Class Begins in...

Recent conversations among many of us have been sparked by Cory's remark that "WoW is the new golf," riffing as it does on the apparent way that WoW has become a common diversion, meeting place, and source of friendly competitiveness for academics and developers. Extending this idea leads directly to a perhaps troubling outcome: the appearance of something like country clubs in our VW future (although not in WoW necessarily). So why might this be worrisome?

In my view, WoW as the new golf, and the Country Club extenstion of the meme, point to the way in which cultural practices--like golf, drinking single-malt scotch, frequenting the opera, or online gaming--can become a marker of class. It is true that big business has already found VWs, but that has been primarily on the production side. Instead, this would be a transformation that could take place on the consumption end (the increasing blurriness of the distinction between production and consumption aside). What I'm talking about is the development of a distinctive cultural practice for elites. Pierre Bourdieu, in his book Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste outlines how a social group's incentive to distinguish itself culturally leads to the valorization of practices like those above. But some of the practices are vulnerable to cooption by non-elites. When lower classes can easily adopt the same tastes (as they aspire to move up), then the highest class simply moves on to the next thing (what was single malt scotch is now small-batch vodka, perhaps). In contrast, when the wealthy or landed can restrict access to the most expensive (in terms of overhead) diversions, like polo, golf, tennis, or foxhunting, then they become more durably a part of a class's identity, and competence in it (what he calls cultural capital) becomes a standard and more reliable index of class standing. This explains why many otherwise relatively unskilled folks who are excellent golfers make large sums as "club professionals" and golf instructors--they're selling a competence that has continued, over many decades, to be deperately desired by many upwardly mobile professionals.

So will VWs be a site for broad-based social elitism with all of the techniques of exclusion (economic and otherwise) that implies? The architecture of VWs can certainly restrict access. Would the technical overhead for a distinctively "ultimate" VW experience (including a custom-built engine? extremely high server-user ratios?) be sufficiently beyond the reach of the masses to make it viable? This is also a question of scale; however elitist anyone's activities are in VWs now, in no way is the techno-elite yet the ruling class. But once a generation or two grows up thinking of excursions online not as a private diversion for an individual or a small group, but as an arena for all those who are "the right sort," then won't something like Country Club VWs be on the way? If so, then the current guilds, or the powers-that-be residents in certain VWs without them, are just child's play in comparison, but crucial training nonetheless (as all child's play is).

Perhaps, then, we worry because there is a legitimate concern that VWs, once they become truly taken-for-granted by the (non-poor) public at large, will be sites for all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar.


Comments on Class Begins in...:

Thabor says:

When lower classes can easily adopt the same tastes (as they aspire to move up), then the highest class simply moves on to the next thing (what was single malt scotch is now small-batch vodka, perhaps). In contrast, when the wealthy or landed can restrict access to the most expensive (in terms of overhead) diversions, like polo, golf, tennis, or foxhunting, then they become more durably a part of a class's identity, and competence in it (what he calls cultural capital) becomes a standard and more reliable index of class standing.

This used to happen pretty freqently in EQ, and still does to a much lesser extent in WoW. With the "high end" guilds being equivilent to the wealthy. Instancing removes much of that ability. And I wonder if we won't see more content in the form of world spawns added to wow in able to re-establish the "social" distinctions between classes.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 11:20:27 AM | link

Michael Chui says:

While the overall tone of the entry is a bit worrisome to me -- I dislike the idea of class -- this statement struck me as curious:

This explains why many otherwise relatively unskilled folks who are excellent golfers make large sums as "club professionals" and golf instructors--they're selling a competence that has continued, over many decades, to be deperately desired by many upwardly mobile professionals.

Are we going to have third party trainers? "How to level to 20 in just one week in WoW!"? I can't say I'm amenable to that concept, either, but it IS very intriguing.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 12:06:02 PM | link

Mark Wallace says:

Michael > Are we going to have third party trainers?

We already do.

Thomas, you should be writing for the Second Life Herald! All we ask is a citation if you use our stories in your research. ;)

There are already elitist mini-societies in Second Life and in VWs of all sorts. Entire "restricted" VWs are only a matter of time -- unless forced egalitarianism is legislated into the metaverse, which is highly unlikely and of dubious value in any case.

Why wouldn't VWs be "sites for all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar"? Of course, they will be sites for all the good things as well. Neither of those things cropping up should come as much of a surprise. The question is, what can we do to steer them away from the ugly?

Posted Oct 24, 2005 1:02:47 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Michael Chui wrote:

Are we going to have third party trainers?

Although it's not large or robust, there is a market in at least one of our MMOs - Achaea - for the most skilled fighters to make some money training others. If we had a playerbase, say, 10x as large, I'm sure the market would be far more robust.

--matt

Posted Oct 24, 2005 1:48:49 PM | link

Mike Rozak says:

If you have money and want to play a VW, you'd tend to head towards one with:

1) "Privte" GMs that make the game more fun. => High GM to player ratio.

2) Where you can buy your own kingdom, and the little people get to play (for free) as surfs within your kingdom. http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/playerpyramid.htm.

3) Large/surround computer screen, haptics, and other accessories that aren't affordable to the masses.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 2:40:08 PM | link

R says:

When you think of "all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar" is the first thing that pops into your head really people taking golf lessons?

Posted Oct 24, 2005 3:07:47 PM | link

Sam Kelly says:

One possibility that occurs to me, in addition to gated communities within VWs and entire exclusive-membership VWs, is greater or more privileged mobility between VWs. We poor peons have to re-make ourselves each time, but the Vere de Vere name will open doors to the best society wherever you go.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 4:56:01 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Mike Rozak wrote:

If you have money and want to play a VW, you'd tend to head towards one with:
1) "Private" GMs that make the game more fun. => High GM to player ratio.
2) Where you can buy your own kingdom, and the little people get to play (for free) as surfs within your kingdom. http://www.mxac.com.au/drt/playerpyramid.htm.
3) Large/surround computer screen, haptics, and other accessories that aren't affordable to the masses.

All excellent prospective signifiers of this possibility. To be clear, there is no guarantee that this will happen, but it seems likely that if it does, these will be some of its features.

Michael Chui wrote:

I dislike the idea of class

This is a cryptic comment. Could you elaborate? Are you saying that you are skeptical of its usefulness for understanding (industrialized) societies?

R wrote:

When you think of "all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar" is the first thing that pops into your head really people taking golf lessons?

This strikes me as disingenuous. Of course I am not arguing that the everyday mundanities of how a socioeconomic class (or any other social group) reproduces its practices and tastes constitute, by themselves, what is lacking about humanity. But certainly what makes all the everyday practices of exclusion, whether by gender, race, class, generation, religion, etc., all the more effective is the way they are so easily dismissable as "merely" small vices, as you have done here.

To be clear, however, I am not the sort to see conspiracies or domination in every human encounter; that is, to reduce human life to a field of power relations (for you Foucauldians out there). On that score, to me a good understanding of Second Life, to take Mark's example here, is not reducible to an account of its power relations. Like those based on all totalizing theories, such an account has the distinct disadvantange of being impossible to disprove. But that does not mean that we can dispense with thinking about power altogether.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 5:01:17 PM | link

Ken Fox says:

Paul Graham has made interesting observations about rich people. The most interesting IMHO is that rich people basically live like the middle class (at least in the U.S. -- I don't know if his observations apply to other societies).

Rich people generally live in houses that look and work the same as middle class houses. Rich people buy the same electronics and entertainment devices. They drive identical cars. If a rich person strays too far outside the mainstream, the value of the products drops enormously because engineering and research doesn't scale down to small volumes. Careless or conceited rich people end up with really expensive watches that don't keep time as well as a cheapo digital watch.

I think the same thing applies to virtual worlds. These things are really complex and hard to build, but the marginal cost of production is near zero. If a rich person wants to participate in a VW, I think he's going to have to rub elbows with the masses.

Anyways this seems like a bizarre concern. Aren't most virtual worlds built on a foundation of rampant materialism and class hierarchy? The whole idea of "level advancement" must be abhorrent to you! Or is class hierarchy acceptable if the boundaries are fluid?

Posted Oct 24, 2005 6:38:15 PM | link

Greg says:

A minor point--indicators of "class" do not always correspond with indicators of "wealth." E.g., the preppy "class"--largely New England-based, suburban, attached to boarding schools and Ivy Leagues--was generally upper middle class rather than rich, relied more on standards of dress to differentiate themselves from the masses than conspicuous consumption, and indeed was quite frugal in its private life. (It's largely, though not entirely gone, now.)

Actually, I think you find direct analogs in VWs already---guilds that are exclusive, prize experience and a certain intelligence and bonhomie over the ability to bring crass commercial gain to the community, and consider themselves something of an elite. Their "eliteness" does not necessarily extend to financial success in the real world among guild members--but then, being a "preppy" was always more about the right clothes and the a good line in small talk than in worldly wealth. Though summers on Nantucket certainly helped.

As for small-batch vodka... shudder. Vodka is water and pure alcohol, and anyone who tells you different is simply trying to get you to pay too much for--water and alcohol. If small single malts and small-batch bourbon no longer clean your clock, look into artesinal chachaca, which is starting to appear in the US--and which Brasileiros in the know flock to cachacerias to experience their full glory.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 9:49:43 PM | link

Jim Self says:

I doubt that there will ever be the "elite VW's" of which you are thinking. Part of what gives something prestiege is that outsiders know about it, and part of the enjoyment of such a thing is knowing that other people know it.

Spreading the knowledge of how elite a VW is would be tough, because it's a seperate world. This is different from a country club since those inside and We the Masses without are in the same world. A more likely way this idea of exlusivism would come about would be with real money charges for access to certain areas of a VW, seperating the players into those who are rich IRL and those who aren't. With RMT coming into its own these days, would anyone say that such a thing is far away?

I would expect it to begin with smaller objects of distinction, such as an expensive Ubersword of Superiority that can only be bought through RMT, not acquired in-world. I don't mean to launch the whole RMT debate again, but suffice it to say that many of us against RMT are against it for this very ability to potentially stratify VW users into the "haves and have-nots" all over again. Will there never be a utopia?

PS - A VW game would be less likely to develop such a thing, since game skill or time input is ultimately the highest social capital.

Posted Oct 24, 2005 9:51:15 PM | link

jj says:

On the scale of things to actually worry about in the world, this one strikes me as pretty low on the list.

I mean, who would care? (Besides golf pros?)

Posted Oct 25, 2005 12:28:46 AM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

As I noted in the email thread, I don't think WoW is the new golf; it is the new polo. It is still a hardcore MMORPG, trending more toward the 'moderate' player than other MMORPGs, but we're still, as a hobby, an elitist affectation.

