Do virtual worlds liberate us?

I’m wondering what TN reader’s view is of the trajectory of the intersection of virtual worlds and what some term the political economy is. In short do we think that the practices associated virtual worlds are tending towards liberating us or are acting as just another way for dominant ideologies to be re-enforced?

It seems to me that in many ways virtual worlds are the ultimate expression of consumerism. Game worlds construct new needs which the use-value of virtual artefacts meet and new forms of labour are constructed to enable us to gain them.

Both game worlds and social worlds, in their different ways, can also act as a pure mechanism for symbolic-value exchange through the mechanism of virtual goods. For example: a virtual Gucci bag may have no use-value what so ever in a virtual world but it carries with it much of the symbolic value of the brand.

In general virtual worlds seem often to replicate structures of labour and production – they even support a class hierarchies based on geography, contextual knowledge, time in the given community etc.

At the same time virtual worlds offer the promise of liberating us. Not quite in the old utopian ideal of freeing us fully from pre-existing notions of self but at least opening up new opportunities for self-exploration. What’s more should you have access to a virtual world the barrier between roles of consumption and production seems to have been lowered such that both within the context of a virtual space e.g. as a crafter or builder in second life; or outside it, say as a fan fic creator, many can participate in a mixed traditional, amateur and / or gift economy.

We might also note that widespread fact of things like gift economies within virtual worlds stand as a challenge to the rigidity of exchange-values and all they stand for in respect of social relations.

A we can see how individuals have the power to subvert ideologies through playing with brands and taking stabs at ideologies – such as Dead in Iraq and others that work on the art / politics threshold.

Plus virtual worlds do give us pause for thought. They motivate discussions about the contingency of many things we see in the physical world around us – for example the nature of property and money. However I wonder if those that really engage in those discussions are largely an intellectual elite who would be talking about them anyway.

Lastly when we look at something like Second Life and There what we seem to see are endlessly reproduced norms of body type etc that look like the products of an internalisation and then self production of dominant types. While there are many ‘fake’ versions of brands, they are still versions of brands so still operate in the same world of assumed values. What’s more we can no longer gamble in Second Life the reason being because of US laws – hence many virtual worlds seem simply to act as a way of expanding US cultural and legal norms, even if the virtual world is not in-fact based in the US as it will probably have a tendency to norm towards its values. As virtual worlds come out of China I expect that we will see a spreading of its cultural assumptions too.

So I contend that virtual worlds hold the potential to liberate and the potential to reinforce and indeed spread the dominant ideologies of the time. What I’m interested in are people views of where things are now and where they seem to be headed.

I’m currently erring towards the pessimistic view of things – give me hope :)


Comments on Do virtual worlds liberate us?:

blackrazor says:

As far as consumerism and "low barriers to entry", yes I agree that virtual worlds are like a new frontier, with lots of space for people who might feel marginalized in the real world to try a new start at establishing a positive presence in a virtual one. Also plenty of room for established and upstart successes in the real world to move in, as well.

But true long-term growth only comes with political and intellectual freedom, in my opinion. In that regard, virtual worlds are still very much in the dark ages, with the dev. and/or management team as sovereign. Their rule is absolute; there are no courts, parliaments, constitutions, elections, etc. None of the wonderful innovations that we often take for granted here in the real world.

I'm not implying that this is a trivial thing to solve; I'm just putting it out there as a potential impediment to the long-term success of such virtual places.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 7:56:21 AM | link

Grendel says:

I think you're right to be pessimistic. I think that freedom we currently enjoy is largely due to the lack of understanding of the technology by the conservative establishment. The social flexibility enjoyed in these worlds is due to them being populated with pioneers and individuals who are more open to new experience.

As the herds occupy the online worlds, we will grow closer and closer to "MSNWorlds", which will essentially be 3D, avatar driven versions of the web portal experience. A mixture of dominant culture influence and common denominator marketing will drive this process.

This is all of course, in reference to worlds like Second Life.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 8:40:25 AM | link

Darniaq says:

Blackrazor wrote:

As far as consumerism and "low barriers to entry", yes I agree that virtual worlds are like a new frontier, with lots of space for people who might feel marginalized in the real world to try a new start at establishing a positive presence in a virtual one.


I agree with this except feel it needs to be extended. People can feel just as marginalized in virtual worlds as they do in the real one. This is due to the same reasons: class-ism, inability to compete against those who dominate specific rules, and insular clique-behavior. Basically, the rules for success (the "skill") in virtual worlds exist just as real world rules do. They just take on a different form. For awhile, success was driven by Time and a willingness to focus more on virtual goals than real world ones. But now we're seeing an influx of money which is capable of buying that Time from the folks willing to invest it. Sorta like microtrans and RMTing. Why do the work yourself when you can get it done by incentifying someone else who already has the skill?

I do agree though that the barrier for trying something is less, as is the perception of that barrier. "Time" is less measurable than cash. People who mess up in real world business stand to lose a lot more than someone who fails at making a virtual startup, unless they invested their own or someone else's cash into it (and I specifically avoid talking about peope with established virtual world businesses for that reason).

Posted Nov 8, 2007 8:50:32 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@blackrazor
“virtual worlds are still very much in the dark ages, with the dev. and/or management team as sovereign. Their rule is absolute; there are no courts, parliaments, constitutions, elections, etc.”

I agree and I think that in some instances this is important. But it depends on the world. Like Prof Bartle I think that when we talk about games - designers are artists thus the kind of freedom that I talk about should also be extended to them and their ability to create spaces that are bound by all kinds of interesting structures and rules. It is when those rules start to impact things that are not relevant to the game and / or the spaces starts to take on a civic role that we really need to be concerned.

But wider than this basic top down notion of control I am wondering more about the general context in which virtual worlds are sited and the way that the uses of them seem to endlessly replicate certain structures of consumption and production.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 9:24:55 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Grendel
"As the herds occupy the online worlds, we will grow closer and closer to "MSNWorlds""

Just wait for Sony's "Home". I've hear more about control of that space than just about any other feature.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 9:27:25 AM | link

Tripp says:

In some senses, VWs are/will be no different from meatspace: those with power seek to keep it; markets forces will exert pressures; some will act selfishly, some generously, etc., etc. But in other ways I think VWs could (and have) shown more room for equity and freedom.

Given that I start with a somewhat cynical perspective, I'm actually more optimistic than pessimistic. One of the reasons I'm hopeful is the old "information wants to be free" notion. I think the experience so far seems to bear out the idea that the net and the ease of digital reproduction diffuse power. Information is power, and the digital revolution spreads information out. I mean "information" in a broad sense, from bits to knowledge to news. Digital Rights Management is failing; despite the Chinese (and other) government's attempts to clamp down on information spreading (and Yahoo's complicity...), it goes on.

So yeah, I'm clearly not seeing a utopia on the horizon, but I'm also not seeing a cyberpunk future from where I stand.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 10:38:02 AM | link

Susan says:

Count me as a pessimist.

