okay, but I’m not calling it third life

February 26, 2007

This post started out as a comment to Bryan Alexander’s post, “Towards Third Life,” but it got way long so it’s here instead. I recommend reading his post, and the comments there, before you read this one.

Holy cow, what a great conversation. I’ll just leap right in the middle, shall I? As Mike points out, the griefing issue is a big deal in virtual worlds, and it will always be there, as it always is in any social gathering other than a private party. That’s just people; if you don’t take tickets at the door, you’ll get all kinds of folks, and some of them have the agenda of messing up whatever you are trying to do. In the real world we use laws and police and peer pressure to limit this, but those tactics are less effective in virtual worlds, where laws don’t work and no one can afford to pay the policemen. The peer pressure angle doesn’t work for at least two reasons: first, too many people feel that their avatar is somehow a wholly other entity who can adhere to any moral code (or lack thereof) without consequence; and second, because it’s hard to figure out what exactly constitutes appropriate behavior in a world where you can drop in on a conversation out of the sky, copy and paste other people’s words without their knowing, or represent yourself as something entirely other than what you are. Note that I’m not saying any of these acts are necessarily bad; just that the moral code is still under development, and peer pressure depends on having a lot of people who all agree on the basics of interaction.

I don’t think you can have an unwalled garden without any weeds. It’s true that some MMOGs have gone a long way toward solving that problem, but they are not unwalled by any means, and they have access to tactics similar to the real world ones. In World of Warcraft, for instance, the game is built in such a way as to prevent most griefing from being possible, but that goes hand in hand with the fact that the players can’t fundamentally change the world in any way. For the situations where it is still possible to get in someone’s way, they have police: there are invisible game masters who could be anywhere, and who can take away your account permanently (think of it as being incarcerated, it’s basically the same; you have to start from scratch to rebuild yourself if you still want to play). Second Life, and the Third Life vision we’re talking about here, can’t resort to those methods. It’s too limiting and restrictive to forbid people from changing the world, and it goes against the purpose of the world in the first place.

This is one of the tougher problems that will need to be worked out. If we create invitation-only spaces, we are missing out on one of the best features of massively multiplayer worlds: the masses of players (or people, if you object to the term “player”). If you have a world where only 30 people have the keys to the door, you’ll spend a lot of time waiting for people to show up, and the serendipitous aspect of discovering what’s happened in your absence will be greatly diminished. You can’t lock out the griefers without also locking out a whole lot of smart, creative people who would contribute to the world in meaningful ways.

With respect to Bryan’s comparisons between virtual worlds and text-based social spaces, I want to point out that the difference between meeting people on a wiki and meeting them in a virtual world is a lot like the difference between seeing fox tracks in the snow and seeing the actual fox. The tracks are great—someone’s been here, they were here a few minutes ago, maybe they are still somewhere nearby—but it’s a different experience to be right there with the fox, see how it behaves, maybe chat with it a little and feel the connection of being in the same place at the same time. (Okay, I transmogrified the fox into the online person there, but you get the point.) I’m not sure yet whether there is direct benefit for education in the second kind of interaction, but I think there is. I think it might turn out to justify the effort.

Owen’s comment about the incongruity of holding a professional conversation with someone representing as Flighty Moonsparks or something similar is right on the money. I think LL made an error in assigning a limited number of surnames, and I think our Third Life will have to be a little more flexible. There’s a very real feeling of identity that comes from customizing one’s online presence—from name to appearance—and if virtual worlds are to be successful, that needs to be as flexible as possible. On the other hand, we also need to be willing to accept that someone may choose to be (to pick an entirely random example) Ninmah while online even if her real name is, say, Rachel. Names are just convention, after all.

I have to disagree with Alan a little about how easy it was to make web pages in the beginning. It was technically simple to create a web page, yes, but it was conceptually incredibly difficult for many people, much in the way that it’s really easy to set up a Second Life account but it’s conceptually very hard to work out what to do next. I do think that virtual worlds are going to become easier to access, prettier to look at, and more common to be in. I think there are huge obstacles to work out before they are everything we want them to be, but I think that we’re on the road to get there, just by playing around with the ones that we have now, and by having conversations like these.

The name’s gotta go, though. “Second Life” is bad enough—you only get one life, period. Spend it online, offline, or both, it’s the same life.


level 51 land squid voodoo princess

August 7, 2006

Screenshot of Progress QuestGood news! There’s another Ninmah. I few days ago Craig put me on to Progress Quest, which is exactly like World of Warcraft, except not quite. For one thing, the interface is much simpler, in the same way that the original Zork is much simpler than Zelda the Wind Waker.

The image here shows the whole interface. Also, you don’t actually have to pay it any attention whatsoever — it plays itself. All the other stuff is the same, though: you get some gear; you head out to kill some stuff; you pick up the random bits that drop from the stuff you kill; you head back to town to learn more spells, sell your random stuff, and get better gear; and you head out again to kill more stuff. There are quests that get checked off and levels to progress through. It’s free to download and install, and the monthly subscription is priced quite reasonably at $0.00.

