For a while now there has been discussion about government in SL, mostly from the Neualtenburg group, who have a town formed high on the sides of a mountain in Second Life. This was recently reprized in the excellent Second Life Herald, and got me thinking.
While discussions have wandered back and forth about the purpose and role of a government in Second Life, there’s one point I’ve never seen adequately answered, and that is, why bother?
In the real world the government is essentially a force for compelling us to do things, whether that be follow rules, pay taxes, drive on the left (or right!) and whathaveyou. Government also handles our relations with other states, nominally, to further our own interests (thus, if you drive a big car and are against war for oil, then in my books, you’re a hypocrite).
But in Second Life a player government will have no power of compulsion and its citizens live such transient lives that rulings would be nigh-impossible to enforce. How would a government be able to govern without power or a populace?
In the real world government, essentially, solves problems for us that we are unable to solve ourselves. When government is working well, this is what it is doing, in my book. Government ensures we don’t crash into each other too much through enforcing certain rules. It makes sure we have a variety of services and that the weakest are never left to rot. It tries to ensure that other people can’t come and take our stuff, and that other nations can’t come and take our land.
And none of these or related useful functions government in Second Life will ever be able to do under any conceivable scenario.
So why bother? Well, I think there are useful roles for central leadership in Second Life, but it’s not through some circle-jerk of player government where wannabe politicos and revolutionaries can practice for the day they work in the lofty heights of local government, or dream of their utopias. Instead, those forming an SL government should focus on what they can do to make SL resident’s lives better. And I think there are a couple of options.
Having a bonded sellers program would be a start. What if a central body or government signed up retailers to a program where the retailers agreed to stick to a code of practice and dispute resolution process in return for being able to display the ‘bonded retailer’ logo on their stalls? The retailer would pay L$500 or-so as a bond, in case they failed to uphold a dispute resolution against them. This would be one really useful way SL government could solve problems related to trusting retailers and consumers getting value for money.
Another way might be to lend government ‘district planning officials’ to groups wanting to agree on rules for residential areas or suburbs. The officials could have a stock of standard agreements between players and again, perhaps hold a bond centrally in case of dispute. The official would also impartially hear disputes in a tribunal of some kind, thus helping players who are part of a controlled residence feel confident it won’t just fall apart.
However, there’s one problem with this kind of thinking. The problem is it’s just not sexy enough for many people interested in SL government. It is however, eminently useful, modest and practical. What’s more, it’s also doable and an inclusive way to involve more people in the bigger idea.
In the end, if SL government focuses on how it can solve problems it will be successful. If it spends its time talking about charters, organization, a constitution and bill of rights then really, it’s just a waste of time as it’s only purpose will be to inflate the egos of those involved. None of these sorts of discussions actually help players and they’re just not necessary for government to work, despite what certain educational backgrounds might imply.
Fix problems. And over time the government will grow, maybe even into something meaningful. Flying in government, fully formed, as if from outer space, will never interest or be of use to anyone.