June 2006 | Main Page | August 2006

A more "intimate" E3?

I apparently missed the speculation over the weekend, but today various news outlets confirmed that the E3 we know and love/hate is no more-- the trade show atmosphere will be gone from any future shows, and the remaining event (whatever it may be) will focus on "press events and small meetings between media, retail and development."

You could call E3 a virtual world in its own right-- wandering among the booth babes, bands, and flashing lights, it definitely feels like something not of this earth. A place where people wear outlandish costumes, and engage in activities they might not normally try in other places. Some say they hate it, yet keep going back, addict-like.

But what does this mean for virtual worlds? I'd be hard-pressed to say that I thought it mattered much at all. I'm sure the gaming press will continue to be well or over-informed about new and expanding MMOs, and publishers will keep trying to sell MMOs and cut their various deals. Maybe it *is* time for E3 to end, or transition into something else. But I'm sure glad I got to see one in the "old style" before that happened.

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James on Julian

TN author promotes friend-of-the-show interviewing other TN author shock!

In The Second Life of Julian Dibbell, Wagner James Au interviews TN Author (who also gets time to write a few books you might have heard of) Julian Dibbell about his latest work: Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot.

Virtual worlds, gold farmers, words like ‘ludocentric’ - it’s all there. Enjoy.

Comments (1)

Yum Yum, Pie!

Bright colors, new MMO market share numbers, and an excuse to say the word "pie"?  Heck, who could resist this friendly pie chart from MMOGchart.com?

Now WoW, don't be greedy.  Leave some for the rest of us.

-Via Kotaku, via Wonderland, via Sex in Games.

Comments (11)


Tim O'Reilly cites a recent Wall Street Journal article (syndicated ref  here) naming commercial services that offer lessons from "professional gamers" for 15-65$/hr.

Tim points out that the surface lessons may seem pedestrian (especially to TN readers):

A.  computer games are now important enough to warrant pay-for-training;

B.  kids are probably the most qualified to teach someone about Halo 2, say.

He instead emphasizes their exhibit of remote instruction as noteworthy (C.) :

...through an Internet phone strapped over his head, snapped commands at Mr. Estalote back in New York. Mr. Estalote, a computer programmer, pays Mr. Taylor $45 an hour for help improving his "Halo 2" skills.

The services cited in the WSJ piece emphasize FPS/RTS computer games - perhaps the skill-emphasized nature of play in these games is best served by such training.  Or perhaps players of these games are more willing to pay (competitive, ladder oriented) than are others. 

Yes it may be hard to see how this type of  instruction transfers into current MMORPG world patterns without turning to the gray side - e.g. power-leveling.   But that is likely an outcome of how places like WoW are designed (Throttbot pwns! instruction).

Perhaps someday Sherpas for (virtual world) mountineering will offer services worthy of 15-65$/hr.

Comments (5)

Infinite Mind Moving to SL

Wanted to pass along an announcement about the national public radio program, Infinite Mind, and its plans to move its operations into Second Life (permanently, apparently).

The Infinite Mind launches in 3-D cyberspace

John Hockenberry hosts live broadcast featuring Kurt Vonnegut, Suzanne Vega, Howard Rheingold

Cambridge, MA – The Infinite Mind, public radio’s most honored and most listened-to health and science show, is opening a virtual world headquarters and broadcast facility in the 3-D virtual world Second Life. “This represents an unprecedented leap forward for broadcasting into virtual reality and 3-D on-line communities,” said Bill Lichtenstein, president of the Peabody Award-winning media company Lichtenstein Creative Media, which produces The Infinite Mind. “This first step ‘through the looking glass’ into the virtual world, will allow The Infinite Mind, through its on-line facilities located on an expansive virtual complex, the opportunity to reach a vast new global audience.” Visitors will be able to listen to audio and video, attend live mixed reality events, and participate in interactive community education and outreach. The one-hour weekly public radio program explores the art and science of the human mind, brain and behavior. The Infinite Mind is the first regularly scheduled national media broadcast to establish an ongoing presence within 3-D web space.

(Full disclosure: I was asked by the Infinite Mind folks to be interviewed for a program about virtual worlds leading up to the launch of their sim and its accompanying broadcasts. I was impressed by their un-MSM approach to what virtual worlds are and can be. Information about where to find their broadcasts in meatspace can be found here.)

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Review of Carnagey, Anderson, and Bushman

Review of "The Effect of Videogame Violence on Physiological Desensitization to Real-World Violence," by Nicholas L. Carnagey,  Craig A. Anderson, and Brad J. Bushman, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2006.  Many thanks to Andy Havens for sending us this link.

The authors present the result of an experiment in which 257 college students played video games and then were exposed to films of real-world violence. Heart rate (HR) and skin conductance (sweat; SC) were measured. These unconscious measures are accepted as valid indicators of arousal. In the main experimental condition, subjects were separated into two groups, one that played a violent video game and one that player a non-violent video game. HRs and SCs were measured before the experiment, after video game play, and after films of real-world violence. The data indicate that for those who played nonviolent video games, arousal rose during video game play, and again during the violent films. Those who played violent video games experienced an increase in arousal during the video games, and a decrease during the violent films. The authors argue that these patterns are significant, and indicate that those who play violent video games become desensitized to violence.

While the experiment appears to have been competently conducted, the statistical treatments that lead the authors to conclusions of significant desensitization collectively constitute a veritable handbook of quantitative error and deception. This review can only select some of the more egregious failures. Unfortunately, the abysmal quantitative skills evidenced here are in fact all too common in this literature and most of its close relatives. Entire disciplines seem to believe that they are discovering things, when it seems to this reviewer that they are making up their discoveries as they go along.

In particular, the primary failings one sees again and again in this literature are:

1. Failure to honestly and fully report data
2. Failure to distinguish statistical from substantive significance
3. Failure to develop statistics relevant to prior theory
4. Failure to draw careful and appropriate policy inferences

The Carnagey et. al heart rate data will be used as examples of each failing.

1. The authors do not fully and honestly report their heart rate data. Six small numbers are all that's necessary: the authors should simply tell the reader what they found. What were the average heart rates for people who played violent or non-violent games, at the three times in the experiment? They bury four of these numbers in parenthesized text on page 5, but some digging reveals: Heart rate before game play, 66.4 beats per minute (bpm) and 65.5 bpm for violent and non-violent games; and heart rate after game play but before film, 69.3 and 68.4. The authors do not report heart rate after the film, which of course is the most important set of numbers. Instead, the reader is referred to a figure (p. 5). As best one can tell, heart rate after the film looks like about 70.5 for the non-violents, and about 68.5 for the violents. Thus, the data are

Before experiment, after game, after film:
Violent:                66.4    69.3    68.5
Non-Violent:     65.5    68.4    70.5

It would also be necessary for the reader to see the measured standard deviations of the respondent heart rates across the respondent sample. Otherwise, it is impossible to tell whether these variations in heart rate averages are substantively significant (see below). Absent these data from Carnagey et al., we have to rely on outside data. It turns out that average heart rates at rest for human beings run between 65 and 70 beats per minute. A range of 50-100 is normal (source; source).

