The New West: Theme

The theme “New West” is highlights ISEA06’s location in San Jose, and both celebrates and critiques the western United States as a symbol of the pioneering spirit in design and technological innovation.

Second Life, a player-created “metaverse,” or open-ended persistent online virtual world, is very much like a “new west,” with equal measures of innovation, resourcefulness, chaos, experimentation, lawlessness, and entrepreneurialism. Linden Labs, Second Life’s creator (also located in the Bay Area), has promoted an open development “free market/free speech” ethos, granting players full IP rights for their in-game creations, and opting for as little interference in the lives and expressions of its denizens as possible.

Second Life’s community of virtual citizens exemplifies the digital cultural commons that Lawrence Lessig so eloquently promotes.  In many respects, Second Life reflects the spirit of the Old West fused with new technology. The economy is very much “up for grabs,” and, as featured on the cover of the May 1 2006 of Businessweek, some players are actually earning their real-world incomes buying and selling virtual real estate and products. Social status has developed around technical and creative skills, and a number of players have emerged as leading artisans, producing hundreds of items ranging from houses to furniture to fashion to transport vehicles to entire islands to custom avatars—the most highly prized possession in Second Life, with many players possessing multiple avatar variations and identities. This environment epitomizes a variety of trends in digital culture—the Internet, emergent game culture, open source culture, and the entrepreneurial neo-capitalistic milieu of Silicon Valley—creating a rich opportunity for creative intervention and critique.