March 5, 2007 4:00 AM PST

In 'Second Life,' the ring of revolution?

I was sitting at a picnic table Thursday afternoon talking with a revolutionary who last year bombed an American Apparel store.

I didn't think she was all that dangerous. As far as I could tell, she was just a big-time radical in the Second Life virtual world.

My Second Life alter ego, Caro Zohari (an avatar who has much nicer hair than I do), was interviewing a spokeswoman for the Second Life Liberation Army (SLLA), an "avatar rights" group that has sprung up in the Linden Lab-created virtual world with the objective of fomenting a "democratic revolution" to oppose Linden's supposedly authoritarian rule.

Griefing attacks

Across the table from me, the avatar/activist Solidad Sugarbeet was demanding her virtual rights.

"Avatars can form relationships in Second Life--human bonds," Sugarbeet explained. "We can work and play and fall in love. There's just one thing missing. We can't vote."

As more and more mainstream politicians--like Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards--begin using Second Life as a campaign venue, the question arises of whether more radical political parties, grassroots groups and activist organizations will also take root in the virtual world. And if they do, it raises the possibility, as comical as it may seem, that these online groups could carry their activities over into the physical world.

"The use of new media for political action has a slightly longer history than just these things in Second Life," said Alexander Galloway, an assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University, and author of the book Gaming: Essays on Algorithmic Cultures.

"There's a rationale for it to the extent that in this day and age, the powers that be have migrated into the Digital Age," Galloway said. "For concerned citizens who want to agitate and express themselves politically, it makes sense that they will also migrate into the digital realm."

The SLLA, at least at first glance, is devoted to "avatar rights." It was founded by a Second Life member whose avatar goes by the name Marshal Cahill and has been in the news a fair amount for a string of online-protest actions since late 2006.

Most notably, SLLA members took over the stage at the World Economic Forum's Second Life presence and set off "atomic bombs" of companies like Reebok and American Apparel's virtual stores.

Protests like the SLLA's bombs are purely visual effects. Some can temporarily freeze avatars, and graphics-heavy attacks can crash residents' computers or Linden Lab's servers. Some people do worry, however, that more sophisticated tactics will emerge that could prove more dangerous to avatars and in-world property.

Linden Lab didn't pay much attention to SLLA's attacks, and the incidents didn't incite much of a stir on the virtual world's message boards and discussion forums--until the mainstream media heard about it.

Several news outlets, most notably the Los Angeles Times (registration required), picked up on the story in late February. An article published by Agence France-Presse even claimed that "virtual-world banes now mirror the havoc of the real one, as terrorists have launched a bombing campaign in Second Life."

Suddenly, the SLLA found itself bombarded with press inquiries. Within the virtual world, the SLLA had protesters picketing its headquarters and "griefers" defacing its property with Nazi symbols. (In fact, while my avatar was interviewing SLLA members, an unidentified griefer--that's someone who harasses other people in-world--barraged us with hordes of Super Mario cartoon figures.)

The real-world media exposure of the SLLA, in other words, made the group more prominent in-game than it ever would have been otherwise.

Some Second Life residents, like freelance writer Wagner James Au, are hesitant to believe the hype. Groups like the SLLA, he said, "do these very brief and not very damaging attacks. It's cute." Au has expressed the opinion on his blog, New World Notes, that there's a big difference between a radical group in a virtual world and one in the real world.

CONTINUED: Role-playing radicals…
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22 comments

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Stupid Terrorists
It's even dumber in the virtual world than it is in real life. Don't
they realize a key difference between real life and this game?
They can quit second life and not suffer any consequences. They
still have their first life to go back to. That's what the SECOND in
Second Life is there for isn't it?

If they really want to vote, they should vote with their wallets
and action and go find a different game that'll serve their
purpouses better. Or go start their own game. They they can
choose whether or not to let people vote in it. MMOGs are not
democracies, they're dictatorships of those who own and run
them, and who are the players to demand the right to vote in
game?
Posted by Dr. B (91 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Too True!
Perhaps it is because these people don't have a real life that they go down these paths. As usual some people want it all without paying for it. If you don,t like the rules don't play the game
Posted by Sir Limey (43 comments )
Link Flag
Revolutionaries or bullies?
All forms of online interaction develop a serious problem with bullies or "griefers" once the novelty wears off. Maybe that's what's about to happen to Second Life.
Posted by mcugaedu (75 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why should Second Life be any different than real life?
Bullies, jocks, the in-crowd have all ruled the roost as long as I can remember.
Posted by Too Old For IT (351 comments )
Link Flag
Something to think about?
Ask yourself this this type of game format should
given to Terrorists or Convicts in prisons to probe there minds it would open the minds of our intelligence organizations and Law enforcement to their fantasy's and how they operate.
Posted by cohaver (189 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Violation of user agreement.
I've never played second life, but I do play WoW (surprise I know). I know if you do any sort of act that has an adverse affect on the servers that would get you banned (for life?). I can see this getting bigger only because people with extreme passions do extreme things.