That we have gradients within the elite is nothing new; look at how Old Money sneers at the Nouveau Riche. As long as money can purchase position, we're going to have this, IRL and in MMOs. While it causes a faction split in the hardcore MMO games, it is of less concern to those who inhabit social worlds, such as Habbo Hotel and the like, which are actually built on purchasing position.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 12:45:38 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Thanks for the reference to Paul Graham's work, Ken, and it does reveal the limitations of a deeply class-oriented reading of American society. These approaches have always worked a bit better in Europe anyway (France and England specifically: see especially Paul Willis' Learning to Labour). The vast resources, lack of aristocracy, and relatively small indigenous population (after being decimated by imported diseases) in the US led to a enormous amount of socioeconomic mobility, and entrenched class boundaries (beyond some regions) have never (yet) developed in the US.

That said, I think it's interesting and a bit surprising that, in an area where a lot of people are big fans of the work of Neal Stephenson, so many commenters here are so ready to dismiss the potential for social exclusion not just in, but through VWs. In Snow Crash and The Diamond Age, it's practically the central theme.

Jessica wrote:

I don't think WoW is the new golf; it is the new polo.

I understand the polo alternative (WoW as an elitist affectation), but there is a key difference. Individuals who want to play polo have to maintain an enormous amount of overhead (stabling the horse, etc.), whereas WoW has very low barriers to entry by comparison. I agree with you that it is isolated now, but I was just musing about whether country club (polo club?) games could appear.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 1:28:04 AM | link

lewy says:

"I understand the polo alternative (WoW as an elitist affectation), but there is a key difference. Individuals who want to play polo have to maintain an enormous amount of overhead (stabling the horse, etc.), whereas WoW has very low barriers to entry by comparison."

Except that the resource sink in WoW is time, not money.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 2:32:07 AM | link

Michael Steele says:

+ In which is there is perhaps some confusion about acronyms +

“Extending this idea leads directly to a perhaps troubling outcome: the appearance of something like country clubs in our VW future…”

I think Thomas is missing the point here. VWs were initially designed for the common man, not for the elite. The country club metaphor is stretching credulity even for the most feature rich contemporary of VWs. The appeal they hold for those with larger, more disposable incomes is unquestioned, but the realm of the metaphorical or even real “Country Clubs”? Surely things haven’t gone that far astray from the original vision?

“…as the new golf, and the Country Club extenstion (sic) of the meme, point to the way in which cultural practices--like golf, drinking single-malt scotch, frequenting the opera, or online gaming--can become a marker of class.”

This is academic clap-trap, Thomas… the whole idea behind the Golf approach was to be more accessible and affordable, and while some argue that it drifts away from the purity of the original visions for VWs, it brings a certain style to the table that was intended solely to expand the audience and market share.
“It is true that big business has already found VWs, but that has been primarily on the production side. “
Indeed, but that’s the vision at work again; the appeal of VWs to college students was affordability, and low production costs are the key to keeping them at a price point that made it all work since the early days.

“What I'm talking about is the development of a distinctive cultural practice for elites.”

“But some of the practices are vulnerable to cooption by non-elites. When lower classes can easily adopt the same tastes (as they aspire to move up), then the highest class simply moves on to the next thing"

These have it backwards again. Look at the original core consumer of VWs (in North America at least); college students! It was only recently that this became about the cultural elites and that was only in response to strong market pressures.
The gentrification of VWs is here to stay, no doubt, but the original vision can still be seen reflected in the designs of almost all current VWs!

“and golf instructors--they're selling a competence that has continued, over many decades, to be deperately desired by many upwardly mobile professionals. “

This is simple recidivism, and we all know you can never really go back. Today’s trendy professionals simply have to grow up, looking beyond the classic VWs of their lost youth. Similarly on the other extreme is the Charybdis of over serious-narcissism, the bane of the Reagan generation and of Academic proceedings through history.

“The architecture of VWs can certainly restrict access. Would the technical overhead for a distinctively "ultimate" VW experience (including a custom-built engine? extremely high server-user ratios?) be sufficiently beyond the reach of the masses to make it viable?”

Again, I’m nitpicking, but the contemporary VW designs are not wanting in any of these areas. Those problems have all been addressed by a new generation of professional designers.

“then won't something like Country Club VWs be on the way?”

Again this preoccupation with the County Club! Is this just some expression of rage about how little they are paying academics these days?

“If so, then the current guilds, or the powers-that-be residents in certain VWs without them, are just child's play in comparison, but crucial training nonetheless (as all child's play is). “

Finally we agree on something! My daughter’s preoccupation with VWs is certainly a form of childs training (actually she’s a teen) for her next step up in life.

“Perhaps, then, we worry because there is a legitimate concern that VWs, once they become truly taken-for-granted by the (non-poor) public at large, will be sites for all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar.”

This is exactly the ultimate fear that finally drove the Wolfsburg engineers in the late 1970s to think beyond the college students they had been catering to. How to maintain the original vision as VWs are driven by strong market forces into the hands of the Yuppies? This goes back to the earlier points about Golfs; they were merely harbingers of the changes that led us all to Sciroccos and Cabriolets and finally to the New Beetles and to the ultimate betrayal of all; the Taureg SUV.

Best stick with your Saab for now, Thomas, because the revolution is coming!

For more history on VW’s part in the class wars of the 1960/70’s check out these sites: (some in German)

http://historymatters.gmu.edu/mse/Ads/question2.html

http://www.vkl-vwwob.de/

http://hello.apo.nmsu.edu/~sjnk/bullwinkle/vwpix.html
(great picts!)

http://www.ciadvertising.org/student_account/spring_01/adv382j/ifsg336/vwgallery.htm
(the great mass market breakout!)

--Mike

Posted Oct 25, 2005 3:57:02 AM | link

Don Wilson says:

There's 2 ways VW's can be exclusive.

1.) Powergaming Cliques (which already exist right now). Let's face it, unless you can spend 40 hours a week you will never have access to the privileges in game these people have and you will never be part of their inner circle.

2.) Pay-to-Play gaming (which will continue to evolve). Why wouldn't gaming companies offer more in game for people who are willing to pay more? You get an extra scoop of ice cream at the ice cream store if you give them more money don't you?

But either way both of these tie back into RL economics. Whether you have more time to play (because you don't need the money) or you have more money to buy in-game privileges you still have MORE of something in RL than someone else will.

Unfortunately there's no RL Utopian answer to that. Freedom is freedom. You can't force people to "be the same" and no matter what system you have in place some people will fail. Communism and Socialism don't work. Capitialism does (as much as you may or may like the "Golf Players" that benefit from that system).

There's nothing fundamentally wrong with exclusive groups in RL or in VW's. It's perfectly normal.

http://www.se7ensamurai.com

Posted Oct 25, 2005 7:03:38 AM | link

A. Linder says:

"WoW as golf" resonates truth with me. I tried out WoW when it first came out, but didn't get hooked on it. Then I attended the Games + Learning + Society conference last summer where everyone who was anyone there was talking WoW and it piqued my interest again. I'd like to think it was the discussion that interested me in WoW, not the hope to climb ladders, but... ;>

That we have gradients within the elite is nothing new; look at how Old Money sneers at the Nouveau Riche.

Or like how the "hardcore" players who can devote 40+ hours a week into WoW sneer at the moderate-casual players? There are flaming threads in the forums debating whether MMORPG developers cater too much (or not enough) content to casual players who havent' "earned" their epic pieces/instances/mounts/etc. Then the MMORPG world is a place where Time does, indeed, equal money.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 9:11:14 AM | link

Heather Sinclair says:

Have you guys not heard of the Everquest Legends server or something?

Posted Oct 25, 2005 9:21:56 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Heather Sinclair wrote:

Have you guys not heard of the Everquest Legends server or something?

I don't think anyone disputes the by now well-known fact that MMORPGs/VWs generate internal hierarchies of status and resources that begin to look like class/caste systems. The question is how possible or likely it is that the hierarchies of other, non-VW domains will be realized within virtual worlds or between them.

As many have pointed out, this is already happening to the extent that time and labor are invested by players of WoW and other VWs, and this resource, like money, is disproportionately available to people of a certain family income level and age; i.e., college students. I'm just musing on how far this might develop in the future.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 10:23:02 AM | link

says:

Thomas > I'm just musing on how far this might develop in the future.

These types of status-based virtual memberships also currently exist in the form of gated online communities [link]. For example aSmallWorld descbibes itself as an "invitation-only online community which is not open to the public". The press is doing its job in making membership itself a status symbol, describing it as an exclusive club for the global jet set. I agree that it wouldn't be such a stretch to see such practices expand to an exclusive VW.

Posted Oct 25, 2005 10:32:21 AM | link

Peter Edelmann says:

that would have been me...

Posted Oct 25, 2005 10:33:03 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Great link, Peter. Of course we should expect that everything we predict about the internet exists already at least in protean form.

Michael Steele wrote:

Is this just some expression of rage about how little they are paying academics these days?

And this surprises you because...? Besides, as a fellow Arolander, we've certainly shared enough time and libations that I'd expect you to know already how bitter we academics can be... ;-)

Posted Oct 25, 2005 11:09:10 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Michael Steele wrote:

I think Thomas is missing the point here. VWs were initially designed for the common man, not for the elite.

???? The common man has internet access and the idle time to sit around using them all day? I freaking well think not. The common man is concerned about clean drinking water and raising his wages above $2/day. VWs are aimed squarely at the rich elite of the world who need a way to kill their free time.

--matt

Posted Oct 25, 2005 1:25:18 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Matt:
While there is no doubt that this point serves as a welcome reminder for a number of the commenters above, Michael's entertaining post was based on an intentional mis-reading of the issue at hand (as the first line, perhaps too obscurely, notes).

Now, if only I had happened to use the term "Fahrvergnügen."

Posted Oct 25, 2005 2:22:02 PM | link

Jim Self says:

Thomas wrote:
"As many have pointed out, this is already happening to the extent that time and labor are invested by players of WoW and other VWs, and this resource, like money, is disproportionately available to people of a certain family income level and age; i.e., college students."

I'd like to see how those students do it. I'm busy most of the time and still feel behind. The students who spend the amounts of time to become VW elites don't stay around here very long. That could be because we're a technology school though...

Posted Oct 25, 2005 5:32:58 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Oh, Thomas, I took this all completely differently. This is how I think it works: for someone of Cory's RL age and class and schooling, golf would actually not be "his" game, though it might have been his old man's game in suburbia. Therefore, he'd start out with an ironic, meta-type attitude to golfing to begin with. "Golf," hehe.

