Thursday, September 6, 2007

Viva La Evolution!

Imagine, if you will, that SL has biological taints on it. That we could draw comparisons between the Meat World (as Prokofy among others have called it) and the Silicon World.

We don't have DNA, but we do have the code. We're all coded the same way to the same parameters. It forms the basis for our entire world. Unlike Meat world, we have a choice in it, but here is where the Silicon equivalent of evolution pops in. While in Meat world physical external stimuli affect how species develop, in SL it's memes. If you take a moment, you can see it's true. There is a meme that one generally does not create especially hideous avatars. There is a meme against extremely overweight avatars as well. A meme that dictates prim hair is preferable to the standard. These are mental stimuli that naturally select what survives. Someone insistent upon having huge feet is not likely to get far as the pressure of the crowd will ridicule him and likely insist he choose a more 'normal' avatar.

This is not to say that everyone consciously picks and weeds out the weirdos. It's a subtle psychological deal, and much of it depends upon the group you are trying to fit into. Fur sims probably will not take kindly to people who appear to be griefers, natural selection there will favour either other furs or 'normal' people. Baku will naturally select those willing to toe the line in both appearance and in the Lindens' patience. The group and its memes and attitudes will determine how you look, and to break this takes a very very strong will, and the percentage of the population able to do this and then willing to is very very tiny. The coding is our DNA. Memes are our natural selection.

As I stated above, we do have a kind of avatar evolution going on constantly around us. When I started in November, prim hair was practically standard, but flexi hair was for but the very rich and was almost brand new. Skin was very vague looking and nowhere as detailed as today. No one cared about eyes. Attachments were limited to jewelry and shoes, anything else was considered rude (believed to lag the sim, which I don't have evidence for or against, as I've never bothered to study it).

Fast forward to today. All but short hair is flexi. Skin looks eerily similar at times to real life skin. AOs are standard and attachments for anything and everything are commonplace. As griefing is still in public memory, shields have gotten surprisingly complex and so effective that a person can exclude even avatars within a five meter radius. What happened? Memes happened. In this case, the general meme was "go towards realism and safety". And so it did. It drove people to create better looking hair and skin, and more protective shields. The natural selection imposed by memes fueled the evolution of the avatar.

It should be noted that there is one subtle difference between Meat and Silicon. Evolution in RL is fueled by the desire of genes and DNA to survive and pass on to the next generation. Evolution in SL is fueled not by the code/DNA of the avatar but of the 'soul' of the avatar (namely, YOU) who desires to continue on. I suppose if we refine our model to say the controller is the compilation of memes, and whether her or his memes survive depends upon whether they survive 'natural selection'. This then would be similar to RL where we are compilation of genes and whether our genes survive depends upon natural selection.
We are coming to a natural pressure far greater than any SL has encountered before. It is called voice. Already, we can see the memes split into "uses it" and "doesn't use it", and both are in a competition, and it's exciting to wonder which will win out and pressure the other into extinction. My bet is that as the old hands quit or fade away, the "uses it" meme will prosper.

It's perfectly logical. The old hands are ingrained into chat, it's all they've had to communicate for months and sometimes years. But the new people are introducing new memes into the pool, some of which won't survive ("HEY LETS CRASH THE GRID LOL") and others which will . In this case, the overwhelming majority seems to be conforming to voice, and introducing the meme that SL is little more than a three dimensional myspace.com page.

Let's try to draw out other similarities with Meat world. We've just covered 'genetics'. I suppose we try societal development.

SL started with rather close and connected communities. There wasn't that many people around, so everyone knew the Joneses, so to speak. This is similar to some cultures like Babylon or Catal Hyuk, where relatively small to medium groups banded together into larger and larger communities, often very close knit. I'd go as far as to say early SL was more like the Roman Empire, everything united and hardly any conflict or disaster that affected the majority of the citizens.

Then we get some world changing developments. Free accounts (you still had to provide a credit card) came in and swarmed the place, dramatically changing the way people viewed their communities. Groups leaked in that neither knew nor cared about the previous establishment. It was an all out invasion, and the original SL civilization couldn't really handle it. To be fair, it was really a combination of factors: The originals' sheer number eroded as some quit or joined the Lindens, the fact that SL had been getting some attention and thus had quite a few ready to burst through the gate, the fact that the Lindens themselves misinterpreted exactly how the world would be affected by this influx, and probably more. Each of these on its own would have been survivable, but they all kinda came at once.

