The battle of the exploding pigs
Exploding pigs and volleys of gunfire as Le Pen opens HQ in virtual world
Violent clashes have erupted in an online world over the arrival of Le Pen's national front
Oliver Burkeman in Porcupine
Saturday January 20, 2007
The streets of Porcupine were tranquil yesterday; a handful of locals strolled through its shopping malls, the sun was shining, and a light breeze blew in from over the hills. There were few hints of the fact that, only days before, the neighbourhood had been the scene of violent clashes between rightwing extremists and anti-Nazi protesters - running battles involving gunfire and bombs that might easily have cost lives were it not for the fact that Porcupine does not, in most commonly accepted senses of the term, exist.
A lesson you quickly learn upon entering the online virtual world of Second Life, however, is that non-existence is less of an impediment than might be supposed.
It hasn't stopped the development of a fully-featured alternative universe in which Second Life's 2.4 million registered users build houses, set up businesses, form clubs and societies, hold parties and have sex. And it did not prevent protest from spilling over into aggression when the Front National, the far-right French group led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, became the first European political party to open a headquarters within Second Life.
"The first night I arrived at the protest ... it was ringed on all sides by protesters with signs to wave and statements to distribute," wrote James Au, whose website, New World Notes, reports on events in Second Life. "By the second night I came ... the conflict had become more literal, for many residents had armed themselves. Multi-coloured explosions and constant gunfire shredded the air of Porcupine." Some activists threw exploding pigs.
"This nationalist idea that Front National is advocating is something that has spread all over Europe like a virus," a protester, using the name Ichi Jaehun, told Mr Au. "It's [as if] the history of the 20th century has already been forgotten. It is time to say enough!"
A group calling itself Second Life Left Unity issued press releases explaining that it had purchased land next to the Front National office, and would be "manning a protest there until FN go or are ejected. Wherever fascists are, we will ensure they get no peace to corrupt and lie to decent people".
A few days later, the Front National building had vanished altogether, leaving only a few protest placards showing Mr Le Pen - who made it through to the final round of the last real-world French presidential election in 2002 - wearing a Hitler moustache.
It was probably inevitable that political confrontation would arrive in Second Life in the end. It is already home to one of the most potentially revolutionary developments on the internet in recent years - a vibrant economy in which residents use a virtual currency, Linden dollars, to buy and sell goods and services, including clothes for their online characters, works of art, buildings, and financial advice.
Because users retain legal ownership of the things they create, and because Linden dollars can be turned into US dollars via an exchange operated by Linden Lab, the company behind Second Life, the virtual-world businesses have real-world value. Numerous real firms have opened outlets in Second Life, and a woman living in Germany has reportedly become its first dollar millionaire - from the property development business she runs inside Second Life.
posted by Steve @ 6:43:00 AM