1. The rejection of democracy is troubling.

There's a synergy of several anti-democratic trends:
- The Swords and Sorcery genre: let's all pretend we're in a Feudal society
- VW designers acting out a fantasy of being God: absolute power with no accountabilty. (Just look at the metaphors VW designers use!)
- VW operators have the technical ability to monitor and control their users to an astonishing extent. (e.g. they can block messages containing forbidden words, like "democracy").
- The ongoing discussion on whether rights such as free speech apply in a privately-owned environment, like most VW's

2.

Many of the current VW's are about doing mindless, repetetive work in order to earn money to buy useless stuff. (Except Second Life, much of which seems to be about working as a prostitute in order to buy useless stuff).

3. Body image. Most of us can't be as conventionally beautiful as the people in the images advertising and TV continually sends us .... so VW's encourage us to forget our real bodies and substitute a (bought, manipulated) image.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 11:45:42 AM | link

Wojciech says:

I think it ultimately depends on what "liberation" means to you. Sure, dominant ideologies are being reinforced when players buy Gucci bags or modify their bodies to be "beautiful" as defined by the media and status quo. But in a sense, is this not liberating? Ultimately, these ideas of "beauty" are still ingrained within people's minds, and if they now have the power to fit those ideals, then I can see that as a sort of personal liberation.

As I write this, I can't help but think of the (small number) of examples I've heard of where such worlds are used to allow people to overcome their physical disabilities…

Also, it's important to note that the worlds where people have the freedom and ability to drive cultural production are still fairly new and appeal to a fairly small audience. Virtual worlds are foreign, new, and not well understood by most people, and a good way to adjust to them (as in any foreign setting in real life) is to incorporate your own culture and values into them… Think of culture shock when you're traveling – if you're in Asia or Africa and still adjusting to local foods and tastes, chances are you're craving a burger, pizza, or fries. Maybe it's the same in these worlds?

I'll take a more idealistic view and say that this the trend we're seeing now is temporary… Over time, as people become more comfortable with virtual worlds and they enter the mainstream (ignoring MMORPGs, which are too limited for original cultural creation, in my view), I believe we'll start to see cultural developments that reach beyond dominant societal themes and ideals.

---

I'd like to also point out how the virtual worlds mentioned seem to propagate Western values and ideals… Has anyone here been able to participate in worlds targeting other markets, such as South Korea, for example? Do the citizens of those worlds (or MMORPGs) incorporate their cultural norms into the game, or also adopt a more North American-centric culture? Considering that "Americanization" of culture has been such a big deal in the real world, it would be interesting to see how this plays out in virtual worlds… And in this case, is it not liberating if you can adopt a Western culture in a virtual world, if doing so in real life is impossible?

Posted Nov 8, 2007 12:55:44 PM | link

Dave Rickey says:

I think they are inherently liberating environments. Even being *in* them is a matter of choice. If people choose hyper-branded consumerist worlds, that tells us something about people, not about the worlds.

Beyond that, the first thing that happens with any new technology or medium is that we use it to do the old things in new ways. Our understanding of what we are doing is still at an early stage, we have a handful of formulae, reached by trial and error, that work, and we don't really know why. We don't know what these worlds will be like when they grow up.

Right now in virtual worlds, people want access to things that in RL are held up as prized and are out of their reach (Gucci bags). But the day will come when they are not trying to acquire legitimacy by incorporating RL brands, but are spinning off brands of their own.

And the day will come when what "game" you play is not just an explanation of what you do with your free time, but an *identity*.

--Dave

Posted Nov 8, 2007 1:28:22 PM | link

Jeff Cole says:

Influence, much more than information, is power. There's no real revelation in the notion that virtual worlds conduct influence. I am not sure that the worlds themselves necessarily influence beyond conducting certain influences more or less efficiently.

If I read Ren correctly, he is asking, "Is the velocity of influence in capital-V-and-W Virtual Worlds more liberating than conforming?"

Posted Nov 8, 2007 2:10:50 PM | link

thoreau says:

blackrazor said, "But true long-term growth only comes with political and intellectual freedom, in my opinion."

Can you define 'long-term' (5 years? 100 years?) and give examples of freedoms? Because China seems to be flying in the face of that statement.

That being said, I see virtual worlds less like 'worlds' and more like company stores. The company owns the land, makes the laws, and sets the wages and prices. We just live their and work there. Sure, we can go on strike once in a while to make a little noise, but at the end of the day we work for the company. No democracy. No freedom. Just a job.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 3:31:18 PM | link

Amarilla says:

"Do virtual worlds liberate us?
Ren Reynolds "

Yes : from the perception of reality.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 3:36:27 PM | link

blackrazor says:

@thoreau

I was actually going to use examples of China, "Orwellian" fiction, and company towns, but I had wanted to keep my post short and sweet.

What those three examples have in common, is that they are very efficient at producing goods, but not so efficient at liberating our human spirit.

The human spirit thrives on freedom, on the ability to ask tough questions and to interpret things anew, far more than the ability to be a desired shape, or "own" a desired object / pixels.

Of course, this is only my opinion.

As for China, if you're in the "in crowd" (virtual analogy would be on the "good" side of the game's GMs or rules) then your four year old son gets to swim in a gorgeous pool with a Beluga whale for the world to admire.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=488166&in_page_id=1811

If you're on the wrong side in China, for example a Falun Gong member (virtual analogy: you have dissed a GM, broken a rule, good luck to your avatar now!) you get thrown in prison, and your organs might be harvested to foreigners for the profit of your oppressors.

http://organharvestinvestigation.net/media/Canadians%20probe%20Chinese%20organ%20harvesting%20claims.htm

I mean no offense by these claims, and have cited sources. I believe this picture paints a generally pessimistic view of our potential future, both in virtual worlds and in the real world, as we are taught to confuse the economic freedom of consumer choices and economic efficiency, with the personal freedom to question things around us, free from the reprisals of authority.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 4:54:21 PM | link

dmx says:

Personally I found (And I've loudly agitated against) Second Life to be the absolute crystalisation of everything I feared about VRs failing to live up to the potential.

First off, I'm going to note that this doesn't apply to game games. Ie your sword and sorcery types. Reading too much into the politics therof ('races' ugh) kind of misses that they are dungeon and dragon fantasies for adult children (like me!). I used to love reading about Megacity #1 in the Judge Dread comics. Sure as hell I didn't want to live there. But it'd be fun to roleplay.

What my problem with Second Life is, is the wholesale import of multiple RL elements distinctly ill suited to the digital age, and that really hamper the creativity of the place. Namely the RMT and Digital Restrictions Management framework.

We know from the Open source movement that freeing coders from the shackles intelectual property laws encourages creativity. The growth in popularity of Creative Commons amongst the Arts along with Post Modern Arts movements like Hip Hop, Sampling Electro, Collage, Culture Jamming, and so on, indicate that removing (or in the case of Culture Jamming purposefully ignoring) creativity constraints imposed by licensing can be a stimulus to innovation.

The Patent and copyright laws may of held worth in the days of non infinite mechanical reproduction , but in the digital age, they just stop making sense, other than perhaps protecting some of the 'boring' labor intensive stuff of hosting, network infrastructure, and so on.

