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Peter Ludlow has uncovered a lot of scandals most journalists could only dream of: thieves preying on innocents, demonstrable governmental indifference
and even a teenage prostitution ring.
But because Ludlow was reporting on events in an Internet community The Sims Online, he wasn't given a Pulitzer, he was kicked out of the world entirely
and his online persona, Urizenus, was deleted by Electronic Arts, the game's owner, a response Ludlow said was clearly censorship.
That was a few years ago, when Ludlow was a professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan. The resulting debate over the laws of cyberspace landed
Ludlow on the front page of The New York Times, and though his tenure in The Sims Online ended, he began to study Second Life, a similar virtual world, where he
contributes to the online newspaper, the Second Life Herald.
Today, Ludlow teaches at the University of Toronto and has written several books about what online communities can tell us about the real world. They're as close
as we're going to get to examining the timeless philosopher's question of how government forms out of a state of nature, he writes. And while prostitution there may
only involve racy online chat in exchange for virtual currency, it's still only dubiously legal. Ludlow's most recent book of many, "The Second Life Herald: The Virtual
Tabloid that Witnessed the Dawn of the Metaverse," came out last month.
Here's what he had to say in an e-mail conversation about the University of Michigan's presence in Second Life, Internet fashionistas and the future of virtual
How's that for starters?
The AAUM is rolling out the welcome mat for you at Welcome Wednesdays!
Feed your caffeine addiction with Starbucks coffee, grab a bagel and the
paper, and check your email. All for free at the Alumni Center.
You can also learn about the programs we offer, like career mentors, inCircle
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ts harvest time in Michigan.
Pumpkins for sale crowd the
lawns of farmhouses on a few
rural roads. The combines are har-
vesting'truckloads ofscorn. The
farmers' market offers a dozen
varieties of crisp apples. In my gar-
den, a riot of morning glories still
covers the gate. The last tomatoes
are ripening and the chard grows
exuberantly in the cool weather.
Last spring, it was hard to imag-
ine that the empty beds and piles
of compost would eventually yield
such bounty. Now all the weeding,
mulching and coaxing of seedlings
has given me enough onions,pota-
toes, squash, tomatoes and beans
to last through the winter.
Food encompasses sub-
lime tastes and hidden cruelties,
personal health and environmen-
tal quality, individual choices and
global trade policies. The food we
eat today represents choices made
by our ancestors over thousands
of years about taste, texture, color
and hardiness. In turn, the choices
that we make about which foods to
purchase affect the foods of future
generations, In choosing the foods
we eat, we're participating in
political and ecological processes
across the globe.
I learned many of these con-
nections after my husband and
I moved to a small farm 15 years
ago. We were neophytes to farm-
ing. Since our livelihoods didn't
depend upon farming - both of
us are professors at the University
- we could afford to experiment
with subsistence farming. We farm
organically, partly because we're
committed to that philosophy and
partly to understand what the
challenges are. It's a way to learn
about soils, plants, animals and
weather on a daily basis. We've
received valuable information and
assistance from neighboring farm-
ers,both organic and conventional.
We've found friendship and mutu-
al support in our neighborhood
- such as a pint of fresh raspber-
ries in our mailbox and a neighbor
plowing our driveway early on a
snowy winter morning.
In a large vegetable, herb and
flower garden, I grow about half of
our vegetables for the year. From
early April, when the rhubarb and
asparagus poke up, to November,
when I harvest the last carrots
and leeks, we are treated to a suc-
cession of flavors. The garden has
been the source of many lessons
about food. I've tried many vari-
eties of vegetables and different
methods of weed control. I've had
unexpected successes and total
failures. I've learned about com-
In the bigger
food might be
panion planting, cover crops and
Some of the most valuable les-
sons are about the bigger picture
of food. For example, I realize
how much time and effort it takes
to grow food. Much of the work
goes to preparing the soil, weed-
ing, watering and harvesting at
the right moment. For me, it's part
education, part relaxation and part
recreation; I don't calculate a cost-
benefit ratio. But for our farmer
neighbors, the work is relentless
and the pay is low. This pattern
occurs throughout the United
States and is part of the economic
crisis that has caused many small
farms to collapse, many rural
communities to vanish and most
remaining farms to become larger
and more mechanized.
