Jeff Orkin, a game-developer-now-in-academics is doing some cool stuff and is looking for help with The Restaurant Game. To see how you can contribute, go to Jeff and Andrews' posts (1. 2. , 3. ). The sound-bite:
...(I)t will algorithmically combine the gameplay experiences of thousands of players to create a new game. In a few months, we will apply machine learning algorithms to data collected through the multiplayer Restaurant Game, and produce a new single-player game that we will enter into the 2008 Independent Games Festival.
Discussions of emergent types of game play and questions about whether MMOs are more than “just a game” have made my anthropology senses tingle. In a previous post I brought up ritual but now I’m beginning to wonder why games aren’t tapping into all the different kinds of human culture that encourage human sociality?
Interactivity, room for player controlled practices in-game, a sense of realism and participation in a “living, breathing” worlds all seem to be major VW design goals reflected by the drive for ever better graphics – yet it seems that content writers and designers inevitably fail to acknowledge what it is that makes us human. Although MMO back-stories are often extraordinarily rich and detailed, where is the “culture”?
Popular Science has a fascinating and very long interview with uber-game designer Will Wright about all sorts of stuff readers here might find interesting. E.g., cooperative gaming, educational gaming, game development finances, strategies for integrating user-generated content, what went wrong with The Sims Online, and what WW thinks about Second Life (he's a fan). Here are a few snippets:
Q: Sims Online seemed like a slam dunk, got huge press, it was going to change the nature of gaming. And it still exists, but it wasn't the raging success people were expecting.
This is posted on behalf of Joshua de Larios-Heiman.
I was at a venture capital cocktail reception at Zibibbos in Palo Alto last week hosted by the Hina Group, a venture capital and investment banking specializing Chinese technology investment. I was there at the behest of a client, a venture capital group, who is currently investing in Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO) Games.
Around six o’clock, I ran into an Internet analyst for a rather well known investment bank. We began talking tech development and current trends, basically feeling each other out for our knowledge in the space. I asked him about what he thought of Wikipedia's efforts to commoditize its services without alienating its users. He asked me about what I thought of the iPhone copyright controversy between Apple and Cisco. It was a fine conversation, until I brought up MMOs.
If you've visited the TerraNova region of NationStates lately, you'll see that its grown to a whopping 11 nations in the little more than a week since the first post in this short series of thought experiments in hypothetical game design. For this second post, I want to look at the interplay between the UN "resolutions" that member nations are are asked to vote on and the way that collective decision-making affects the NSUN's individual members. To me it's a simple and interesting game mechanic that could perhaps be extended to cover more functional aspects of an MMO game. But that's for you to decide.
There is this meme running around suggesting that parents may be praising their children too much. Ben Schneider is now telling us [1.] that gamers need to "be weaned off of the constant positive reinforcement of classic gaming. We must start with relatively minor setbacks, or a few big, memorable ones, until gamers are acclimated, thus opening the door to more nuanced and authentic dramatic experience." Ben seems to be asking for a bit more tragedy, s'il vous plait. Do you feel up to it?
We've had several discussions in the past about comingling virtual world technologies with physical spaces to form augmented realities. (E.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 ) To give credit where it's due, Jerry Paffendorf has often chimed in with some great links and interesting comments on this topic. (E.g. 1, 2, 3) From time to time, we've also discussed the increasing technological viability of virtual-real mashup games like Human Pac-Man.
Captain Cleaver (aka Daniel James) elaborates a terse warcry in this Red Herring piece: game developers clash in a ruthless and bloody 10-year battle for control of the online game industry. For us here, his distinction between the player-created content 'virtual world' space... (and the) entertainment (one) is intriguing. His claim is that open-platform virtual worlds are likely to have some kind of network effect properties that lead one to dominate the landscape. To me this seems contrary to examples in other industries, but I'll leave it to you to contemplate. 10 years? The Trojans and Achaeans revisited, argh argh.
I'd like to launch a series of three thought experiments in hypothetical game design by introducing you to The Incorporated States of Walkering Industries, where the nation's children are widely acknowledged as the most foul-mouthed in the region, employers may fire workers without giving any reason, citizens can be frequently spotted going about their business stark naked, and married couples must call each other "darling" or risk a fine. How did Walkering Industries get this way? Because of the decisions its leader (that's me) made in the massively multiplayer online game (but not quite virtual world) known as NationStates, in which players take the helm of individual nations, enact legislation affecting their citizens, and may join a virtual United Nations whose collective decisions also affect their virtual populations.
I bring up NationStates not to examine it as a virtual world (for indeed it is not, lacking any aspect of "presence"), but to examine in turn three interesting gameplay mechanics it incorporates, and to ask whether these might be brought into a more "worldy" MMOG (such as WoW) in an engaging and enjoyable fashion.
The first one I want to think about is known as Regional Influence.