And that brings us to today. Today, I think there is more than sufficient evidence for the development of feudal societies in SL. Private islands fueled this fire, but they didn't start it, it was the aforementioned destabilization that really sparked it. With the shattering and scattering of the old society, people began clinging to what they had left, which usually involved a favoured or a local group. What we've ended up with, in other words, is a bunch of scattered kingdoms with the SL version of the Catholic Church attempting to exert control over the entire land with little success (church equaling the Ls).

Can we identify some examples of this inworld? Sure! We have Furnation, a large group of islands, almost a continent in itself really. We can't also forget Anshe Chung, and her Nunchuck-only-knows number of sims and islands. These two are really self contained governments in themselves, and exhibit a lot of characteristics of a feudal kingdom. They have a central ruler who allows others to enter their domain on their terms, dictates the rules, and rely mostly upon their own power in their kingdoms that the Lindens are only called when absolutely needed. They run almost entirely closed societies, so much so that one person I conversed with was surprised anyone set up homes and lived on the mainland! All adfarms and griefers, he thought.

It's not that bad yet, because we're still in the stages where the majority floats around, but it won't be long before SL is carved up like a map of Europe. If and when privately hosted servers come about, it will just about cement into place the feuding kingdoms model of government. From there, it's anyone's guess when (and again, if ever) we realise the dream of Prok and others to have a truly Second World, with a democratic and fair government. If we're lucky, it'll be accelerated (as all things are in SL, it seems) and we'll see it within a few years. If we're not, then it could take more than a decade, assuming SL survives that long. I don't see anything I or any other singular person can do about it, even a rather large group would be marginalised and ignored. These kingdoms will simply ban you from their land, and then it's "No man, No problem".

But one of the better things about SL feudalization is that you, me, and Joe down the street can form our own society and put our ideas into action. Unlike RL, there's no fear of invasion if the group is properly watched over and maintained. It wouldn't encompass all of SL, but at this point I think that is a hopeless pipe dream, and that it could never work. At best, we would only garner probably 5% of the population to our democratic server. But in a feudal world, that's probably the best we can hope for. It's fracturing too fast and in too many places for us to patch it together now, and the Lindens are out of Gorilla Glue.

It's a depressing outlook, but it's the truth as far as I know it. I don't have hope for much of the grid, it'll probably spiral further out of control. The best hope for the future will lie in a group of islands with a liberal minded owner or an open source server run by the same. Of course, we could also hope for SL's King Arthur, who would unite the land and turn it around to good and peace. Provided we can find him. Or find a sword in a stone to prove it's him. And that he's the real deal and not some fantasy role player. Ah, those would be the days.

Okay, so we covered biology, government... Let's finish up with an easy one: SL's interpretation of art.

There's so many levels and categories. There's paintings and drawings, which are usually downloaded textures plastered on a prim so it's more like importing real life art. But it's still art.

The main route of art people follow in SL is the sculpture. This wasn't really an area that was too thought out, generally you produced a sculpture as part of a build or in your spare time as a doodle. And sculptures were fairly generic and bland, in an imitation of classical sculptures I suppose. Some did make unusual, interesting, and imaginative things but these were few and far between, and they never really caught on. Then we got Starax.

Starax made art for the sake of art. He sold his creations, but each was like a drug trip on steroids with a side of butter; you never knew if you were going to get Picasso Starax or Kindergarten-finger-paints Starax. Some things he made floored me for their complexity, design, and they way they tore your mind in a new direction. Others just have me scratching my head, and wondering if perhaps Starax the account is operated by more than one person.

Whatever his faults or virtues, it can be said that Starax brought Art in SL to a whole new level, namely that of a separate beast all its own. Name me four sculptors before Starax. Now name me four after him. I'll wager the latter is easier to answer than the former.

I will bring one issue with Starax to the forefront, in that by being as famous as he became he stifled the originality he brought to life. People simply copied his style, or in some extreme cases his actual works. Television has a similar effect in real life, where one creative program will kill anyone else's ideas for an original series. Just look at the unholy amount of sitcoms and survivor shows on the tube today. You can't tell me with a straight face you find them good or interesting, can you?

As always, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The massive influx of free accounts is quietly drowning out Starax and his 'style'. With this, we're seeing much more in the way of art, from traditional statues to abstracts and others. I'm holding out for a SL Pollock.

If there isn't I'll mimic one.

1 comment:

daiyo said...

I aappauld your effort to draw comparisons to your game. However, I point out that your analogy is flawed. Meme evolution is much faster and operates at different mechanisms than biological evolution. Also, in second life nothing becomes extinct, it changes to fit the attitude.

i also find it interesting that no sooner do you post on how the world is fracturing then the linden lab announces secondlifegrid.com, which fuels precisely that process.