Instead of these numbers, the authors report their HR data using a single figure, indeed one that makes use of one of the most frequently denounced practices of statistical charlatans: the vertical axis is not grounded at zero. The range of HR values in the figure runs from 60 to 75 bpm - the entire range falls within the normal range for a human heart. On such a graph, of course, the numbers reported above do look like significantly different numbers. But it is a deception of significant magnitude, well worthy of an 'F' in an introductory econometrics course.

2. The authors cannot distinguish (or do not understand) the difference between statistical and substantive significance. An overview of similar follies can be found here. The idea is simply this: a long time ago, statisticians invented a certain kind of test for the relationship between the mean of a variable and its variance. They called the test a "test of statistical significance." If the mean turned out to be bigger than its standard deviation, they said that the mean was "statistically significant." In one of the most unfortunate linguistic twists imagineable, generations of quantitatively clumsy followers have morphed this notion into a general test of whether a variable is large or not. It's unfortunate becuase statistical significance is just an artifact of the data, it can never tell us whether a number matters or not. In fact, any statistic will become statistically significant if the sample is large enough; as the sample gets larger, the variance around the mean gets smaller, and presto! statistical significance. But theoretical questions don't change on the basis of whether the data set is big or small. The classic story is of an animal husbandry scholar who found that the length of hair on the left side of a sheep's back is statistically significantly longer than on the right side. Of course, he had data from thousands and thousands of sheep. Even a tiny difference in average length - 0.0001 inches - would become statistically significant if you measured hair on a million sheep. Yet the test of substantive significance - "is this a meaningful difference in hair length or not?" is absolutely independent of sample size. And substantive significance is all we should care about (see item 4 below).

Nonetheless, the bugbear of statistical significance is loose among poorly-grounded fields, among which one must now, on the basis of their acceptance of this paper, sorrowfully include experimental social psychology. It is common among bad statisticians to

a) Drop the word 'statistical' when referring to the significance of a finding
b) Report only statistical significance tests, not substantive significance tests
c) Report all statistically significant findings and ignore all statisticall insignificant ones

Carnagey et al. commit at least one of these three of these errors in every paragraph of their results discussion, and they frequently commit all three. Almost all of their statistical discussion is devoted to F-tests, which are statistical significance tests. On page 5 they assert, for example, that the difference in HR from game to film was "large" for both groups, inserting a parenthetical F-test result as their only support for that assertion. Large. The reader may judge: is the difference in HR of 69.3 to 68.5 bpm "large" by any standard of substantive significance? This reviewer does not think so, especially given the understanding that individuals may have HRs between 50 and 100 bpm and still be considered normal.

To report statistical significance tests as tests of substantive significance is more shamefully deceptive than the simple graph cheat identified in (1), but it is of the same color.

3. The authors fail to develop these statistics within the context of a sound theory. Carnagey et al. do spend a long time talking about theory, but interesting things start to happen once they apply their theories to the data. In their "Preliminary Analyses" on page 4, the authors describe what they call "significant" and "insignificant" modifiers to the study's results. One might theorize, for example, that prior exposure to video games might affect how HR responds. Or, perhaps being male or female might matter. Family background might make a difference. Since this is a random-assignment study, it's unlikely that these effects will be important. Still, the authors were careful to do a post-hoc assessment of the data along these kinds of lines. Where their practices turn shady, however, is when they conclude from "insignificance" of difference that a given variable can be completely dropped from the study. It probably does not need saying that the standard of significance here is statistical significance, and therefore this practice is to use the old statistical significance bugbear to substantively alter what is considered theoretically important, prior to the construction of the study's primary statistics. The proper procedure is to complete all theoretical reasoning prior to data manipulation. If theory suggests that a variable such as sex matters, it should be included in the entire analysis. The correct protocol for studying any effect is to embed it in a regression analysis so that its effect can be isolated while holding the effects of other variables constant. Again random-assignment is one way to do what regression is supposed to be doing, namely, to hold other factors at bay. But it is even better to do what Carnagey et al. apparently do, which is to approach the post-experimental data using regression as well. The bad practice comes in dropping entire variables from the analysis simply because some aspect of them was statistically insignificant at a prior step. If theory dictates that they matter, they should be in the final regression. To exclude them for some reason related to an ad hoc statistical significance test is another  terribly bad practice; very likely, the inclusion of all theoretically-relevant variables in the analysis would make the HR differences reported even smaller.

4. The authors do not draw careful and appropriate policy inferences. The policy issue in this line of research is whether violent video games are so bad for us that our use of them should be controlled, either by governments, our loved ones, or ourselves. Carnagey et al. reveal themselves to be utterly insensate to this question. Rather, they conclude that any measurement of desensitization, so long as it passes a statistical significance test, is worthy of public notice. Returning to the heart rate data: playing a violent video game reduces heart rate when viewing subsequent violent content by two bpms. This indicates something about arousal. One can debate whether it is "significant". Let us assume it is. Does this arousal effect indicate a significant amount of desensitization to violence in the real world? Carnagey et al. apparently believe so, judging from the title of their paper. Should individuals therefore decrease their exposure to this content? That is indeed the implicit message running through this paper. That conclusion is far from being warranted, however. The true policy issue is this: would a significant decrease in exposure to violent video games lead to a significant decrease in real-world violence? The statistics in this paper do not support such a conclusion.

Indeed, because of its ham-handed and deceptive treatment of data, this paper probably should not have been published.

Comments (29)

Synthetic Worlds Initiative

Just  a quick announcement of the launch of the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at Indiana University. The SWI will conduct research and foster community around the study of synthetic worlds. It will also build them (more on that soon). For more information, see swi.indiana.edu .

Comments (2)

Cyber Erotica and the Disappearing Arts

Faced with the question, “And what do you do for fun?”, very few of us would think to answer, “Oh, I write erotica.”  But as online you-and-me’s engaging in text-based cybersex--heck, even text-based flirtying–that’s just what we’re doing. 

Of course, most of us probably wouldn’t admit to our internet exploits at cocktail parties anyways (Can you say conversation starter?), but the point remains: When we use text to get each other off, we’re really working together to create a collaboratively-authored story: a form of art, however bad.

So why don’t we think of our sex chat as art?  Because it’s fleeting, in purpose and meaning. Because it disappears.

And I mean that (more of less) literally. Unless you keep cut-and-paste records of your day-to-day chat, that text–be it the hottest cyber sex you’ve ever had, or a totally inane conversation about mustard–is gone.

