There are probably very few of us active within the blogsphere, either as writers or readers, who are not aware of the brouhaha which boiled-up over the course of the last week in response to Hamlet Au’s take on a recent article published in Atlas Obscura.
The latter offers a broadly positive look at Second Life, and drew praise from many SL users, including myself. However, Mr. Au’s take on the matter was to largely dismiss the Atlas Obscura piece as a “distorted” piece of journalism because it didn’t delve into the more pornographic aspects of Second Life sufficiently enough to be to his liking. Understandably, his view drew a considerable amount of flak by those actively engaged with the platform.
Wagner James “Hamlet” Au: a stereotypical view of the SL outsider
As a consequence of this, Mr. Au was invited to participate in an interview on show #68 of The Drax Files Radio Hour, to discuss his point of view. What’s interesting about his original article and the subsequent Radio Hour podcast is the way in which Mr. Au appears content to perpetuate a number of misconceptions about Second Life.
The first of these misconceptions is that the Adult rating equates to a region having “pornographic” content.
However, as Honour McMillan correctly states, “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.”
The second fallacy evident in Mr. Au’s argument comes at the 14:27 mark in the Drax Files Interview, in his suggestion that anyone can be unwittingly re-directed to an Adult environment and encounter avatars engaged in sex – and thus, the world needs to be told this is the case.
Yet by default, the viewer is set to display / allow access only to material that is rated General or Moderate in nature. Therefore, the only way for anyone to access an Adult rated region under any circumstance whatsoever, would be because they took the conscious decision to set their viewer to access Adult material. And let’s be honest here; while all Adult rated regions may not be pornographic in nature, the label on the setting itself makes it fairly obvious as to the type of content one might encounter as a result of enabling it.
Therefore, it’s fair to say that Mr. Au’s presentation that anyone can somehow inadvertently finish-up in an Adult rated area and catch people in flagrante delicto, as a matter of pure happenstance and through no direct action of their own, borders on the nonsensical, and he does himself a disservice in presenting the matter in this way.
Contrary to belief in some quarters, one can only inadvertently wind-up at an Adult hub (or other Adult location in SL) if one has consciously decided to enable their viewer to access Adult content – the default is General and Moderate only
A further fallacy voiced is the idea that because the “main assumption” among people at large is that Second Life is all about “weird sex”, then articles providing insight into Second Life must include an exploration of that “weird sex”.
However, while many who have heard about SL do perhaps think of it as a place for “weird sex”, the huge volume and diversity of content, pursuits, interests, activities and events available in Second Life would suggest that it is in fact a misconception.
Misconceptions aren’t dealt with through reinforcement – which is essentially what Mr. Au is advocating.
Misconceptions are dealt with by presenting reasoned counterpoints which encourage those holding them to re-evaluate their position / attitude. This is precisely what the Atlas Obscura article does, intentionally or otherwise; while acknowledging there are sexual activities and content in SL, it seeks to offer a broader view of Second Life that doesn’t play to, or reinforce, the stereotypical view. This isn’t in any way being “dishonest” or “misleading” as Mr. Au states – and again, he does himself a disservice by suggesting it is.
Tyche Shepherd’s Grid survey summary for May 10th, 2015, from which the figures below are taken
And just how prevalent is all this “weird sex” anyway? On May 10th, 2015, there were 7,031 Mainland regions in SL, of which 346 were rated Adult. Given these are all located on the Adult continent of Zindra, it’s not unreasonable to assume that the larger portion of them is devoted to sexual content to one degree or another. Even so, that still amounts to less than 5% of the total Mainland content; hardly a preponderance. When the grid as a whole is considered, the figures are 25,460 region, of which 4986 are rated adult – that’s just 19.6% – or to put it in Mr. Au’s parlance: “less than one-fifth”.
And (again) leave us not forget Honour McMillan’s sage words: “If you do have Adult content, it does not automatically mean it’s pornographic. Sex exists in Second Life. Fact. Having a popular Adult sim does not make it pornographic. That is also a fact.” Therefore, the actual number of pornographic regions accessible to those who have chosen to view adult content is liable to be somewhat lower than that “one-fifth”.
So where, really, does all this leave us?
The bottom line is actually pretty straightforward: yes, there is a fair degree of sexual content and activity in Second Life. Just as there is on the Internet as a whole and in the physical world. However, the degree to which anyone coming into Second Life might be exposed to it is really hard to judge; unlike a wander through the streets of San Francisco (a parallel Mr. Au draws), where it is possible to accidentally and unwittingly stumble upon the seedier side of life, the degree to which one chooses to be exposed to the more sexual side of Second Life can be controlled, greatly reducing the risk of any accidental or unwanted exposure to it.
This being the case, the suggestion that an article such as Eric Grundhauser’s piece in Atlas Obscura is either “distorted” in its presentation of Second Life or somehow “misleading” simply because it doesn’t delve into the sexual side of SL or play to the stereotype that SL is “all about the sex”, is itself a skewed perspective on Second Life.
With due respect to Hamlet Au, the approach he advocates is not good journalistic practice – but it could easily be interpreted as encouraging continued salacious titillation.
I’ve added the two links above, as they also had an impact on my thinking during the gestation of this article.