We once discussed how the inside of a virtual world can often be unfathonable to those on the outside (ref. Stranger in a Strange Land). Most virtual worlds we know are centered upon clusters of friends in a sea of strangers with whom we have little connection except through abstract filters - such as markets or gauzy toons with strange (and forgettable) names beholden to some tribal (and flimsy) narrative (e.g. alliance-vs-horde, etc.) . Are our experiences in virtual worlds diminished by a lack of signficant interactions with strangers?
In my household we still play Animal Crossing - I less so than my children. However, when I do play it seems like a great deal of barking goes on about who has or has not been maintaining the village grounds adequately - e.g. it lacks flowers, is filled with litter and weeds. Were we strangers the appeals would be to civic responsibility. Were we strangers...
Mark Wallace pointed to an essay by Grant McCracken (How Virtual Worlds Discovered Dynamism) that makes an excellent point about the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network (VATSIM) folks. They are, to my understanding, a dedicated bunch who play online a detailed flight-sim/air-traffic-control-sim involving signficiant training and commitment to their virtual world. The point made by Grant is this one (emphasis mine):
...VATSIM case, interaction take place between perfect strangers. My game can be changed by behaviors you "throw off" in your game without really thinking about what they might mean to me. Flying into Albuquerque, I may "crash" because it just so happens that you, the controller, are inexperienced, tired, distracted, or wrestling with your sister for control of the family computer. The controller is not (or need not be) concerned with what my flight simulation experience is going to be. No, he is just doing what he does, and whatever this is will sometimes have important implications for my game play...
In the VATSIM world we are led to believe that you must rely upon the duty-mindedness of your fellow players, strangers apparently bonded by a society purpose: keep the air-traffic network up. Contrast this with the more familiar MMOG pattern where players engage primarily through varying shades of alone or with friends.
Beyond the self-absorbtion that results from self-selecting societies - is it also true that the familiar MMOG pattern leads us to a place where self-absorbtion becomes the societal ethic?
Are strangers, deeply engaged, necessary to a world - without them can worlds at best be just a game, gussied up?