May 7, 2009 3 Comments
In a thread over at Metaversally Speaking headed (surely ironically) “Entitlement”, various luminaries of the SL fashion scene muse once again on the inexplicable reluctance of the public to pay more than token sums for their virtual creations. The problem is identified as an unwarranted sense of “entitlement” among consumers, who fail to recognise the importance of rewarding creative types handsomely, lest they take their talents elsewhere. Freebie culture is the villain of the piece; the remedies suggested include a price-fixing fashionista cartel, and state (or Linden) intervention to maintain price stability. (Regular readers will recall that I have my own theory about the determinants of value in SL; if you don’t like that one then I’ve got another).
I might find all this a little less ridiculous if I believed that the distressed designers were the sort to visit their local farmers’ market rather than Wal-Mart, drink nothing but fair-trade coffee, and make sure that their clothes don’t come from sweatshops. Maybe they are, but I can’t help thinking that the these virtual entrepreneurs are more likely to be the type who worship the free-market (except of course when it works against their interests).
There is also some irony in the fact that virtual worlds like Second Life could never have come into existence without the collapse in hardware costs over the last decade, which in turn has depended on wholesale exploitation of workers in developing countries. If the SL fashion crowd want to know about being inadequately rewarded for their labour they should talk to the people who inhale toxic fumes in Chinese factories while producing the cheap computers, routers and flat screens that we in the west feel “entitled” to.
It all raises the question of why people are getting so bothered about something that seems fairly inconsequential. The figures from the Lindens, backed up by a survey reported in the Herald last week, show that only a very few people are earning more than a pittance from virtual commerce, so it’s not as if anyone’s livelihood is at stake.
What is at stake is self-image. Are you really a fashion designer, or are you just playing the part of one in a game? If you’re happy to accept that it’s all just role-play, then the in-game pay-off of L$ and attention from other players will be reward enough. If however part of your real-life identity is invested in your virtual activity, then you will want something more tangible, like crisp US$ bills, that you can show to your friends to convince them, and of course yourself, that your Second Life status is actually worth something in the world beyond the SL blogosphere.
When the material recognition of your virtual talent is unforthcoming, as it generally is, you have two choices – you can get angry with the world for failing to give you due respect, or, more productively, you can reassess your goals, ask yourself if it’s really worth getting so bothered about a game, and redirect your energy into something that is more likely to make you happy.