Oddly enough, I’m still playing World of Warcraft. The difference is that now Progress Quest is running in the background!

A creative side of gaming

April 12, 2006

You might not think that playing an MMO (massively multiplayer online [game]) is a creative activity. Given that the world is heavily designed, and animations are scripted, and players can’t really customize much in-game, there is a lot of truth to that. Choices for in-game creativity are limited. But many games have a vibrant fan community where creativity abounds; players write fan fiction, create fan art (drawings of their characters and equipment, or artist’s renderings of favorite in-game locations), write game-related comics, and even make movies. I ran across a particularly nice one: Big Blue Dress.

Fair warning: the rest of this post contains spoilers about the movie, so go watch it first if you prefer. (Now would be a good time. Go on, I’ll wait.) It’s worth the time it takes to download. Use headphones if you share an office. Read the rest of this entry »

Runetotem Thursdays!

April 6, 2006

Several of us in the NMC-guild-to-be have arranged to play together on Thursday nights, from 8-10 pm (Pacific) or so. If that’s a good time for you, log in to WoW, create your Alliance character on Runetotem, and whisper Ninmah! We have almost enough people and almost enough gold to make the NMC guild official. And by the way, it’s not restricted to NMC members. Friends, relatives, and generally cool people are also invited. See you in game!

Questing with the luckiest man alice

April 4, 2006

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft for a little over a year now; I started not long after it came out. I remember when riding over the bridges in Stranglethorn Vale threw you off your mount for no apparent reason. I remember when they took away the buggy boat between Menethil Harbor and Auberdine and you got teleported by the dockmaster (and what’s more, I liked that better than the boat. It’s faster.). I’ve been around, is what I’m saying.

And I’m here to tell you, they’ve nerfed the quests. There’s one quest in Wetlands where you have to recover a bag that a lady dropped when she was chased by some oozes (hey, if you are without weird hobbies, you may cast stones. Otherwise, play it before you point and laugh.). The first time I did this quest, it took HOURS. My friend Caradoc and I must have killed 70 or 80 oozes before the stupid bag dropped. When I did it again with my second character, it took… hours. Again. This is a grinding quest, and no question.

So how do you explain what happened last night? I was helping some lowbie friends in Wetlands, and they needed the ooze bag. Oh boy, I thought. Here we go. At least Doc was with us, in all his level 60 glory (I was playing a 32 alt), so the level 26 oozes would be no problem. We’d still have to get through dozens of them, but they’d go down fast.

Alas, I failed to factor in (a) the nerfing of quests and (b) the presence in our party of the Luckiest Man Alice. In terms of (a), all old-timers are aware that the gamers you get nowadays just don’t have the grit that we had in our day. All the quests are easier. The flight paths are more plentiful. None of this “fight your way through a bunch of mobs only to find a bugged NPC who won’t talk to you” questing anymore. In our day, back in early 2005, questing built character. Now, not so much. Anyway, Blizz has made the drop rate of the bag higher. Now you only have to kill a couple dozen oozes before it drops.

Unless, of course, you are under the influence of (b) the Luckiest Man Alice. (This is his nickname, not his character name. It’s a typo that stuck.) The guy who always finds a parking spot in San Francisco right outside the restaurant he wants to go to. Always. The guy who gets the ooze-covered quest drop after three, count ’em, three oozes. Ventrilo echoed with my and Caradoc’s outraged protests.

What happened to the good old days? No grit, I tell you. And the next time I’m grinding a quest with a lowbie alt, I want the Luckiest Man Alice in my group, dangit.

Edited to make up for WordPress’s inability to print 19 words in a row that are separated by hyphens.

WoW Guild Update

February 16, 2006

We now have 3 characters, that I know of, on Runetotem (Alliance side), ready to join the guild when it forms. There are lowbies in Goldshire and in Teldrassil, so come level up with us! Let me know if you’re there and I don’t know about it!

My toon, Ninmah, hit level six last night. Woo hoo! She’s well on her way to raising that 10g guild fee, too — I think she’s got more than two silver pieces! Oh yeah! So if you haven’t got your toon started yet, get in there and level up!

P.S. This slayed me. (Warning: Sluggy Freelance is addictive)

World of Warcraft Guild for NMC Members

February 4, 2006

I know you’re out there. NMC members who play World of Warcraft. It’s time to step forward and admit it. I’m not talking twelve steps here — who wants to quit, right? — I’m talking guild runs, Strat and Scholo and UBRS. You know you want to!

Okay, first we’ll have to get to sixty, but that’s doable. Look for Ninmah on Runetotem (Alliance side) where I will be slowly building up the 10g guild startup fee. My main is on Khadgar, which is one of the closed realms, but I’m willing to start from scratch for a good cause.

Post your name here and I’ll keep an eye out for you. We can’t start the guild until we have ten, and so far we have two (I’m holding you to your word, Bryan, dialup or no). Roll call! Who’s in?