(or: “A Modest Proposal for the Elimination of Harassment at Second Life Welcome Areas”)
When I was a sprout in Indiana, the high school I attended had an unofficial tradition during the first week of classes with the innocent-sounding title “Freshman Week”. It was taken by certain “upperclassmen” (i.e., anyone in grades 10 through 12) as carte blanche to hassle, haze, and otherwise harass anyone they perceived to be a new arrival. The most frequent participants in this “welcoming” behavior were the sophomores whose memories of being the previous year’s victims were still clear — thus, making it self-perpetuating.
Mind you, this was more than 40 years ago, long before bullying was revealed to be a great deal more permanently harmful than previously thought [I hope that my doubts about the practice’s perpetuation at my alma mater, in this enlightened age, are well-founded]. At the time, however, the faculty and administration looked the other way, and shrugged it off with “boys will be boys.” Yes, it was mostly boys as both perpetrators and victims — something to do with testosterone, I’m sure.
So many decades later, however, that behavior still persists (probably with the same hormonal imbalance as its root cause), and one of the places it manifests is Second Life; more specifically, in SL’s Welcome Areas. This is not a new problem — Ahern has been notorious for it for at least as long as I’ve been in SL, and I daresay it’s been like that ever since the Lindens collectively withdrew from active engagement with the world they operate. I have heard through the grapevine that Waterhead is no better, and I have gained similar impressions about Hanja WA (even though, during the times I visited it, it was empty).
Skate Foss has recently been Tweeting about the outrageous treatment of new Residents by their slightly-older forebears at Ahern (cf. above, sophomores hazing freshmen), and has even proposed a sort of transitional area for noobs: sims where they are confined while they learn the ropes, but with sufficient entertainment to keep them interested and logging in, Mentors of some sort to assist, and where avatars older than X (days, weeks) may not tread. At the end of what could only be called a probationary period, the not-quite-noobs would earn access to the remainder of the Grid.
It sounds like a nice idea on its surface, but it’s got holes you could drive a truck through (if you could at all, because of the sim borders). First and foremost, nothing prevents the typical SL bully from creating a new account to gain access. Behavior, therefore, would have to be moderated actively by people with estate-level banhammers. That, in turn, would required a 24/7/365 presence — because we avatars come from all over the planet, there is no time of day when SL concurrency drops below 30,000. So a numerous, reliable, and planet-wide staff of babysitters is required. That’s always difficult to put together, let alone maintain, on a volunteer basis… and let us not forget Linden Lab’s history of cavalier treatment of volunteer mentor organizations and the “once burnt, twice shy” principle.
The other possibility is to staff the place with Lab employees — Lindens, by definition, with all the powers of enforcement granted thereunto. But then, the global nature of the problem rears its ugly head again, complicated by the fact the Lab, in its infinite lack of wisdom, is too frightened of interstate and international income tax law to hire anyone domiciled outside of California. Too much paperwork, I suppose… why, they might even have to hire more people to deal with it – heaven forfend!)
So, I have another proposal for dealing with the harassment in Welcome Areas:
Two words: Delete them.
Yes, you heard that from me — one of the (admittedly self-appointed) voices for historical preservation in Second Life; the guy who blogged specifically about the history of Welcome Areas last year and wondered aloud about the Lab’s role therein: is it deliberate preservation, or benign neglect?
After a year, I conclude that it is just plain neglect: a failure to follow through on stated goals. When Viewer 2 was introduced, we were told that the old Orientation Island(s?) was(were?) to be removed from the Grid. The public one still exists, as do both of the Help Island Publics. More recently, we were informed of the end of the Discovery Island phase of new user orientation – yet 9 of them are still present. In the image below (taken today from the SLurl website), there are 43 Viewer 2-specific Welcome Islands and 8 islands called “Viewer2Tips”, as well as the above-mentioned, obsoleted Discovery Islands. If you know where to look, the OI and HI Publics, as well as the Plum, Waterhead, Violet and Ahern Welcome Areas are also all in that image.
Reluctance or inability to complete stated programs is not the only reason why, after the Lab declared the old WAs to have been supeseded by the Destinations Guide, they are still noob magnets and therefore bully magnets. It’s also a matter of the green dots. Open the World Map in your viewer (if it’s not borked), and put Ahern in the region name field… see what I mean? Stacks of green dots, no matter what time of day. In the absence of working Event search, that’s one sure way of finding popular areas (without, of course, knowing why they’re popular) — and the most probable cause of self-perpetuation of the WAs as staging areas for harassment, which in turn is one likely cause for SL’s execrable new user retention.
Bottom line: To reduce harassment, break the cycle. Eliminate the WAs. Log “Governor” Linden in to save a copy of the builds to Inventory. Give copies to the Moles for safe-keeping (maybe they can drag them out to be used as venues at SL Birthday events, to add a hint of history to the proceedings). Then delete the ones on the ground. Stop providing the pools of chum where the sharks can easily feed.
Oh, and one other thing — this has to go, too. I don’t know how often it’s used to find places to go, but… the SLurl website defaults to Ahern when you first open it:
: 50 internetz to the first person who can cite the source of that phrase.
: I regret to report that there are three fewer regions on that map than there were four months ago: the I-World Island group. However, I can personally vouch for the preservation of the historical artifacts the museum held: Torley IM’d me out of the blue (we’d never spoken before) and sent me a folder full of them. I now own a copy of the Oldest Prim.
: The Violet Welcome Area is, and should remain, the sole exception to my “nuclear option”. It is privately held by the “Infohub Builders” group, and the builds on it belong to two of the most creative of the Oldbies who still log in: Ingrid Ingersoll and Barnesworth Anubis. It is also, as far as I know, devoid of the behavior that plagues the Linden-owned WAs.