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  Linden Lab Lays Down Law: Give Your ID, Or Give Up Adult Content  
Posted 2007-05-04 by Tony Walsh
Linden Lab has announced that new restrictions on how users consume and host content in Second Life will be rolled out by mid-May. According to an official blog posting, users who do not pay a fee to verify their age will be restricted from accessing Mature-rated areas of the virtual world. These areas will be identified by virtual land owners, who Linden Lab says "are morally and legally responsible for the content displayed and the behavior taking place on their land." Land owners will be required to flag their land as "adult" if it contains "adult content."

According to Linden Lab, "The verification system will be run by a third party specializing in age and identity authentication. No personally identifying information will be stored by them or by Linden Lab, including date of birth, unless the Resident chooses to do so. Those who wish to be verified, but remain anonymous, are free to do so... US Residents will be asked to provide the last four digits of their Social Security Number, while non-US Residents may need to provide a passport or national ID number." An extensive Q&A is provided on the company's official blog.

Continue reading: Linden Lab Lays Down Law: Give Your ID, Or Give Up Adult Content
  School Authorities Arrest Teen Game Map Maker  
Posted 2007-05-02 by Tony Walsh
According to Fort Bend Now, a Chinese-American teenager who created a game map of his school has been "removed from campus" and placed in another educational facility. The president of the Fort Bend Chinese-American Voters League told Fort Bend Now that the teen was arrested by school police. The teen's house was reportedly searched with consent; the police found a hammer on-site, and decided the boy was a threat. No charges were filed, but the teen "won't be allowed to participate in graduation ceremonies with classmates."

Fort Bend Now reports that "Speakers at the [school board's] April 23 meeting...drew a connection to the April 16 shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, in which a Korean student shot and killed 32 people." The commentary on the story by Fort Bend Now web site readers is particularly interesting. Several commentators accuse the teen of bad judgment, something I completely disagree with. In my opinion, this is at the very least an overreaction with political motives, if not flat-out racism.

What the authorities in this situation don't seem to be aware of (or care about) is that it is not uncommon for gamers to reproduce familiar real-world environments as game maps, from offices to schools, to malls. If you want to learn how to create game content, it's easiest to start with locations you know well--it's the same mentality that goes into creating model railroad scenes which replicate one's town or neighborhood. It's fun to play a familiar game in a familiar setting, just as its fun to operate model trains in a familiar setting: We like to play with what we know. I don't think a gamer is any more likely to be a murderer than a model railroad hobbyist.
  Third-Party ‘Second Life’ Search Discovers Backlash  
Posted 2007-04-10 by Tony Walsh
Immediately after a third-party Second Life search system was launched yesterday by the Electric Sheep Company, backlash followed. The system scans public areas of the 3D virtual world daily, cataloging objects marked for sale, and making that catalog available for web-based search.

Privacy concerns have been voiced, first by high-profile veteran Second Life resident Prokofy Neva, and then (as reported by The Second Life Herald) by international-headline-making land baroness Anshe Chung. At issue is the opt-out nature of the Electric Sheep's search system, which presumes that Second Life residents don't mind being exposed to the web at large. By default, all avatars' items marked for sale are subject to indexing by the search system. To change this setting, an avatar must visit SheepLabs HQ in-world and either opt out completely, or volunteer all objects (marked for sale or not) for indexing.

Continue reading: Third-Party ‘Second Life’ Search Discovers Backlash
  Identity Confirmation Features Coming to ‘Second Life’  
Posted 2007-04-06 by Tony Walsh
Users of Second Life will be able to confirm aspects of each other's identities, such as age and legal jurisdiction, if plans announced by the virtual world's maker are implemented. "Hopefully, these features will help Residents as they conform to their own local laws," a Linden Lab rep wrote on the company blog.

No further details on the planned identity-confirmation features were revealed, such as when the plan might be enacted, or the full range of identity "aspects" made available for confirmation. Currently, Second Life users are able to hide from others aspects of their identity such as their real names, ages, or location, but are unable to hide whether or not they have supplied Linden Lab with billing information. Those users unwilling or unable to provide billing information to the company are known as "Unverified" users, and are subject to stigmatization by groups of Second Life residents. All members of Second Life "Main Grid" are ostensibly at least 18 years of age or older, although it's trivial for underage users to slip in. I suppose stricter entry requirements are pending.
  Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies  
Posted 2007-02-20 by Tony Walsh
 reports on a meta-research paper that casts doubt on links between violent game play and violent behaviour. The paper, entitled "Evidence for publication bias in video game violence effects literature: A meta-analytic review," may be downloaded from this page (temporarily, at least), and has been accepted for publication in an upcoming edition of the Aggression and Violent Behavior journal.

Author Christopher J. Ferguson told that his study found that overall, violent games do appear to increase aggressive thoughts, "but do not appear to increase aggressive behavior." The study also found that "better measures of aggression are associated with lower effects," and that studies which indicate a link between violent games and violent behaviour are more likely to get published than studies which do not indicate such a link.

