From BoingBoing. I used to think Second Life was just kind of silly and self-indulgent, but check this out. A French racist group opened an office in Second Life and it was only a matter of time before flying saucers were bombing it with pig grenades. A protest escalated almost immediately into utterly surreal political violence. I'm often tempted to laugh off Second Life, but you have to admit, this could never happen in World of Warcraft, and for once, the freedom in SL actually fulfills its promise, making WoW look like a gated community of Republican Baptists. No disrespect to any actual Republican Baptists reading this, but you must admit, the range of social expression among your people tends to be more conventional and less imaginative, and tainted with a corresponding authoritarianism. If you encounter racism in WoW, the most you can do is report it to a Blizzard employee. In Second Life, you can express your outrage by pelting the motherfuckers with exploding pigs.
The funny thing, though, is that this blog post, and the BoingBoing post which brought it to my attention, they both refer to this situation as a political protest that turned into something else. But that's not accurate at all. Nobody in the world was hurt by the exploding pigs. It wasn't really a political protest that turned into an exploding pig riot. It was a political protest in a simulated space. The protestors started out by simulating a real-world protest, and the neo-Nazis responded by using "weapons" which set off explosions that can lift your avatar and send it flying off through virtual space. Essentially, they sought to silence the protestors, and this is when the protest turned "violent." But in reality, the protest wasn't violent at all; it was merely theatrical.
Anybody who's ever heard of Gandhi knows that Second Life didn't see the invention of the theatrical protest. Gandhi's non-violent protests were based to a very large extent on the awareness that the British soldiers beating up his non-violent protestors would have to answer to ordinary British citizens who would hear about it. Gandhi and the British military were already on stage when that happened; it's just the British military didn't notice the audience, and Gandhi did.
This political "battle" in Second Life was in fact a very theatrical political protest. What's interesting about it from the standpoint of developers of social software is that nobody planned the event; its highly theatrical nature was an effect of its highly theatrical context. That's actually a very interesting thing. I've been skeptical for a very long time about these virtual worlds, because it seems like nobody except curious intellectuals ever seems interested in them. The only virtual worlds regular people go for are World of Warcraft and Quake, and the user experience in those worlds is extremely structured. The emergent behavior Second Life chases after is much more constrained in those contexts.
This, however, this political protest is absolutely an emergent behavior. It's a new thing, and if future MMPORGs offer similar freedom, we'll see similar things happen in the future. That being said, it isn't necessarily a victory for justice or whatever. The protestors weren't interested in hearing the neo-Nazis' point of view, and while I can't blame them, consider if Second Life were a Christian-themed MMPORG, and you're a member of one of the extremely large number of additional religions in the world. A victory for peer pressure is not necessarily a victory for justice. That may have happened this time, but the overall effect does not actually make Second Life a more democratic place.