Thursday, January 03, 2008

Risk in Second Life

In Real Life I tend to be pretty risk adverse when it comes to physical danger and usually exhibit a modicum of common sense about such things. Now why is it that people have such a magnified sense of risk when it comes to words and images which from my way of thinking are much less harmful than the risk that people take in their every day life?

Consider the case of a poster on a Second Life education list who wants to have his student's Second Life activities in a public setting but is concerned about the risk of encountering offensive images and behaviors. The examples he uses are an Avatar that curses you when you bump it during teleportation and penises prominently displayed on the wall of a Second Life structure.

Well here is my response:

"-----,

Perhaps, even in a Federally funded project people need to take some responsibility for their own risk management. Now as you, I certainly don't want people to constantly encounter things that might be offensive to them. Also I agree strongly in the need to make the material accessible to people with disabilities. But if you want your activities to be public and have fun, well there is a risk in that-just as going on a field trip or a conference in RL.

Even those folks who are easily offended by seeing penises outside of their normal context, presumably have some understanding that they have some risk of exposure to such things in the real world. Presumably, they also understand that in a diverse society it makes no sense to avoid contact with the outer world because of an occasional penis.

An example...were I to take students on a field trip or concert here in Kansas, they might encounter a certain minister who has signs with all sorts of stuff on them that is much more offensive to Kansans than a few penises on a wall. Would I be responsible for someone's offense at this? Common sense says no. In a free society, don't people have to take some burden to develop an ability to handle things they don't like that they might encounter in real world situations? Why should SL be any different?

Besides, SL regions are labeled GP and mature. You don't want penises- stay out of the mature regions. If your group wants a good SL experience, give them a list of recommended sites and let them do their own "risk" management.

Paul (Simone/Simeon Gateaux)"

Part of the problem may be that people don't really understand what Second Life is. If I were to do my training or conferencing entirely locally then a user would be perfectly in line to take real offense at penises on a wall and hold me as the educator to a higher level of responsibility. But SL is not that sort of controlled environment and its easy to forget that and think that since the images are coming through your computer that the whole thing is like a closed stand alone program. SL is not that.

I guess because of the way I grew up I took to heart the saying "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me." Of course we all know words can hurt, as can images, but people need to learn some perspective about these sorts of risks. Being hurt by words, or images, is not quite the same thing as being offended by them.
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