Identity and Expression, Privacy and Protection, Virtual World Platforms

Sex at Home: Sony Gets a Little Lively

Sony is fending off press reports of sex and harassment in its newly launched virtual environment, Home. Much as Google faced similar issues with the soon-to-be-departed Lively, Sony is trying to keep things PG, while at the same time faced with the reality that its key demographic is primarily teenage boys.

I wonder if it’s really a world if there’s no sex. Sounds more like an amusement park, really. I suppose gratuitous violence makes up the difference. I don’t blame Sony for trying to police, filter, and otherwise keep people focused on bowling (bowling?), but there’s always a sort of baffled confusion when users start hacking the system, attempt to have sex, or otherwise act like, well, people.

Being **y Is Not OK
The San Francisco Chronicle reports on the struggles, picking up on the efforts by Michael Marsh of Norwalk, Conn. to protest the filtering of the words gay, lesbian and bisexual from open chat in Sony’s Home.

“In the case of the censored words, Seybold said, Home employed filters to prevent defamation in Home’s closed test version. But when the service went public, he said, it should have started allowing those words. Some other users, however, noticed that the filtering continued, and blocked words like “Christ,” “Jew” and even “Hello,” which apparently was flagged because it starts with the word “hell.”

Similarly, Mike Musgrove at the Washington Post reports that even “potential” is partly missing in Home, at least the “pot” part:

“As I lurk by the plaza craving small talk, one avatar tells me optimistically that he thinks Home “has a lot of ***ential.” It takes me a second to grasp, then it dawns on me that the pesky language filtering system is at work again: No marijuana references, okay people?”

Harassment and Glitches
OK, so Home is still in Beta. They have stuff to sort out. Like lost inventory, or inability to log-in, or voice chat suddenly going down (which, for a world based on a console is a bit more tragic than, say, Second Life – because most users have no easy way to type).

As SFC reports:

“The censorship issue is just one of a number of glitches and problems that have dogged Home, which was designed as a virtual social community for gamers. Users had trouble getting into the world on the first day and continued to have trouble connecting, prompting Sony to issue a patch aimed to fixing those problems. The fix, however, temporarily suspended voice chat.

But connections haven’t been the only issue. Users have taken to Home forums to complain about harassment in the virtual world, with some women and minorities speaking up about racist or sexist comments. Others have complained that the virtual items in Home, like Diesel clothing, are priced too high. And a few have noticed their items have a way of disappearing from their virtual apartments when they’re away.”

“It’s not enough to say it’s a beta,” said Kevin Johnson, a 52-year-old retired graphic artist who has been following the issue since he started as a private beta tester. “Sony is major company, and they should have had a good understanding of these issues long ago. And it was brought to their attention before the open beta was launched.”

Do the folks who start up these worlds ever really think through the social implications of building a world: you’re forming a culture, not a platform, or a “Web 2.0 social-type thing”. And in building a culture, the combination of policy, the TOS, the economy, community management, and technology all play a role in facilitating and shaping the community. A filter hardly cuts it. Mind you, if all you’re doing is bowling and drinking Red Bull I guess it doesn’t really matter.


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