Well may it be we can't do a whole lot about it in the real world, but who on earth thought it was a good idea to import this distopic (I don't mean distopia as a troll. See RMS's right to read) bullshit into our play spaces? Who thought it would be a good idea to invite the "boss" to our nightclubs to hang out? I don't invite the boss to the Rosemount Hotel for friday night piss with the 'boys'. And I don't want him tagging around trying to sell me shit in Second life.

I'd rather be a bird and fly. Bird don't need no money.

The Academic community always seems like it feels obliged to run in and defend this sort of nonsense, despite the fact that Second Lifes Dismal success in the wider market to actually capture real people into it compared to almost any other genre of VR world, OUGHT raise alarms. Sure its interesting to study artificial economys, but is it fun?

Now let me add some knobs to that argument. I have no problem with 'play' economies in things like WoW or EVE or whatever. These games are competitive, and economys make for competition. But its *play* competition. Escapeism.

The minute ones rent cheque becomes dependant on it , it stops being escapism and starts becomeing "First Life". And that, I propose is bad for humans.

Lets say the singularity does hit. That we can break free of the physical for real and 'download' into the matrix.

Wouldn't it be nice to build heaven? One where we can frolick forever without limits? Wouldn't it suck to be in servitude to just-another-boss because we are stuck in some shitty mortgage for new wings? Would those who dissent be marked as Cain?

The Nords had Valhala. (Wow!)
The Budhists had eternal Peace (ATITD?)
The Christians Jews and Muslims had limitless freedom and Joy (I dunno.)
I can't think of any religion that would posit Nirvana being "Super wallstreet 3000".

Eh. Scuse the Hyperbole. But I'm a bit passionate on this one. We just need to keep asking "Wheres the freedom?" in this. And when we do so, remind ourself that American Capitalism theorists have never been particularly deep in answering that one.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 8:36:41 PM | link

dmx says:

I maek rant

Posted Nov 8, 2007 8:37:30 PM | link

dmx says:

One more thing.

Read Greg Egans "Diaspora". *THAT* is a vision of a "second life" I could root for.

Posted Nov 8, 2007 8:40:43 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Ren: liberate... from what? All the things we need in RL, we still need when we play VWs. Neither do we reap therein, nor do we sow. Some folks make some money, sure. But that's not what we're talking about, is it?

Am I free, for example, from racism in a VW? To the extent that I can hide my race or mimic another one with an avatar... perhaps. But it's not really an escape, then, is it? It's a veneer. Not that I'm saying that's bad; I like to pretend to be things I'm not. But pretending isn't freedom.

You contrast "reinforcement" (of bad, RL things I think) with "freedom." Well... the opposite of freedom isn't reinforcement; it's lack of choice. And whether or not VWs reinforce RL attitudes, behaviors, etc., they provide another choice. Another "place" where we can either bring our RL baggage or not.

Having a choice is itself freeing; you are freed from the alternatives. Very few choices, though, provide freedom in and of themselves. I don't see VW's as being inherently freeing or stifling. They just reflect us.

To paraphrase Pogo, "We have met the avatar, and they is us."

Posted Nov 8, 2007 11:48:07 PM | link

Lavant says:

Is the death of an avatar, leaving one vw for another, suicide in the ether?

Posted Nov 9, 2007 1:07:57 AM | link

Peter Clay says:

Just to complicate matters, I'll add that more choice can equal less freedom (there's literature on this, but I can't remember who by - Amartya Sen?)

Posted Nov 9, 2007 7:28:57 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Andy Havens
“I don't see VW's as being inherently freeing or stifling.”

Neither do I. I think that the kind of technological determinism rhetoric that would underpin such an argument is flawed in its understanding of the way that technological use emerges – here I think we have a lot to learn from the Actor Network Theory take on the role of technology in society.

Hence I was not asking an intrinsic question but one about current practice and our feelings about the trajectory of those practices.

“liberate... from what?”

Well the literature that I know in this area I think is rooted in either an extension of or a reaction to Marxist ideas of society and progress. I guess I should probably be less normative in the way I frame things, when I say liberation what I mean is the option to do things other than we do now. Classically this is framed in terms of production and consumption, which can be taken further into things like an analysis of the construction of need and the mediation of social relations through goods and services that are related to common abstract economic values.


One interesting thing about games is that, to take Malaby’s framing and a bit of my spin on it, games ‘contrive contingency’ what they also do – and I’m not sure if this is a bi-product or a pre-cursor to Malaby’s take, is they generate meaning and value. Getting a ball in net, getting to level 70 are things that pop into existence as objectives that are valued. Generating value generates need and what flows from this is it seems is a replication of the structures of capitalist economy – but here I think we can talk about liberation or at least options, I wonder if we could do other things with this values, whether they could generate different needs or different structures for fulfilling them and thus different relationships based around them.

There are so many potential settings and structures for things as complex as MMOs that we might find options. ATITD was mentioned above, it seems to me that this does attempt to configure relations around contrived ludic-needs some what differently at least from other MMOs.

A feature of Second Life that has always interested me is that while the internal currency has some hard ties into the structure of the artefact (it certainly used to be the case that forming groups, uploading textures etc cost $L), the economic structure that we see is not necessitated by the artefact in the same way that it is in many MMOs. That is, all objects could be created with copy permissions enabled.


From those that do think that VW’s are liberating I wonder what they mean by it. What specific things would VW’s enable or even foster and what would they liberate us from.

I can certainly think of examples where we might see VWs enabling a change to or at least a reaction to certain social relations. One is in the relations that disabled have – VWs seem to offer some choice (as was noted above with race, though I think that that is a different argument) over self presentation and a level, if narrow, playing field of interaction.

Then again as Ricky alludes to above, maybe liberation comes at the level of information. Certainly having a different kind of relationship with people from other countries on a regular basis, as those in international virtual worlds from There to EvE do, might change assumptions about other cultures which may have an impact should this become wider. Here we might look to what Club Penguin does to kids’ assumptions about other nations when they may regularly interact with people from around the world this may be a liberation from what their local media choose to tell them about ‘the other’ whoever the media decide that is.

Posted Nov 9, 2007 8:19:26 AM | link

Tripp says:

Quick thought after glancing through all of the above...The fact that anyone can post here and, if his/her ideas are valuable, they tend to be valued, is cause for hope, to me. I see VWs, like the web, as having the potential to be "meritocracy creating".

MMO guild leaders need to earn their status (and keep earning it); that's a good thing.

Someone with a brilliant idea and no access to credentials can be respected for the idea; that's a good thing.

And so on.

Posted Nov 9, 2007 4:05:28 PM | link

Timothy Burke says:

I've never seen a question where I've more fervently felt, "None of the above" was the right answer.

Liberate from what? is only part of the problem with the question. For a brief moment, the choice makes me feel like I'm hallucinating and I've accidentally dropped into my other specialized world, African Studies, where almost everything gets evaluated through the lens of oppression and liberation from the legacies of colonialism and slavery. My reply in that case is that this compresses African history into a single dimensionality (oppressive or not oppressive) and that there is a good deal going on in the last century that to which colonialism is relatively peripheral, that shouldn't be described upon that axis.

But at least there's a specific historical context against which that compression takes place. With virtual worlds, I think this is kind of like asking, "Do post-Gutenberg books liberate us?" There I ask not just "liberate from what?" but "liberate what exactly?" The answer with books is very different if I'm talking about Western Europe in the middle of the Reformation or if I'm talking about global modernity as a whole, etc. Same with virtual worlds.