Jump from there to the fact that WoW with its million-strong players and tabloid stories about people fighting each other for its loot or parents leaving their babies unattended to play in Internet cafes, etc. and WoW then becomes "the place you go slumming." For the already "non-gaming gamers" of SL, WoW being, of course, "a game" with "goals" and "skilling up and levels" (all those things that the SL elite are supposed to scorn and supposed to have left behind with short pants). WoW then becomes the thing you ironize and riff off if you are an academic and a game dev...because, well...SL can just make you *tired*. WoW becomes your sports talk.

In SL, for those of you who don't *really live in the world,* after you've sat around with Hammie Linden at the UN building and practiced for Thomas Barnett to come tomorrow, or sat around with Tom Bukowski at the kewl Asian build in Dowden at a Digital Cultures meeting well...um...what's next? Let's go hear the Badger clip in the Welcome Area one more time?

Thomas, you need to study the Feted Inner Core more, dude, and take it seriously. Bah to the idea that any good grasp of the FIC and related issues is merely a "totalizing theory" that "you can't disprove" (gah, you've been reading too much Hammie). Nay, do not "dispense with thinking about power altogether"!

Months ago, you would have seen this golfing/WoW trend among gamers erm I mean "residents" and "users" and then follow how academics and devs would take it up. First Lordfly Digeridoo, then Cristiano Midnight, then Eboni Khan (all leading lights of the SL elite i.e. top builder, animator, etc.), one by one, began to drop off the Second Life server and go over to WOW, and come back on the forums and tell everyone how they now could even play WoW eight hours straight, and merely stopped by SL to cash out their vendors into RL dollars.

Other elites began to talk about how they'd lack for excitement and combat and drama in laggy SL so they'd go over to Guild Wars. SL? Yawn. That is, these aren't just gamerz, these are people who have always maintained they aren't playing a game, and are the intellectuals of SL, such as they are.

What happened is that SL became *a job*. Second Job. It got hard and tiresome. People needed a break from it (just like Cory must!). They couldn't repudiate all their grand theories about how "it's not a game" but still utterly engrossing (it is, kinda). But they could sneak off and play WoW -- only to make certain no one thought they were "playing a game," they'd do this with the kind of arch and distanced ironizing over the self that one can go to...oh, a Korean karaoke bar on Canal Street if you're a white dude (which is what the Linden gang did when they were at SOP). You see how it works?

Posted Oct 26, 2005 5:06:52 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

FWIW, the history of the comment of "WoW is the new golf" actually game from a discussion with Ian Linden. We were discussing a job candidate who was using WoW to meet senior game executives at large game companies. That seemed clever and Ian commented that -- for game developers -- WoW is clearly the new golf.

Posted Oct 26, 2005 7:47:10 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

FWIW, the history of the comment of "WoW is the new golf" actually game from a discussion with Ian Linden. We were discussing a job candidate who was using WoW to meet senior game executives at large game companies. That seemed clever and Ian commented that -- for game developers -- WoW is clearly the new golf.

Posted Oct 26, 2005 7:48:03 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Prokofy wrote:

What happened is that SL became *a job*. Second Job. It got hard and tiresome. People needed a break from it (just like Cory must!). They couldn't repudiate all their grand theories about how "it's not a game" but still utterly engrossing (it is, kinda).

Very thought-provoking. While this may risk opening up well-trod (in a circular pattern) ground that might be better explored via a different venue, I certainly believe that the distancing of something (like WoW) as "just a game" is a strategy, and this has long formed one of the central themes of my work on games and society, so there I agree whole-heartedly. Of course, this means that calling something "work" (or a "job") is also a strategy. ;-)

My reservations about other aspects of your points, Prokofy, are due to the slippage in your post between such claims about social phenomena as a whole and presumptive characterizations of the mindset of particular people or groups (for example, the claims about Cory's background with which your post begins). If you'll allow me to say so, your best insights are powerful enough that they do not require the offhand zingers (such as the karaoke jab).

Prokofy Neva wrote:

Bah to the idea that any good grasp of the FIC and related issues is merely a "totalizing theory" that "you can't disprove" (gah, you've been reading too much Hammie). Nay, do not "dispense with thinking about power altogether"!

Just to be clear, I did not say "any good grasp of the FIC and related issues", I said "a good understanding of Second Life." One presupposes its conclusions by taking, a priori, an existing characterization as a social fact, the other seeks to understand the relationship between such claims, others, and the social practices at hand.

Posted Oct 26, 2005 9:45:11 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Cory has now given us the context, which is that prospective employees look for game dev execs in games -- because that's where he could find them. So it's "golf" in the sense of a social medium used to climb the social ladder -- and I stand by my comment that for anyone of this age and class, golf is not going to be their game but their parents' generation's game -- and if they themselves, it will be with a kind of self-irony.

The karaoke episode isn't a zinger or a jab, it's a description of something that actually happened. It was fun, and cool. One of the things that made it cool was the archness and distancing that could take place within the cross-cultural context and the "slumming it" concept -- especially contrasting nicely with some yuppie ferny wine bar that came before that.

I agree with Michael Steele, "VWs were initially designed for the common man, not for the elite. The country club metaphor is stretching credulity even for the most feature rich contemporary of VWs." Going to WoW is indeed "slumming it." This bright and promising prospective Linden employee figured out that the watering holes to find actual Linden and other game devs were not in SL per se, at, I dunno, an elven poetry guild meeting but in WoW.

As for the theories of the FIC, you can distance yourself in a scholarly manner by saying that this is "just a characterization which itself is then a social fact" whether an "actual fact" or not, but in fact...you're soaking in it. It's a real virtuality.

Oh, you can call something "my job" or "my game" and call it just some "construct," but heck, one thing pays you, the other thing you spend money on. Reality check LOL.

Posted Oct 27, 2005 1:02:51 AM | link

Cory Ondrejka says:

Prokofy said:

This bright and promising prospective Linden employee figured out that the watering holes to find actual Linden and other game devs were not in SL per se, at, I dunno, an elven poetry guild meeting but in WoW.

This is incorrect. The candidate was using WoW to meet SOE and EA execs, not LL folks. He just told us about it and we thought that it was clever.

As for how prospective LL employees find us -- by my rough count -- at least 1/3 of LL's employees were hired after we met them in Second Life, which is about as many as have been hired based on employee referrals. The rest are the usual mix of recruiters, random meetings, Game Initiative "Breaking In" conferences, and random resume submissions. To my knowledge, none have been hired based on encounters in MMORPGs.

Posted Oct 28, 2005 12:36:31 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Cory, it's not that it's "incorrect," it's just that it was the logical and obvious conclusion based on Thomas' original post, and it only becomes "incorrect" after you supply missing information. Here's Thomas original quotation:

"Recent conversations among many of us have been sparked by Cory's remark that 'WoW is the new golf,' riffing as it does on the apparent way that WoW has become a common diversion, meeting place, and source of friendly competitiveness for academics and developers."

That sounded to me like a) Cory and other Lindens go hang in WoW b) they use it to find other game devs and academics to hang and chat with. Now you're explaining that it isn't necessarily that you go to WoW -- or at least you don't go there as to a recruiter at a job fair -- but you just thought this concept was cool.

After the OP and my response then came your clarification:

"FWIW, the history of the comment of 'WoW is the new golf" actually game [sic!]from a discussion with Ian Linden. We were discussing a job candidate who was using WoW to meet senior game executives at large game companies. That seemed clever and Ian commented that -- for game developers -- WoW is clearly the new golf.'"

In this Oct. 26 post, then, you don't clarify that it is *not SL* you're talking about, and when you say "we were discussing a job candidate who was using WoW to meet senior game executives at large game companies" I figured -- reasonably -- that if you were discussing a candidate, that meant your remark included LL (and no doubt other readers read it that way as well). Is LL with its now booming 70,000 subscribers a large game company? It's very much on its way to 100,000 and therefore I think it is getting largish. Or perhaps it's still only in the middling ranks? I just assumed you were talking about SL.

In fact, when I read the Oct. 26 post, I thought to myself, but how would they find the execs if they used avatar names? Of course, they'd just work the inter-games grapevine to get these names, this stuff tends to leak out eventually among fanboyz.

Which brings me to the pondering of whether perhaps it's really SL itself that is the new country club, or the old boys' club of the Century Club or Harvard Club type, if not the new golf of inter-game communication? Mark Wallace and others have speculated that SL might become the platform of choice for gamerz to come and relax and strategize, away from the grind of skilling and the drive of game goals, since it has no goals, no need to level up per se. You can get a private island, take it off map visibility, and walla, there's your gated community (there are LOTS of these in SL now!). SL then becomes a repository of inter-game lore...a storehouse of knowledge where deposits and withdrawals can be made and all kinds of connections. Remember how Lindens talked about SL becoming the WWW of Worlds?

Now, I'm not at all surprised to hear that 1/3 of LL employees are hired after being met in LL -- and thanks for revealing that statistic even if just a rough count. It explains the feeling I sometimes get from some activities in SL that make it seem like a 3-D junior game dev resume and not erm...the "monetarized socializing platform" as David Linden tells us to call it, that we all know it to be. Things like building contests, game-within-game dev contests, as well as various giant builds and private island projects often have the feeling of being not about creating "your world" with "your imagination" but about getting "your job" with "your favourite game company".

(There there are all the ramifications of making Linden employees out of former residents, some of them there since beta, in terms of issues of impartiality, fairness, ethics in dealing with the SL public at large, etc. as I've often written.)

I'd invite you to think about what kind of world this makes. I know game devs tend to think "let's get it all made with the best, elite people and get it working really well then let the masses in the door and move on to the next project." But...the masses already came in the door and they already live there. Meanwhile, there's a very grand meta-game going on here which is in fact SL then *does* become goal-oriented and *does* have the skill grind and the jousting with wizards. Enter as a newbie. Collect 10 actual Linden calling cards so you can track Linden friends anywhere on the map. Go to all the town halls, community round tables, Video Linden hang outs, etc. and ask bright questions, make witty remarks filled with the kind of self-deprecating humour and good-natured ribbing so beloved in games. Enter the break-your-neck building contests on killer deadlines. Skill, skill, skill, skill. Level up, level up -- hey, and kill some monsters on the forums together with your FIC posse with the ultimate prize getting someone banned. Then...finally you beat the last boss, acquire the last Helm and Sword (make some scripted thingie)and conquered territory(get a free sim), and...become a Linden! Whereupon...your old character doesn't exactly disappear, but he kinda goes into suspended animation as your old media-saturating projects are frozen like ants in amber...the rules for this aren't exactly clear to the general public.

Add to that your admission that employees come from other employers' referals, i.e. from their gaming mates either in other games, or from SL, just as much as RL (which may have merged by then), well...and you can then account for the feeling that SL has in places of being a kind of MMORPG Old Boys' Network for game devs -- being as it is the cutting/bleeding edge of all game devness. Maybe this is a good thing...game devs and prospective have to go somewhere to peddle their wares at a job fair and why not have 3-D resume game-like spaces for this?

