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Friday, November 18, 2005

LOSING THE DETAILS

A farewell to Second Life's first virtual sweatshop worker.

Few days ago, I got an urgent series of Instant Messages from liangmj Coffee:

"hello Hamlet, i'm considering maybe i can't play very long Sl, maybe i'll quilt my job..."

Because for her, as it happens, playing in Second Life is her job. She warns me that others may be taking control of the Coffee account-- her boss (who actually own it), or another employee, tasked like her with earning Linden Dollars to convert into cash.

I quickly reply to her IMs, but those go unanswered. And that's the last I hear from the person I've come to know as liangmj Coffee.

A day or two later, however, I get an e-mail from 163.com, a Chinese language Internet portal. It's a message from the girl who was once liangmj Coffee:

"I'm at hometown stay with my parents now, they discuss about my future with me," she informs me. "they said that I can't play game for money all my life, so they decide to let me go to school or find other jobs, and i'm still thinking and considering, I can't do a decide..." She's hoping to get a computer of her own that'll let her return to Second Life-- only this time, with her own account. She wants to come back to Second Life, that is to say, as herself. And I write back to tell her she should.

So the young woman I've only known as liangmj Coffee becomes another disembodied identity-- someone with a different name, represented not as an avatar but an e-mail signature. And I wonder if I'll ever see liangmj in Second Life again-- and if I do, who'll be inhabiting her. Not the liangmj I've gotten to know and like, first as a bewildered and frantic newbie, then growing confident and enterprising, and always, throughout her eight month career in-world, a sweet, chatty, disarmingly modest girl whose odd occupation involved pole dancing in Mature nightclubs, but who still refused to compromise her personal moral standards in the process. ("i'm poor," her profile firmly announced, "but i don't sell my self i cant sexy with men here.")

In her e-mail, she wonders if there are others like her, working in online worlds, turning a virtual wage into something like a real one. "I want to know if there has same peoples in USA or other countrys play game for money too as me," she says. "I want to know if playing game is a new pattern job all over the world or only appear in China." And I respond to her that it is a new kind of job, and not just in China. (Her question makes me suspect she was kept in the dark by her old employer, able to go on the Internet to earn Linden Dollars and other online world currency, but not to learn she was part of a much larger cottage industry.)

"If do that means game still has future," she reasons. "can be a good way to get money to me." And I reply to her that it can be. Only now, I tell her, if she can come back with her own account, the wages she earns will be hers to keep, and her identity hers to own. I hope she does.

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Comments

There will come a time when everyone anywhere in China will have broadband. Until then, here's to cheap Internet cafes, and a hope that she will be okay.

Posted by: Jeff Linden at Nov 18, 2005 12:45:35 PM

Does anyone know whether Paypal will be of any help in China, if she does manage to return and start earning L$s at a rate good enough to cash out from time to time? What other alternatives might there be for her? I know several residents from the Philippines (for example) have had problems in this area.

Posted by: Lisse Livingston at Nov 18, 2005 4:35:25 PM

.... on second thoughts, there must be a way, presuming her former employer was also based in China ....

Posted by: Lisse Livingston at Nov 18, 2005 8:00:56 PM

lianmj, Long ma jin shen!

Posted by: Elle Pollack at Nov 18, 2005 8:41:20 PM

I for one hope to see Coffee back as i called her was shocked when i read this that as i use to work along side her maybe SL could check other accounts as this does not happen again? if possible hope coffees happy and hope to see her on sl again as her :-) first time being on this site will visit often a good report ty

Posted by: Sorceress Diamond at Dec 13, 2005 10:15:57 AM

Thanks. I did e-mail her a couple times, haven't heard back, though...

Posted by: Hamlet Linden at Dec 13, 2005 3:40:04 PM

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