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?
Read it on Henry's site - "The News From Second Life: An Interview with Peter Ludlow (Part One)." It provides an introduction for those of you unfamiliar as well as for those of you trying to recall this influential episode in online (virtual world) history. Mark Wallace frames the event in this way "Virtual Muckraker Interviewed By MIT Brain."
The part of Peter's reflection that led me to pause was this one:
The more interesting question is why people keep repeating ""only a game"" so much. If you google ""only a game"" and "Second Life" together, you get nearly 12,000 hits. It is like a mantra that people keep repeating to keep some thought or idea at bay - and I think the dangerous idea that Second Life shoves in your face every day is this: our wealth is virtual, our property is transient, and our social lives are mediated by technology, nomadic, and often fleeting. I think that when people keep saying "it''s only a game" they are really saying "the rest of my world isn''t like this: my wealth is tangible and permanent, my friendships are unmediated and also permanent." Saying "it''s only a game" is like saying "this isn''t how things really are, this is just a bad dream." People need to pinch themselves, because this ain''t no dream. This is reality; deal with it.
I am reminded of a point raised in comment by Andy Havens made in It's so easy:
We who play these games take them very, very seriously... Speak to the rock. Don't poke it. Or the milk and honey shall be denied thee.
Both Peter and Andy, in their ways, might be suggesting that the distance between the virtual and real world is not as great as some on the outside and the inside might want us to think.
For example, those who don't play online games often claim to not understand those who do. Yet perhaps it is also as true that those who might best be able to "get it" - the hard-core players - end up perpetuating the same misunderstanding by institutionalizing griefing, jerkdom, and other misdemeanors. In other words, to engage in conduct online that would be hard to excuse in the real world, one must first insure its distinction.
Is it only a game or who are we fooling?
Select links from across time:
"Playing Politics in Alphaville Disputed elections. Candidate mudslinging. Palm Beach voting irregularities. What happens when our online communities mirror reality too closely?" Technology Review. May 2004.
"Ludlow is Everywhere." TN. Feb 12, 2004
"Alphaville Herald Hits the Big Time." TN. Dec 14, 2003