So while you can now shed the impression that WoW is "the new golf" where bright young wannabee game devs can try to rub elbows with LL execs -- "none have been hired based on encounters in MMORPGs" -- what you *are* telling us is that they are hired on the basis of encounters and referrals in the grandest MMORPG of them all, the un-MMORPG, the game of Second Life. The truly cool know that even slumming in WoW is not going to get them the coolest job in the coolest place -- and what they really need to be doing is making at least a Basic and going to Prim University.

Well, this is how it looks to me. But as one of your recent hires said to me once on the SLH, "Geez, Prok, you must not be a game dev." Indeed.

Posted Oct 28, 2005 10:30:04 AM | link

Kami Harbinger says:

These class divisions are not worrying at all, this is absolutely normal, and almost a tautology given a moment's thought about the situation.

The basic requirements to enter Second Life, World of Warcraft, or any other high-end virtual world are: a reasonably good computer (a $2000+ computer if you want to play without lag), broadband Internet access (almost requiring you to be in the central area of a major metropolis, which has a high cost of living), spare time and energy (a job that doesn't totally exhaust you by the end of the day), and sufficient education to find it interesting at all (the majority are college-educated).

So that's about 1% of the population of Earth. Even in the U.S., that's still no more than 10% of the population. They're only available to the richest, most-connected, best-educated 100M people on the planet (as noted by Neal Stephenson in Snow Crash about advertising on The Street).

Obviously any activity that requires these things will be "elitist", and people will socialize with others of their own class and schmooze for jobs and relationships with others of their kind. It's not some giant class conspiracy or clique, it's people getting the best entertainment they can afford and enjoy.

When the lower classes have time and money to play videogames at all, they play sports games, action games, and first-person shooters on consoles and 4-year-old computers (the upper classes play those, too, but they have additional choices made possible by higher income).

Posted Oct 29, 2005 4:44:16 PM | link

Elle Pollack says:

Prok, you're not wrong on this point: SL is host to many RL game devs and game dev wannabees like me. (From what I've seen from the WoW players at my school, for athat mater, an epidemic proportion of them spend too much time playing the game and too little time on their schoolwork. Definately not what I'd want to be noticed for.) I know a handfull of them personaly, a coupple are from illustrious A-list places like Bethshida (the Elder Scrolls series) and Rockstar (but not Rockstar San Diego, birthplace of Grand Theft Auto). One of my newer friends in my Applied Game Theroy class works for DarkLife. Not only are the creation tools good practice for working on "the real thing" (hell, even community management or building/coding in a text-based world qualifies there) or for those already well-practiced, working on fun diversion projects outside their normal work, there's the (still very under-utilized) potential for networking. If there's one thing half my teachers and so many pros keep harping on, it's that the game industry is very big on "who you know" and who knows your name/your work.

So of course LL is tapping into some of this: Hell, asside from the monitary prizes, the first prize in the video trailer contest was a chance to intern at Linden Lab. There's also the in-world recruiting center in Waterhead, and they even sponsored a well known SL musician to have a concert there.

That doesn't make SL "the new golf" in and of itself though...more like "the new bar", which is a rather different kind of gathering place. (I'll point out that none of the people I've been talking about actualy run with the main "FIC" crowd.) But getting back to the point of Thomas' post, there is a social distinction, widely prevalant in SL, that might lead to the sort of thing Thomas is talking about.

It's not rich vs. poor or olbies vs. newbies, and is not quite FIC (which I sitll maintain is mostly cliqeishness) - It's those who are geeks and those who are not.

Geeks acquire large amounts of "intelectual capital" (which, if you're someone like Bill Gakes, can turn into monitary capital, but not always). They may not be the most socialy adept people outside their fellow geeks but tend to be more eloquent typists and more knowledgeable in the ways of their craft than They tend to resent "the masses" and mass culture for a number of reasons, whether it's their AOL-speak, their oft-inability to grasp even the most basic technical concepts ("I can't find the 'any' key on my keyboard!") or their oft-unwillingless to learn otherwise ("It's broken, do your magic and fix it for me, now!"). Varients of the slogan "people are stupid" are frequently found in their vocabulary. They tend to be early adopters of bleeding-edge technology (such as SL) and tend to practie meritocraty, especialy in computer skills but increasingly in art fields as well. Many geeks are gamers, but not all gamers are geeks, which is why WoW would make a poor "golf"; it's too massive for a geek haven.

Perhaps most imporantly, the many many geeks either are or were shunned in some way or form, or at least precieve themselves as under-respected, by the "popular" people in real life. So like most socal outcasts, they band togeather and decale "to hell with them" (this is how calling a geek a "prom queen" *cough* becomes a deadly insult). However, they aren't all so devoid of the social tendacies they hate as they'd like to think, and are still subject to the Wizard's First Rule: people are stupid. Especaily people in large groups.

Bear in mind: I'm a geek in every sense of the word.

Posted Oct 29, 2005 5:00:49 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Kami, actually, you might want to update your impressions. I deal with hundreds of SL customers every week who are my tenants. There are vast numbers of people coming in SL who are *not* elites but average joes. They have a hugely steep learning curve dealing with the mechanics of this high-end game-type client but they usually learn enough to navigate around it in a few days.

That is, they may have a $2000 computer and a DSL line, but that's more and more the norm for the middle and even ambitious lower class as these costs go down in the US -- i.e. DSL is now $37 a month on some deals, and that $2000 computer is often on sale for $1400.

Maybe they are elite compared to the rest of the world, but in the world of SL, what I mean by "the elites" are the professional computer programers and graphic artists who are highly skilled at game deving itself -- not the average player who logs on and buys land and puts out a prefab.

Elle, yes, I know about the recruiting center and the way that Lindens are deployed to DJ for concerts with a well-known singer and all the rest. This is one of the things various lobbying groups are protesting when they ask the Lindens to come up with some sense of ethics and a code of conduct whereby they will not be seen as playing favourites with certain elite parts of the population, helping them to get traffic to their properties, helping them to develop scripting or building or educational programs, but rather to work more at making equal opportunities available to all.

Currently, the way it works is this kind of quiet networking where you "have to be in the know" to land yourself a position in something like the coveted Wells Fargo build and the vendors on that private island. Before everyone winds up to tell me "well geez life is like that," I'll point out that quite a few posters here expressed the wistful idea that they hoped these new virtual worlds would NOT be like that, with special limited-access clubs for the techno-elite.

But all you had to do was read "Snowcrash" to see that the concept of the techno-elite was hardwired right into the Metaverse notion itself. All those grey avatars that have to log on at public terminals, and all those avatars that only can afford the standard Ken and Barbie skins unlike our hero Hero, who has the nifty Japanese outfit and crossed swords on his back.

What this very thread is about is whether "golf" is the right term (Jessica called it the new "polo" which might really be more accurate). Golf, after all, is very suburban, and has this middle-blow flavor to it really when you think of its role as a social-climbing institution. Do the really wealthy actually play golf these days or do they go to the races or skiing in Aspen or??? You tell me, I dunno.

SL's world of private islands, some invisible on the map and closed to all but a few on a carefully screened list does have the potential of becoming the modern country club or closed enclave of the new elite in the virtual worlds. And it is already becoming that.

I understand all about geeks. Their resentment of the masses needs a big pushback, however, from masses who aren't as stupid as you might think, who are educated in places, and who are resentful, too. The masses now increasingly become adept at operating their computers and resent having things deliberately complexified just to keep a class of people employed at higher wages. It's like car repairmen -- that same feeling of being duped. I don't have to understand combustion theory or be able to build a car to drive one, and the same increasingly goes for computers -- they mystery is long since gone. More and more, large numbers of so-called elite computer people are just garage mechanics, and their intellectual level matches the stereotypical mechanic in the sense that they may have mastered various complex rote strings of things to do, and may be creative mechanical problem-solvers, but they aren't great thinkers or readers and have no ability to do conceptual thinking about all the larger issues surrounding their technology. So their arrogance is misplaced.

If you scroll back and read my original post here, my point about WoW is that I agree with other posters that as a massive game with hoards of "the unwashed masses" in it from all over the world, it makes for a poor "golf" -- unless you posit that the millions of WoW players who have Internet and computers are an elite in world terms compared to the billions that don't have those things.

But the whole way that WoW could become a kind of golf for elite master game devs and academics was because of the arch, deliberately removed, deliberately urbane and ironizing stance that these academics and game devs take toward it. Go back to the introduction to Thomas Mallaby and how the poster describes how they said "die you man pig" etc. -- it's all delivered with a high sense of camp. That's why for me, WoW is akin to going to the Korean karaoke bar if you're a white guy -- it's fun, it becomes an uber-cool thing to do, precisely because it's a mass culture *for someone else but not for you* -- so when you participate in this mass culture, you transpose it into the new key of your new uber elitehood.


Posted Oct 29, 2005 6:59:59 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Re: "So like most socal outcasts, they band togeather and decale "to hell with them" (this is how calling a geek a "prom queen" *cough* becomes a deadly insult). However, they aren't all so devoid of the social tendacies they hate as they'd like to think, and are still subject to the Wizard's First Rule: people are stupid. Especaily people in large groups."

Wizards are stupid, because they skill, skill, skill, level up, level up, level up -- then they plateau. They are inflexible and they remain as a brake on progress to others. They also fail to see that about themselves.

The already very elite world of SL (in the sense of computer/Internet capacity) has its own rings of elites -- and this is also considerably eroding as the world gets bigger at a breakneck speed. This is the best thing for it because the real Metaverse as distinct from the quaint imagining of it in Snowcrash many moons ago won't be managed and ruled by static elites but will constantly morph and grow and adapt. Think of all those empires like the Roman, Ottoman, Soviet empires with all their fantastic building and scripting projects. They had long runs...but then they fail. In the same way, the uber-architects and scripterati of the virtual worlds are going to be in a very speeded up state where their elitehood is overthrown very fast by the next guys, so that arrogance, elitism, and the closed society -- which used to be required to sustain the massive building and scripting enterprises of those mammoth RL empires like the Roman and Soviet empires, will run counter to evolution in the virtual empires. They won't last as long, thank God, and it will be easier to break them up, thank God, and they will morph and change faster and adapt, thank God.

As for geeks-turned-prom queens, I'm reminded of the Russian peasant who heard the strange Latin-root word "revolution" for the first time in 1917, and wondered whether the word meant "when the pig turns over to the other side."

Posted Oct 29, 2005 7:09:35 PM | link

Elle Pollack says:

Actualy, Wizard's First Rule refers to the fantasy novel of the same name, and the acutal rule is "People will believe what they wish or fear to be true" - "People are stupid" is the quick and dirty paraphrasing of it. Evil wizards explot that fact to their own, power-mongering ends.

