While I was away: Second Life gone political?

A lot has happened during the last several months. I want to catch up with some of these events, so here comes the “While I was away” series of posts. Perhaps “away” is not the best word for this context, because technically I was not away from Second Life and other metaverses, just did not follow the events closely enough. I guess there may be a better word than “away” to describe the state I was in. Idle? Detached? Busy in RL? Away sounds best. So “While I was away” it is.

The first article in the series will be dedicated to this new category in the Second Life Destination Guide, called Politics. A quick check at archive.org shows that the category has been added no earlier than the middle of March. Here are snapshots of the website from March 8th and from March 20 – observe the absence of the Politics category in the former snapshot and its presence in the latter.

20160519 SL Gone Political Destination Guide
A today’s (2016/05/19) snapshot of the Destination Guide, with the Politics category selected

One can argue that this is a fairly reasonable category to have, given the existing interest in politics among people, fueled by the main political event of the year – the US presidential election. Indeed, many people follow it relatively closely, including those outside of the States. It should come as no surprise that some of the people would desire to digitize their support of the politician of their choice, because why not indeed – a lot of real life gets digitized in the form of Second Life locations. As a matter of fact, there are many residents who are willing to talk real life politics in Second Life, they have every right to have hangouts for that and enjoy the easiness of finding them by simply exploring the Politics category. The description of the category reads: “Interested in politics? Connect with others to discuss and debate in Second Life.” No problem there.

The question to ask here is how adequate the highlight of this real life field is in Second Life.

Adding the Politics category is something I do not remember being done back in 2012, and archive.org confirms my feeble memory with this snapshot from September 1st, 2012. There is one thing about this new section that cannot help but draw attention to themselves, and that is its position in the Destination Guide categories list. Only the Picks and the Events are higher than Politics. Let us recall what kind of locations are supposed to go under this category – whose purpose is to gather individuals who are interested in politics to exchange ideas, news and such on the subject. So, technically, how is this category different from Spirituality & Belief, or, say, Science & Technology, which take their humble position near the bottom due to the alphabetic order? Those also gather individuals interested in the related subject to exchange news and so on.

Seasonal categories do get moved up in the Destination Guide accordingly. In the winter, Winter Attractions category takes the third sport, and the alphabetic order does not matter.

So the US presidential elections 2016 do matter in Second Life, from the destination guide editors’ point of view, if they are put on a par with seasonal festivities.

What bothers me about it is that it adds the political component to the Second Life otherwise neutral climate. Festive locations, even for religious holidays (take Easter) add the atmosphere of celebration, an event to brighten up one’s Second Life, perhaps to familiarize oneself with another country’s culture, and have it done in a leisure, fun, non-coersive way.

Politics are different. The political activism done right inevitably implies a complicated discussion on the range of related topics, such as policies, experience of the candidate, approval rating of the candidate, and so on. If this discussion is skipped, there is little to talk further about – the potential supporter is not educated enough on the subject to make the informed decision. This requires a significant investment of time from the potential supporter.

20160519 SL Gone Political Feeling The Bern
Somebody at the mainland feels the Bern. (And loves solar energy.)

In our situation, the potential supporter is the Second Life resident. Comparing to festivities, which require way lesser effort from the resident to participate, this category, highlighted as an event, either puts an unnecessary pressure on the resident to pay attention to the subject they would like to keep separated from Second Life, or facilitates an uninformed participation in the political process due to the underinvestment of time from the resident who is not used to invest a lot of time in Second Life seasonal events. There are residents interested in politics, of course – and I am pretty confident that if they were to look for the politics-oriented venues, they would have no issue finding this category in the alphabetically ordered list under ‘p’.

There is an argument that “everybody should to some degree be interested in politics”. I cannot agree more. However, this statement applies to real life, where the question of politics is unavoidable. But we do not come to Second Life for unavoidable matters – rather, this environment is meant to be free for the exploration. Real life topics are welcome to be presented, of course. Do you want to talk religion in Second Life? There is the “Spirituality & Belief” category just for you! Interested in talking science there? The “Science & Technology” category is waiting for you! This is fantastic that residents of Second Life have this option of augmenting their real life with Second Life.

But this option should not be pushed upon the residents. Even in the subtle form of taking the position reserved for seasonal festivities.

This is my take on the Politics category in general, and I would like to take a better look at the locations themselves as well.  But this article got longer than expected, so the locations will be covered in the separate article.

Stay digitized and be safe!

K.T. Burnett (KayT Resident)

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