depending on various factors.
If the new user chooses to spend time in VRChat behaving badly or maliciously against other users, they may lose the capability to upload content. They will receive a notification in-app and via email that they have lost access to content uploading. If they spend more time in the app and follow the Community Guidelines, then they will eventually regain access to these systems. Again, this time may vary depending on various factors.
The CEO of at least one other competing metaverse corporation has said that he doubts this step will actually work as intended. In addition to these new sanctions, VRChat also has the ability to mute (so you can’t hear) and block (so you can’t see) other avatars in its pop-up user interface, and a “safe mode”, which is a sort of “nuclear option” where you can mute and block all avatars which are not on your friends list.
So all in all, VRChat has developed the most evolved and developed tools for dealing with trolling. But then again, they’ve been forced to.
Back in 2016, AltspaceVR introduced a “space bubble” to keep other avatars from invading your personal space. I do know that you can also mute other avatars who are annoying you. You don’t have an option to block offensive avatars in AltspaceVR, but then again, you don’t really have any choice in your avatar, they’re so very limited!
I would load and run AltspaceVR to check all these features out, but the latest version of the client software (where you get to choose your new “home” location) has completely locked up my high-end PC THREE. TIMES. tonight and I am not going to risk trying it again! AltspaceVR seems to be experiencing some major growing pains. Seriously not impressed.
High Fidelity has a Bubble icon on its tablet user interface that works similarly to the AltspaceVR space bubble:
You can also mute nearby avatars, or set them to “ignore” so they can’t messsage you in-world. Pretty much the same features as the other social VR spaces have. All the tools in all the newer social VR spaces are pretty limited.
General Issues in Dealing with Trolling and Griefing
So, let’s move from specific technical solutions to a more general discussion on how to handle griefing in general. What’s the best way to go about dealing with griefing, trolling, and harassment in online communities?
In my experience, manipulating perpetrator anonymity is an important factor in controlling griefer’s/troll’s antisocial behavior. The more easily identifiable and able to be held accountable for their actions community members are, the fewer instances of bad behavior you tend to see.
Allied with the idea of altering perpetrator anonymity is the idea of altering expectation of punishment. Accountability enables easier punishment. There are several ways that punishment can take place however. Punishment can be very informal, where community members heap scorn on other members who violate the social contract or simply ignore them (by using filters within the community to literally make their presence invisible). This sort of informal punishment is what makes accountability effective all by itself. Accountability can also enable more formal varieties of punishment such as entry bans. In my experience bans are the most useful way to discourage the really hardcore antisocial behavior that happens on communities. Punishment can never hope to eradicate all griefer/troll behavior however, because the really hardcore griefers will thrive on punishment, seeing attempts by the management to eject them as high praise for their work.
Here are a few other elements of the community or game that can be manipulated and which might have an impact on reducing griefing/trolling behavior.
Setting up Initiation Barriers probably would affect griefing behavior. The easier it is to get into a community, the more likely that community is to become a target for griefers. In part this has to do with helping people to identify with and value the community and not take it for granted. When you have to do a lot of work to get into a community you are more likely to care for that community and not want to harm it. The problem here is that the same barriers that might keep out griefers also keep out legitimate members. It is difficult to set a barrier high enough to keep out one group without also keeping out the other group.
I’d expect that the more opportunity there is to act out griefer behaviors with a group of other griefers, the more often the behavior would happen. People tend to take less responsibility for individual actions when they are acting as part of a group or mob. This social psychological principle goes by several names including the bystander effect, and diffusion of responsibility. The solution here would be to limit people’s ability to socialize, but as that utterly defeats the purpose of the community it isn’t really much of a solution.
I would expect that manipulating the frame of the community or game can increase or decrease the chance that griefer behavior will occur. The frame of a game or community has to do with its identity – how members think of what they are doing when engaged in the game or community. If an interaction is thought of as a game and therefore not something that is real or important it is easier to self-justify doing mayhem. If an interaction is thought of as a more serious behavior such as part of a support group interaction, the urge to do mayhem is maybe less strong (for some at least). The Wired article talks about this issue somewhat indirectly, noting that Second Life members don’t think of what they do in Second Life as being part of a game but rather view it as a more serious community. The “non-game” frame of Second Life participants makes such participants more likely to view griefing behavior taking place within Second Life in non-game ways, such as considering it to be actual theft or terrorism.
Second Life has often been an arena for trolling because it’s very easy to create a free, throwaway account to be offensive. If one gets banned, the griefer can go ahead and create another free account. All the newer social VR spaces have this problem, since they don’t want to discourage people from signing up and (hopefully) staying and generating income for the company.
There are no easy answers here. The best we can do is try various solutions and see if they prove effective or not. In these early days of the metaverse, we’re all still learning the best ways to design our communities to chain the trolls.