As to other connotations of the term "wizard"...well, you'd have to meet a particular friend of mine (outside of SL) who's no stranger to running virtual worlds. He's also a gadfly.

Posted Oct 29, 2005 8:13:04 PM | link

Kami Harbinger says:

The thing with geeks in virtual worlds is, they will always be the elite among the elite. It's innately hard to think about breaking a process into small steps, then translating those steps into a programming language, so most people will never be able to write software, even the simplest scripting. It doesn't matter how simple you make the language, it's the semantics, not the syntax, that is hard. 3D modelling is only marginally easier; without at least a trigonometry education, you're reduced to manually jamming square blocks in round holes.

Nor will geeks be driven into obsolescence in time; the fundamental trait required for being a geek is fast learning and the ability to overthrow everything you know and learn something new. I am, of course, a software engineer. My co-workers range from kids in their 20s to guys in their 60s who started on punch cards. Some of the most innovative software still comes from "old-timers", because they keep learning new stuff and applying their experience to it. Geeks are fundamentally more adaptable than non-geeks, because that's what makes them geeks. Empires ruled by prom queens and other mere socialites can rise and fall, but the engineers are always there, staying out of the line of fire and continuing to draw paychecks from someone.

So, yes, the Metaverse will always be ruled by the technological priest-kings, and therefore it will inevitably be one of the best places for up-and-coming technological elite to find friends and employment.

Posted Oct 31, 2005 4:46:25 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

No, the Metaverse will *not* be ruled soley by technological priest-kings, any more than Europe is still ruled by religious popes and priests and pope-blessed kings, because technology alone, like religion alone, is not enough to make up a society and a world. Many other kinds of knowledges and intelligences are required.

Far from being the flexible creatures you imagine, geeks are actually rather rigid and comformist in their group-think, starting with the notion that they must rule LOL -- especially the prom-queen geeks. Computer programming and computer graphics art are rote skills that people can master or not master, but mastering them doesn't automatically qualify them for rule over other human beings who may not have the time or inclination to master these same rote skills.

I don't see anything innately hard about breaking a process down literally into lots of small steps; what may be a greater skill is looking at lots of steps and lots of processes and conceptualizing about them in more overarching and meaningful ways. Garage mechanics may have been a very big deal when cars first appeared and needed repair in the last century. Now they aren't such a big deal as cars work better and people learn to do simple maintenance and repair themselves, or they at least acquire a taste for consumer advocacy against gouging and fraudulent car repair shops.

Computer shops -- and the games they generate -- are no different.

The first thing that geeks need to overthrow and reject about what think they know is that they automatically qualify to rule, rule without any accountability, or rule alone in the Metaverse without any other types of people with other types of skills.

Posted Oct 31, 2005 5:15:45 PM | link

C. Neff says:

What a shame to have such a thought provoking article with well thought out follow-up comments derailed.

I wish I had found this article earlier, before someone turned it into yet another personal issue bashfest.

Good job Prokofy Neva, you've successfully killed the thread by driving out the folks who wanted to talk about the actual topic.

You would do well to take Thomas' advice and exercise a bit of restraint when it comes to the zingers and character attacks. It makes it hard to take you seriously. Naming names doesn't help to that end either. This was about WoW being the new golf, not your preoccupation with this Cristiano fellow or whoever else you're personally outraged by.

Posted Oct 31, 2005 7:37:21 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

I didn't derail anything, C.Neff, whoever you are, I got to the heart of the matter, as did Kami Harbinger. The new golf is about the new elites and their watering-holes, and these new elites for our virtual world aren't doctors or lawyers or bankers, but game devs and tekkies and prospective game devs who rule games and therefore rule virtual worlds.

As I already noted to Thomas, the bit about the Korean bar isn't a zinger or a put-down, but just a report about how the Ludiumni adopt an arch urbane attitude toward mass-culture venues that aren't in fact part of their own mass-culture. This is an anthropological fact of life, not a zinger. There's no judgement attached to it. I'm thinking you may be one of Cristiano's amen chorus from the SL forums, but the fact is, there's no put-down of Cristiano implied by noting that he went off to play WoW. Lots of people do, and enjoy it. It's mass entertainment, but someone who is more thoughtful like a Cristiano, when he goes off to play it almost in rebellion from Second Job, is an interesting anthropological phenomenon. That's all.

I think we've established that WoW isn't exactly the new golf, but only becomes a new golf for those Ludiumni who adopt an arch and urbane attitude toward it, as the academics and game devs do when taking on this milieu which, as I said, is mass entertainment, but not their own mass entertainment since they believe themselves to be if not above, at least to the side of the masses.

Far from killing this thread, I've helped to crystalize some of these virtual realities wonderfully, and I've teased out this vitally important anthropological data from Cory Linden that 1/3 -- maybe even 2/3 -- of their employees (their game devs) come from the residents of Second Life. We've now established where the new golf *really is* for the game dev fast track. I think this was a public service, and I'm thinking at least 2 if not 200 of the thousands of folks pouring into the SL welcome areas now are would-be game devs looking for Lindens to snuggle up to : )

I'm hoping that Thomas will come back and assess where the thread is, because I don't believe it to be dead at all, and I do maintain that in exploring and analyzing these virtual worlds, it is not only traditionally-credentialled academics and game devs who are relevant, but those like myself who live and work in them and take a lot of field notes and ask a lot of questions.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 12:10:43 AM | link

C. Neff says:

You've done your best to take control of the thread by attempting to turn it towards the subject of your obsession. The one you said you weren't going to "waste your time on" anymore.

The only thing you've crystallized is that you don't need me to point out what a single-minded hatemonger you are, you are doing a fine job of that on your own.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 1:14:51 AM | link

lewy says:

Hmm, frankly I don't think Prokofy Neva is some kind of "hatemonger". What exactly is he saying that's so awful?

The stuff about the Korean karaoke bar is, in a way, strangely relevant. The reasons behind why Westerners go to karaoke bars is completely different from the reasons Asians go to karaoke bars. Similarly, trolling for job contacts in WoW is doable precisely because WoW is not a mainstream activity in the U.S. Instead it's something which appeals to the geeky types who make games. If VW gaming was a mainstream activity there'd be far too many people in the game to make scoping out job contacts a useful activity.

On the other hand, in Korea pretty much everybody plays LAN games, including the "lower classes". The barriers to entry (a $2000 PC, DSL, etc.) are much lower because the preferred venue for gaming is the PC cafe.

So, is WoW the new golf? If it is it's largely restricted to one industry in one part of the world. The rule of the technological priest kings in the "metaverse" apparently still obeys national boundaries.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 1:57:50 AM | link

C.Neff says:

lewy,

I am not sure if you know the history of Prokofy in Second Life. In case you're not familiar, allow me to offer some background information. He was banned from the SL forums for constantly forcing nearly every thread he entered into a discussion of his animosity for the 'FIC'. Linden Lab called it 'persistant trolling'. I see he is doing it here now, and also on The SL Herald. This discussion was not about Cristiano Midnight or Eboni Khan, two of the many persons who are subjected to the brunt of Prokofy's hate campaign against people he considers geeks. Geeks who he says are akin to 'Bolsheviks' and the 'KGB'. Of course, Prokofy may say, 'but they are 'FIC', over in WoW, schmoozing for a job.' I happen to know they aren't. They are there because they like to play it, and to escape SL for a while, as it can become drudgery at times. Better to channel that boredom into things like EQ2, and CoH (which they also play), than to get burned out on Second Life altogether. Yet Prokofy constantly shoots barbs at them for playing WoW. He was doing this long before this 'revelation' that WoW is being used as a VW golf course by some, and I am unsure why.

To address your question, "What exactly is he saying that's so awful?", Nothing that bad in the context of this discussion as a stand alone, and I wasn't even commenting on the Karoake bar comment in actuality. I was alluding to his having dragged people not participating in the conversation into the discussion by name, people he routinely takes jabs at in several different venues. I think it's wrong. When combined with his anti-'FIC' campaigns in SL and on SLH, he is, simply put, trying to incite a class war. He has been trying to do this for over a year now.

On Karaoke - I was married to a Korean for many years, and I have been going to Karoake bars for twenty plus years. I have to disagree that the reasons they go are really that much different than the reasons non-asians go. I suppose one could say that because many of the regular customers there are Korean, they therefore share a sense of community. However, the larger commonalities include, singing, drinking, and socializing, not to mention, I know many non-asian regulars, I am one. My point is, that while a case can be made that non-asians are casual tourists, everyone is really there to have fun and socialize.

On WoW becoming the new golf, I am in agreemement with most of what you've said on the matter, with one caveat, I don't think that the national boundaries are strictly obeyed, and that these boundaries are going to continue to erode rather quickly. There are many non-Americans participating in VWs now, and that number is increasing exponentially as we speak.

I personally see nothing wrong with the practice of using WoW as a 'golf course'. There are many industries in which similiar things take place, it's really not a revelation.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see an actual VW golf course emerge - or cigar bars and the like. : )

Posted Nov 1, 2005 4:16:03 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

lewy and other readers, I'm not sure if you're aware of the tactics of the vicious SL forums, where people often use alts and nicknames and you cannot be sure who is talking, and they vigorously push a group-think and a conformity that is absolutely staggering, drawing from the worst aspects of elitist IT culture. I know who is speaking here, as it happens, and he's just a long-time stalker with a zealous agenda.

It's good to be here in Terra Nova in the world of more clear-thinking and open-minded academe, such as it is, because the hideous tactics of the SL forums, and the cramped MMORPG culture and game-company censorship tactics, can't prevail here. Fortunately reasoned argumentation, logic, common sense, and investigative journalism as well as methods such as peer review can prevail in this sort of situation.

That is, Thomas Mallaby can deliver his reprimand to me about where he thinks my post "slips," or Cory Linden can deliver his smackdown and tell me I'm "incorrect," but I can then make reasoned and deliberative counterarguments to their points, without having a hundred people push a little red triangle on the board and tell moderators that I must be banned because they don't like my dissent against their ideas. That's the difference between a blog like this and the SL (or other game forums). Academics and game devs may be discomfited at inworlders from virtual worlds coming on their blog and raising the ugly head of this or that highly controversial topic, but they cannot exist in their rarified air forever -- and of course they always have the option to close their blog or blog all the posters they don't like -- which is a major difficulty in trying to keep societies open and accountable on the Internet.

I realize that blinking in the harsh glare of this more real-world light, some SL forum denizens might lose their way and think their tendentious methods are going to pass. I should hope they would not.