Posted Nov 9, 2007 5:49:42 PM | link

ron meiners says:

It is an interesting question... and one that will no doubt develop in many ways.

My main sense (and hope) is that the exploration of the various "mini cultures", or through the culture jamming that happens (did you see our panel at AGDC Ren? I fergit if you were there) tend to, if nothing else, reinforce the sense of choice with respect to social identity. Ie., we're consistently learning that our cultural identity is just as crafted as any online identity we take up, and, further, that the cultural terms that used to separate us are now more clearly relative, subject to choice, and even somewhat arbitrary. I hope... we're learning to locate ourselves in our cultural contexts with a much deeper awareness of how relative this is, how malleable, and how much a given of the human condition.

Posted Nov 9, 2007 8:59:08 PM | link

Mingo says:

Try and give up the sociological pseudo-intelligence and you might just start to think.

Posted Nov 9, 2007 11:58:26 PM | link

Dave Rickey says:

Here's my "great revelation" I arrived at about "Virtual Worlds":

If it isn't survival, the 3 F's (Food, Fighting, and....), it's all equally virtual. Our entire socio/political/legal/economic realm is all equally a mental construct. Eventually, these worlds will just be part of *the* world.

Imagine you had a friend you had been speaking regularly to on the phone for years. If you were telling someone else about this friend, would it seem important to qualify the relationship by saying you had never met them face to face, only spoken to them on the phone?

These worlds are inherently liberating precisely because they are seperated from the "real". They are not bound by physical limits. What is liberation, if not freedom from the tyrrany of the 3 F's?

--Dave

Posted Nov 10, 2007 4:08:17 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Dave Rickey
“If it isn't survival, the 3 F's (Food, Fighting, and....), it's all equally virtual.”

That’s exactly were I started to, then I found that there was a pre-existing vocabulary for this and specifically Pierre Bourdieu’s term ‘symbolic capital’. Though I think the ideas of use-value and exchange-value are very handy too.

“What is liberation, if not freedom from the tyrrany of the 3 F's?”

Well, I think that people like Jean Baudrillard would say that it has to be liberation from the things that replace the 3F’s. The idea being that when do get beyond them, as industrialized societies have, then they are replaced with another set of needs but that these needs are not ‘natural’ in any sense so the use-value of things is just as manufactured as the exchange-value or wrapping it together the ‘symbolic capital’. And when I say manufactured of course I’m alluding to the idea that our needs and the fact that we mediate social relations, in part, with the things that we acquire to meet these needs is something controlled by

So the tyranny of the 3F’s can be replaced with the tyranny of consumerism that can be used to stop us gaining the advantages of the very freedom you talk about.

Question is whether currently VW’s are supporting that process or not.

Or as Tim has rightly challenged above, whether this whole analysis is redundant.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 6:49:26 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Timothy Burke:
“I've never seen a question where I've more fervently felt, "None of the above" was the right answer.”

My flippant answer was spoken by Marlon Brando in The Wild One:

Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny: Whaddya got?

The fuller answer is that it’s not just the Marxists and post-Marxist commentators on consumerism that are of interest here. I think that both academics and the technology industry in general have a tendency to employ a rhetoric of utopianism and often liberation when they talk about tech.

Looking back we see: the washing machine liberates the housewife from the daily drudge, the computer liberates us from paper, the mobile phone and now the blackberry liberate us from the office. Indeed in the UK now we have an ad for a bit of mobile tech which shows and aspiration lifestyle of some guy in an exotic location with the ideal woman a tan etc etc and his tech that means he no longer needs to be tied to the office.

But of course much mobile tech means that we are always tied to the office, the division between home and work is broken down, the private sphere gets invaded, the power that we might have had to shelter part of our life from work has now drained away with the new obligation to have the mobile devise and have it on etc.

I think that such rhetorics and counter arguments have a valid place today, I also think that virtual worlds can be framed that way, if only in a post Turkle view of the idea of liberation from a certain sense of identity and how this may not be as possible as more Utopian writers supposed.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 7:11:50 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@everyone

I wondered if this was a good way to look at the liberation argument.

If we look at the history of sport, or at least the history of English sport, we often see that that the social structures of the time, particularly the class structures and a lot of the assumptions that go into that, are mirrored in the way that the sport is structured, understood and practiced.

Simplistic examples here would be the Gentlemen and Players division in cricket. One might also look at the way that the rules of boxing gradually got codified and, as I understand it from sports historians, how early rules very much focused on making betting on the sport ‘safe’ so those with money knew that they would be risking it on a ‘fair’ contest – hence the rules worried little about the welfare of the boxers and other matters that we might think would be the natural focus of rules for this type of game.

We must also see the role that sport players in wider society and how being a spectator draws people into the assumed structures of the game and what wider meaning these have in their lives. Again to mention cricket – the phrase ‘it’s just not cricket’ still has resonance in the UK and this I think tells us something about the relationship between the construction of games and the construction of national and self identity.

So if we buy this idea – that games can both reflect and re-enforce certain ideologies of identity, and we start to think about the source of the forces that go to shape what the game the way that the game sits in a wider social context – then games can be seen to either re-enforce, react to or sit outside these types of forces.

And so back to virtual worlds – I wonder if we can as the very same historical questions about practices in virtual worlds. That is, is it the case that over the almost 30 years that virtual worlds have been around have the practices within those games (and yes there is some relationship with the structure of the game and the affordances provide by the tech that we need to be mindful of) mirrored the social structures around them. Or have the affordances and one might say contingencies that virtual worlds provide lead participants to do otherwise.

The refinement to this is to ask – even if those involved did otherwise, did they do so because they were a self selecting group that just has this disposition and would have done so anyway or is there something about virtual worlds that, in the current cultural context, leads to a tendency to act in this way.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 7:30:59 AM | link

Susan says:

If it isn't survival, the 3 F's (Food, Fighting, and....), it's all equally virtual.

Well, there isn't much food in the currently-popular VW's, but most of the content is either simulated violence or simulated sex.

One of the revelations of virtual worlds was that sex in RL was also largely virtual. (And that projection - whereby you see your partner as you would wish them to be, rather than as they "really" well - happens in face-to-face interactions as well as text).

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:01:48 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

One of the driving forces behind creating MUD, from my point of view at least, was the fact that we were offering players freedom. By being someone else, they were able to be and become themselves. Right from the beginning, virtual worlds have always been about freedom.

They're still about freedom, but there's a gradual decline. There's too much leakage of reality into them, too little understanding on the part of most designers as to what it is they're designing, too many worlds for children that will remove their sense of wonder, too few players who realise quite what's on offer here... At times, I feel as if virtual worlds are a tropical island being battered by waves that are eventually going to overwhelm them and drag them beneath the ocean's surface.

Virtual worlds offer freedom! Actual, personal freedom! You can finally go somewhere and be YOURSELF. What an amazing, glorious prize! We should be celebrating them, urging everyone to join us in this wondrous new future; yet instead, all the big arguments concern people who want to drag reality into them, rather than keep it out. We're in real danger of losing the one chance we've ever had throughout all of history for people to have freedom that means freedom.

