“No Drama!”: A Case Study of Social Governance in Second Life®

“No Drama!”: A Case Study of Social Governance in Second Life®

Nola Johnston (BC Institute of Technology, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-891-3.ch006
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Abstract

This chapter argues that because in-world social relationships have value and impact on user experience, their security must be addressed by any group entering a virtual environment. Given the constraints imposed by legal structures, the coding of a world’s architecture, and social norms and expectations, what options for management of social relationships are practical and effective? A case study of one social group in the virtual world of Second Life® offers a possible model. Elf Circle is a large group that has developed a comprehensive system of social governance—still evolving—to manage social relationships and protect its members. Its policies and procedures, and the reasons for them, are reviewed with the aim of providing some governance strategies that address common issues.
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Introduction

When people talk about security for Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) such as virtual worlds, they are generally talking about protecting data and privacy. While critically important issues, these leave out a different kind of security—the social and emotional security of a person within those environments.

Does an individual feel safe and confident there, or frustrated, vulnerable, or threatened? This chapter argues that because in-world social relationships have value and impact on user experience, their security must be addressed by any group entering a virtual environment. Given the constraints imposed by legal structures, the coding of a world’s architecture, and social norms and expectations, what options for management of social relationships are practical and effective? A case study of one social group in the virtual world of Second Life® (SL™) offers a possible model. Elf Circle is a large group that has developed a comprehensive system of social governance—still evolving—to manage social relationships and protect its members. Its policies and procedures, and the reasons for them, are reviewed in this chapter with the aim of providing some governance strategies that address common issues.

Methodology

This study is based on interviews and my own experience: as with all Elf Circle members interviewed, I have been a member of the group since its inception and sit on both its primary governance bodies, High Council and High Circle. The interview with the owner of the group, Forcythia Wishbringer, was recorded via Skype. Other members provided written responses to a questionnaire (Appendix A), as did leaders of two other SL social communities. Respondents provided no personal identifying information, but their real avatar names are used.

Elf Circle members who are not part of governance and current or former members who disagree with its application were not interviewed. This is not because their opinions and experiences are not of value, but because the focus of the chapter is to examine the reasons for developing existing structures. A more in-depth exploration of the efficacy of the structure and its implications would be of considerable interest but would require a much longer document.

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Background

About Second Life

Second Life (www.secondlife.com) is not a game, but a platform owned by Linden Lab (LL). In-world content created by users (Residents) using the program’s building and scripting tools provides amazingly diverse environments and activities. Basic user accounts are free, but the ability to display content created is tied to land ownership, i.e. rental of server space (Linden Lab, 2009a). Land is organized in 256 x 256 m blocks called regions (or “islands” or “sims”, for simulators); individuals can lease entire regions or smaller parcels. Copyright resides with content creators, and an in-world economy (convertible to U.S. dollars) facilitates buying and selling of goods created by Residents. The potential of emergent virtual worlds such as SL is uncertain, their use is being explored actively by businesses, non-profits, and educators.

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