Living in a virtual democracy

My reintroduction to Second Life has been quite gradual, as I didn’t stray very far from the SL Book Club at first. But a comment there one evening about the Confederation of Democratic Simulators caught my attention, so much so that I now call it home.

So what is the CDS? It describes itself very simply as the oldest democracy in Second Life, but there’s more to it than that.

Confederation of Democratic Simulators
All are welcome to the CDS to visit, explore, and become a part of our dynamic community. Our estate consists of six regions that have loosely based Germanic, Tuscan, Alpine, and Mediterranean themes, representing different historical periods.

Accompanying its website, there’s a discussion forum, a Flickr group and a Facebook page. There are also a couple of entries in the Second Life Destination Guide.

The Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Destination Guide
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS), founded in 2004, is a community-operated by and for its citizens. … Land ownership in the CDS means citizenship, with the right to vote, run for office, and have a say in the direction and projects of the regions.

It’s a vibrant, active community that regularly comes together to celebrate such events as International Women’s Day, Oktoberfest and Dia de los Muertos.

Celebrating International Women’s Day in Second LifeInara Pey: Living in a Modemworld
The theme for this year’s IWD is #EachForEqual, a call for gender equality, and the day will be marked in Second Life at Celebrating International Women’s Day in SL, a series of events throughout the day organised and hosted by the Confederation of Democratic Simulators (CDS). These will comprise music, dance, live performances and interactive activities.

What marks this place as a little different from the sprawling, homogeneous Linden Homes estates in Bellisseria is its emphasis on democratic, resident-led project development, with its citizens being encouraged to play an active role in the political life of the community. This has been the case from the very start, as this introduction to the CDS from 2007 clearly shows.

Playing democracy in a virtual worldYouTube
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators is an old institution in SecondLife. Are they still alive and well? Is democracy in virtual worlds a delusion or can it be achieved? Newbie virtual journalist Draxtor Despres meets up with residents and administrators to find out how much free will can be handled by a simulated system….

Transcript of my lecture in Second Life on democracy in virtual worldsDavid Orban
Here is the transcript of my inaugural lecture of the Craedo Auditorium in Colonia Nova in Second Life. Welcome to this seminar about “The theory and practice of democracy in virtual worlds”. I want to thank CARE, CRAEDO, and the Confederation of Democratic Simulators for inviting me to give this talk at the inauguration of this auditorium.

It all started with a sim modelled after the town Rothenburg in Bavaria.

What became Neualtenburg was later renamed Neufreistadt.

Confederation of Democratic SimulatorsSecond Life Wiki
The Confederation of Democratic Simulators, CDS in short, is the latest phase in the project that started as the city of Neualtenburg in the mainland sim Anzere, then moved to the private island “Neualtenburg” and after a split-up of the two founders with the rest of the population, the citizens continued under the name “Neufreistadt”. When the project became more than just a single simulator, the name Confederation of Democratic Simulators was adopted for the government and the project in general.

NeufreistadtSecond Life Wiki
Since its inception as a group-owned tiered mainland sim in Anzere, the government model followed a rather long discussion period held mostly on the Linden Lab forums, for a period of about 10 weeks and involving around 20 people interested in jointly presenting a project to Haney Linden, who raised a challenge on Aug 31st, 2004, for projects to “preserve the snow sims”. A proposal based on the forum discussions was elaborated by Ulrika Zugzwang and presented by her and Kendra Bancroft for appreciation; after Haney approved it, the forum discussion moved towards establishing a constitution, a provisory government, and a layout of the city to be built, inspired on the Bavarian city of Rothenburg, and adhering to the “theme” of a medieval Bavarian setting. […]

Linden Lab removed the support to any similar projects after much public claims of favoritism, and a decision was made to move the whole city into a private island, called “Neualtenburg”.

That sim was soon joined by others.

Official blog of Colonia Nova
Currently, the CDS consists of one region, Neufreistadt, with another region in the planning process, Colonia Nova. Neufreistadt is one of Second Life’s oldest resident-governed regions and is widely known for its unique combination of politics, fog, and Bavarian architecture. Colonia Nova, a Roman themed simulator, is currently under development.