In a game company's forums, it is all too easy to be branded with this quaint, curious and backward little MMORPG-culture term called "troll". A "troll" is actually just someone who persistently brings reasonable argumentation against the hideous group-think that can form on these incestuous and vermin-infested game forums.

There's no "hate campaign" here but merely a debate of clashing ideas, the ideas of the open society versus the closed society. No need to hysterically portray this as "the KGB" or "the conspiracy" when I do no such thing -- it's just a debate in which one side calls for accountability, transparency, fair application of the TOS, and democracy, and the other side calls for secrecy, punitive policies, police-state style informants, and impunity for the favoured. Go read the SL forums, you'll get the idea.

I don't incite a class war, I report on it and comment on it. The class war exists. There are those who would like to pretend it doesn't to keep the happy little trees being painted in the corner in the walled garden. It's there. As for "dragging in" people or naming names, these are avatars, who are all public figures, with public positions, and nothing libelous or injurious has even been said about them, it has been merely stated that they went to play WoW after being leading lights in the SL economy for many a moon. It's an interesting anthropological and sociological issue to study.

There's no "constantly shooting barbs" at anyone for playing WoW -- I bought a copy of WoW to play myself. This is the kind of hysterical over-amplification of some one- or two-time point that is characteristic of the FIC on the SL forums, where people who still purport to direct the flow of discourse, who still try to manage people's perceptions and experiences, are themselves in fact pretty burned out about the world now, and off playing WoW. They should just let the new blood flow in and quit trying to cling to power and privilege.

I would tend to agree that Westerners and Koreans go to karaoke bars with different cultural associations and customs. It may only be about singing and so on in the end, but there is a different siting of the ritual within the culture.

National boundaries may erode, but this will bring clashes of civilization closer, and create more friction on some of the basic differences in norms and habits -- everything from attitudes toward commerce, toward selling new or used goods, toward selflessness and the community, towards individual merit and excellence, toward land ownership, toward loyalty and the common good, and the need for independence -- these values are constantly clashing within a context like SL, and there is a constant papering over of this reality and an unwillingness to recognize that one tiny cultish point of view on these matters cannot prevail.

I'm hoping that more and more cultural anthropologists and sociologists will come into SL and study these issues, and not in some narrow way, as is often done, where a parachuting academic accepts a prefabricated group that the Lindens give him to study, or hooks up with a couple people that seem like himself. I really think far more thorough-going study of the classes, cults, rituals, traditions, etc. forming in these virtual worlds must be done. I rarely see any real investigative inside-out work on the real nature.

In fact, the reason the Second Life Herald has played such an important role in discovering and chronicling these worlds is because they've been willing to throw aside the RL rituals and prescriptions of objectivity and have mixed it up in world, making the news as much as covering it sometimes. I'm among those who have been critical of this method, but given the really closed nature of these VW societies, worthy of comparison with the closed communist societies, and given the very tight-lipped postures of the game companies about how they make decisions and run things, this sort of method has had to be used.

I still think a lot more critical study cold be organized, however, by just using basic anthropological and sociological inventoring and interviewing techniques.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 5:55:52 AM | link

lewy says:

"To address your question, "What exactly is he saying that's so awful?", Nothing that bad in the context of this discussion as a stand alone, and I wasn't even commenting on the Karoake bar comment in actuality. I was alluding to his having dragged people not participating in the conversation into the discussion by name, people he routinely takes jabs at in several different venues. I think it's wrong. When combined with his anti-'FIC' campaigns in SL and on SLH, he is, simply put, trying to incite a class war. He has been trying to do this for over a year now."

Obviously I can't comment on whatever other posts he may have made, but I wouldn't characterize anything he's said here as particularly imflammatory.

"On Karaoke - I was married to a Korean for many years, and I have been going to Karoake bars for twenty plus years. I have to disagree that the reasons they go are really that much different than the reasons non-asians go. I suppose one could say that because many of the regular customers there are Korean, they therefore share a sense of community. However, the larger commonalities include, singing, drinking, and socializing, not to mention, I know many non-asian regulars, I am one. My point is, that while a case can be made that non-asians are casual tourists, everyone is really there to have fun and socialize."

The trick is that fun and socialization are expressed differently for different cultures. For instance, if a bunch of Westerners go to a karaoke bar if one of them chooses not to sing (because of shyness, or whatever) it's generally not a big deal. On the other hand, if it's Koreans and somebody refuses to sing it's a problem. Furthermore consider the form karaoke takes in the two hemispheres. In the United States the majority of karaoke venues have you performing on stage in front of the entire bar. In Asia the majority of karaoke businesses are "box" style, where a group of friends rents a private room.

"On WoW becoming the new golf, I am in agreemement with most of what you've said on the matter, with one caveat, I don't think that the national boundaries are strictly obeyed, and that these boundaries are going to continue to erode rather quickly. There are many non-Americans participating in VWs now, and that number is increasing exponentially as we speak."

Actually the vast majority of VW gamers are non-Americans, and it's probably a safe bet that Asia will be the center of VW world development in the future. The thing is that most likely those Asian gamers will not be playing the same games as their American counterparts because each society will choose to play games which are culturally resonant for them. That segregation seems to me to reinforce national boundaries, if anything.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 5:59:40 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

lewy and other readers, I'm not sure if you're aware of the tactics of the vicious SL forums, where people often use alts and nicknames and you cannot be sure who is talking, and they vigorously push a group-think and a conformity that is absolutely staggering, drawing from the worst aspects of elitist IT culture. I know who is speaking here, as it happens, and he's just a long-time stalker with a zealous agenda.

It's good to be here in Terra Nova in the world of more clear-thinking and open-minded academe, such as it is, because the hideous tactics of the SL forums, and the cramped MMORPG culture and game-company censorship tactics, can't prevail here. Fortunately reasoned argumentation, logic, common sense, and investigative journalism as well as methods such as peer review can prevail in this sort of situation.

That is, Thomas Mallaby can deliver his reprimand to me about where he thinks my post "slips," or Cory Linden can deliver his smackdown and tell me I'm "incorrect," but I can then make reasoned and deliberative counterarguments to their points, without having a hundred people push a little red triangle on the board and tell moderators that I must be banned because they don't like my dissent against their ideas. That's the difference between a blog like this and the SL (or other game forums). Academics and game devs may be discomfited at inworlders from virtual worlds coming on their blog and raising the ugly head of this or that highly controversial topic, but they cannot exist in their rarified air forever -- and of course they always have the option to close their blog or blog all the posters they don't like -- which is a major difficulty in trying to keep societies open and accountable on the Internet.

I realize that blinking in the harsh glare of this more real-world light, some SL forum denizens might lose their way and think their tendentious methods are going to pass. I should hope they would not.

In a game company's forums, it is all too easy to be branded with this quaint, curious and backward little MMORPG-culture term called "troll". A "troll" is actually just someone who persistently brings reasonable argumentation against the hideous group-think that can form on these incestuous and vermin-infested game forums.

There's no "hate campaign" here but merely a debate of clashing ideas, the ideas of the open society versus the closed society. No need to hysterically portray this as "the KGB" or "the conspiracy" when I do no such thing -- it's just a debate in which one side calls for accountability, transparency, fair application of the TOS, and democracy, and the other side calls for secrecy, punitive policies, police-state style informants, and impunity for the favoured. Go read the SL forums, you'll get the idea.

I don't incite a class war, I report on it and comment on it. The class war exists. There are those who would like to pretend it doesn't to keep the happy little trees being painted in the corner in the walled garden. It's there. As for "dragging in" people or naming names, these are avatars, who are all public figures, with public positions, and nothing libelous or injurious has even been said about them, it has been merely stated that they went to play WoW after being leading lights in the SL economy for many a moon. It's an interesting anthropological and sociological issue to study.

There's no "constantly shooting barbs" at anyone for playing WoW -- I bought a copy of WoW to play myself. This is the kind of hysterical over-amplification of some one- or two-time point that is characteristic of the FIC on the SL forums, where people who still purport to direct the flow of discourse, who still try to manage people's perceptions and experiences, are themselves in fact pretty burned out about the world now, and off playing WoW. They should just let the new blood flow in and quit trying to cling to power and privilege.

I would tend to agree that Westerners and Koreans go to karaoke bars with different cultural associations and customs. It may only be about singing and so on in the end, but there is a different siting of the ritual within the culture.

National boundaries may erode, but this will bring clashes of civilization closer, and create more friction on some of the basic differences in norms and habits -- everything from attitudes toward commerce, toward selling new or used goods, toward selflessness and the community, towards individual merit and excellence, toward land ownership, toward loyalty and the common good, and the need for independence -- these values are constantly clashing within a context like SL, and there is a constant papering over of this reality and an unwillingness to recognize that one tiny cultish point of view on these matters cannot prevail.

I'm hoping that more and more cultural anthropologists and sociologists will come into SL and study these issues, and not in some narrow way, as is often done, where a parachuting academic accepts a prefabricated group that the Lindens give him to study, or hooks up with a couple people that seem like himself. I really think far more thorough-going study of the classes, cults, rituals, traditions, etc. forming in these virtual worlds must be done. I rarely see any real investigative inside-out work on the real nature.

In fact, the reason the Second Life Herald has played such an important role in discovering and chronicling these worlds is because they've been willing to throw aside the RL rituals and prescriptions of objectivity and have mixed it up in world, making the news as much as covering it sometimes. I'm among those who have been critical of this method, but given the really closed nature of these VW societies, worthy of comparison with the closed communist societies, and given the very tight-lipped postures of the game companies about how they make decisions and run things, this sort of method has had to be used.

I still think a lot more critical study cold be organized, however, by just using basic anthropological and sociological inventoring and interviewing techniques.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 11:07:38 AM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

[Sigh]

This thread has become a thicket of differing points of view, some agreeing more than they purport to, but more problematically for me it has veered from the general to the particular; i.e., to the case of SL, on one hand, and to the idea that WoW (and only WoW) is/will be the site for exclusionary practice (the "golf" meme).

I have two problems with this. First, in my original post I was hoping to prompt all of us to think more broadly, beyond the ken of most of us who spend time in VWs, where even though the stakes seem high because we are so close to it (and don't mistake me--there are stakes), and because we sense their potential, in fact the stakes are not (yet) high in the grand scheme of things (that is, from a macro-societal/historical point of view). I hoped that we would think about what might happen when experience of VWs is a commonplace and, perhaps, they become the sites for exclusionary practices by those with a lot of resources (power) to exclude. This conversation did happen, initially, and there were a lot of great thoughts--in fact, I'm not sure it could have gone much farther, but in any case, the turn to the here and now was a shift of topic.

