by Alphaville Herald on 19/02/05 at 1:18 am
Athel Richelieu and Grandduke Ferdinand face-off at Tom Bukowski’s residence in Dowden, following an Ethnography discussion event.
Neal Stewart takes a look at a face-off between two Second Life residents over an SS training camp – one is the builder and the other reported the abuse.
Apparently in his first life Grandduke Ferdinand is a 23 year-old Firefighter/Emergency-Medical-Technician. He’s been doing it for seven years but only lately is it starting to really get to him. Grandduke is now leaving the service to attend business college. He claims that the night before we spoke, he had “held a guy’s guts in while he died” and recently attended a call where a 7-year old boy and his mother were killed in a car-accident. He says the child’s body found was in a nearby tree.
And I believe him.
“So you see all that and yet you still sound like you hold inhumane views. Like the SS was somehow glamorous,” Athel Richelieu comments to Grandduke.
In Second Life, Grandduke (yes, that Grandduke) has just returned from a 7-day ban – for contributing to a build of a Schutzstaffel (SS) training camp, replete with propaganda posters and the trademark thunderbolt imagery. Only moments after watching The Pianist, Athel had logged onto SL and discovered the camp. He was offended by the Nazi symbolism, particularly since he is gay and well-versed on the Nazi persecution of homosexuals. He abuse-reported it, the Linden fairies leveled the build and Athel is poised to take on what he fears may become a growing tide of Nazi and extremist elements to SL.
Amazingly, the two only discovered each others’ involvement in the controversy when Grandduke happened to overhear Athel and I discussing the subject.
Grandduke showed us his cap with the Death Head (‘Totenkopf’) and Third-Reich Eagle-Swastika badges. The Swastika has been distorted by lopping off one of the arms and twisting those remaining, and in this form is what Grandduke calls ‘Linden-approved’. But Athel is apparently no less offended by the remaining Death Head than he is by the Swastika. What was most interesting to me however was not the subject of the SS-camp conflict but the way the heated exchange between Athel and Grandduke played out.
Athel Richelieu enjoys a quiet smoke on the balcony
Conflict in Second Life is not the same conflict you’d find in a chat room or a MMORPG game like World of Warcraft. In WOW (if we were to pretend that the alliance and the horde could communicate) you might abuse one another and hang around your enemy’s territory. All of the land, objects and buildings are created and staged by Blizzard, the company behind Warcraft. If a conflict spills into the virtual parking lot, it’s not particularly personal – the parking lot was chosen, positioned and asphalted by the powers that be. The relationship between the players and the land they live in is themed and purely semantic. Digli the balding dwarf didn’t spend 36 hours building the tavern at Ironforge.
In Second Life it’s different.
If you get into a debate or a conflict with another resident in SL, you may become a part of the personal world that they live in and have built with their own code, prims and textures. In IRC, the guy you’re arguing with quits the session and you’ll never see him again. In SL, he may retire to a building he has personally made and paid for with money from his First Life. Pictures of him and his friends’ avatars may be framed throughout his home. You might watch through the living-room window while he streams his favourite music and plays Chess with his girl-friend.
In Warcraft the worst that’s gonna happen is he’ll gang-kill you with his friends and maybe try his hand at spawn-camping. That’s about it. In Second Life he’ll hover in the distance and rez a pair of tan-coloured deer humping on your living-room table. He may try and ruin your wedding. He might cost you real money by convincing hundreds of people that your blackjack tables are rigged. In SL, conflict has an uncommon gravity and complexity.
None of those things took place in the conflict between Duke and Athel.
Except for the thing with the deer.
For several hours they debated the subtleties of racism, genocide, Nazism and community standards. A URL or a rezzed picture flying through the ether to back an argument. That’s something you can’t do in a street-discussion in your first life – produce relevant statistics directly from Encyclopedia Britannica.
“Neal, are you writing a story? Well, if you do, don’t forget….” says Grandduke. Don’t forget what? He emits a Right Said Fred audio sample and suddenly starts shaking his hips: “I’m too sexy for my shirt, too sexy for my shirt, so sexy it hurts…”.
This is during a conversation about Jews killed in gas chambers.
The conversation between the mild-mannered gay Jazz-Club-owner in a tuxedo and the right-wing ex cage-fighter in his sheep underwear.
In Second Life you find yourself gradually being conditioned and co-opted into an illusion. The process is as much about self-conditioning as it is about responding to external influences. There are elaborate social rewards and insights to be had from contributing to the shared hallucination. You know that the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes but you eventually realize that you don’t care, because the emperor – butt-naked – is one sexy bastard.
The effect that this has is to imbue all of the objects and physical context around you with significance. When you’re sitting in the couch in someone’s SL lounge-room, you’d be hard-pressed to identify ways that – in terms of meaning and origin – it’s any different from their real lounge.
What was most interesting about the discussion between Athel and Grandduke was that something about the way they had spoken to each other, for so long – and in this compelling physical space that I have spoken about – something about it eventually led to them them sharing profoundly personal information about their first lives. Like two opposing protestors at an abortion rally who somehow end up discussing what it’s like to lose a loved one in a car-accident.
But I’m not saying it’s all Little House On The Prairie.
One day they’ll probably stumble upon each other in Jessie…
Athel (left), Grandduke (right)