Last night Professor Richard Bartle conducted a Q&A session in Second Life. The session was organised by SNOOPYbrown Zamboni of Future Salon (who also lead the booty shaking at pre / post even "We Already Danced To This On MUD-Dev in 1997!") , Valadeza Anubis attempted to herd the catlike residents of SL.
In the interests of full and partial disclosure, readers should note that this is a heavily edited version of the transcript. I’ve gotten it down from 53 pages to 12. Because of the massive amount of cross threading I’ve ended up stitching some of the dialog together, I have also added section themes as a very rough guide to what was being discussed. In places where I know I’ve lifted a question from somewhere and put it next to the answer I’ve put the question in these ‘’. I have left all names as SL names (Richards SL name was Richard Bartle), if people want to out themselves, feel free.
(Ed 16 Aug 05: Second Life Future Salon has published the full transcript of the official part of the event. Feel free to email me direct with any corrections to my interpretation.)
Txt vs Graphics (part 1)
Wandering Yaffle: Do you think there are biological differences in the way someone interprets textual and visual emotes?
Richard Bartle: of course there are. if you're blind, you can't see a visual emote it's just an interface issue though
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: Yes, Richard. What's your take in a nutshell on text vs. graphics using what's happening right here as an example we can point to so we can see everyone, everything, and the text too
Richard Bartle: text and graphics are different, but the underlying worlds are the same
Wandering Yaffle: but is the idea of a wave and wink the same whether it's a visual one or a textual one?
Richard Bartle: body language is important, but you don't need an avatar to have a body
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i like what you said when you noted that people do the same kinds of things in text vs. graphical worlds:
Mechanique Thirty: Do we really have body language here. Unless we do a lot of work, our avs just kinda randomly look around and shift poses.
Margot Abattoir: in here/yes...you do richard
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: politic, make things, play games, have sex etc. so they do seem to be different interfaces to "worldness"
Richard Bartle: people do do similar things, although clearly it's harder to design 3D objects in a textual world and harder to do creative writing in a 3D graphical world
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: But I'm not sure manny of us understand how graphics might not be an innovation
Richard Bartle: Look, graphics are newbie-friendly. if you want newbies, you gotta have graphics[,,,] Graphics are easy to assess quickly, but more superficial. Text is harder to get into but can give greater immersion Some people prefer one, some people prefer the other [,,,] So: newbies prefer graphics to text. graphical worlds will always have more players than textual ones however, for some people, the ability to use their imaginations more in text means more for them. now you have a trade-off: do you play with other people in large numbers or do you play in a textual world with fewer players but more immersion?
Some people prefer graphics over text full stop. Others prefer text over graphics
Others are based one way or the other but haven't tried both in depth.
You think textual worlds don't have the ability to code in-world or something, what you get from text is fuel for your imagination what you get from graphics is fuel for your senses. Now senses are more immediate than imagination but imagination is where all the action is. I've seen people jump out of their RL chair in shock when a textual description of a dragon hit them.
Prokofy Neva: Will SL ruin the immersiveness of their world with web-on-a-rim that will force people out of the game to go look at Internet sites?
Anshe Chung: I think what makes SL special is that it allows more degrees of freedom than other graphical worlds but provides the number of users textual worlds don't have
Richard Bartle: SL is special for many different reasons. Just because I'm telling you about the wonders of text, that doesn't mean I think SL is without merit
Play and Games
[Garnet Psaltery: but I don't treat this world as a game]
Richard Bartle: Garnet P, you don't have to treat a world as a game for it to be a world most virtual worlds only have a game component to give people a reason to play the reasons people play the games are because of the worlds and the people, the game just gives a context.
I don't think the big strength of SL is its interface,,, I think it's is players
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION: "By 'play', do you mean that is all Virtual worlds serve to do? To entertain?"
Anshe Chung: I don't play a game. I work here.