Needless to say, plenty of people approach disposable text with as little artfulness as they might approach disposable panties.  Which is to say, none.  “Start bring my and down just put against your pussy but no rubbing.  Then I jump little as I fell our hand going up and down crack.”  This is an excerpt from research sex with a native English speaker in Second Life.  As one more gal who goes weak in the knees for good writing, I have to say: for shame.

Still, it’s one of those a chicken-and-the-egg dilemmas: Did sex chat become throw-away because it’s thoughtless (as in, more often than not, there seems to be no thought involved), or did it become thoughtless because of it’s throw-away medium?  If we had to write all our smut down on paper, would it be more dear?

But back to the idea of a disappearing art: Cybersex certainly isn’t the only type.  Any art “act”–like the performance of a song, or of a play–is itself fleeting.  But at the same time some element of it–a musical score, or a script–sticks around for posterity, for a continuation of the art.  What exactly is left behind after the performance of erotica (a.k.a. cybersex)?  Or is it’s artistic charm in the fact that is really does disappear?  After all, after reading enough bad sex transcripts like the one above, you might give up on the idea that sex chat is even art to start with.

Besides, if text-based cyber sex is a collaborative story, couldn’t you, in theory, perform your own solo show?  A singularly existential act of disappearing art–or just, you know, cyber wanking.

For writing junkies used to the written word, the internet can be a land of mixed messages: writing, writing everywhere, but nowhere secured by the weight of the page...

Comments (21)

36 Hours

Physicsweb.org recently reported of A-L Barabasi's work involving a Hungarian news website:

The researchers found that the overall half-life distribution [of a news document] follows a power law, which indicates that most news items have a very short lifetime, although a few continue to be accessed well beyond this period. The average half-life of a news item is just 36 hours...

Were you invested in the content of a news story - don't take it personally.   "[The average half-life...] do(es) not depend on content, but are manly (sic) determined by a user's visiting and browsing patterns."

Consider another content source.   Many guilds have policies about when to give "inactives" the boot.   Guild leader "how tos" often sternly warn of carefully managing the dead wood (bad for morale, apparently).

What is the half-life of an inactive guild member in an MMOG? 


Ref.   Clive Thompson's post - excellent discussion.

Comments (11)

Size Zounts

A fascinating research paper by Tan et al. (March 2006, ACM, [1.] )  suggests large computer displays assist users engage the virtual spatial world more effectively.  Specifically:

(i)n this article we present four experiments comparing the performance of users working on a large projected wall display to that of users working on a standard desktop monitor... Results from the first two experiments suggest that physically large displays... help users perform better on mental rotation tasks. We show through the experiments how these results may be attributed, at least in part, to large displays immersing users within the problem space and biasing them into using more efficient cognitive strategies.

Section 5 suggests that with users tend to engage in egocentric spatial tasking (first person perspective) more effectively with larger displays.  Taken to a limit, an all-surrounding display would seem - in a casual sense - more immersive (whatever 'immersive' means).  However, subtleties are important. 

Perhaps hinted is how our relationships with the virtual may be "non-linear" [fn1] in ways we may not yet fully appreciate.  For example, more pixels or fewer pixels may not be just better (or worse) but different.  Beyond Mori's over-cited (in this space) uncanny valley,  game designers and players understand that a cell-phone port of a 3D game world must end up as a completely different experience - a valley wider than the x10 difference in pixels that these displays would suggest.  In the geometries of these valleys live virtual worlds.


[1.]  Tan, D.S., Gergle, D., Scupelli, P., Pausch, R. (2006): Physically Large Displays Improve Performance on Spatial Tasks, In ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 13 (1), 71 - 99 .

fn1.  e.g. here - the transition from egocentric to exocentric (in population sense) as display shrinks.

Comments (9)

The R-word & Social Interaction

As an ethnomethodologist and conversation analyst, someone who scrutinizes the micro organization of talk-in-interaction through audio-visual recordings, what intrigues me most about virtual worlds is that they take face-to-face conversation as their communicative metaphor (many of them do anyway). Often when I play, I notice ways in which avatar and chat systems differ, in interactionally consequential ways, from the system of real-life face-to-face. And I ask myself, "Why did the designers do this?" "Was it too hard to follow real life?" "Were they going for a different effect?" "Or did they just not know enough about face-to-face as a system?"

Now whenever I propose that designers might benefit from following real-life, I inevitably get rebuked by some for using the R-word... realism. "You can't translate real-life into the virtual." "Virtual worlds are supposed to be fantastic, aren't they?" "Playability is more important than realism." "We can make the virtual world better than the real." It seems that realism has fallen out of style. So I'd like to step back for a moment and briefly examine what we mean by "realism" in art and media.

First, although "accuracy" may be important in training simulations, e.g., flight simulators, what matters in art and media is the appearance of accuracy. Richard Bartle (2004:320) suggests about depicting the flight of a virtual arrow, "this doesn't have to be done by applying Newton's Law to parabolic trajectories - it just has to look like it was done that way." The perception of realism can often be achieved through clever tricks for fooling the human mind into believing (see simulation vs. stagecraft).

Second, art and media can be believably realistic in many very different ways:

1. Narrative - Does the story seem plausible in real life? Story elements, such as settings, environments, events, characters, entities or behaviors, can be more or less realistic or fantastic. Contrast non-fiction with fiction with SciFi/fantasy with surrealism.

2. Visual representation - Do the people, places or things, no matter how fantastic, look and move like they could exist in the physical world? Gollum (2003) is fantastic in a narrative sense, but nonetheless he looks and moves (through motion capture) as if he were really walking side-by-side with Frodo and Sam (not 2D, stop-motion animated or made of clay). In contrast, Sully (2001) has a cartoony form, but his long fur moves as if blown by real wind (through sophisticated physics simulation). (See "cartoony" game art.)

3. Object interaction - Can you interact with objects like you can in real life? In Half Life 2, you can destroy countless wooden crates in realistic-looking ways by shooting them, but you can’t sit on them and lay out your weapons to examine them. In Second Life, objects are (slightly) more likely to enable you to interact with them in appropriate ways: sipping from a coffee cup, laying and fidgeting on a beach towel, sitting on most horizontal surfaces.

4. Social interaction - Can you interact with other people like you can in real life? On the one hand, the "public privacy" in MMOs is a fantastic feature that enables you to "talk behind someone’s back" while your avatars are standing face-to-face (through private chat). On the other hand, in EverQuest II, players can make "eye contact" in somewhat realistic ways by clicking on an avatar to (have your avatar) look at it, as well as by simply moving very close to it (through a clever "auto-glancing" trick). While the latter is mostly aesthetic, the former (when used) can be a useful resource for displaying one's focus of attention and indicating the recipient of one's utterance, as conversation analysis shows people do systematically in real life.  

So when we say that some art or media seem "realistic," we usually mean that only particular elements of them appear realistic while others may appear fantastic. It's always a mix. Given this, when might it be desirable to make certain elements of social interaction in virtual worlds realistic?

