A pornographic tour

There is a reasonable chance that my readers are already aware of the polemic episode involving an article on Second Life by Eric Grundhauser on Atlas Obscura – or, more precisely, about Hamlet Au’s reaction to it on his blog. A lot has been said regarding that subject. Nonetheless, I became curious about the sims listed by Hamlet on his response as a means of making his case and providing evidence that Eric Grundhauser’s piece “is not accurate at all”. That’s the starting point for my journey today.

Intoxicated people at absolute urban
At Absolute Urban

For those who haven’t followed the events that I’m referring to, here goes a quick summary: Eric Grundhauser seems to have asked for a guided tour through SL, for writing his article. Pete Linden put him in contact with Ziki Questi, whom, as she said on her blog, along with her partner Kinn, took Eric on a visit to different places, chosen as a way “to provide a quick overview of Second Life’s possibilities”. I read on Ziki’s Twitter that her selection also considered Eric’s requests. And, among other things, Eric stated that, although he was partially expecting “to find a dying world of outsiders and bronies gleefully recreating pornographic impossibilities”, what he saw “was that Second Life is still a fascinating and vital world that is constantly changing and pushing the boundaries of what a virtual space can be”. And even though he didn’t go seeing sex-oriented sims, “Ziki mentioned that Second Life is a place where ‘you can certainly explore any sexual fantasy you could imagine’.” Anyway, Hamlet Au’s response was that “anyone without as great a guide as Ziki Questi […] is liable to conclude the article [on Atlas Obscura] is a distortion”, mainly because “Second Life is [his emphasis] a dying world […] with a lot of outsiders and bronies […] who do often recreate pornographic impossibilities.” As an evidence of what he’s stating, he provides a list containing the top 25 most popular sims in Second Life in March 2015, according to Metaverse Business, and writes that “over half of the most popular locations in Second Life are pornographic”.

Here’s the list as provided by Hamlet:

The List of Popular SL Sims, March 2015, by Metaverse Business, with Hamlet Au's annotations
The List of Popular SL Sims, March 2015, by Metaverse Business, with Hamlet Au’s annotations

To start with, there is some imprecision on Hamlet’s descriptions. On his text, he said that the places that he had highlighted are “pornographic”. On the image, he annotated that they are “rated Adult for extreme sexual and violent content” – which is not the same. I will keep both ideas in my mind, but I’ll come back to this point later. For now, I would also like to call attention to the fact that the adult rated sims are 13 in 25. Let’s assume, at first, that “over half of the 25 most popular locations in Second Life are pornographic” – but if they were 12, just one sim less, we could say that “less than half of the most popular locations in SL are pornographic”. The fact is that we cannot count half a sim on that table. If you consider the top 24, you’ll see that 12 are rated as adult – a half. If you look at the top 20, 10 are adult sims – a half. If you concentrate on the top 15, again we have “over a half” sims rated as adult, but if you count the top 10, you’ll have a half of that number, 5, rated as adult. Finally, if you restrict yourself to the top 5 sims, you’ll find that 2 are rated as adult, less than a half. What I mean here is that “over a half” may be tricky, may sound like a significant number above 50% when it’s just a difference of one sim, aggravated by the impossibility of counting 0.5 sim on that table. Either you have 12 sims or 13 sims, you cannot have 12.5 sims there, which would be the exact half of 25.

Having considered that, let’s now see what I found when I visited the adult sims that appear on that table. The very first place, Pixie Hollow, is the home of Absolute Urban, a combat and roleplay sim that “consists of gang members, escorts, drug dealers, assassins, loners, hobos, burglars and thieves”, besides police agents, firefighters and hospital staff, according to its rules. Definitely, it evokes the idea of some hard sex and extreme violence – which is not exactly the case of the second place on the list, Skinny Dip Inn, a nude beach resort. It encourages people to wear no clothes at all – though it’s possible to be in swim suits – and does allow visitors to have sex, but it also has a code that restricts sexual activities to some areas and situations. On the notecard you receive when you arrive there, it says, for instance, that “full erections are not permitted unless in use with a partner” and that “oversized breasts” are not allowed either. Also, “escorting, prostitution or age play” are forbidden “anywhere on the sim”.