Richard Bartle: When I say "play", I mean something quite complex play can be play as in acting, as well as in activating toys however, I use it as a shorthand for "engaging in a virtual worlds" same as I use "players" to mean "a RL person attached to a character"
[Garnet Psaltery: but I don't treat this world as a game]
Richard Bartle: Garnet P. you could if you used your imagination. Text is what the mind uses to think even if we had the most convincing VR experience ever for SL, people would still communicate using words whether spoken or written or beamed telepathically through the ether
Garnet Psaltery: But it's quicker to turn round and look at a room than repeatedly to describe it
Richard Bartle: Garnet P., that's just an interface issue. If you say to me "narrow road between lands", I have a far more detailed picture than you could ever draw in SL because I've been there so often. You need to become immersed in textual worlds to appreciate them too few people are willing to take that step these days
[Aliasi Stonebender: on the other hand richard, two people can imagine a very different road. I run into this problem often as I play RPGs in RL and online. (the old-school paper kind.): like this or even like this! or even like this, heh.]
Richard Bartle: people can have different imaginations, yes - that's one of the beauties of it.
SL as the new web (txt vs graphics part 2)
Valadeza Anubis: sory, repeating QUESTION: Do you see something like SL becoming the replacement of the web (as all the features of the web are merged into it)?
Richard Bartle: I don't see a SL-alike becoming a replacement for the web but I do see everyone having their own personal virtual world eventually
[Hiro Pendragon: Richard, if sight is so overrated, how come people don't close their eyes when communicating with people in RL?]
Richard Bartle: did I say sight was overrated? In the context of virtual worlds, you only get sight and sound in SL, in a textual world you get all the senses you want
Garnet Psaltery: if my shoes don't fit here you can see it. I could lie in text
Richard Bartle: If your shoes don't fit in text, they don't fir there either
Elle Pollack: Unless you layer text over the graphics as well, describing things like smell and taste
Richard Bartle: it's just a world model. If you layer text over graphics, you're conceding that text is superior, no? Just as if you put pictures into a textual client you'd be saying that graphics are superior
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION: how do future advances in nanotechnology affect your opinion of immersion in text based virtual worlds versus visual 3D based worlds?
Richard Bartle: future advances in nanotech don't affect my opinion as I haven't the faintest clue what's going to happen in that field
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION: Could you see SL becoming an alternate interface to the web?
Richard Bartle: basically, they're the same whether you use text or graphics. SL won't become an alternate interface to the web unless it dumbs down
Aliasi Stonebender: [,,,] the entire *point* of some of my builds is that people can SEE it as I do.
Richard Bartle: Aliasi S. well OK, in that case you're an artist working in a medium and it would be pointless for you to express yourself in some other medium there are some people who like to create in textual worlds who see no point in creating graphics each to their own. Some artists would hate SL because it's not tactile, they want real feel you only get in the real world if the interface is important, sure, go with the world that has the interface you want
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION: why do we feel the need to say one is superior to the other?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: richard, what are the numbers of users text vs. graphical worlds? how many millions each approx?
Richard Bartle: and your point in asking me this question is what, Snoops?
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i want to know how people are behaving
Richard Bartle: Let's close down the ballet and the opera, compared to TV they're insignificant
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: Didn't mean anything like that...
[Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION: How do you see VWs interacting with the real world? For instance, Google Earth.]
Richard Bartle: google earth isn't a virtual world, it's an interactive geograph. You could have some interesting augmented reality with it, eg. writing games that hook to particular screens
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: google earth is going 3D
Nightspy Rebus: what if google earth was merged into a game like virtual world env :) so everyone could "play" in the real world ..
Richard Bartle: you can't change the world it maps to, though
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION-text-based worlds seem obsolete as technology is able to handle more complex graphical enviroments, SL presents concepts that people have never imagined and provides an adult playground that stimulates creativity, do you see this potential?
Richard Bartle: Valadeza, yes I do see the potential, but then I saw it with text. With graphics, it's more appealing to newbies - gotta be a good thing. I'm not trying to advocate text here, I'm actually at something of a loss as to why you wanted to talk about it.
The point of virtual spacse
Valadeza Anubis: question that keeps driving me insane is ...how that might apply to "why do people in VWs engage in so much repetitive and sometimes pointless tasks in them?" (i.e. level grinding in MUDs and MMORPGs, club dancing in SL...)