It's not "freedom from", it's "freedom to". Turn it into reality, and it's gone.

Richard

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:06:39 AM | link

Susan says:

Slavoj Zizek on "The Matrix" (in "Enjoy Your Symptom!")

"This series goes back to Plato's Republic ... The important difference, of course, is that when some individuals escape their cave predicament and step out onto the surface of the Earth, what they find there is no longer the bright surface illuminated by the rays of the sun, the supreme good, but the desolate 'desert of the real'."

And this, I feel, is the liberation that virtual worlds have given us.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:11:03 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Richard Bartle

I love the idea of virtual worlds as 'freedom to'. But I look at the ones we have today and people seem to use this freedom (if that is what they have) to be a self that seems so limited and confined by an internalization of the ideology they sit in - as you say there are many ways in which the non-virtual is invading.

What I wonder - and I alluded to this above, is whether we have seen a change.

So, in the early days of MUD can you tell us what people did with this freedom, as I'd love to know what we have lost - and I'd like others to know so we might have a change of re-capturing it and then protecting it.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:17:10 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

Nicely put, Richard. I very much like, "not freedom from, but freedom to." That's an important difference in many spheres.

I would only add that in VWs/MMs (many other games), that you can go somewhere and be "yourselves" (plural). The freedom *to* explore many self-types is an important part of gaming, at least to me.

In sports, for example, I can really only be one me; the one, e.g., that sucks at golf. I can't decide to try my hand at being a great golfer, because, well... I ain't. Now, I could be a bad golfer who dresses in different ways, or is kind vs. nasty, or who golfs more despite my suckiness, etc. But those are really all still me doing my stuff.

The freedom, in many games, to make choices about what/who/how I will proceed through the system is one of the most important differences between a role-playing game and any other type of gaming experience. Again... I can't generally choose what/who/how to play Risk, Clue, Monopoly, etc.

That's one of the reasons I am so pro-RP in these spaces; it's a major part of the value, I believe. It's also why I'm anti RMT (there goes the comment stream...) in games where it's not explicitly allowed, because it removes (or at least greatly reduces) the element of "choice context" from the game, overlaying one of "economic context."

So... yes. Freedom to. Indeed. Freedom to choose.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:21:53 AM | link

Harry says:

I think the anonymity available in these games gives a person freedom to explore their identity in ways that they never would in real life. Anonymity is a critical component of freedom (and Democracy for that matter!).

Posted Nov 10, 2007 9:38:03 AM | link

Tripp says:

Ren said:
"I love the idea of virtual worlds as 'freedom to'. But I look at the ones we have today and people seem to use this freedom (if that is what they have) to be a self that seems so limited and confined by an internalization of the ideology they sit in - as you say there are many ways in which the non-virtual is invading."

Well, true. But is that about people or about VWs? I think it's about people. VWs offer an affordance for some free, creative action, but yes, as Ren said, most people just reproduce their internalized ideas. I don't blame VWs for causing that or limiting people in these instances.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 12:25:59 PM | link

Susan says:

But is that about people or about VWs? I think it's about people.

I'd be catious about drawing universal conclusions about human beings from the current virtual worlds. I think the nature of the current worlds does say something about contemporary society -- particularly Western society -- but people from a different background might act differently (Asian MMOs should be a good test of this).

It's also an interaction between people and the technology. I suspect that some activities are not popular in (e.g.) Second Life because the platform makes it hard to implement them, not because there isn't interest. For example: car racing games and first person shooters aren't very common in SL, and yet we know that these classes of games sell well. The facilities provided by the platform may be significantly affecting people's behavior.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 1:53:06 PM | link

Susan says:

Also, for what it's worth: Gambing in Second Life - before the gambling ban took hold - often seemed to be a form of charity or sharing of resources. People contribute according to their ability, and the pot is shared out randomly. Not what you expect to see in a capitalist economy.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 1:58:03 PM | link

Scott says:

I have never been in a virtual world, nor do I plan to. However, the issues raised here are pertinent and insightful to both worlds. First, I hope I'm not dismissed by this admission as a novice whose opinion is meaningless. This would merely cement the concept that virtual worlds are destined to fall prey to the same basics of human behavior that define any world we live in.

Ultimately, any world we create will not be in and of itself an environment for change. The change only occurs within the hearts and minds of the masses populating such worlds. Without a significant and widespread change in human desire and subsequent behavior, any world will simply relegate itself to being another plane upon which we imprint the same modus operandi under which we have existed before. For instance, if we continue to have an overarching world view of money and power being the ultimate goal and standard of personal and interpersonal success then the minority with money and power will continue to be the rule makers of our world, or worlds, anywhere this interactive continuum is applied.

The only reason virtual worlds appear to enjoy any freedom of non-mainstream expression is because at this time they are marketable and pose no immediate or long-term threat to the accepted world view and system of centralized wealth and power. Should this change so will the levels of freedom experienced in virtual worlds just as it happens in the physical world. All things, all worlds are simply the results of our own perceptions. Creating new worlds, even virtual worlds will not change these perceptions. Only our perceptions can change our worlds.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 2:20:56 PM | link

blackrazor says:

I've consumed popular culture for the last 30 to 35 years, and I've noticed a very discernable "darkening" of the message.

Compare the original "Star Trek" with its more recent incarnations. Do the same for "Star Wars" with the first three movies made (now commonly called episodes 4,5,6) ... but especially the first one (episode 4) with what has been produced later.

Also compare 70's concepts of Batman and Superman with their more modern counterparts.

The science / fantasy fiction of the 70's was more simple, brightly coloured, optimistically philosophical about the human condition. Perhaps those were happier, easier, more prosperous times for western civilization.

Our more modern stuff is complex (big overwhelming scenes, seeking to explain every nook and cranny of the fiction with mind boggling pseudo-speak), dark, angst-filled, and very pessimistic about our future.

Where am I going with all this? I would imagine that the creation of, and play within, virtual worlds is much like our art / play in other spheres ... it is a reflection of where we are in our culture of today.

Games are a way to analyze our very real cultural and social issues from a different perspective. Play has great survival value; it's tied up in learning, experimentation, personal growth, but often with a reflection to what is relevant around us in the here and now.

So the game can take the real-human to the fantasy setting, but it can't take the real-human out of the equation.

Why is liberty such an issue in today's themes? Because we are starting to realize how eroded it has become, if it wasn't an illusion to begin with.

With all the information we have today, it is harder for the truth to hide. We have a wired world, with camera phones and security cameras everywhere. Our authority figures can't hide; what they do is captured for us to see, and we often don't like what we are seeing. It is very painful to see the dark side of human nature, reflected and real, constantly piped from our computer screens and internet searches into our waiting eyeballs and consciousness.

That is why our present is so dark, and why this darkness seeps into our entertainment and virtual worlds. We have crucial questions that engage us, and there is no freedom to run from it to anywhere, it seems.

I believe that there are evolutionary constraints that define the pattern for authority, submission, and competition, and these will play out in virtual worlds, much as in the real world. (Biological or cultural evolution, or both, take your pick.)