People dancing at the beach, at Skinny Dipp In
People dancing at the beach, at Skinny Dipp In

As for the following adult places on the list, Escort Oasis is obviously a sim for escorts and Yiff Spot Region is what its name implies, a place for engaging in yiff, commonly understood as sexual activities involving furries. There’s not much else to say about them for the purpose of this post, so I moved on to Syn City. That’s another roleplay sim, even more explicitly “designed to tell the sordid tales of violent and twisted lifestyles”, encouraging “combat and intense sex-based roleplay”, as its presentation notecard informs. “If that offends you,” adds the text, “please seek your entertainment elsewhere”.

When I arrived at Peaceful Breeze, I noticed it was divided into different parcels and that the one that probably made the place appear on the top 25 table was Jane’s RLV Playground. RLV stands for Restrained Love and the term is mostly self-explanatory for SL’s user base. The parcel is “open to all to be rape or just good fun sex” (sic). I’ll just notice that, in Second Life, rape is an enactment that requires that the person playing the victim at least click on some pose ball. And, if they start feeling uncomfortable, they can jump out of the action, teleport somewhere else or even log off. Actually, the parcel owner states on their arrival notecard: “we are all here to have fun so please make sure it is fun for the others”. No escorts are allowed.

A view to Syn City
A view to Syn City

The following region is Yiff, where you can find Furry Hangout (no need to describe it further – and though I don’t mean to judge people who like sex between furries, I’m not the best one to elaborate on it because I don’t understand its appeal, so I just moved on). I could not enter Fawlty Towers at all (maybe it disappeared from the grid?), so I decided to check Coquine, which is home for a place called Fuck Hall, where one will see more stores than places for having sex. Then, Thee Enchanted Forest houses an escort agency.

After all that, I arrived at Fratch, which is divided into two places, one of them surrounded by ban lines. I could only conclude that the popularity of the region comes from the other place in the sim, Lost Fantasy, where I had an interesting conversation with an admin, a very welcoming brazilian guy. When I told him what I was doing and how I arrived there, he said that, certainly, the place was rated as adult because it was a roleplaying environment that offered the players the possibility of dating and having sex. Nonetheless, he added, they more or less tried to have a certain diversity of elements that one could find in a real city. That’s why they have churches (inspired on Catholic and Evangelical ones) a beach area, a combat system and different options for having fun, like a kart race area, bumper cars, board games and other attractions. In other words, sex is a possibility there, among other options. Besides that, the community seems to count with some volunteers for helping brazilian newbies and also advertises itself as a “Help Brasil” location.

From Lost Fantasy, I went to Coitus, where one can find an escort agency and a male strip club called Aces. Finally, Windward Islands brings to its visitors a place called Public Disgrace, which is dedicated to RLV.

Games, beach and church at Lost Fantasy
Games, beach and church at Lost Fantasy

As a result of my tour, I found two roleplay and combat sims where sex plays a big role, if not a central one; two places where sex seems to be an option among others; three sims with escort agencies (and in one of them there’s a male strip club); two regions dedicated to yiff; another two regions advertising as RLV ones; and one place in which stores (many of them selling sexual items) seem to be more important than sex itself. There was also a sim that I couldn’t access.

With those visits, I could observe that sex is indeed an important part of SL (and I think everyone can guess that), but it doesn’t count for all the significant SL experiences. Not only half of the top 25 sims are not rated as adult, but also, among the adult ones, there are places where sex is offered side by side with other possibilities and not as their only main attraction. It seems to me, then, that there are other aspects of Second Life that can be legitimately explored on articles about the virtual world. People already know that SL has “lots of sex”, so why not focusing on other elements of Second Life as well? (As Honour McMillan pointed on her blog, “it’s hard for some people to accept, but there’s sex in San Francisco too. In fact, pretty much everywhere in the world.” Yet, we don’t have to keep announcing it all the time).

Besides that – and now I come back to a point that I left dormant above – adult sims may be very different among themselves, not only because of the type of sex that each one offers, but also because of the importance that each place gives to sex in its internal “economy”. Thus, describing them all as having extreme sexual content, as we can see on Hamlet’s annotation on the table provided by Metaverse Business, doesn’t really leave much space for reflecting that diversity. SL’s guide to maturity ratings states that “the Adult designation applies to Second Life regions that host, conduct, or display content that is sexually explicit, intensely violent, or depicts illicit drug use”. If you want to call pornographic the regions that contain sexually explicit elements, it’s ok – but qualifying all porn items as extreme seems to come from a moral conservatism to which all sex is deviant (with the possible exception of the one practiced by a married straight couple behind closed doors, with the lights off and aimed at reproduction).