1. When the aesthetic style of the world is realistic (i.e., there should be consistency in the look and feel). For example, the overall look of EverQuest II is realistic. It has some realistic features in the social interaction system, such as "eye contact" and "auto-glancing," which nicely complement the visually realistic avatars who have believable anatomy, cast shadows, bounce light off of shiny armor, sway and blink just right. However, there is often an inconsistency when these same realistic-looking avatars stand silent and still like zombies for too long (as in most MMOs) while their players type long chat messages or perform other concealed activities. Ethnomethodology shows that people's ability to locally manage everyday social settings depends on the observable-reportable nature of each other's actions. When these actions are hidden by design in virtual worlds, it impacts players’ ability to achieve mutual intelligibility. So revealing them not only makes avatar interaction appear more realistic, it also makes interaction easier for players to manage.

2. When real life has a better solution to an interactional problem. The text chat in most MMOs does not easily enable tight coordination of actions between players because, at any given moment, you can't see if the other is in the process of saying something. As conversation analysis demonstrates, the ability to monitor utterances-in-progress is critical to enabling tight coordination in interaction. So when tight coordination really matters to players (e.g., in guild raids), what do they do? They abandon clunky text chat all together and switch to a real-time medium, voice (i.e., TeamSpeak). However, real-time turn construction can also be approximated with text by posting messages on a word-by-word as in There. In other words, public turn construction is better for tight social coordination than private turn construction.

3. When they translate well. The ability of real human bodies to navigate physical space and thereby to "approach" or "face" other human bodies, translates very nicely into virtual worlds. In contrast, peripheral vision and proprioception, which impact players' ability to know what their own and others' bodies are doing and therefore their ability to use gesture and facial expression, do not.

4. When you want skill transfer to real life. If the virtual world is being used to teach real-life communication and coordination skills through simulation (e.g., Forterra?), then it will require accurate simulation of certain key features of real-life conversation.

Face-to-face conversation is a technical system - like human anatomy, physical forces or optics - that is challenging to model in believable or accurate ways. Therefore, when realism in avatar interaction is desirable, the findings and methods of conversation analysis and other fields can have practical value for designers of virtual worlds (for more see "Doing Virtually Nothing: Awareness and Accountability in Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds"). 

So when do you think the R-word is appropriate in virtual world design? When is it not?

Comments (19)

Please Welcome Our New Ethnomethodological Overlords
(Or, Bob Moore Joins the Author Roll)

It’s official: An invasion force fielded by the Republic of Xerox PARC has established a beachhead on the shores of Terra Nova. To the three PARCers who had already infiltrated our author roll (Nicolas Ducheneaut, Eric Nickell, Nick Yee) a fourth now adds his name: Bob Moore, whose expertise in conversation analysis and other tricks of the ethnomethodological trade has long rounded out the intellectual arsenal of PARC’s PlayOn team of crack virtual-world watchers. Co-author, with Ducheneaut and Nickell, of the wave-making paper Doing Virtually Nothing: Awareness and Accountability in Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds, Moore has brought his mad social-analytic skillz to bear on an illustrious CV’s worth of workplace- and “third place”-oriented studies — and was of course the author of 1995’s cult hit "Dereification in Zen Buddhism," delivered at the annual meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society and now available only as a rare drop deep within World of Warcraft’s Dire Maul dungeon. Phear him if you must, but I, for one, welcome Bob Moore. Please join me.

Comments (8)

Your Identity or Mine?

Virtual world paradigms for managing identity are tethered to real lives.  So, for example,  subscribers with credit cards pay for accounts that correspond to characters with abilities that may evolve.  Beyond the impoverishment (or not) of the  avatar-as-metaphor, mapping a real identity into a virtual seems to generally work well from a user's perspective.   

However, from computer security comes ideas about a different way of thinking about identity.  Do these ideas have any translation into virtual worlds?

While a great deal of Mark Miller's Google TechTalk (7/12/2006, "Paradigm Regained: Abstraction Mechanisms for Access Control," video feed here) is beyond us, it is interesting because it illuminates a schism amongst computer security paradigms that is provocative.  The question starts with, should access to a system and its resources be identity based or authorization based? 

Simplistically, an identity based scheme might be to have Joe Public validate his identity (register/ password) and grant him privileges/roles based on a confirmation of his identity (to the limit of risk imposed by hacking, malware, etc).  An authorization based scheme instead might focus on managing Joe Public's actions:  what is he allowed to do it and when.  This sort of management sounds simple but is complicated in environments where a big permission (Joe can or can't...) is a composition of a lot of little changing permissions (Did Mary, Betty, Sam say Joe was allowed to...). 

In the end, however, were this debate extended beyond design and engineering practicalities (e.g. scalability) it would likely come to this.  Is it more important to worry about who you are verus what you are allowed to do?  On the surface this sounds enigmatic: what if who you are determines what you are allowed to do.  But there is a distinction:  if I am better able to control what you are able do, I may be less interested in who you are.  Or by way of an extreme example, if you can't trash my world, sure, I'll let you log in anonymously.

If this sounds a bit abstract consider this thought experiment.  The industry view towards aggregating and centralizing identity management might be given as such (as exemplified by Microsoft's identity metasystem, also ZDNet overview ):

Many of the problems on the Internet today, from phishing attacks to inconsistent user experiences, stem from the patchwork nature of digital identity solutions that software makers have built in the absence of a unifying and architected system of digital identity. An identity metasystem, as defined by the Laws of Identity, would supply a unifying fabric of digital identity, utilizing existing and future identity systems, providing interoperability between them, and enabling the creation of a consistent and straightforward user interface to them all.

We have discussed on Terra Nova security circumstances in virtual worlds that seem more dependent upon a player's access to functionality (see Hot Blooded Objects) than their virtual identity.  In the age of Web 2.0 and Virtual World UI add-ons and user-scripted content, is identity-based access a bottleneck waiting to happen?

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Time to Turn the MMO Inside Out?

Joystiq reports on a recent talk by Thomas Bidaux of NCsoft Europe at the Develop UK event where apparently it was revealed that 'everything we think know about MMOs is wrong'.  Mr. Bidaux  has a number of opinions about how MMOs are going to be revolutionized, turned on their heads even, via platform innovations (though anyone who played Everquest on the PS2 might be a bit skeptical that this is a positive move), Xbox Live style persistence in terms of player rankings and achievements, novel payment models, and yes, 'a lifestyle revolution' enabled by our experiments with Web 2.0, 'collective intelligence (e.g. Wikipedia) and viral content (e.g. MySpace)' that  'provide opportunites for community and collaborative efforts'.

Well, we like our trend watching here at TN...

The 'lifestyle revolution' is the one that intrigues me the most because I think it hints at something quite interesting, without having any tangible referents whatsoever.  But maybe what he means is that the whole basis for the MMO might change, based on our collective experiences with social software, collaboration and the like.