Continue reading: Casting Doubt on Video Game Violence Studies
  What’s the Truth About the Sex Industry in ‘Second Life’?  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
At last year's South by Southwest conference, Reuben Steiger (then of Linden Lab, and now of Millions of Us) spoke as part of a panel entitled "How to Be a Virtual World Entrepreneur," where he revealed that roughly 30% of what goes on in Second Life is comprised of "naughty economy" transactions.

Today, prominent Second Life blogger James Au posted a "Sexual Census of Second Life," where he first says "it's never been clear how that [30%] figure was arrived at," and then goes on to say the 30% figure is "just about the strangest claim in the world." Instead of 30%, he guesses wildly, it's "maybe much less" than 5%. Later, he goes after a critic, imagining that "30% of commerce in Second Life is sexual is totally far-fetched." Yeah. Except that it's totally not far fetched at all.

At. All.

Now, we do not have a reliable indication this year (that I am aware of) of the level of sexually-based transactions. Nor are we likely to, as Linden Lab is surely terrified of revealing just how much porn its residents are into. But if I had to make a wild guess, I'd say it's the same percentage as last year. Thirty. Not frikkin' five.
  ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game  
Posted 2007-02-08 by Tony Walsh
Today I present some scattered seeds of an idea that have been clanking around the back of my brain since I put together a presentation on "Productive Play" last year. In that presentation, I talked about how the important task of baggage screening might be improved by turning it into a massively-multiplayer game (a refined version of an earlier blog post). At the very least, the player-base for Airport Screening: The MMO would consist of actual airport screeners, but I also suggested the results might be improved by opening up the game to the public (I imagined that the number of well-intentioned participants would vastly exceed the number of griefers).

In the same presentation, I also imagined a variation of the prison-themed MMO PrisonServer, where players could adopt the role of guards: Part of a guard's responsibilities would involve watching surveillance cameras and reporting suspicious activity. In this imaginary variation, the camera footage would be actual prison footage, and reports would be submitted to actual prison authorities. False positives would seriously harm one's in-game reputation or right to play, hopefully mitigating griefing. Granted this all seems quite far-fetched in terms of actual implementation, but I submit that it's not such a stretch, based on real-life examples.

Continue reading: ‘Surveillance’: The Massively Multiplayer Game
  eBay Spares ‘Second Life’ Auctions:  Why?  
Posted 2007-01-29 by Tony Walsh
What bad luck: eBay de-lists auctions of virtual items. What good luck: Second Life virtual items are spared.

Why the exemption for Second Life? It might be worth considering that two eBay board members are also indirect investors in Linden Lab, the virtual world's maker and maintainer. Benchmark Capital lead $8M in financing of Linden Lab in 2004, with the participation of Omidyar Network and others. eBay board member Robert Kagle is a member of Benchmark Capital. Pierre Omidyar is eBay's founder, a current eBay board member, and leads Omidyar Network.
  Does Violent Media Cause Violence, Or Doesn’t It?  
Posted 2007-01-17 by Tony Walsh
A coalition of Canadian parents and educators from the public and Catholic school systems issued a press release today entitled "Media Violence - Not a Pretty Picture," wherein it is suggested that kids and teens are influenced negatively by "violent music videos, video games, music lyrics, the Internet, and television programs..." Now, I happen to believe that some kids and teens are negatively influenced by some forms of violent media under certain conditions. I believe that in some cases, it's possible that exposure to violent media can cause violence. This being said, I'm thoroughly confused by this unnamed coalition's stance on the issue.

According to the coalition, the Internet itself is a destructive influence. That pretty much blows the group's credibility in my view, but unfortunately for you, I'm not done analyzing the press release yet. The group also identifies "music lyrics" as a destructive influence. I'd love to know why "poetry" in general wasn't listed. I suppose as soon as you put poetry to music it becomes a deadly weapon.

Continue reading: Does Violent Media Cause Violence, Or Doesn’t It?
  Commercial Bias in ‘Why Do They Play’ Game Studies?  
Posted 2007-01-07 by Tony Walsh
Summary results from a series of studies indicate that "fun" is only the basest of reasons players enjoy games, the CBC reported last month. The studies, published in the journal Motivation and Emotion, were co-authored by a University of Rochester grad student and the president of gamer-experience research firm Immersyve. According to Immersyve, the studies "show that players are most attracted to games that give them positive experiences that are akin to 'real world' challenges, rather than merely a shallow sense of fun." Note to self: Is fun shallow?

I brought the summary results to the attention of my father, Dr. Richard Walsh-Bowers, Professor of Psychology at Wilfrid Laurier University. Pops pointed out that Dr. Scott Rigby, co-author of the studies, sells that which he promotes as a research psychologist.

I don't happen to have access to the full studies, but I feel their value (as described in news reports and by Immersyve) is undermined by Dr. Rigby's corporate position. Being president of a commercial research firm, it is in his interest to develop a "model" attractive to the game industry. As Dr. Rigby says on his own web site: "...when games meet the underlying needs in our model, they not only predict better psychological outcomes for players, but better commercial success for games." Translation: Buy into our model, increase profits. For me, this calls into question the science behind the (foregone?) conclusions.
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