In 1993 Chip Morningstar penned "How to Deconstruct Almost Anything, My Postmodern Adventure". This essay recounted his and Randy Farmer's 1991 adventure at the Second International Conference of Cyberspace. Surprised by an academic humanities audience, they hurriedly reworked their presentation at the last moment - nonsensically knitting together bits of phraseology they heard the day before...
Thus, with these words Chip opened their presentation:
The essential paradigm of cyberspace is creating partially situated identities out of actual or potential social reality in terms of canonical forms of human contact, thus renormalizing the phenomenology of narrative space and requiring the naturalization of the intersubjective cognitive strategy, and thereby resolving the dialectics of metaphorical thoughts, each problematic to the other, collectively redefining and reifying the paradigm of the parable of the model of the metaphor.
Apparently there was humor enough to capture their audience.
To some this story may suggest a schism between a pragmatic view (the "vulgar engineer" in Chip's words) with the abstractions of a rarified species in the Galapagos (the academic, Chip's analogy). Another take is to view this in terms of the different kinds of disciplines and languages that are in play in parsing a phenomenon as complicated as a virtual world. Each language describes a different aspect of the proverbial elephant.
A first thought lies with Greg's excellent question (fr: Academic Instincts and Virtual World Studies): "when the longed-for discipline of Virtual World Studies is created on the ground we are mapping out, who among us will be qualified to reside there and to join in the conversation?"
A second thought starts innocuously enough. It begins escoterically with Peter Van Roy's paper "Convergence in Language Design: A Case of Lightening Striking Four Times in the Same Place." It is a paper that audaciously infers what the definitive programming language might look like from case studies. Peter started by looking at four different programming languages that focused on four strategic and different computing problems. From these he attempted to identify the common forms between them, implicating a definitive design. I should point out to our technical readers, there is a strong rebuttle. Yet the exercise seems useful.
This thought plays out with this virtual world twist. Pick four examples that cover four different virtual world problems well. Suggest their commonality and hypothesize a definitive form. Err, that sounds hard, how about just the features then...
However, it seems to me that the larger issue with this approach were it applied to virtual worlds is the Galapagos problem mentioned earlier. The examples are too similar because they are all in the same niche having co-evolved together. Perhaps it would be better to conduct more comparisons from further afield: WoW versus Eve-Online versus Second Life is interesting but perhaps much less illuminating than WoW versus MySpace versus ?
In any case, as a final minor detail, I'll point out that Peter does cite another paper of Chip's . Indeed, everything must be related!
[1.] Mark Miller, Chip Morningstar, and Bill Frantz. "Capability-based financial instruments. In Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Financial Cryptography, volume 1962 of Lecture Notes in Computer Science, pages 349-378. Springer-Verlag, 2000.
/Ed 11/01 From comments below, for another related view on the 1991 event see The Second International Conference on Cyberspace: Literary Criticism Collides With Software Engineering. by F. Randall Farmer