My second problem with how the conversation moved to the particular, however, is one of information. As Prokofy stated, we need more information about these worlds, more research, more anthropology and sociology (always nice to hear that). That is exactly right. We need more methodologically rigorous work that is designed to overcome the enormous challenges of doing qualitative research online. Here is the problem: we do not have it yet (some early and important exceptions aside). This is not just because the worlds are so young, but also because many of these methodological issues seem intractable. What does this mean for our discussion? It means that moving to the particular (something we anthropologists, at least, like to do) in the absence of good research (in the forms of data and analysis) creates a vacuum for any kind of charged issue where people have something at stake.

In that vacuum, not surprisingly, speculation, anecdotalism, personal invective, and conspiracy theories reign.

This is not to say that we cannot talk about particular cases like SL or WoW, but, as always, we need to be aware, constantly, of how much we do not know, and resist the temptation to point to isolated moments, events, experiences, or individuals as if they were reason enough to support our opinions.

P.S. to Prokofy: First, in the hope of avoiding the replication of a small error, please spell my last name correctly. Second, I object to the characterization that I delivered a 'reprimand' to you. It was delivered in a context and style that, I hope, would make it hard to characterize as anything other than collegial feedback.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 11:10:18 AM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Prokofy Neva wrote:

and I've teased out this vitally important anthropological data from Cory Linden that 1/3 -- maybe even 2/3 -- of their employees (their game devs) come from the residents of Second Life.

I'd imagine this isn't that uncommon for smaller virtual worlds. Nine of our 10 full-time folk started as players in our games.

--matt

Posted Nov 1, 2005 12:43:42 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Sorry for the name mispell, Thomas Malaby, it's burned in to me now.

And I didn't at all take your comment as a reprimand, and I did think I could rebut it fairly easly; mainly it was a scholar's marker put down in a game with a non-scholar. I referred to it as a "reprimand" merely because another poster took it as such. As I noted, C. Neff not only interpreted it in this fashion, but sought to amplify it, scanning the horizon for the signal-tower in this blog, that would indicate where the "group-think" had to go: "You would do well to take Thomas' advice and exercise a bit of restraint when it comes to the zingers and character attacks," he said reproachfully (when there were no such admonition, and no such character attacks involved at all).

You say: "resist the temptation to point to isolated moments, events, experiences, or individuals as if they were reason enough to support our opinions."

First, you may reject my description of someone's class or father and their relationship to golf, but you haven't brought forth a shred of evidence to indicate that there isn't anything but this social reality here: that many of the people in this discussion have an ironic, if not a bit condescending attitude toward real-life golf; that this underlying substrate of sentiment informs their perception of the golf-like capacity of a virtual world; that they are not real golfers, and golfing is something their old man -- or at least old men they knew -- did in suburbia in the 50s or 70s.

What, I'm wrong about this?

I'd have to reject the premise that anecodotes and other "isolated moments, events, experiences" are irrelevant when it comes to an informal blog/discussion group, where you are putting up notes, experiences, reactions, thoughts and trying to spark debate, further thought, and also indicate where further research is needed. Indeed, most of the posts here fall into that category of an isolated experience -- what, you believe this "Onion" story is an across-the-board reality for every chance user of the presidential seal, or you believe that the Onion itself is in big trouble now and won't be able to handily point to First Amendment law to get out of this one, or you believe that the post was anything but a little social-bonding ritual to let all us urbane and witty folks know that we're to hate Bush and to find his latest antics hilarious? Somebody even said it was an off-topic post and I manfully endeavored to put it back on topic -- a stretch, I admit.

You can't make every post a rigorously researched and peer-reviewed scholarly publication. If you abandon this very useful and free method by prudishly referring it to a "temptation" as if it is not "rigorous enough," you are blocking off all avenues for taking in and examining impressions about these very fast-moving, ephemeral, and hard-to-understand worlds. Again, I cite the methodology of the Herald, which while scandalous, has served this purpose.

Scroll back to posts of more than a year ago, and you'll actually find me and other denizens of TSO crying "foul" about Urizenus Sklar and the Alphaville Herald trying to claim that cyber-prostitution was anything but an utterly phony and fictionalized game epi-phenomenon. And yet because the game *could* be used in this way and no doubt *was* (though the actual facts weren't ever really gathered and presented), that was enough to stand the gaming and blog world on its ear, and even result in a book deal. Such is the power of the anecdote, the chance experience and impression in a game!

You agree, as any of us would, that more research is needed: "In that vacuum, not surprisingly, speculation, anecdotalism, personal invective, and conspiracy theories reign." Well, so? These are games. These are virtual worlds. These are normal and natural phenomena *themselves* worthy of study precisely because they are so easily replicated and amplified in this virtual soup.

I would think you are somewhat at a disadvantage, possibly requiring not only excessive permissions and controls on research in these private clubs that are virtual worlds, but also not being able even to tell if you are interviewing the same person or 10 of their alts. And I would think the anthropologist's problem of the researcher affecting and influencing the population he is studying while in the obvious act of researching would amplify in virtual worlds.

Try to see where we are now: before we started, the person who introduced you was engaging in a bit of playful male-ritual-style game-bonding by referring to cherished WoW moments; you were then taking a more serious excursis on the "golf" of WoW. Perhaps you were hoping to promote a further sense of game-bonding as a newcomer to this blog -- perhaps this entire episode is a little blog-entry ritual of its own worthy of sociological study LOL.

The point is, you didn't think what you'd get out of it was the admission of one top game company executive that 1/3-2/3 of his employees come from the ranks of his own game (erm I mean monetarizing socializing platform thinger), and another even tells us 9/10 of his full-time employers are gamers. Here's your headline: "Gaming the Game: the People Who Rule Virtual Worlds".

How did this revelation come about? By an inworlder with field notes pressing the point that there's something "up" with these virtual worlds -- something about the way they are made and run that isn't just about their residents/players and what they wish, even when they have very great participation. That "something" is that there is a kind of great game -- the players or residents enter the world, and level up to become the managers of the world. This dynamic, this social reality of the virtual world, has some serious ramifications that are unlike real life, with its many diverse checks and balances against such a closed system. Many might think this isn't "news" and is "obvious," but I submit people haven't even begun to think of the ramifications of this social reality.

Some enterprising sociologist could even do a study of game companies, their employees drawn from the ranks of the highest-skilled wizards or impressive architects and programs, and discuss how this reality has heavily shaped the nature of these worlds and made them the closed bastions of IT culture that they are.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 3:22:18 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

This is my last post on this thread.

It is so hard not to get upset about your subtle mischaracterizations, Prokofy. In the spirit of open and collective inquiry, please have a care not to twist my statements. For example:

it was a scholar's marker put down in a game with a non-scholar

This is not a rebuttal at all, merely a characterization meant to serve an implicit status-based argument; it is a rebuttal only if we accept your interpretation of the act tout court. The problem is, we know empirically that just such a comment could just as well happen between peers in an atmosphere of mutual and open-minded conversation. So in addition to its attribution of intent to me, this characterization is empirically disengenuous.

you haven't brought forth a shred of evidence to indicate that there isn't anything but this social reality here

Of course I haven't, that is the point of my last post. Just because we do not have enough good research about this issue as it currently stands does not mean that your (or anyone's) interpretation holds as the standard until we learn otherwise. Hence, I was trying to make a plea for humility on everyone's part.

I'd have to reject the premise that anecodotes and other "isolated moments, events, experiences" are irrelevant ... You can't make every post a rigorously researched and peer-reviewed scholarly publication. If you abandon this very useful and free method by prudishly referring it to a "temptation" as if it is not "rigorous enough," you are blocking off all avenues for taking in and examining impressions about these very fast-moving, ephemeral, and hard-to-understand worlds.

Of course I didn't say that they were "irrelevant," and I certainly did not recommend "abandoning" it! If they were irrelevant, we wouldn't be able to say anything, or hope to accomplish anything, here at all (beyond the bonding rituals themselves, of course). At best, what we can accomplish here is the generation of well-considered questions--again, see my point above.

I would think you are somewhat at a disadvantage, possibly requiring not only excessive permissions and controls on research in these private clubs that are virtual worlds, but also not being able even to tell if you are interviewing the same person or 10 of their alts. And I would think the anthropologist's problem of the researcher affecting and influencing the population he is studying while in the obvious act of researching would amplify in virtual worlds.

I am not going to get into a discussion about research methodology here, as this thread has gone on long enough, but I again note your unfounded attribution of an atttitude toward in-world research to me that I do not hold, and that none of my posts to this date suggest I hold. The methodological problems are real, but not insurmountable, given time.

Try to see where we are now: before we started, the person who introduced you was engaging in a bit of playful male-ritual-style game-bonding by referring to cherished WoW moments; you were then taking a more serious excursis on the "golf" of WoW. Perhaps you were hoping to promote a further sense of game-bonding as a newcomer to this blog -- perhaps this entire episode is a little blog-entry ritual of its own worthy of sociological study LOL.

You feel free to engage in offhand suppositions about my interests and intents here, but I refuse to respond in kind. If you hadn't yet noticed, Prokofy, I mostly agree with you, but I am coming to the conclusion that you are either (a) only rhetorically comfortable in an antagonist position relative to your interlocutor or (b) convinced that only your read of the world is correct, and you are just waiting for all of us to come around. Neither is conducive to the advancing of our collective understanding. To put it another way: Is any consensus--that departs from your own--to you necessarily an example of "group-think" (to use your term)?

Some enterprising sociologist could even do a study of game companies, their employees drawn from the ranks of the highest-skilled wizards or impressive architects and programs, and discuss how this reality has heavily shaped the nature of these worlds and made them the closed bastions of IT culture that they are.

Sure, someone could, but it would be best if that researcher began with questions, rather than a conclusion. It is also possible that such research might mean missing the deeper (and, in a "Theses on Feuerbach" sense, more critical) issue, which is how the making of these worlds by these people reflects the contradictions at the very foundations of modernity between authority, control, contingency, and creativity. I prefer to go after the big catch.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 5:28:54 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Re "This is my last post on this thread."

Thomas, that sort of muscling of an end to a thread is not the sort of action I'd expect from someone really interested in open debate, as you seem to be. I'm going to assume you're just tired of the topic, and not trying to close off debate -- but rhetorically, I'll have to treat it as an effort to end a debate that you've found now has made you annoyed and uncomfortable because we're now dealing with someone like me who is willing to keep going and challenging the game companies that fund a lot of the scholarly conferences that take place each year to discuss these ideas.

It's the sort of thing someone credentialled (and given due and proper recognition) can do to someone who is non-credentialed.

Re: "It is so hard not to get upset about your subtle mischaracterizations, Prokofy. In the spirit of open and collective inquiry, please have a care not to twist my statements. For example"

Are they mischaracterizations or home truths?
If I list a perception in good faith, is that a twisting? Or is this an insufficient medium for dialogue?