Contradictory ideas prevail
about the cost and value of food.
We live in a society that expects
and purchases cheap food. Con-
sumers and Washington policy
makers enforce this pattern each
in their own way - consumers
by purchasing food at stores that
offer low prices and lawmakers by
awarding subsidies to crops whose
products permeate our food sys-
tem. Growers and farmworkers are
caught in the middle. In the United
States, the average family spends a
See FOODS, Page 8B
. There's no end to the weirdness in Second Life.
At the Second Life Herald, we recently ran a story
on how Second Life fashionistas were all carry-
ing cute baby unicorns. We discovered, however,
that in order to get the baby unicorn they had
to do it with an adult male unicorn statue. That
story was picked up all over the world.
" In that vein, we also ran a story about moms
who were adopting virtual babies then leaving
them at home when they went our clubbing at
virtual clubs. A landlord we talked to complained
that he had to return the crying babies to inven-
tory because neighbors complained. But worse,
some of the moms were banned from the game
while out clubbing so the landlord had to delete
the little innocents.
. Online platforms like The Sims Online and
Second Life can be laboratories for studying the
emergence of governance structures, what hap-
pens when governance structures collide and
what kinds of governance structures are optimal
for diverse and geographically scattered com-
munities. They are like little Petri dishes; some-
times the result is interesting and promising, and
sometimes the result is toxic but no less interest-
. I don't have much time to go into Second Life
these days - maybe an hour a week total. I tend
to monitor it via blogs and discussion boards. I
haven't been on The Sims Online for over a year.
" On Second Life, my character name is Urize-
nus Sklar. Urizenus comes William Blake's char-
acter Urizen. I quote:
"What are his nets & gins & traps. & how does he
With cold floods of abstraction, and with forests
To build him castles and high spires, where kings
& priests may dwell."
That seemed apt for a virtual world like Second
Life, where we build virtual castles and high
spires for virtual kings and priests. The last name
Sklar was available from a preset list of names.
I grabbed that one in honor of Larry Sklar, who
teaches philosophy of science at the University
0 One of the most amazing things is the rise of
the Gorean communities, which were several
communities in "Second Life" that have adopted
a subculture based on some really weak sci-
ence fiction novels by John Norman, e.g. "Slave
Girl of Gor." The basic premise is that there are
sexual masters (mostly men) and sexual slaves
(mostly women). They construct all sorts of laws
and rituals around that, including an attempt at
developing the Gorean Language, which is basi-
cally Romance syntax with north Germanic pho-
nology, as far as I can tell. They have libraries
and archives where they keep slave ownership
papers. Now you see this and your first thought
is WTF! And then you think about if for a while
and your reaction is still WTF!
* To me, the most interesting dynamic always
involves the conflicts between groups. For exam-
ple, the groups that object to the commercializ-
ing of cyberspace and want to keep it weird, and
those that want to tame it and make it safe for
IBM, Ben and Jerry's and the University of Michi-
gan, which has a small presence there.
. The sex ring I wrote about in The Sims Online
definitely wasn't an isolated incident. Cyber-
brothels were commonplace. There was a virtual
BDSM community, which included many Gore-
ans, with 100 homes at one point. I haven't been
to The Sims Online in a long time so I don't know
what the situation is like there now, but of course
"erotic clubs" are the most popular destinations
in Second Life and by some accounts they consti-
tute 30 percent of the economic activity in that
world. Perhaps the cybersex fans in The Sims
Online moved to adult platforms like Second
Life, which would be a good development for The
Sims if true.
* When asked about the future of
online gaming communities, I'd say
first that you need to strike the
word "gaming" from that phrase,
because virtual communities
like Second Life aren't really
games. The only thing they
have to do with video
games is that the physics
engine is a Halo game
engine and the visu-
als render like those
in a video game. They
are really chat spaces
with graphics - just a
more robust version of
AOL Instant Messen-
ger. I've been tracking
for over 20 years now,
and they definitely have
their limitations, but on
the other hand it's pos-
sible to productively meet
in these spaces for business
and socializing. I guess I'd say.
that as our work lives and social
lives continue to move online,
these online communities will
become more and more impor-
tant, and the way they are gov-
erned will become more and more
important. I do think it will be a
slow and steady migration into
these communities, however.
- As told to Anne VanderMey
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