Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Woodbury Stops By For Tea

So after Lebn Bucyk's Barefoot trivia on Sunday—sadly interrupted by a sim crash—my friend Geoff Novi (in-world! whoo!) popped to my favorite sandbox to talk scripting and maybe about handing off a couple of those jobs I mentioned earlier. He got there first so he spun out his totally antique work box 2000m up in the air, and we chatted about some script libraries and Perl code and I was threatening to pull out a weird prim I'd come across to see if Geoff could make any sense of it—typical, normal, minding-our-own-business stuff. Geoff noticed an avatar fly up to check us out and immediately commented it was someone's alt: the account was a week old and flying up to 2000m, and that's not something a new Second Life user is likely to do—or, if they do, they probably wouldn't leave immediately after all that flying.

A short while later we were joined by another avatar. EstaEs Sparta—"This Is Sparta," get it?—carrying a shield and outsized sword, and wearing a facemask. Above EstaEs's name was a group tag bearing an interesting word: Woodbury.

Right to left: Geoff Novi, me, and Woodbury sword-bearer EstaEs Sparta

Woodbury University is one of Second Life's more controversial groups: to some they're a bunch of kids out to have fun, to others the Woodies are marauders dedicated to griefing other users and disrupting Second Life to get their "lulz." Woodbury seriously predates my involvement in SL: far as I can tell, it was originally associated with the Media, Culture, & Design department at a real Woodbury University in California; no one seems to know if that's still true, but it's doubtful. What is well-known is that Woodbury attracted students of 4chan and /b/ (if you don't know what that means, trust me, don't go looking), and Woodbury regulars are widely known for just being out to push people's buttons: sometimes that means disrupting events with chat spam, scripted objects, obscene animations and images, etc.—the virtual equivalent of five-year-olds running around saying "poop!" and making farting noises—and sometimes it's flat-out attacks, as much as anyone can be attacked in SL.

Although Woodbury seems mostly about pranking, hate speech, and bumptious arrogance, there is some overlap with Second Life's genuine thugs and content thieves: Woodbury "students" have been involved in organized disruptions of inworld events, harassing residents, and crashing sims, and I've had Woodies literally steal the shirt off my back—well, copy it—and give it back to me for a laugh. Woodbury was enough of a problem that Linden Lab apparently pulled the plug on it about two years ago, deleting their region. But the Woodies came back, inking a deal with BNT Holdings—a laissez-faire inworld virtual real estate outfit—for three sims. By leasing from a tolerant landlord, the Woodies were basically free to do whatever they wanted until they stepped out into the rest of Second Life and started violating terms of service.

And that, in my experience, is basically the only time you see a Woodie—when they're out and about for "lulz." They particularly dislike "furries"—folks who use animal or anthropomorphic animal avatars—and anyone who they can goad into a response. (One of SL's most vocal and longest-standing land barons is a good example.) Several Woodbury alumni have apparently been "permabanned," which means having their accounts shut down and, in some cases, having their computers blocked from Second Life. However, these bans represent mere inconveniences: at a basic level, you can get around them just by creating a new account and maybe using a different computer. Lots of Woodies keep the noses on their primary accounts relatively clean, and create brand-new throwaway accounts for any activity that's likely to draw the Linden's ire.

I've filed my share of abuse reports against Woodies—undoubtedly more than a typical SL user—and maybe contributed to a few of their accounts being suspended. I've mentioned I've been targeted by a sustained bout of griefing the last month, and while a few Woodies are on my short list of possible perpetrators, there's no real way to know if they're behind it. I'd begun discounting Woodies because the grief is not their style—there's nothing to point at to get their lulz, and the effort involved exceeds my perceptions of their attention span. But there's no denying some folks associated with Woodbury are both clever and smart, so I can't rule them out either. I felt my hackles rise when EstaEs popped in for a chat.

So to what did we owe the pleasure? Turns out the Woodies' benefactor, BNT Holdings, has managed to run itself into the ground, and those three sims the Woodies occupied are now gone—along with dozens of other sims run by the outfit. So Woodbury is looking for new places to call home, and the sim with my favorite sandbox is on the short list. Apparently there's some sentimental value owing to the presence of an in-world "office" of the Alphaville Herald, née Second Life Herald—an office I've never seen used for anything but, hey, it's there. The Herald itself is a ridiculous-vapid-snarky site that purports to cover Second Life in a "fairly unbalanced" way. Their self-description seems accurate; I'm not a fan, but the site seems widely read and it has gleefully followed the antics of the Woodies and others.

To my surprise, EstaEs was civil—despite somehow disrupting all the prims on Geoff's seriously antique work cube to sit at the same origin, something that seemed to amuse Geoff but which struck me as damn odd. (Although Geoff did call in some reinforcements…something else that was damn odd.) Nonetheless, it's possibly the only time I've had direct contact with someone from Woodbury that didn't result in filing multiple abuse reports.

I have no stake in the sim that hosts my fave sandbox. Talking with some of the regulars, it seems more likely that the sim will go away altogether than be taken over by the Woodbury folks. Either way, I'll have to look for a new workshop: can't go somewhere that no longer exists, and I doubt I'd be welcome in the midst of New Soviet Woodburyland or whatever materialized—even if I wanted to be associated with the kinds of grief, disruption, and intolerace that orbits Woodbury. Even just for lulz.

So, EstaEs, thanks for the heads up.

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