Richard Bartle: the reason people in game-like worlds engage in pointless activities is to get, er, point I can explain why they do this in some detail, only it would take me like 3 hours
Nightspy Rebus: to get rwards and become better than everyone else at what they do .. sl had no real point .. so people have to be craetive
Richard Bartle: SL does have a point
Spartacus Revere: so to start SL down the road to the greater immersion provided in text MUDS, what needs to be done?
Richard Bartle: You CAN get text-like immersion from graphical worlds, but the players need to know how to do it. It kinda comes naturally in a textual world because the world is talking to the mind in a graphical world, the mind has to interpret the senses, and that presents a barrier.
Self expression (txt vs graphics part 3)
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Gwyneth Llewelyn: Q: Do you think people express themselves more through text-based communication, as oposed to a visual/audio experience? (think how well you can describe characters in books as opposed to movies)
Richard Bartle: Qwyneth L. some people express themselves better in text than in graphics others don't it depends on many factors, for example the fact you can backspace before you act in a stupid way is quite sueful in text whereas in graphics, everyone knows you're a pillock the moment you hit the keys on the otherhand, it's quicker to hit a single key, so the responses are more instant. So that can be useful for some people, especially if they're shy so if you're an extrovert, you may prefer the graphics or a text macro...
Jack Sondergaard: I think eliminating lag would profoundly change SL
Aliasi Stonebender: eliminate lag would make me want to just get a datajack and plug in 24/7. ;)
Richard Bartle: if there were datajack technology, I wouldn't go through with the surgery I only want things going into my head that I can stop going into my head!
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: I think SL is great for introverts
Richard Bartle: if you're inarticulate, graphics won't help. Being unable to express your thoughts in symbols works whether those symbols are words or gestures
[SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: there have been great stories about pple learning to socialize through sl you'll do things here you would never do elsewhere]
Richard Bartle: Snoops: you really must read some of the old articles on text MUDs, where their great social lubrication features are lauded...
Aliasi Stonebender: *rimshot*
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: i know i know
Richard Bartle: people will ALWAYS do things when they have pseudonimity that they won't do if their RL identity is known whether this is in a textual world or a graphical world or a BBS, it doesn't matter
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM Pinto Ganache: This being a future salon and all, what do you see happening (with textual &/or graphical virtual worlds), especially as people from broader class and global demographics get on-line?
Richard Bartle: Pinto G. I see many possible futures (not many with text in, I admit!) some of the futures are exciting, but others are deeply depressing. we're at a cusp at the moment the game-like worlds are being watered down to nothingness the social worlds are turning into just another version of reality
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Mechanique Thirty: A question for the queue: Is there anything about the state of virtual worlds that you'd like to rant about? What do you think we really NEED to add, regardless of whether it's here, in a mu*, or some other virtual word
Richard Bartle: it's not so much that we need to add things, as that we have to replace what was lost. 10 or 15 years from now, people could look at these "virtual worlds" and wonder what all the fuss was ever about we have to keep what's special about them that's why I hold out hope that if everyone does get to have their own virtual worlds whether via SL technology or not
The future – world creation
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM : Pinto Ganache: This being a future salon and all, what do you see happening (with textual &/or graphical virtual worlds), especially as people from broader class and global demographics get on-line?
Richard Bartle: we'll see some creativity in WORLD creation, not in object creation
Mechanique Thirty: We're moving from simple VRs made out of love, to bigger and bigger ones made for commerce...
Richard Bartle: they're only hard to build because we don't hve the tools
Greed, infinite resources and in world economics
Valadeza Anubis: Arahan Claveau: QUESTION-financial greed e.g landbarons, and banal games like tringo, slingo etc seem to be stifling originality and dumbing down SL, do you think any of this could contribute to the eventual demise of SL and other virtual worlds?
Richard Bartle: financial greed only works in worlds with limited resources if there are no limits to resources, there's no financial greed if you could build your own virtual world, buying penny components from Linden to do so, would you? If you could run that on your own PC, would you?
Nightspy Rebus: I would defiantly run my own sims if they let us
Richard Bartle: "if they let us"? it would be "if I let myself"!
Sophia Mirabeau: i'm not sure i agree with greed going away in a world of infinite resource
Richard Bartle: greed may not go away, but if it's your world then you can make the greedy go away...