Locus Amoenus
Locus Amoenus is the 4th sim of the CDS, which will be built this summer. It will be located west to our Roman sim Colonia Nova, and again, the theme is roman. Main differences are that this sim will be more pastoral in essence, not a city core – and with a sea shore and quay.

This project has more history than I can get my head around. I’m not going to attempt to summarise all the chronologies and controversies here, but to give you an indication of some of the incentives and drivers behind the project, I found this from 2004.

Why discussing governments is so hard…Gwyneth Llewelyn
[T]here is no “easy” way to do it, if you just have a monolithical group with a few team leaders. What happens if the team leader gives up? Or gets angry with the group? Or “sells out” the land? All these questions pop up every time a fantastic project comes to an end because its original proposers, for one reason or another, simply “go away”.

One alternative, as envisioned by the Neualtenburg group, is having a form to “rotate” the leadership of the group, assign people different roles in mantaining the themed sim, get rules for what can be done and what cannot, and so on. The important part to remember here is change. People change, SL changes, the city should change as well. Monolithic group structures do not deal well with change. No matter how good the “Utopia” is, if there is a change, you need to adapt to change. It’s pointless to remain stubborn and insist that you want to “resist change” – SL is not different than RL in that aspect. You don’t want to change – you die.

And this is from 2005.

Neualtenburg – SL’s most hated projectGwyneth Llewelyn
All these issues make sense from a RL point of view: if you want to organise something and make it enduring, the best way we frail humans know to achieve that purpose, is having a democratically elected association of people to work together. That’s what Neualtenburg is about – a project which belongs to the whole group, and not just to a few “group officers”. It seems to be working. The currently elected “president” of the Representative Assembly – the law-passing body of the City Government – is neither a founding member, has no building skills whatsoever, is not an officer of the group, and has not contributed tier or money to the project This is completely alien to the whole concept of Second Life – either from the anarchistic or the capitalist group. And, thus, being alien, the project is viewed with serious distrust.

As with any kind of democracy, you can’t please all the people all the time. This is from last year.

The Confederation of Democratic Simulators – When democracy…failsThis Island SL
Wandering around the CDS, the place looks good enough, with public amenities, public footpaths and public buildings. However dig deeper and get into the whole political landscape of the CDS, you find the SL democratic equivalent of nepotism. Friends voted in by the RA into places of power within the two commissions. Friends voted into places of power, even though those friends have no clue whatsoever about what that position entails.

Setbacks and infighting notwithstanding, the community has persevered. It’s now certainly a larger, more detailed environment than it was before, with buildings being redeveloped and more regions being added (and with still more to come).

Neufreistadt – The new Antiquariat buildingMizou’s Second Life
This building in Neufreistadt was a replacement of an earlier built dating back to the creation of Neufreistadt. I rebuilt it in 2018 and you can visit it on the Marketplatz in Neufreistadt and familiarise yourself with the history of Confederation of Democratic Simulators.

The MonasterySecond Life Destination Guide
When consciousness first dawned, men and women were equally the two sides of human-ness. In reverence and longing for that balance long since lost, this Monastery is built as a place of remembrance for what may yet again return. The Monastery is based loosely on the “real life” Abbey of St Mary on the tiny Scottish island of Iona.

It’s interesting to compare Draxtor’s admittedly low-res video from 2007 above with his return in 2020, below — a testament to the community’s longevity.

Made in Second Life – Holiday StoriesYouTube
Happy holidays from Second Life! In this special edition of “Made in Second Life,” we hear how several community members are experiencing the holidays in the virtual world as they come together remotely to celebrate amidst the global pandemic.

Starting at around the 2:11 mark, Rosie Gray introduces a wintry CDS and showcases how they mark the change in seasons and celebrate the holidays.

And what excellent timing, to stumble upon that snowy video now, almost exactly a year later, as the weather in both RL and SL gets a little chillier.

Author: Jerry McNally

SL cybercafé manager, keen reader, occasional blogger

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