Short of rewriting the genetic code (nature portion of the equation), or rewriting the "authority / submission / competition" patterns (nurture portion of the equation) in these virtual worlds, so they don't resemble what we have in the real world, I think we are stuck with the present trends, as well.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 2:42:50 PM | link

epredator says:

I am not sure it is just virtual worlds, but I feel that the connected nature of the world is liberating people to gather and stand against things that they regard as incorrect. This may be a utopian ideal, but if things are not working for a group of people they will choose to bypass those things in the way.
This seems to apply whether we are talking open source software, people gathering to build the tools they need, or for political pressure groups like they work for you
Now people may have chosen to gather in the street and protest, or make a stand for their rights, but now the barrier to entry is a lot less and the degree of initial involvement can be more comfortable.
Virtual worlds and metaverses add a more human connection and allows the less technically profecient to engage with one another, as have blogs and IM. They are easier to access than our tech havens of IRC and newsgroups.
So this liberation of attititude and mass market acceptance that sharing is worth while must lead to some change.
It feels part of a cyclic process of control and freedom. I am not sure how far freedom will get before control is re-established, but if we take the sort of movement in business and corporate circles of innovating management culture away from command control we see that there are lots of interesting social changes occuring.
See Gary Hamel Future of Management on amazon as an example (with video)
So culturally we are demanding change as we move out of the information age to a more human way of working and living, a need to connect with people.
So I have hope, that we will have a degree of change, VW's may well help liberate the thinking patterns aswell as be part of the vehicle for change.
I look forward to the near future :-)

Posted Nov 10, 2007 4:30:05 PM | link

Alec Coquin says:

Many of the mechanisms by which 'dominant ideologies' reproduce are already embedded in language. As such, if you understand dominant ideologies as constructs of a given 'political economy', then to a certain extent, it is inevitable that virtual worlds will somehow be tainted. On the other hand, positing virtual worlds as "just another way for dominant ideologies to be re-enforced" seems to overstate the problem.
Virtual communities have the unique ability to insulate themselves from undesirable 'outsiders'. As such, in a evolutionary game-theoretic sense, it is not unreasonable to expect new ideologies and norms/values to develop if the community is sufficiently insulated from the "dominant ideologies".
So, yes, virtual PUBLIC worlds will invariably reflect the ideologies of the dominant political economy, while the semi-private communities that populate these worlds, if sufficiently insulated, will thrive.
It is not unreasonable to expect that ideologies will eventually develop in these communities that are robust enough to challenge those of the "dominant political economy". I understand communities just like this one to be at the heart of that change.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 5:55:04 PM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Alec Coquin
Ahh, I like the public / private distinction. My worry is that private might also mean corporately owned and controlled - I guess that access to virtual worlds so that smaller groups or individuals can run them may change the path of the future. And this is something that we do see with the rise of world tools like Multiverse and the open source future of the SL grid.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 5:58:25 PM | link

Susan says:

@blackrazor

Yes - SF has always had a dystopian side, but it came to the fore. Somehow, SF lost faith in the future.

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash is pretty dystopian: the U.S. government reduced to irrelevance; the official currency hyperinflated; the territories of the former United States divided between the Mafia and Columbian drug gangs (and Mr. Lee's Greater Hong Kong); religious extremists with stolen nuclear weapons; humans and computers threatened by deadly diseases etc.

Second Life is closely modelled on the Metaverse from Snow Crash - so perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised that it isn't a socialist Utopia.

Posted Nov 10, 2007 6:32:30 PM | link

Amarilla says:

"...I feel that the connected nature of the world is liberating people to gather and stand against things that they regard as incorrect."

1- " things " are not incorrect, incorrect are the guys doing those things.

2-so, you gonna gather and stand against....where ?! The place where you wanna do that, is owned and controlled and ruled by the bad guy, your opponent.

"..Virtual communities have the unique ability to insulate themselves from undesirable 'outsiders'."

You mean, the owners/operators does not report to the CIA ?! Dude, all the electronic-mediated communications are monitorised and controlled , what sort of liberty or inovation do you expect to occur in a such environment ?

Posted Nov 11, 2007 1:13:29 AM | link

Amarilla says:

Tripp says:

"Quick thought after glancing through all of the above...The fact that anyone can post here and, if his/her ideas are valuable, they tend to be valued, is cause for hope, to me. I see VWs, like the web, as having the potential to be "meritocracy creating". "

@ Tripp : you forgot Prokofy Neva ; as far as i can remember, she was baned here not because of her ideas, but because Dan Hunter asked her to show titts and she objected. Sure, my memory can be distorsed , but i don't remember any other reason provided to us by Dan Hunter.

Ren Reynolds says:

" @Alec Coquin
Ahh, I like the public / private distinction. "

@ Ren, what's the distinction between Blackwater and the USA govt ? What is State , what is Corporate and what is Private when the Federal Reserve is owned by " a group of private anonymous Bank-owners " ? Tell me who is ruling your real world so i can tell who is rolling your Virtual World. That much for liberty and freedom and anonimity and democracy .

Posted Nov 11, 2007 1:57:36 AM | link

Lavant says:

@Richard- "It's not "freedom from", it's "freedom to"". The idea brings warm feelings, and then a lump of sad realization. If only virtual worlds were quite so magic- truly the DREAM of DREAMS. A vision of a better future. But it seems these apparitions are missing a component of lucidity. Can a virtual world owned and maintained by corporations claiming to be dieties truely offer the freedom TO be YOURSELF? Perhaps to the extent law requires it (which perhaps it already does). Virtually real identities are dictated by code and EULAS, TOS and external calls upon the courts in attempts to codify "legitimate" play. I would like to "drag" reality into virtual worlds where they are lacking freedoms readily available in earthland societies. It is where virtual world developers abrogate basic liberties (such as freedom of speech, assembly, and property) that law provides hope against hope. If virtual world community members can claim ownership to their time as RMT arguments tend to forget (remember Blacksnow?) then perhaps these individuals could define their own such identity. Granted this example only gives one type of identity, but one that if properly harnassed could have minimal effect on others and surpass the whole externality debate. How do we do this: community specific servers and giving the communities direct control over the rules of their communities. An act of configuration that happens at the moment of engagement. Lest we forget the desire and ambition that beg the "freedom to" lives in the hearts and minds of community members, not the devloppers. In what ways do virtual worlds FACILITATE play rather than dictate it and in what way do they FACILITATE the freedom to transcend authoritarian claims of dogmatic proprotions? I believe virtual worlds offer freedom to the extent they are allowed to by developers, human just as everybody else.

Posted Nov 11, 2007 7:42:51 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ren>I love the idea of virtual worlds as 'freedom to'. But I look at the ones we have today and people seem to use this freedom (if that is what they have) to be a self that seems so limited and confined by an internalization of the ideology they sit in

Yes, many of them do. They don't even know what it is they're undermining any more. Researchers talk of virtual worlds in terms of property and contract law and social capital and government, all the while missing what's on offer. Players think of the future only in terms of WoW or SL or FFO or LoTRO or whatever else their current world of choice is; they refuse to contemplate the possibility that there may be other ways of doing things.

