July 10, 2007

Thursday, 10 July 2008

But will there be tanks?

Redline China reports that Yilu, a game company out of Guangzhou, will soon be launching their first MMORPG. It will be a virtual world in which players can interact with other players and their environment according to pre-determined “physical” rules. Its name, Di Er Ren Sheng, translates as “Second Life,” but unlike the Linden Labs’ world, the Chinese Second Life will not allow players to create their own content.

In other words, no capitalism allowed.

But will there be Godzilla?

The Weekly Famitsu reports that the city of Tokyo will soon be arriving in Second Life through the teaming of Mizuguchitetsuya Rez, and Tetsuya Mizuguchi with the ad firm Dentsu.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi, a game designer and founder of Q Entertainment, is best known for his work with Sega Rally Championship, Space Channel 5 and Rez, along with the puzzle games Lumines and Meteos. More recently (July 7, 2007, to be precise), Lumi, a character from Mizuguchi’s Genki Rockets, opened the Live Earth concert in Tokyo in a holographic performance, and introduced a holographic video projection of Al Gore.

And that was in real life.

The Second Life Tokyo, according to Mizuguchi, will not simply be a recreation of the original. “The Tokyo we are trying to create is based on the image of city [sic],” he says. “How do people in Tokyo perceive the city? How about foreigners? That's what we want to express.” Since Tokyo is a veritable factory of popular culture, which by its very nature is ephemeral and quickly lost, Mizuguchi believes that his virtual Tokyo, by acting as a kind of virtual pop cult museum “might be the perfect place for it.”

There are doubters, however, including Miguel Lopez, who wrote about the new Tokyo for The Weekly Famitsu. Echoing a growing trend among commentators, Lopez expresses scepticism concerning “any organization's ability to maintain a meaningful, long-term presence in Second Life, including those enlisting the aid of luminary developers.”

It should be noted, however, that while commentators like Lopez have their doubts, there is a growing number of corporations, educational institutions, and even legal firms setting up virtual offices in world.

Although to be honest, we can’t imagine a good reason for a law office in Second Life.

A good reason for a law office in Second Life

As it says in the Good Book, “Wherever three or more are gathered, there shall be a lawsuit.” (This, of course, is from the Good Book of Lawyerly Aphorisms which also contains the popular children’s prayer, “As I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my torts to keep.”) Although there is some controversy about the exact number of Second Life residents, everyone agrees that there are at least “three or more,” meaning we’ve been long overdue for the lawsuit.

And it has arrived in the case of Stroker Serpentine v. Volkov Catteneo, the first time one avatar has sued another.

Serpentine (whose real-life name is Kevin Alderman) runs Eros LLC which develops and sells in-world sexual devices. One of his more popular items is the SexGen bed, boasting some 150 different animations. With an estimated 100,000 sold at L$12,000 each, it’s definitely one of his big sellers, which is why he was upset when Volkov Catteneo allegedly came along, found a way to copy it, and began selling the identical bed at one third of the price.

The primary issue involves the question of copyright infringement. A secondary issue involves the question, “Are there really 150 different sexual positions? I mean -- really?”

As for the amount of the settlement he’s seeking, Serpentine insists he’s not out for blood. “We’re not going to sue him for a million dollars,” he told Eric Reuters, a reporter for Reuters/Second Life. “I don’t want to crucify the guy. I’m trying to protect my income and my family.”

Finding “the guy,” however, is proving to be tricky since nobody knows who Volkov Catteneo is in real life, a situation Catteneo is confident he will be able to maintain. “I’m not some kind of noob,” he told Reuters, adding that not only is his name not in the Linden’s files, but that he doesn’t have a permanent address in real life.

Legal issues involving virtual goods and intellectual property rights are becoming a growing concern in the legal community, and a growing number of law firms are opening in Second Life to deal with them. These include Pro Bono Second Life, Gar Hallard's Law Office (next to the Open Latte Coffee Shop), and the Alonzo Law Firm which, oddly enough, advertises that “A lawyer with his suitcase can steal more than a hundred men with guns.” We’re not sure why anyone would want to steal a hundred or more men with guns, but possibly Alonzo is hoping you’d rather have him with you than against you.

Maybe he’s the one Serpentine should have gone with.

Second Life disappoints Washington Post

It’s becoming a weekly event. This week it’s Michael Gerson of the Washington Post who has entered Second Life and found it wanting.

In this case, our intrepid reporter attempts to find parallels to the type of literature J.R.R. Tolkien called "sub-creation." This, according to Gerson, involves “the Godlike construction of a complex, alternative reality, sometimes with its own mythology and languages.” Unfortunately, it seems that Second Life just doesn't measure up. While The Lord of the Rings Online, to which Gerson and his two sons subscribe, involves heroic quests and an underlying aim “for a recovery of honor and adventure in an age dominated by choice and consumption,” Second Life just totally doesn't.

“Instead of showing the guiding hand of an author, this universe is created by the choices of its participants, or ‘residents.’ They can build, buy, trade and talk in a world entirely without rules or laws; a pure market where choice and consumption are the highest values.”

He notes the recent controversies revolving around questionable sexual practices in SL, but concedes that there is more to Second Life than its “moral failures.”

“It is, in fact, a large-scale experiment in libertarianism. Its residents can do and be anything they wish. There are no binding forms of community, no responsibilities that aren't freely chosen and no lasting consequences of human actions. In Second Life, there is no human nature at all, just human choices.”

He does not address how activity created by human choices and engaged in by human beings can be devoid of human nature.

Gerson does approve of some aspects of Second Life activities, such as “good live music, philanthropic fundraising, even a few virtual churches and synagogues,” but by and large he finds little to praise. Unlike the real world, it is “highly sexualized in ways that have little to do with respect or romance.” And perhaps most telling of all, “there seems to be an inordinate number of vampires, generally not a sign of community health.”

So we’re doomed. But maybe we can save ourselves if we run out all the vampires.