During my research trip to Asia last year, one trend emerged in Japan that struck me as quite striking:  the rather pervasive idea in the game development community of the MMO as a small subset of a larger community experience, rather than the game as the hub around which community grows.  Although I hadn't given it a great deal of thought till then, it struck me as very intuitive that a social network should be paramount, and that the way MMOs have developed elsewhere is actually quite counter-intuitive, encouraging the growth of communities with quite ephemeral characteristics, the pick-up group being symptomatic of a need that is otherwise  unfulfilled because of a lack of community-centrality outside of guild constructs.  One Japanese company, GaiaX , is creating a community platform that is basically MySpace on steroids, where users also have the option of inviting their friends into a variety of play activities, including MMOs.  Their management have developed this strategy from the ethos that connecting people, especially in Japanese culture (where connection is a really big problem), is of core importance; the activity that unites people is secondary, but it's the primacy of the social network that must be fostered.

Ever since I visited them and gave some thought to this approach, I've thought it strange that we give so little credence to the importance of the social network, whether it's been made explicit or not.  I have lost contact with countless in-game friends who jumped to another game and had no way to leave forwarding info.  And how many communities were lost when worlds like AC2 ended?  And what about the frustration when an in-game friend gets lost in the black box of another game that one hasn't subscribed to?

Author Steven Johnson, a guy who likes games but doesn't research games per se,  has even complained about the separation between the various virtual worlds. I heard a talk recently in which he suggested that we need, at the very least, an open communications standard between worlds, much in the same way that Compuserve, Prodigy and AOL once walled off their subscriber base only to be forced to open the gardens once open standards for e-mail like SMTP emerged.  City of Heroes/City of Villains, for instance, implemented a global chat function, allowing communication across characters and across shards, in an update last year.  This was rendered particularly necessary in that environment given the average CoX player's propensity for dozens of toons (really quite seductive given the range of customization  options that the developers apparently delight in enhancing).  Global chat in this case allows players to communicate one-to-one across servers and toons, or to join up to five global chat channels that allow for cross-server coordination.  So is this a trend?  Will we see developers opening up further and creating communication protocols that allow for cross-shard and cross-world communication?  Will SOE add that capability to their multi-game packages, then create Xbox Live type tools that allow one to manage friends globally? (Wait!  Do they already?)

If I might speak for him (and hope that he speaks up here), Jerry Paffendorf  is also passionate about this topic.  He made the excellent point in an earlier TN discussion about trends that the walling of virtual worlds will be increasingly unsatisfying, that a big part of the future will be "the ability to communicate externally to the MMOG or digital world you're in (IM, email, pics, social software, etc.)", also pointing out that Second Life users can already send e-mail or Snapzilla pics to the outside (ideas akin to, but well beyond /pizza) and that the Matrix Online allowed (allows?  has the Matrix imploded yet?) integration with AIM. And obviously, external tools like IM, Teamspeak, Ventrilo, Skype, etc. create community hubs that cross those boundaries, though I find it striking that players use those tools to circumvent a lack of in-game options that could otherwise allow them to create the sort of community dynamics they want. The problem, as I see it, is that few MMOs are designed for sociability first, and for gameplay second.  This is not to say that this approach, in terms of design, is even feasible, but I have found it striking how few developers can answer the question of how they think about sociability, or even recognize that this in an issue (Rich Vogel, who worked on SWG, was one of the few I've talked to who could).  Community features are often tacked on, as if in afterthought, when in an MMO environment, they should really be central.

And this is where I have to plug ethnographic  research methods.  How will we ever know how to design for sociability if we haven't spent time really understanding how the communities that do exist emerge, how do they self-manage, how do people self-organize?  (but this is probably another post, as this one is already getting much too long).

But let's say we do figure all that out.  What does the Metaverse look like in terms of technology architecture?  Is it, one big crazy behemoth, or like the Internet, are there actually a bunch of small metaverses that are not consistently navigated by the same people  (as in the English-language Internet vs. the Chinese-language version), but the basic architecture and open standard protocols allow for interoperability and communication to whatever degree desired?  And how will that be accomplished?  Will it take a total MMO platform?  And if so, are we then talking about skinnable worlds all based on the same architecture?  Perhaps the back-end of the Metaverse is the virtual world equivalent of Amazon's business services, spinning fully-branded user experiences off of one tightly-integrated, hugely interoperable back-end?  Heck, even Microsoft and Yahoo have recently merged their IM clients.  Are we on the cusp of becoming one big interoperable digital family?

Here's why I care about this.  I am so, so tired of rebuilding my social network in every new service, social software site, IM client, and game that comes along.  When is someone going to give me some persistence, allowing me to filter for levels of friendship/professional relationships, but maintaining one common repository of social network data from whence all these activities can emerge?  Of course, to play devil's advocate, leading with community can mean creating a sort of social echo chamber.   But there must be ways to introduce serendipity into the system.

But all you people know way more than me... I just like to ask the questions.  Can the MMO be turned inside out, even if only in a few limited ways?

Comments (16)

RMT Faces Taxes and Regulation in Korea

Correspondent Unggi Yoon reports that Korean government agencies are considering a crackdown on RMT. There's a theoretical case that RMT is essentially a pollution effect, hence a market failure, hence regulable. That case is presented here. Unggi's report is within.   The last chapter of Julian's book is relevant as well.

Unggi Yoon:

"Nowadays, Korean IRS is seriously considering the matters of levingy taxes on RMT(especially on Workshop) &


a Korean prosecutor who is in charge of anti-cybercrime division in Supreme Prosecutors's Office stated that the act of RMT is the violation of korean criminal code §314(Do not distrub other's business/service), so the traders should be punished and games shoue be kept as game.


i wonder the two approches can be compatible simultaneously, even though they have same objective.



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WTS Custom Designed Doubloons PST

I was idly browsing for some information about Pirates of the Burning Sea the other day, and ran across this bit of information about how Flying Lab Software is looking to integrate the internet meme du jour, "user-created content", with a traditional MMOG design. Here's what they say:

Player-created content.

We put the player community in the designer's seat. Using industry standard tools, you can create new textures and even 3-D models and submit them to the peer-reviewed web site for incorporation into the game. And you own what you create - if you design a new sword hilt or throne or sail design texture, you can make it freely available or charge for it within the game world. Earn in-game income from the sales of your designs! Or keep them to yourself and customize your own unique gear to the nth degree.

This paragraph is fascinating to me, because it manages to capture almost all of the most difficult aspects of player-created content within MMOG gamespaces, and all within a few lines.