If it were my server I would be a bit ticked off.
Posted by cirland (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
actually
the account gets banned not the person. It is next to impossible to ban someone in a online game.

Even if the only payment accepted is a credit card it is still very difficult to ban someone, and not just the account.
Posted by qwerty75 (1164 comments )
Link Flag
why second life?
What's cnets obsession with second life and why all the free press for a fad we won?t remember 4 or 5 years from now?

Or is it free....
Posted by jleemc44 (22 comments )
Reply Link Flag
They have a stake
CNET's coverage of SL has gone through the roof since the opened a 'virtual office' in the game. They've invested in SL, so they pump it endlessly. Honestly, I think all they're doing is turning people off.
Posted by gabegard (6 comments )
Link Flag
Good God, enough already!
Why not have a daily article about knitting? It would be relevant to more people in this forum.
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Reply Link Flag
ENOUGH OF THIS HYPE
This is a marketing gimmick. That's it folks.
It's a game, where the players are pawns for ad agencies like
GSD&M to profit from.... get over it. YOU HAVE BEEN HAD.
And yeah, if you're into 'Second Life'... how about working on your
first one?
Posted by avfolk--2008 (37 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree, why is CNET Second Life's Proxy?
I get RSS feeds, and for the past six months I see Second life stories coming from Cnet bi-weekly. I agree with the above poster: We are sick of reading about it. We don't use it and have no plans to (remember the data breach, anyone still using it is getting what they ask for.)

Sick of it. Remember when you covered the entire industry? The big picture?
Posted by mjm01010101 (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
read your cardholder agreement
if you think the breach that happened in second life is significant in the slightest, you need to start looking around. Besides, your acquiring bank and the card brands eat all the cost of fraud anyway, so what do you care? All you have to do is fill out the form....
Posted by zoetherot (10 comments )
Link Flag
You missed the point, guys...
The point is simply that you can have discussions that cross all boundaries - the group is made up of people from all over the world. A marvellous exchange of viewpoints. We took it to the John Edwards campaign HQ last night, and it was fun, to say the least. No bombs or silliness, just an open discussion.
Posted by Jerry Dawson (125 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wow, that really makes John Edwards look like a loser.
Maybe he should start campaigning on online gambling sites or dungeons and dragons newsgroups.
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Link Flag
people will do anything for publicity
authoritarian government? wrong.
Are you a shareholder in second life? No.
You own zero assets, therefore you get to make zero rules.

LL created SL, therefore in your model, LL is god.
Would you start an opposition group against god?

No, you wouldn't. I would though - because i'm hardcore and you are not. I'm coming for you God.
Posted by zoetherot (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Edwards
As more and more mainstream politicians--like Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards--begin using Second Life as a campaign venue, the

FALSE. Simple fact checking would reveal that the so-called campaign site in Second Life was set up by an Edwards fan and has no ties to the campaign. Its no different then if I put up signs in my front yard.

John Edwards did NOT begin using Second Life as a campaign venue.
Posted by direlobo (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
How much do you get per article?
There are too many SL stories on CNET.
Posted by Siegfried Schtauffen (269 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Is SL the Poster Child for Bad Business?
The rest of the 3D On the Web industry welcome the success of SecondLife, WoW and others. It increases the market, it increases the mindshare. All good.

But someone at LL may want to take notice that SL is, by virtue of this reporting or ad campaign, whatever fast becoming the poster child for bad behavior of a community in a social network. The rising tenor of a backlash here at CNet is the emerging signal that this publicity blitz is beginning to backfire. Too may claims made here for SL have been shown to be historically inaccurate, too many problems with the technology are being outed as showing it to be unsafe for commerce, and the validity of using what is functionally an entertainment site for serious business applications is being questioned.

The danger is that the hype wears away at the front offices of the companies that LL needs to make a go of this as a profit-center and then the company officials begin to question the investments made by the second-tier managers and innovators in the SL-hosted experiments.

Caveat vendor.
Posted by Len Bullard (454 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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