Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chicken One Day, Feathers the Next

Recently, Hamlet Au posted a blog entitled "Avian Fever: Virtual Chickens (Briefly) Added 60K Paying Users To Second Life's Economy!" in which he highlighted an interesting footnote to the latest Linden Lab economic report as he quotes:
The June 2009 spike is correlated to the dramatic rise in popularity of the Sion Chicken in that month. 
I couldn't see a spike in June but rather in July, thanks to the on-going and heroic efforts of Tyche Sheperd and the "Total Customers Spending Money In-World" graph, there was clearly a jump in July followed by an almost equal decline in August. So, indeed something "blipped" on the Second Life economy and I suppose only Linden Lab has the data insider advantage to note the distinction between chicken-induced correlation or causation.

Economics aside, the story of the sionChickens developed by the enterprising Second Life Resident Sion Zaius is equally fascinating when viewed through the lens of collision between Sion's new technology and that of the Second Life socio-cultural norms.

I was a chicken-owner and I was crushed by a few of these collisions myself. When I became a bunny owner recently, I recounted the myriad of issues I experienced with the sionChickens.  Can they die? Can someone else kill them? How long do they live? Are they lagtastic? Do they breed? How much does it cost to feed them? These questions might seem strange to someone who missed the sionChicken era.

Now I am become Death, destroyer of worlds

One of the first things people learn in Second Life is that you cannot really die in the sense of absolute character expiration and loss of inventory. In cases where damage is permitted in a region, injury or death to your avatar are merely inconveniences and logging back in returns you to a fully restored state.  Until the arrival of the sionChickens, the distinction between Life and Death was meaningless and this lack of distinction was a shared social norm.

Another thing you learn as a Second Life newb is that your personal property is protected from third party destruction unless you give people permission. That is to say, not only can my avatar not die, neither can my personal property be destroyed (inventory loss and copybot-esque destruction notwithstanding) by a unauthorized individual.

But sionChickens changed all of that and it highlighted an interesting clash between world views. A clash that might be called the Great sionChicken Kerfuffle of 2009, replete with titanesque strife and conflict.

This was no less a clash of cultural world views that  I touched on in a previous post about Second Life Culture I explained it like this:

One presumption I made in my initial discussion was that Second Life is largely perceived as a world with an organic substrate. That this idea of a "world" was shared just like the words prim, rez or avatar. This is most certainly not the case. Some see a world but others see a tool - bits of hardware and software organized into services served upon a platter (platform) in order to perform a function. Still others see a game, an entertainment service, or just a business.
These are lenses, and they are not the same nor do they lend themselves well to shared perspectives about culture. If you see Second Life as a platform, a non-organic set of tools or services, then this idea of culture or even the notion that culture matters can seem somewhat preposterous or even better - the word we've recently come to embrace - specious.

Patrick Explains the Great sionChicken Kerfuffle of 2009

At the end of Hamlet's post there is an embedded YouTube video of Patrick Davidson presenting at Ignite NYC last December. His talk is entitled "The Plight of the Digital Chicken" where he describes his research about the sionChicken.

Patrick oversimplifies the plight of the sionChickens (for the sake of time), but right as he describes the onslaught of "chicken killers" he pauses to make an interesting parallel to A Rape in Cyberspace, as told by Julian Dibbell.  Patrick's entire talk is a mere six minutes long and is worth the time, but I've cut to the point that caught my attention which is the final minute.

The Great sionChicken Kerfuffle of 2009 may be understood, as Patrick argues, by considering the players involved and how they perceive the function of the system in which they operate.  As he continues at the end of the video (emphasis mine):

For Sion Zaius, Second Life is nothing more than a casual marketplace to make a buck
And for the griefers from Woodbury College, it's a game, but a game that they define the rules for. 
And lambdaMOO was just a space for social experimentation
But, what about the chicken owners?  For them, Second Life is like their home, a place for them to raise their pet.
And lambdaMOO for Julian Dibbell is a safe place to congregate as friends.
And we obviously saw that Pixeleen views Second Life just as valid as a real space.
So after all of this researching the chicken problem, the question I've come to be forced to ask is:  How do I perceive the function of the platforms I use online? And to what degree does this perception of a function lead to the conflict that arises?

That is a great question.

Share Some Grace:

blog comments powered by Disqus