At the broadest level it signals the degree to which moving to a "player-created" paradigm is a radical shift in control for game devs. Second Life is, of course, the modern-day exemplar of player-created content (LambdaMOO is the text-based exemplar), but there is a reason that it is a social space and not a game-space: it is really tough to reconcile the type of obsessive-compulsive attention to detail which characterizes the best games/worlds, and the loosey-goosey, "whatever makes you happy, man" approach that the Lindens allow. Which means that if you are a game developer and you want to grab the unfettered creativity of your players, you have to constrain them to the point of irrelevance. I don't mean to disparage Flying Lab or Pirates of the Burning Sea, but really, hilt designs or sail textures are the best examples of things you're gonna allow your players to do? Hardly earth-shattering. Which is not to say that it's not interesting; just to say that it indicates a well-placed concern on the part of Fling Lab that if they really let the players have their way, the 18th Century Caribbean is going to be populated by avatars with amazingly-detailed primcocks. [NSFW]. Which may not be exactly what the lead designer had in mind.

We've talked about this a lot before, of course, with various takes on the question of developer sovereignty and the urge for democracy within game worlds. The desire on the part of developers to harness the creative engine of the player-base is only going to exacerbate the need for developers to work out just what degree of autonomy that they can grant their users. It simply cannot be the case that Flying Lab mean what they say above, that the designs will be submitted to a peer-reviewing panel and the "best" ones will be implemented. The developers must intend to have a high degree of control over the designs that make their way into the world, because it is a certainty that if they don't the entire Port Royal harbor will look like t-shirts at a fan faire, with sails that feature large breasted elven princesses, Darth Vader in a jaunty pirate hat, and slogans like "Minus 50 DKP" or "WTS [Wang] PST". "Peer reviewing" is only as good as the individual peers, and the milieu in which they operate. So this is great for things like assessment of quality in scholarly work, or assessments of relevance in a tightly knit technical commentary community like Slashdot. It's not gonna be totally fabulous when your game has an historical milieu and the most active chunk of your community is either ideologically ill-disposed towards roleplay (most gamers) and/or are a bunch of griefers. This means that the peer reviewing panel is either hand-picked by the devs, is controlled by them, or is a kind of recommendation body for the real decision-makers.

The form of the model used to introduce designs brings up the politics of aesthetics. I've spent time in Second Life but I confess that I always leave as fast as I can because I find it so unappealing and disorienting. I applaud what the Lindens do, and I think that it serves a vital function in the development of virtual worlds and in user expressivity. But seeing the 1000ft spaceneedle next to the Art Deco mansion, surrounded by an accurate depiction of 19th Century Whitechapel...well, it just plain hurts my eyes. Give me the cartoon simplicity of WoW any day: at least it's aestheticly consistent.

Of course one can have user-generated content without embracing the kind of aesthetic libertarianism that characterizes Second Life. But to do so one has to make a commitment to law and politics: specifically one needs zoning and planning laws, and a political process to implement these. This should be familiar to all from the real world. The reason that I can't tear down my turn-of-the-century stone house and erect my preferred alternative of faithful recreation of Philip Johnson's New Canaan House, in the WASPy "village" of Chestnut Hill PA, is that I have to go through a planning process dictated by law, and numerous people affected by my architectural aspirations (ie my modernist-archiecture-despising neighbors) have standing to be involved in the outcome of the process. And they don't want a modern "monstrosity" spoiling the "character of the neighborhood".

The law and politics of aesthetics implicates all manner of questions about the construction of "neighborhood" and "community", and these are questions that game devs often have to grapple with in dealing with griefing or inappropriate chat or the like. But user generated content has been so attenuated to this point that I think that the difficulties of decisionmaking about aesthetics is unfamiliar to almost every single dev out there. Once again it requires the dev to make decisions about the degree of autonomy it is prepared to relinquish; except this time the question isn't just a dyadic relation between the developer and the player, but a triadic relation involving the developer, the player and "the community" (and indeed that hard-to-define subpart of the community called the "neighborhood" which has standing to have a voice about local amenity and appropriateness of specific types of development). My guess is that MMOG-developers like Flying Lab will try to stand-in for the community in all of the early attempts to introduce player-generated content ("Your sail design of 'C3PO with a parrot and pegleg' is REJECTED because it is contrary to lore/community expectation/other. This is an automated message. Please do not respond to this email"), while VW/social world developers like Linden will opt for a libertarian response (and on this issue, effectively deny that a community exists, or define it out of the picture by appealing to the overriding value of individualism that characterizes spaces built for and by cyberlibertarians). Perhaps these approaches are the best options that these two types of developers have. But I doubt that they will resolve the inherent tension that emerges when you grant players autonomy to begin designing the world.

Finally, the paragraph about Pirates of the Burning Sea raises a fascinating question about user-generated content and real money trades (RMT). If you are a game dev and you look to adopt user-generated content you have to consider 2 related questions: what are your users' motivations in generating content for you, and what intellectual property regime will you impose on them? You can see how the two are linked in the announcement above: Flying Lab will not assert intellectual property rights over the players' creations, and in doing so they announce an economic incentive for players to generate content because players can "[e]arn in-game income from the sales of ...[their] designs." I have some views about whether using incentives in this way is a good idea, but let's bracket that for the moment. What is interesting about the use of economic incentives to production is that it is hard to implement this without breaking the magic circle of the game: at the point that I buy a spiffy custom cutlass from Ted (or Ted's toon) I am engaging in an out-of-game transaction. I suppose it is possible to build a transactional system here which makes it look like Whitebeard (my toon) is buying a sword from a noted swordsmith named Greenbeard (Ted's toon). But that requires a in-world profession system of swordsmith, or sail-designer, or hilt-maker, or whatever, and relatively few swordsmiths of the 18th C had access to "industry standard tools" like Maya running on high-end PCs. And it means that each type of user-generated content requires its own in-game lore to justify it. If one looks at Second Life, one sees no attempt to introduce a lore around the production of virtual assets, because the world is built without any expectation of the magic circle. Game worlds are not like that, and so the reconciliation of the magic circle with user-generated content poses a difficult challenge. It also opens up all sorts of possibilities for RMT, since the sale of in-world hilts and sails using pieces of eight and doubloons will soon be followed by the sale of these items for dollars, euros, and cents. As I've said before I don't have any particular dislike of RMT, but there are many who do. Introducing user-generated content while managing the inevitable RMT effects is going to be an interesting challenge for Flying Lab and other devs who want to use their playerbase to generate content for them.

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Young people today

There’s a big debate about Identity in the UK. We do not have government issued ID cards. We do have strong laws on what data can and cannot be held in respect of us and what can be done with those data. We also have a strong active debate about this sort of thing especially in the face of the so-called ‘war on terror’, including a mini-spat with America over sending data to the US about passengers on transatlantic flights (it’s required by the States but it’s against EU law).

Then there is mySpace, Orkut, Bebo, playahead, Xbox gamertags etc where teens primarily seem happy to post all manner of personal details and sometimes intimate pictures of themselves and others.

Seems to be a bit of a disparity here.