Jack Weinberg is often attributed as the source of "we don't trust anybody over 30 (1965, fn1)." Clive Thompson introduces a piece ("Say Everything", Emily Nussbaum) from the current issue of New York magazine claiming "(t)oday's social technologies are creating the biggest generation gap since rock and roll -- with younger people having radically different ideas than their parents about what's public and what's private." 30? As was written, "at 26, Kitty is herself an old lady, in Internet terms."
What are the virtual world implications?
In the "It's so easy..." discussion of last weekend, the legacy of the Alphaville Herald was a minor topic. While the natives still leave me cool, Peter is a wise man and Henry Jenkins provides us with an opportunity for reflection - Part I of an interview. Is it only a game?
Is griefing simply emergent play that some folks don't like?
I think this is an interesting question to pursue, and I'm going to take a somewhat provocative stance and answer "no," partly to explore some territory and partly because I think there's a case to be made against griefing that doesn't founder on a libertarian objection (i.e., that if some people do something in a low-consequence environment, then it must be fun to them/their choice, and therefore must be okay).
Traditional ritual is specifically designed to trigger certain emotive, interpretive, and physical responses. Imagine the Pacific Islands ritual with heavy drumming and men in horrifying costumes of spirits believed to inhabit the island. Or the 48 hour shadow play of Indonesia where everyone is eventually exhausted while the performers tap into the beliefs, fears and desires of those watching. Or ancient Maya bloodletting and human sacrifice. Or an aria in a Cathedral. All of these experiences are enacted as a community within a larger socially constructed narrative reflecting general social beliefs and attitudes.
For most of human history, shared “entertainment” was couched in the context of a religious celebration and/or social narrative. Even village storytelling was to some extent ritualized and clearly reflected existing social values. Durkheim’s notion of “collective effervescence” was based on the idea that society is founded upon rituals designed to allow us to share interpretive experiences in order to bring us together. The contemporary social sciences interest in the phenomenology of experience also ties to the relationship between our embodied reactions, feelings, sensations, and interpretations of those experiences in a coherent framework co-created by a community.
As new social forms emerge in virtual communities such as MMOs and Second Life is it possible that we are seeking these kinds of shared experiences through these virtual worlds?
A meta-guild -- i.e., a guild with a presence across a number of virtual worlds and/or MMOs -- allows a group to share their experiences of gameplay in various environments, and eases the process of traveling among such worlds for the individual. I don't play CoH/V, but members of my EVE Online corporation do. As a result, I have a good idea of what the game is like (a better idea than I can get from the press), and I'd have an instant group of co-adventurers should I decide to join, a group which would provide me with tips and aid to speed the process of my getting acclimated (and grinding out my time there).
But just as such groups can serve to funnel information out of virtual worlds to their members, they can also serve to bring information about the group into the virtual world, if the group culture is strong enough. One such culture is that which has arisen on SomethingAwful.com, a Web site devoted to general Internet outrageousness, satire and irreverence of all things . . . well, of all things, really, let's leave it at that.
I once asked "(w)hat do Julian Kucklich, T.E. Lawrence, The Alphaville Herald, and Linda Rondstadt have in common", suggesting one of the pitfalls of "going native" is that it risks a laziness (if not hubris) among the collaborators that works against considering alternative points of view.
A recent Eve-Online controversy asks the same question but for a different context. Do Gamemasters (GMs) too run the risk of "going native"?
So I've been having my usual beginning-of-the-semester chats with my graduate students about their projects and progress. I enjoy these, and I think they do to (they almost never complain about the thumbscrews, or -- more of a shock -- having to read Habermas). One of them, Krista-Lee Malone, is a master's student and long-time gamer who is completing an excellent thesis about hardcore raiding guilds. During our chat she said something about how these raiding guilds went about preparing her to participate in their activities, and it prompted me to follow up on some ideas from here. It's about Foucault, bodies, institutions, and whether the relationship between developers and guilds is changing in important ways.
We're happy to welcome journalist Mark Wallace as a guest author on Terra Nova this February. Mark runs 3pointD.com, where he blogs about virtual worlds, massively multiplayer online games and the broader metaverse. His writing on 3D online technologies and other subjects has appeared in Wired, The New York Times and many other publications.
We're excited to welcome Dr. Jennifer Dornan as our first 2007 guest author on Terra Nova. Jen is an anthropologist and game industry writer who will be posting some of her thoughts about MMOGs during the month of February. We asked her to write a brief description of her work and background. She did that and threw in a guessing game for good measure:
I’m a cultural/historical anthropologist that found myself applying my theoretical work in neruo-psychology and social theory to my long bouts of MMO playing as I avoided writing my dissertation. After completing my PhD (in record time, which I attribute to City of Heroes), I’ve spent the last 2 years teaching at a few universities, writing and designing for various game companies, freelancing as a multi-media producer/writer, and for some reason seem to move back and forth between Texas and California on a regular basis.