Re: "it was a scholar's marker put down in a game with a non-scholar
This is not a rebuttal at all, merely a characterization meant to serve an implicit status-based argument; it is a rebuttal only if we accept your interpretation of the act tout court."

I'm well aware that you might reject the interpertation of the act, but I believe it is indeed a marker when it comes to this blog. It's a blog staffed by academics and game devs, where only they have the power to post. The rest of us are cast in subservient roles of commenting -- blogging on their blogs. It's a very distinct power game, and what you must give due recognition to. On my blog, for example, I let anyone post, even all the silly alts. That's why it is considered a "low-grade" and not "high-grade" blog because of that lack of filtering capacity.

Re: "The problem is, we know empirically that just such a comment could just as well happen between peers in an atmosphere of mutual and open-minded conversation. So in addition to its attribution of intent to me, this characterization is empirically disengenuous."

Hardly, because we are not peers, in a situation where you have posting privileges, and I do not. The "playing field" starts out so uneven, the cards so stacked, as to selection of topic and even decision to end threads (!) that you can't possibly be serious in attributing some notion of equality of poster and commenter here. Your comment to me -- read my some if not many as an admonition -- has picked up speed. It's not about equality, it's about your belief that your form of discourse is more legitimate (scholarly), and mine is less legitimate (biased). Yet you're engaging in the fiction that we might be equals, and I've cast it out of the equation entirely and realistically.

"you haven't brought forth a shred of evidence to indicate that there isn't anything but this social reality here"

Prof. Malaby? Who has the posting privileges here? And who merely comments? I appreciate your gesture of good faith. I appreciate the rebuttals of lewy to someone posting in bad faith. It's all good. But at the end of the day, who is essentially closing the thread by saying, "I'm done"?

Re: "Just because we do not have enough good research about this issue as it currently stands does not mean that your (or anyone's) interpretation holds as the standard until we learn otherwise. Hence, I was trying to make a plea for humility on everyone's part.

Yes, I think this is a good call. I'm all for humility. "Humility is endless". I'm holding out for legitimacy of my perception, not hegemony of my perception. We're in a non-humility set-up from the get-go, of course, with a blog where some-are-more-equal-than-others. In fact, we all take that for granted as a given, to give us the quality and credentialling that people want in a good blog. Still, it's good to zoom out and take a look at it some time, as a possible obstacle to seeing certain realities and truths.

Re: "I'd have to reject..."
Of course I didn't say that they were "irrelevant," and I certainly did not recommend "abandoning" it!

No, but you pushed in that direction, and lessened that value of that sort of expression and discourse.

Re: "If they were irrelevant, we wouldn't be able to say anything, or hope to accomplish anything, here at all (beyond the bonding rituals themselves, of course)! See, again, my point above."

I'm glad you recognize this!

Re: "I am not going to get into a discussion about research methodology here, as this thread has gone on long enough, but I again note your unfounded attribution of an atttitude toward in-world research to me that I do not hold, and that none of my posts to this date suggest I hold. The methodological problems are real, but not insurmountable, given time."

Note that *you decide* a thread is "done" because you are the poster and the credentialled one. But what if...what if...you were wrong? What recourse would we had? We'd have to hope that another credentialled being might come to the rescue -- but in the hurly-burly of blogs and virtual worlds, that might never happen.

My point about inworld experience and field notes not really being acceptable isn't some jab or slight against you personally, and you ought not to take it as such. If you even reply to me, that denotes a certain accpetance of inworld experentiality. My comment was a more generic comment about the denigration of the entire player experience and expression as basically lurching from "forum trolling" to "fanfic". It's a certain attitude by the Ludiumni (the academics and the game devs) that these objects of their study -- the gamers and players -- are a little bit to be ironized upon if not scorned. If game devs and academics are themselves gamerz, it's only with the kind of arch and urbane humourous style we've already discussed here with the whole "golf" thing. My plea is for you to take the inworld experience of gamers and residents, and their field notes, as part of the stream of information you need to consider, that's all. I don't make a false claim to exceptional authenticity with this sort of reporting and commentary, but I do think it's an important bridge between the out-of-touch game devs (just higher skilled-up payer after skilled-up player in their guild of game devs), and the academics, who seem to me to be possibly insecure in this very bleeding edge, cross-disciplinary, and possibly insufficiently funded (or dependently-funded) field. That's all. Don't take my plea for legitimacy as a bid to delegitimize your proper field of study and your credentials. They have their place. I submit they are insufficient for understanding these worlds.

Re: "You feel free to engage in offhand suppositions about my interests and intents here, but I refuse to respond in kind. If you hadn't yet noticed, Prokofy, I mostly agree with you,"

For the life of me, I don't see any offhand suppositions here. The record shows that a) somebody introduced you with game-bonding b) you responded with a serious riff which I pointed out *may* have been it's own kind of bonding. Seems to me you could take delight in this, rather than possible insult. Yes, I saw that in the first round of posts you were mainly agreeing, but yet you couldn't help delivering the little sword slash, hmmm?

Re: "but I am coming to the conclusion that you are either (a) only rhetorically comfortable in an antagonist position relative to your interlocutor or (b) convinced that only your read of the world is correct, and you are just waiting for all of us to come around.

Hardly. No need to mistake persistence in getting at the truth for needing to be in a perma-antagonist role. I'm still waiting to hear if anybody's old man plays golf. My old man played golf, but it was hard for him to learn it and I don't think he enjoyed it very much. Lots of people I know had dads who played golf. I never played golf and can't imagine playing anything but mini-golf. I play a mean game of mini-golf. So, anyone? Do YOU play RL golf? What is your attitude toward it? That's all.

I don't at all have any conviction that my reading of the world is correct. Rather, I have an intense curiosity that wishes to check my impressions with the facts. Here we've had these two game devs tell us that game world management is just made up of skilled up players -- wizards. I find that disconcerting. But maybe I shouldn't? You began concerned about closed-off enclaves and country clubs -- and we share these same concerns. Don't you wonder if the game deve world itself is the country club, Thomas?

Re: "Neither is conducive to the advancing of our collective understanding. To put it another way: Is any consensus--that departs from your own--to you necessarily an example of "group-think" (to use your term)?"

No, of course not, but I'm coming from the experience of the group-think "the Group is Its Own Worst Enemy" sort of justification of witch-hunting on the very vicious SL forums. This is a specialized case. If there's a consensus here, it's a more liberal one to be sure. And I would hope you wouldn't close off inquiry and the curiosity needed to examine these difficult issues in these very ephemeral phenomena called virtual worlds.

Re: "Sure, someone could, but it would be best if that researcher began with questions, rather than a conclusion.

Journalists often begin and end with a conclusion, a researcher can only depart from one for further research. This is just a mixing of genres. The SLH, for example, has understood what the 1/3 bit means. It will be the talk of the town. Over here, you think it still needs rigorous study. Some enterprising game dev may chew on this and think, hmm, the least we could do is cross-pollinate more with other games, and go and play "golf" more in WoW.

Re: "It is also possible that such research might mean missing the deeper (and, in a "Theses on Feuerbach" sense, more critical) issue, which is how the making of these worlds by these people reflects the contradictions at the very foundations of modernity between authority, control, contingency, and creativity. I prefer to go after the big catch."

Oh, we're definitely fishing for these big topics in this thread, Thomas, and we can do it without dreding up Marxist theses from the 1800s. I trust you realize this. I believe we're equals in this enterprise. But here's the social reality: you've delivered the smackdown by basically posing the question that I must be characterized as a) a perpetual antagonist, or b) a rigid conformist waiting for people to come around (no evidence of this *whatsoever*), and that whatever my original "equality" (in the unequal setting where only some are posters and the rest are commenters), it's been deprecated, and now I'm in an essentially closed thread, where the OP refuses to engage on any of the big-fish issues.

Say, do you know Jeska Linden?

Anyway, this is why a smart and thoughtful person like me and others don't come here to post -- or are fearful to post -- because they can get the bum's rush from the country club all too easily.

This is my last post!

Posted Nov 1, 2005 6:41:44 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Okay, it's not my last post...But I said that it was of course because I was tired of the thread, not because I wanted to "close off debate." (And I mentioned further on that the thread had gone on too long. Do we think that every post and its comments are an hermetically-sealed totality, without any life in further conversation? You "have to assume" that I was tired of the thread, which means it couldn't have been too inobvious, but yet you proceed with a statement that rereads the act in a way that suits your argument.

In any case, I hope our common ground is not entirely lost on you, Prokofy, and I'd like to think that this is a step on the way to the big catch.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 7:35:55 PM | link

Cristiano Diaz says:

I just wanted to say thanks for how many times my name appears in these comments (albeit with my assumed Midnight SL surname). It makes me feel all elite and whatnot.

On the topic at hand, I am curious about this statement, Thomas:

Perhaps, then, we worry because there is a legitimate concern that VWs, once they become truly taken-for-granted by the (non-poor) public at large, will be sites for all the ugly aspects of society that we find all-too familiar.

Do you think it is possible to transcend and minimize the ugly aspects of society when ultimately, that society is simply existing in another form in a VW? There is the same humanity there, though the issues and the driving forces that cause conflict may be different. You still have human nature to contend with, regardless of the realm.

Posted Nov 1, 2005 7:43:57 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Well, I certainly don't believe that we should expect VWs to be immune from the emergence of human foibles, but there are plenty of people who tend to treat them as either utopian or harmless. In retrospect, I might have closed the post a bit differently, as this suggests a tone of surprise that I didn't intend.

That said, while the technological determinist view that technology will change everything can strike us, in the context of this discussion, as quite naive, the social constructionist view, at the other end, that society simply replicates itself online without any transformation, should also strike us as inadequate. So the question becomes empirical and specific: In what ways and to what extent do specific technologies in specific places make the reproduction of social difference possible, construe it in new ways, or transcend it?

Posted Nov 1, 2005 8:16:16 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

"On that day in 1945, technology finally let us know, for sure, that we could use it to destroy ourselves. Could it be that the darkness of that first explosion suggests in the same breath the opposite: that technology might also be able to save us? I hope so."

http://secondlife.blogs.com/philip/2005/10/dr_atomic.html#more

"Creator Fascism or Sandboxers vs. Settlers:
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2005/08/index.html

"The Core is Our Own Worst Enemy"
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2005/09/index.html

"Fair Play"
http://secondthoughts.typepad.com/second_thoughts/2005/09/index.html

Posted Nov 2, 2005 12:44:59 AM | link

Tony Gore says:

doubt that there will ever be the "elite VW's" of which you are thinking. Part of what gives something prestiege is that outsiders know about it, and part of the enjoyment of such a thing is knowing that other people know it.
Currency Trading Market

Posted Oct 21, 2006 7:00:10 AM | link