In a bunch of studies reported in a recent USA Today piece it’s proposed that Teens live in a ‘tech bubble’. One of the points being made in the piece is that teens seem oblivious to much of the world around them and the social norms of the civilized adult world. The quote that really caught my eye was from psychologist David Verhaagen who suggested what some of the deeper factors behind this might be, saying:

"[…] you've got a generation that doesn't have the same concept of privacy and personal boundaries as generations before"

As the article touches on, young people today have grown up with always-on tech; with IM and mobile phones where one’s location is generally know and when it is not, when we are in an in-between space, the electronic darkness that’s shrouds us rapidly becomes noticeable.

I wonder if this will shift any of the fundamentals of the debate over issues such as personal privacy that rages in policy and legal circles.

Anyone with even the vaguest interest in surveillance will have heard about Bentham’s panopticon. The theory basically is that if people think they are being watched all the time they will self-norm.

So one might ask - if one grows up in a panopticon does have any regulatory impact? Is there some innate state of nature that craves privacy, something which reacts to its loss by conforming? Moreover would such a loss be liberating or enslaving?

The kinds of data that surveillance activists fight to protect is just the sort of information that teenagers seem happy to splash all over mySpace. There certainly seems to be a new openness, a culture of display and spectacle. But it’s not confined to youth, as anyone that has seen Jerry Springer, Big Brother and their ilk will know. More generally recording and mediating events seems, for many, to add to their legitimacy – how many moments these days /have/ to be captured on the phone-cam or video to be truly authentic?

However, ultimately I’m skeptical that any fundamental notion of privacy has changed. People of one generation have difference practices than those of another, boundaries that define the limits of self ebb and flow in a multitude of directions, firming here, giving there. What’s more it’s not just being watched that counts, it’s the gaze of authority – which may be the state, parents or peers. The kid’s in mySpace may be letting it all hang out, but I bet they are letting it all hang out in highly regulated clique dominated ways.

Shifting to virtual worlds, here we have spaces that are the have the possibility quintessence of surveillance – every action is data, every utterance is information neatly pre-packaged into bits and bytes. And they are spaces of very strong norms – from the raid party up through guild and server norms tend to be known and transgressors punished – sure there is griefing and debates over what exactly constitutes it, but the fact of these debates is just part of the norming practice.

So, far from thinking that we are entering a new phase of liberated beings with little or no sense of the personal and the private and who take no notice of authority; beings that have transcended the norming power of the electronic gaze. I stick by the notion that virtual spaces /are/ norming spaces and the more we spend time in them the more we need to take care of what data are being captured; what norms are being imposed and who by.

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Virtual Trademarks

This is kind of fun: The Guardian runs an article on IP rights in Second Life, leading to some blogs discussing trademark law in particular.  See Marty Schwimmer, Professor Rebecca Tushnet, Robert Scoble, and Jeremy Pepper.  (And while you're at it, re-read Betsy Book's excellent work to get an in-depth treatment of branding activities in VWs.)

When Scoble says "There's a LOT of trademark infringement inside Second Life. I see brands being attached to lots of things inside Second Life," realize that's a non sequitur.  One very common misconception on the part of non-lawyers is that every time you see a trademark reproduced, this is an act of infringement. That's not true.

You're actually generally free to write the words "Starbucks" and "McDonald's" on random things in your possession.  Go ahead -- have fun.  It's perfectly legal.  You can even let other people see it.  But just don't *sell* that stuff. 

The USPTO's primer on IP law will tell you that trademark law is about the prevention of consumer confusion as to the source of goods or services in commerce.  The important points to see here are the requirements of use in commerce and (for traditional TM infringement) consumer confusion as to the source or origin of goods.

Rebecca Tushnet and Marty Schwimmer are lawyers who know trademark law.  Rebecca takes up the issues potentially faced by the alleged VW infringers, and provides some random thoughts, with a reference to Marvel v. NCSoft:

If individual game players create costumes that resemble trademark-protected Marvel heroes, they haven’t engaged in use in commerce.  If individuals in Second Life deck themselves up in virtual Versace, neither have they. But if they sell Versace to other avatars, there is a use in commerce and then other trademark considerations come into play...

[I]f unauthorized use of trademarks is the norm in the virtual world, there’s no reason to expect secondary confusion any more than primary confusion. Trademark dilution wasn’t made for this situation.  But it might be the best fit (and indeed, might be a better application of dilution than most).

More interesting thoughts are at her post. The key thing about dilution law, and why it might be especially relevant to alleged VW infringement, is that dilution claims don't require (according to most courts) proof of consumer confusion.  That's also why many people think dilution doesn't make too much sense.  Why create gross property rights in words?  I, for one, don't have a good answer to that question.  (Federal TM dilution law will likely be revised soon, btw, in ways that largely endorse the lack of sound reasoning that has always plagued dilution.)  Dilution does require use in commerce, however -- so you're still free to write "Disney" and "Rolls Royce" on your toothbrushes (just don't sell them).

Marty takes up the flip side of trademark & VW questions: what if you're a RMT-ish seller in a virtual world that permits RMT-ish sales (in Second Life, let's say) and you want to defend your original brand for virtual pants -- is that possible?  Marty says:

I think the answer is "probably" as long as it remains within Second Life's interests to defend trademarks.

Given the inability of both Rebecca and Marty to come up with quick and easy statements, I'd say there's a good student note topic to be had here.  There are plenty of law students publishing today on topics of virtual property, EULAs, and copyright, but I haven't spotted anything good on trademarks yet.  Maybe we'll get an article on this after we get some real cases -- wouldn't that be an interesting twist.  :-)

Btw, if you're a student writing on this and are desparate for things to cite, my past trademark-law-related writings can be found here, here, and here -- nothing virtual world-related, though the early one on trademarks and search engines does go on a bit about the placeness of cyberspace.

Btw 2: Does Dastar have any special relevance in this area?  To wit, quoting Scalia:

In sum, reading the phrase "origin of goods" in the Lanham Act in accordance with the Act's common-law foundations (which were not designed to protect originality or creativity), and in light of the copyright and patent laws (which were), we conclude that the phrase refers to the producer of the tangible goods that are offered for sale, and not to the author of any idea, concept, or communication embodied in those goods. Cf. 17 U. S. C. §202 (distinguishing between a copyrighted work and "any material object in which the work is embodied").

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House of the Rising Sun

Via billsdue comes mention of  another nationalist incident in a Far Eastern MMO.   In this case 10k players protested in a Netease game (China, "The Fantasy of the Journey West") when an "(in-game) government office had a background that looked liked a rising sun.  For more details including screen shots, see EastSouthWestNorth...