Wandering Yaffle: you couldn't have an infinitely resourced world though
Jack Sondergaard: time is not an infinite resource
Richard Bartle: time is an infinite resource, but you don't get an infinite piece of it
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Skyllar Skidoo: question: what worlds have unlimited resources?
Richard Bartle: Skyllar Skidoo: the worlds that have infinite resources are the ones you make for yourself in your mind
Social worlds as reality mirrors
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Elle Pollack: Is it even *possible* to keep social worlds from resembling reality? It's still humans playing it and in spite of the fact that at lot of people want to use VWs as escape from certian RW things but people will still be
Richard Bartle: it is possible to stop social worlds from resembling reality, yes for example, if I play SL now, my avatar gives my name Richard Bartle: my RL name everyone knows whenthey see the avatar that I'm behind it SL is RL for me now If you don't know who people are, well, there's still hope
Hiro Pendragon: hope of what?
Richard Bartle: hope that the virtual world won't become just another part of the real one
Hank Hoodoo: do you think it's fundamentally bad for VW's to be part of the real world?
Richard Bartle: Hank H., no I don't think it's fundamentally bad - there are valid reasons for some virtual worlds to be part of the real world just not all of them you need to be able to maintain a conceit that the virtual world is not the real world in order to gain the freedoms that it offers if it were just part of the real world, you'd have to be the real-world you rather than the real you in games, we call this the Magic Circle
Spartacus Revere: there's a diff? ;)
Richard Bartle:there isn't a difference for everyone, no. those people would get no benefit from playing a virtual world
Kiedis Grayson: I guess we all have different purposes for being here....to me, money has no value, the ability to share music, ideas, etc is priceless, for everything elsd, therese mastercard
Hiro Pendragon: Again, "playing". :)
Richard Bartle: for here, well, most of you I'd hazard a guess DO have similar reasons for being here
Richard Bartle: a magic circle is when a group of people agree to follow a set of rules restricting their behaviour in order that they gain new freedoms that they didn't have before they gave up the previous ones Richard Bartle: if people are following the same rules, you have a game
Anshe Chung: I think a lot of people are playing a game in the real world and call it career while in fact most their efforts just go for status
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Mechanique Thirty: QUESTION: what happens when people return to making worlds without economies? "Greed" in SL comes from the interface with the RL monetary system.
Richard Bartle: MEchanique30, if you want a virtual world with an economy you can have one I was saying that if you want one without an economy, you can have that too if you use your imagination, you can have whatever you want
Walker Spaight: Richard, you don't see the virtual world as an *extension* of the real world, in some ways?
Richard Bartle: Walker S. I see it as an extension in some cases, yes. people who make their living buying and selling game inventory definitely see it that way but that separation from the real world is hugely important. if there IS no virtual world (it's just part of the real world), you don't get to understand yourself more because only by going somewhere virtual can you find out who you are in the real world you don't get to experiment being you - you lose that freedom
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM Hiro Pendragon: Question: "How is any VW *not* part of the real world, if real people go to them, and even if on pseudonyms, some part of their real personality is poured into it? (let alone the electricity and silicon RW aspect)"
Richard Bartle: the virtual world is not part of the real world because if it were then there would be no point in visiting it
Hiro Pendragon: THat's like saying "We are alive because if we weren't alive, it would be pointless"
Richard Bartle: Hiro P that seems reasonable to me at least, no more point than visiting any real-world place
Hiro Pendragon: That's begging the question, Richard. You can't say something exists because of its effects.
[Hiro Pendragon: Ah, that's different from seperation, though. :)]
Richard Bartle: yes, it's different from actual separation, but it's separate enough to allow you to see yourself as others see you
Mechanique Thirty: I could not see myself as a woman IRL until I saw myself as a woman in VR.
Richard Bartle: Hiro P. yes, and I’ve read a ton of feminist literature that says the same thing. Needless to say they're right, you have to WILL the suspension of disbelief for it to work and then it's only an illusion that you must work to maintain immersion helps here, though, if you can get to that stage.
Mechanique Thirty: I have to agree with that value to VR, Richard. It was due to virtual experimentation that I was able to come out to myself about my gender issues, and change my RL self into someone I like a lot better. needless to say, they're right.
