Rules and rulebreaking in Second Life

Tomorrow I'll be attending the Metaverse conference in Silicon Valley. Attending me will be my 12-year-old son. I'm thinking a lot about virtual worlds and the kinds of impacts they'll have on my son's life. For instance, right now I'm typing to you from a Southwest Airlines jet traveling between Seattle, Washington to Oakland, California and I'm reading "Synthetic Worlds" by Edward Castronova. Just a little light reading about the virtual economies (he's an economist and the book illuminates the new virtual worlds for newbies) and how they will impact what I'll do with my career. For instance, I can see building a job just out of tending an island in Second Life and hosting memeorable experiences there. If blogging can go from nothing to 145 million hits a month at Microsoft in less than three years, why can't a Second Life experience do the same?

But, anyway, this leads into another discussion I had with Linden Labs recently at the Maker Faire.When my son and I first got to Maker Faire we met Beth Goza. She was quite excited by having Second Life be the cover story in BusinessWeek that week. The whole company was abuzz, it was good news after having to fight through financial tough times. Boy, does that bring back memories of when I worked at UserLand and ran the books there. It's not easy getting a company off the ground.

Anyway, Beth, who is their community ambassador, pulled me and Patrick aside and said something like "we can't let you let Patrick play Second Life."I knew this conversation was coming because I knew the rules and I was explicitly breaking them.

First, what are the rules? No one under 18 in the regular Second Life. There's a "Teen" version of Second Life that's a separate world and only 13 to 17-year-olds are allowed in there. No adults. No one under 13.

I was letting Patrick run around Second Life. The adult version. He's only 12. Turns out they aren't even going to let him come into the Teen version of Second Life until he's 13.

Now, why do these rules exist? Lawyers, for one. They are afraid of getting sued by some parent who finds out there's, shock, sex, gambling, and violence in Second Life. There are areas of Second Life that would earn an X-rating if they were films.

And, in the kids area they want to make sure that there isn't predatory behavior going on.

Both rules are understandable, right?

I understand them. My son understands them. We knew we were breaking the rules. Eric Rice told us so. That's how virtual culture gets communicated. Because I was seen as influential (I was quoted in the BusinessWeek article, and had talked about our experiences on popular technology shows like TWiT) so Beth told me that people inside Second Life weren't happy that I was publicly breaking the rules.

My son and I were outlaws and we must be stopped. Heheh.

The thing is, I don't necessarily buy into the rules of society, or the rules of Linden Labs. If I don't mind my son getting into a Poker game, or seeing a virtual sex act, isn't that my right as a parent to let my son experience those things?

No. Our puritanical society has set up rules and regulations about such things. If you enter a Las Vegas casino you aren't allowed to let your kids sit down and play backjack. At least not until they are 21.

In Second Life the same rules and regulations exist.

End result? I decided not to fight cause I want to remain in Second Life. My son no longer has my password to Second Life.

I do think the rules suck, though. This is a virtual world. Why do we need to live with first-world rules?

Oh, and Patrick and I will be interviewed tomorrow by John Swords who records the Second Cast.