In March, responding to "a massacre of Chinese players by Korean players in Lineage",  I wondered whether AI could help to get players out of the critical content path and help defuse situations like this.  However, Bill's discouraging speculation is that these sorts of incidents  may be good for business as large numbers of players swarm to an MMO.   Netease apparently locked the culpable player avatar in "The Great Tang Permanent Incarceration Prison" for two years with this explanation (translated, see here - including screenshots):

In changing the name of an individual player or handling the case of an individual guild, we do not want to cause any unhappiness to people.  We do not want such an incident to affect the patriotism of everybody.  But this is a game.  When we operate this game, we follow the state's regulations on Internet administration and we are monitored by the National Internet Supervisory Bureau.  People come here to experience joy, and we therefore emphasize health, relaxation and happiness and we should not bring in politically sensitive topics.  The experience of history tells us that patriotism should be expressed rationally under the grand theme of protecting the interests of the nation and the people.  Patriotism requires passion, but it requires rationality even more so.  Passion and rationality form our correct way of expressing our patriotism.

... We appreciate everybody's patriotism.  Like everybody else, we deeply remember the Treaty of Shimonoseki, the Marco Polo Bridge incident, the Nanjing massacre, the Diaoyutai issue and so on.  These solemn histories make us want to become stronger because we are all Chinese.  Patriotism is a form of respect, and it is a belief.  Patriotism is the soul of our people, it is the soul of our nation.  But we sincerely hope that everybody's patriotic actions are rational . We hope and we believe that everybody can make rational expressions.

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Feeling Crowded?

Jaron Lanier published a beautiful rant on "The Hazards of the New Online Collectivisim."  Are crowds always wise?   Sure, in Jaron's words:

The collective isn't always stupid...  the "Wisdom of Crowds," is real... (b)ut it is not infinitely useful. The collective can be stupid, too. The reason the collective can be valuable is precisely that its peaks of intelligence and stupidity are not the same as the ones usually displayed by individuals.

Rather than trying to fully introduce Jaron's rambling yet eloquent attack - read the complete text there.  The question for here comes by way of a frisky analogy.  How much value does the collective experience in the "massive multiplayer" add to the individual experience - once all the credits and debits are accounted for.  Put it another way, is there reason to wonder whether the MMOG proposition is sometimes more about liking the idea of crowds in your virtual world than about the benefit those crowds actually provide to you?

Jaron's philosophical premise may be seen by this:

The beauty of the Internet is that it connects people. The value is in the other people. If we start to believe that the Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're devaluing those people and making ourselves into idiots.

Jaron repeatedly suggests that when confronted with an alluring new technology (by his examples, AI, Meta-aggregation sites) people may be willing to bend over backwards to over-emphasize the value of that technology and to incorporate it into their lives.  One might look at this impulse as a deference made by the individual to the collective:  others do it.   Others must therefore derive benefit from it.  In the case of the MMOG the core technological proposition is a simple one.  Players and Non-Player Characters (NPCs) are presented in likeness upon your world stage:  others can see you.  Others must therefore derive pleasure from you.

Dave Kosak's timeless tongue-in-cheek, the "Automated Online Role Player," hints of the suspected impulse of players to stoop to near-NPC quality behaviors when online.  Simple virtual worlds might appear to dumb-down individuals into collections of interchangeable components (e.g. based on game-related discriminating features such as class, level,...).  Conversely we might also ask, does the engagement of the multitude in grinding,  griefing,  and the Chuck Norris internet phenomenon somehow make these more pleasurable to the individual?

Jim Rossignol's response to The Fallacy of War refreshes the discussion as to whether PvP combat is 'meta' ("war!") or is it left to the individual to give meaning.  The broader question still rests: how valuable are organizing crowd experiences to our online pleasures and whether or not (and under what circumstances) do they feel overrated.

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Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage

Sam Shahrani and Mario Gerosa have completed a Convention that would protect certain architectural elements of synthetic worlds. They write:

"We are pleased to announce the completion of a Convention for the Protection of Virtual Architectural Heritage. This document seeks to lay a foundation for the conservation of our 'virtual architecture', the environments and places that make up the synthetic worlds of video games. More commonly referred to as 'levels', 'maps' or 'worlds', these environments are the stage for players' experiences in video games. Unfortunately, little has been done to protect, catalogue and analyze these game spaces, but such conservation is necessary in order to provide reference material for study. The goal of the Convention is to provide a framework for this vital preservation work, and to encourage further academic study of the principles of level design and the architecture of synthetic worlds."

The Convention has already been published in Italy and may be found on the web here (pdf) and here (html).

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ID Theft, RMT & Lineage

Koreasoc1Usaca[Corrected July 5] On the day that Yanks celebrate our independence from England Great Britain, South Korean jurist and Terra Nova author Unggi Yoon writes in with some MMORPG legal news from South Korea courts.  It seem that NCSoft's Lineage has been hit by a major case two major cases of identity theft. 

In the first case, apparently over two hundred thousand accounts were created based on stolen IDs.  Reportedly, police are prosecuting not just those engaged in the scheme, but are also investigating an executive at NCSoft for failing to protect against the use of the stolen identity numbers.  The purpose of the ID theft was reportedly to enable RMT. Says the report:

The seven gameroom operators reportedly hired about 100 part-time game players and made about 14.2 billion won ($15 million) in offline profits by selling cyber items obtained in the process of game-playing. Such items usually take long hours of play and a certain degree of luck. They are sold over Web sites to players for "real" money.

Note the scare quotes -- that's "real" money, folk, not play money.  In another case, a civil suit by five players reportedly resulted in a judgment of 500,000 Won per -- about $529 USD.  The players had their personal information disclosed when NCSoft failed to encrypt the log files containing their data two years ago.  Story here.

p.s. While we're talking about law and MMORPGs in South Korea, we should also give a shout out to Unggi's recent paper on SSRN:   A Quest for the Legal Identity of MMORPGs - From a Computer Game, Back to a Play Association.

Note: Tasteful animated graphics borrowed from Wilson's Free GIFs and Amimations.

Update:  Thanks to Steve Davis of SecurePlay and Play No Evil, whose comments below helped to ungarble the original post by clarifying that there are two separate two or three separate NCSoft ID theft stories here.  Steve provides coverage on his weblog here (170,000 accounts closed), here (civil suit by 5 players), and here (police investigatation).  Looks like Play No Evil would be a good RSS add, if you want to keep track of game security issues.

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Social Space Griefing

Mark Wallace has a great bit over on his 3PointD blog about griefing in MySpace and how it is following an established practice from TSO. Read the piece for the details but his conclusion is worth repeating here:

One of the criticisms that’s always been levelled at the ... [virtual world reporting done by Wallace and others] is that it takes these things too seriously. “It’s only a game,” is the constant rejoinder whenever we call into question the things that go on in these virtual spaces and how they are managed by the companies that run them... But, as we’ve maintained all along, it is not in fact only a game. These places are models for the kind of society we’ll live in, in the not-too-distant future. They’re worth paying attention to — close attention, since much of what happens in them has a direct bearing on the way we will live... [T]he societies that are developing in these places point the way toward the societies of the future, whether online or off. To a great extent, if you want to know how we will live tomorrow, look at the way we live now in a place like Second Life.

Great stuff.

Comments (35)