In the drive to make virtual worlds mass-market, they've been gradually losing what it is that makes them special. It's very frustrating to watch.

>What I wonder - and I alluded to this above, is whether we have seen a change.

Well I certainly have.

>So, in the early days of MUD can you tell us what people did with this freedom, as I'd love to know what we have lost - and I'd like others to know so we might have a change of re-capturing it and then protecting it.

In the very, very early days, they didn't have the freedom because they didn't realise it was available. They played as themselves, with no role-playing, much as they might play Monopoly or tennis. It was only when I showed them by example (see "Polly's Tale" in my book) that most of them got what was possible.

From then, they had the freedom to do and be whatever they wanted. They took it, too. Their ability to interact with other players was immense: you could attack and kill (permadeath) other players; you could steal things from them; you could lock them in rooms from which they couldn't escape. There were many ways to be absolutely awful to them. However, there were many more ways to be nice to them. Being awful was rapidly learned to be a losing strategy. People built up trust, friendships, expertise, knowledge; in so doing, the game world asked them questions that they answered through deeds and learned more about themselves as a result.

This potentially unfettered interaction, which is no worse than is possible in real life, is nevertheless no longer possible in virtual worlds. You can't do anything much to other player characters. This makes the world more palatable at one level, if those things you might want to do were grief-related, but it makes it less embracing at another, in that sometimes you wanted to be able to help others in ways that are no longer possible.

Over time, players have become accustomed to being wrapped in cotton wool. They've grown used to having decisions made for them. You want to be a mage, so you select class mage - it's just too confusing and unclear if you have to, you know, act like a mage. More and more constraints are being added to protect players from the twin demons of other players and of having to think, that eventually we're going to end up with a useless mush that's only suitable for 10-year-olds.

I do see some light, though. Some players and designers do sense the possibilities. If production costs were to come down, they could experiment with new designs, in new directions, recapturing some of what was lost and, hopefully, striking out to bring us more than we ever had before. This is why I'm keen on projects like Multiverse and Metaplace. If we can exceed with graphics the creativity we saw with text, then the future of virtual worlds is assured.

If we end up in a situation where virtual worlds are so bland that people think they're just another Facebook, we're in trouble. Unfortunately, we're actually getting close to that...

Richard

Posted Nov 11, 2007 8:58:09 AM | link

Anon says:

Lol u live in a idealist state anything touched by humanity will be tained / doomed
sex drugs n rock n roll baby
WHY cus every mofo wants to he HIGH

EvIl Is Man
Blessed is the Machine

Posted Nov 11, 2007 9:40:10 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Anon>WHY cus every mofo wants to he HIGH

Well you certainly seem to have achieved that state, Anon.

Richard

Posted Nov 12, 2007 3:28:41 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

"They've grown used to having decisions made for them. You want to be a mage, so you select class mage - it's just too confusing and unclear if you have to, you know, act like a mage."

How does a mage act, Richard?

I'm just thinking, but there's nothing in the Second Life code to define how a vampire, or gorean, or cyberpunk acts, but people seem to do it anyway, according to the weight of expectation and assumption of the role. Is this the same expectation and assumptions that would determine how a mage would be role played?

That's still a constraint.

I'd also guess that early MUDers were mostly comprised of computer science students and D&D players, with a strong overlap. The difference now, is that, even though artists and academics see it as terribly prosaic and dull, there are hundreds of thousands of people playing at Slightly Better Than Myself. They may be doing boring things like replicating some idealized Malibu lifestyle, but it's a start. These are people who 10 years ago maybe wouldn't even have bothered with computers, much less anything as "childish" as an online computer game- a stigma that even the mighty World of Warcraft cannot overcome.

So these people live their shallow, sub-soap opera Second Lives, but you know a lot of them make their alts and put on a rubber suit to play BDSM under the anomymity. Just like those EVE alt pirates I guess. While it may cause eyes to roll, and shoulders to sag to see people choosing to explore aspects of themselves that others see as seedy, sad, tacky, you know, it's a start. You have people all dressed up in leather and vampire faces who would probably laughed at some bespectacled guy with a Monstrous Compendium under his arm. So maybe they're learning something about themselves too.

It's baby steps. I can only speak from experience, but the people I know who got into that kind of roleplay eventually did more with their virtual selves. In time, maybe something even better will grow out of it. I don't think you achieve that by hard coding every possible action, and neither by shouting at people "No! No! You're doing it all wrong! You're supposed to be ACTING LIKE THIS!"

Both are limitations and restrictions. So long as the only real limitation that you see is the apparent lack of imagination of the people, then there is always hope.

One step at a time, though, and don't worry about SL- the very day that something appears that allows as much freedom, and works a bit better appears, everyone will dump it. It probably doesn't even have to allow as much freedom- just enough. And people will waste that freedom by being slightly buffer or prettier ideas of themselves, but they'll experiment too, so long as they're able to. So long as they don't get hamstrung by things like full identity disclosure, or webcam species, race and gender verification, of social pressure to "be themselves".

Posted Nov 12, 2007 6:13:55 AM | link

Andrew Cooper says:

Answer = dont spend anytime in virtual worlds , go out do some sport , read a book , go for a walk or hike , go round a friends house , go out, in other words live in the real world , it's far more facinating.

people need to wake up up and smell the roses. parents need to intereact with their kids.

also stop any violent games , what do they add to our culture?.

i work in I.T and computers are fantastic for buisness , but if i want to play tennis they i will play tennis in the real world not on a nintendo wii. Come on people stop the utter weirdeness ad live a little.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 7:39:13 AM | link

Susan says:

Richard Bartle said:

By being someone else, they were able to be and become themselves. Right from the beginning, virtual worlds have always been about freedom.


Two things bother me about this whole discussion:

  • Is it reasonable to expect virtual worlds to liberate us? Why should a piece of software do something as radical as that?
  • Do we have a real self to be liberated?

In Western societies, users come to virtual worlds with a whole lot of mental baggage that raises their expectations. An imagined virtual reality has long been a part of Western philosophy: Plato's cave, Descartes' malicious demon, Alan Turing's computer emulating a human etc. Christianity has ideas about the body and sin and cosmic eschatology that we find echoed - in secularized form - in our hopes for virtual worlds. It's also one of the stock tropes of science fiction: A Maze of Death, Snow Crash, The Matrix and so on. An actual, really existing[*], virtual world has a lot to live up to. Is it going to liberate us like Christ's return for the resurrection? Probably not. (For example, compare Neo in The Matrix). Dissappointment is inevitable, and I think we should get over it.

[*] The allusion to "really existing socialism" is intended.

Secondly, do we have a real self to liberate? To be sure, human beings indulge in a lot of fakery, and not just online. Most humans spend a lot of energy striving towards socially disapproved goals while maintaining an appearance of being "morally good" - because the appearance of not desiring forbidden goals is necessary to avoid punishment. So you might think there is a real self and real desires, behind the obviously false social front. But people start to believe their own lies (cf. experiments on cognitive dissonance; Freudian theories of repression). The false social front is inextricably entwined with the person's actual conciousness, so there isn't a coherent self left behind the mask that could be unmasked. We've been conditioned like Skinner's experimental animals to behave in certain ways, and will continue doing so even when the original reward/punishment is taken away.