Richard Bartle: mech30. I toyed with using a female avatar tonight, but I thought I'd go with an absolute vanilla male instead. Interesting to see the early reactions, where people validated their own self-view by commenting on my appearance as I was basically functioning without having a fancy avatar attached.
Prokofy Neva: There isn't total flexiblity of immersion, somebody is immersing me with their wings right now and I'm immersing them with a tuxedo, so perception hinges on my neighbour's design choices.
Richard Bartle: prokofy N. the only reason for that is because SL doesn’t allow you to present different avatars to different people simultaneously. How would you feel if I could change how your avatar appeared to me, but not to anyone else?
Prokofy Neva: I could be IMing one persona to one person and presenting something in chat and sending yet another thing in inventory and they reflect at least 3 personas all simultaneous
Prokofy Neva: Richard I have enough on my plate running all my alts and looks without also multi-presentations but sure, I'd like to present to Hiro right now in my bowling shirt with crossed bowling pins on my bakc. LOL.
Richard Bartle: yes, yes, that multi-conversation thing predates even MUD1 but if I could change how you appeared without your knowing?
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM Nightspy Rebus: Question: Do you see a need to make a 3d client for the MUD based worlds?
Prokofy Neva: It makes it possible to double comment and undermine and caption each living situation and lie.
[Prokofy Neva: Does IM undermine human solidarity Richard? ]
Richard Bartle: I have no problems with IM, except I don't use it in RL as if I do, people IM me...
Prokofy Neva: When you put me on mute or ban, indeed you have changed my presentation.
Prokofy Neva: IMs make it impossible to have good dispute resolution in here.
Sophia Mirabeau: what if i only saw you, richard, as I chose to see fit - filtered with my own expectations, disregarding who you really are... judging the cover... no - wait - that's what i alread have to do! :)
Richard Bartle: Sophie. OK, in that case why aren't you using a vanilla character like I am?
Sophia Mirabeau: i just point out the inherent snap judgement we make upon meeting anyone... you do look different to me than you do to anshe
Richard Bartle: Prokofy if I changed your character's gender, or replace dyour fancy clothes?
Prokofy Neva: Hmm Richard. Then I guess you read the LL forums more thanI knew.
Valadeza Anubis: QUESTION FROM: Elle Pollack: Q: How do you present different avatars to different people silmotaniously in text worlds? I can't think of how and I'm on the dev team of a small MUCK.
Richard Bartle: Elle P. well in MUD we did it by not having ANY descriptions for characters - it was ALL in the imagination but it would be relatively easy to change how a description was presented to you in a text world what I'm getting at here is that you're all using your avatars to project something of how you want yourself to be perceived if this were RL and not SL, you'd be severely limited in this regard
Prokofy Neva: It would all work pretty well Richard too if it weren't for the tendency for people to always try to out your persona and troll for RL info to put on the forums. LOL.
Richard Bartle: yes, well, boys will be boys (even the girls)
Aliasi Stonebender: tho isn't that, in large part, a design choice? There's something of value in having a quasi- persistent "look" to everyone, as it were.
Richard Bartle: there's merit in making avatars look like people because that helps with immersion it helps you maintain the illusion that you're in a place dealing with other people even though that place is entirely constructed within your mind there will always be interruptions, but you learn to dismiss them the more you play.
Prokofy Neva: Richard is it a generational thing do you think that some people are more wedded to text than graphics?
Richard Bartle: text and graphics? we're back to that? It's only generational in that older people often want deeper than younger people: because they;ve been there and done that but that won't mean that in 20 years time all today's players will be in textual worlds
SNOOPYbrown Zamboni: richard have you looked at steven johnson's Everything Bad Is Good for You?
Richard Bartle: No I haven't looked at that. people have said it's good, therefore under its own logic it should be bad
FlipperPA Peregrine: Which leads to the question, which came first, thought or language? Can we conceive of any thought without even the most primitive of languages?
Richard Bartle: personally I can, yes, but then I seem to have an extra level of self-awareness than most people not that it's a great deal of use to me (look up "them's thinkin' words" on my blog for an explanation).