Saturday, Phillip Linden announced the closure of the SecondLife teen grid and the entry age for the main grid will be lowered from the current eighteen to sixteen.
Rumors about closing the teen grid have circulated for months, so yesterday's announcement wasn't a complete surprise.
I'm pretty sympathetic to Phillip's position. If you think managing a 3-D virtual world is difficult, try managing a 3-D virtual world full of nothing but unsupervised adolescents. I've seen the teen grid, and to be sure there are some amazing things there, but much of it reminded me of The Lord of the Flies.
There are a number of problems and issues that come up surrounding the subject of adolescents on the Internet. The threat of pedophiles gets the most attention and press, but more realistic examination of these areas reveal that the kids are in much more danger from each other in an unsupervised environment than they are from criminally insane adults.
In the beginning, Phillip's had a "no rules" concept for SecondLife so they had to seperate the young people on their own grid so they wouldn't be exposed to some of the more shocking elements found on the main grid. Since then, human nature forced Linden Labs to alter the concept of SecondLife and moved the more sexually oriented content to its own secluded area so allowing the older kids onto the main grid won't be much of a problem because they still won't be able to get to Zindra.
There is an issue in that some elementary and middle school teachers were using SecondLife to teach computer skills to their students and they will be left out in the cold. While I feel for these people, it must be noted that they were here because it's free and providing a free service to middle schools wasn't doing anything to improve Linden Labs' income statement.
If you watch the video of Phillip's speech, you'll hear a woman more or less begging him not to close the teen grid. She's being a bit over dramatic though because the SecondLife concept will still be available to these people for free on the OS Grid though so they're not completely abandoned. They may even find it easier to manage their students in a closed environment like the OS grid than it was on the SecondLife teen grid.
I wouldn't be against opening the SecondLife grid to anyone of any age. Already, people who aren't age verified find themselves unable to enter mature and adult areas. There might be some threat of exposing the kids to pedophiles, but with plenty of other adults around to watch out for them, they might be safer on the mainland than they were on the teen grid where there was little to no supervision.
There will be some people who just don't like kids who would find kids on the grid just plain annoying. While they might be slightly inconvenienced, it wouldn't take much effort for them to find mature areas where the kids can't go.
Since an under age user can wear any avatar, I would insist on there being some clear indication on the avatar that they are under age. Obviously there would need to be an indication of this on their profile, but it wouldn't hurt to include it as a symbol or something on their name tag to broadcast to all users that the person they're dealing with is not an adult and they can adjust their behavior and their language and interactions with that user accordingly.
There would also need to be some way to prevent under age users from having certain items in their inventory. There's already a space in the inventory records to indicate that an item is "adult" so this shouldn't be too difficult.
In the end, it may take a little adjusting to accommodate the presence of under age users, but most of the framework is already in place so the change over shouldn't be all that difficult.
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