As a final point that I’d like to address on this post, let’s talk about the idea that Second Life is dying. I won’t dispute that SL is shrinking and that it will most likely come to an end someday. But since when is Hamlet stating that? Since 2012? 2011? 2010? As Nalates Urriah underlines on her blog, “four years is a long time in the computer world”. How many more years will it take for SL to disappear? Of course, Linden Lab has to be aware of that and make plans to move on when Second Life is not there anymore. The residents who desire to keep meeting and being in contact with each other will certainly need a B plan, as well (maybe moving to the new product being developed by LL?). But it doesn’t seem that the grid will vanish tomorrow. In the mean time, SL’s user base can remain creative, changing their virtual world and pushing its boundaries each time further.

PS: I generally give links on my posts to all the places that I visit. On this post, however, since most places that I was exploring were actually devoted to sex, I prefered to give people a second chance for reading about them. So, I decided to send my readres to the SL Destination Guide, and that’s why I only provided links here to the places that I could find on the guide made by Linden Lab.

Update: After I published this post, I found other blogs and sites, besides the ones that are mentioned above, that either were already debating the same subject or that took part in the debate later. The posts and other material that i can remember now are:

– The podcast of show #68: minecraft in the classroom = better than sl?, conducted by Draxtor Despres and Jo Yardley, in which Hamlet Au participates
Please stop the social shaming of Hamlet Au, by Canary Beck
So… How Sex Crazed is Second Life?, by Nalates Urriah
A skewed perspective on Second Life, by Inara Pey

Update 2: I’ve also learned about the following blog posts on the same subject:

Role Play Journalism, by Uccie
The positive SL article, Wagner Au’s story, the public response and the finale on The Drax Files Radio Hour, by Jo Yardley
What You See Is What You Get, by Lindal Kidd
The Weekly Peek: May 18th Edition, by EverAfterr Resident

9 thoughts on “A pornographic tour

  1. I’d like to add something else that occurred to me when I was writing a comment to a post on another blog about this controversy. By examining the top 25 sims, we may have a problematic sample of “what SL is”. For instance, an escort agency needs to appear on the top 25 list, much more than an art exhibition, because the exhibition may be mentioned by a number of SL-related blogs, while an escort agency will most likely appear nohwere on those blogs. So, the top places list is the only advertising (besides a paid ad) that an escort agency in SL can get. Considering that, who knows how many alts escort agencies send to their sims in order to build traffic? Maybe none, but the fact is that we don’t know just by looking at the top 25 list. I’m not disputing that sex is an important element in Second Life, I’m just saying that, if half of the sims on the top 25 chart are rated as adult, it means that the other half is not adult-rated, and that even among the 13 places rated as adult there may be other issues to investigate: some do not promote sex as their only main attraction, some may be on the chart by artificially increasing their traffic and so on.

  2. I have nothing against sexual content on Second Life, I don’t care what people choose to do here.

    What I do object to is being solicited for sex and it was especially bad when I first started. Other users demanding to know how old I am, what I look like and where I am from even though my profile states that I’m not interested. I was accosted the other day because I don’t voice. I can understand someone getting upset if I came on to them and misrepresented myself but this treatment is just “harassment”.

    I’ve turned off my IM’s now. Unfortunately if someone tries to contact me they don’t even get a message saying that I’ve turned them off. Privacy settings don’t benefit me since I’m the one pretty much “cut off”. This might be a discussion for another forum.

    1. Yes, harassment may be a big problem in SL. We sometimes hear stories like yours. I myself haven’t experienced it to that extent, but I’ve had some unpleasant interactions with people obsessed with sex – and some other kinds of nasty people. However, it’s difficult to say how widespread that is in SL. I like to think it’s far from the majority of SLers being people who enjoy harassing others, but the truth is that we don’t have the numbers. It may not solve the whole problem, but at least we can block nasty people and report them if they violate the ToS or the Community Standards. Still, it would be interesting if someone could take a closer look at that subject.

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