Posted Nov 12, 2007 8:41:13 AM | link

says:

There is no such thing as liberty and freedom in either world.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 8:44:24 AM | link

Miklos the Strange says:

I used to travel a great deal with my work, spending long periods of time (sometimes years) in other countries. One day one of my colleagues, who didn't travel and was permanently based in one oth these other countries, asked me if I reinvented myself whenever I went somewhere new.

I didn't and said so, but it got me thinking: why not? At the time I was single and without a partner. Part of me thought that my existing public persona was obviously not particularly attractive (romantically) to others. I could pretend to be anyone, to have an interest in anything. I could claim to like mountaineering, or ballroom dancing, or bland corporate pop - well OK, maybe not that!

But I soon realised that it's just not that simple. Unless one has a particularly strong degree of self-loathing, we are all relatively happy with our personas. Note the qualifier here: relatively. Sure, we'd all like to be a little more assertive, a little more charming, a little more humourous, whatever. But most of us don't want to be radically different to the way we are now, otherwise we'd change.

This is why I believe the liberating possibilities of VWs will rarely, if ever, be fully realised. In my experience, most people who enter VWs behave remarkably similarly to the way they do in RL. Body types may differ as this is something easy to configure, but VW behaviour tracks RL very closely. There is sometimes an initial burst of experimentation with extremes of behaviour but then the old persona asserts itself and the avatar really does become just a placeholder icon for the RL individual.

Now there are probably a bunch of roleplayers reading this who disagree. I myself love roleplaying and there are few pleasures more satisfying than immersing yourself in the personality of another. Just ask any actor. But in a VW (or RL) it's hard to do all the time. I tend to find that kind, considerate and helpful people in RL are the same in VW. Similarly, the few RL jerks I know who access VWs are jerks there too.

The liberation we speak of requires us to liberate ourselves from our own basic templates, something the vast majority of people cannot do. If we could we wouldn't repeat history again and again, prejudice and bigotry would disappear, etc. We are who we are and the effort required to change us is beyond most people. So VWs will continue to mimic RL, to a greater and greater degree. The few exceptions will be "games", tourist destinations where we pretend to be someone else for a short while, before returning to our "real selves" in our "normal" VW.

I don't mean that to sound depressing. There's nothing wrong with having a VW avatar that's close to being just like your RL self. Indeed, some might argue that it speaks of a healthy self-esteem that they are comfortable being their current selves when they could be anyone. But it's also great to be someone else, if only for a little while. Let's just remember that changing someone's mind can often be the hardest thing imaginable.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 10:07:38 AM | link

greglas says:

Ren -- I'd go back to some of the earlier comments and say the problem here is to specify what kind of "liberty" you're talking about. E.g., if we look to J.S. Mill for our definitions, liberty can't be separated from some conception of government. But your notion of oppression (liberty's opposite) seems more closely tied to consumerism, which makes me think you're coming from a post-Marxist, Frankfurt school criticism of twentieth century capitalism. You should flag that this is probably not the dominant version of "liberty," that would not be easily reconciled with, e.g., modern libertarian approaches, Amartya Sen, or countless other attempts to define "liberty" and "freedom."

But, okay, let's take Adorno/Benjamin/Marcuse and imagine what they'd make of Second Life. Generally, I think they'd feel that SL holds up a mirror to the modern, alienated, image-obsessed consumer society. And you seem to adopt the framework of Jean Baudrillard, who, I think, despaired about Second Life and the desert of the real (as Susan says) in advance of its clearest instantiation.

I'd be careful, though, to bracket any potential Frankfurt School critique of Second Life from a general critique of games and game goals. The question of whether games "liberate" pursuant to the Frankfurt School approach takes a lot more work, imho, (see, e.g., these guys) and I think some of the prior comments about the (apparently) voluntary nature of the player commitment to play the game would be interesting to spin out some more.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 10:43:40 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@greglas says:

“I'd go back to some of the earlier comments and say the problem here is to specify what kind of "liberty" you're talking about.”

I framed my kick off discussion in implicitly Frankfurt type terms yes. I was a bit more explicit about that in a future comment referencing Baudrillard and the like.

But I guess I’m not that interested in how I happen to frame Liberty but how others here want to. If there are ways that are much more relevant to now or applicable to virtual worlds then let’s use them, and if they reject that there is such a dichotomy or that virtual worlds specifically could operate in one, then that’s fine too.

“E.g., if we look to J.S. Mill for our definitions, liberty can't be separated from some conception of government.”

I guess we could ask then about physical government, virtual world governance and how these relate to this construct of freedom.

“But, okay, let's take Adorno/Benjamin/Marcuse and imagine what they'd make of Second Life. Generally, I think they'd feel that SL holds up a mirror to the modern, alienated, image-obsessed consumer society. And you seem to adopt the framework of Jean Baudrillard, who, I think, despaired about Second Life and the desert of the real (as Susan says) in advance of its clearest instantiation.”

Yes I think that they would despair over Second Life but not necessarily other virtual spaces.


“I'd be careful, though, to bracket any potential Frankfurt School critique of Second Life from a general critique of games and game goals.”

Well, Second Life is not a game so I would never apply that as a general frame to it whatever approach I was taking, except possible for the fact that some users of SL may think of it as a game and this might alter some of their perceptions of what is going on and that these may indeed bleed into some less conscious views about what happens in SL and other mediated spaces e.g. people may tend to be more playful.

“The question of whether games "liberate" pursuant to the Frankfurt School approach takes a lot more work, imho, (see, e.g., these guys) and I think some of the prior comments about the (apparently) voluntary nature of the player commitment to play the game would be interesting to spin out some more.”

Oh very much so, there have been good comments here but I think we are only just touching the surface and really looking at the merit of different approaches. As I’ve noted I don’t see any intrinsic properties that really come into this but rather the trajectory of practice – one direction might be that the use of spaces like SL may become less voluntary for some, already many work there so it is voluntary only in so much as they can choose to get another job.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 11:22:08 AM | link

Grendel says:

He who pays for hosting calls the tune.

Know many philanthropist ludologists with the resources and inclination to run a game that isn't simply constructed of scalable timesinks and instead offers an environment with significant freedom of expression yet still able to steer clear of real world litigation?

Yeah, me neither. Still, it's nice to dream.

If someone comes up with a cheap and low overhead "MMORPG construction kit" then maybe. Of course, the following problems still abound:

a) Anecdotally, I find most people express themselves by picking a game world. From there on in, most choices are made for the players, or offered from a menu. Most players desire this. They don't want to actualise their perception of a mage. They start getting nervous when you give them a choice.

b) Should someone indeed be looking for a medium to express themselves, does encouraging a person to express themselves in a virtual environment reduce the impetus to challenge the constraints of their real life?

Virtual worlds are, in this writer's humble opinion, the gaming equivalent of drugs. That is to say with repeated exposure they rapidly cease to be the initiator of a revelatory experience and instead simply become akin to displacement behaviour.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 11:36:40 AM | link

Susan says:

@greglas:

I'd go back to some of the earlier comments and say the problem here is to specify what kind of "liberty" you're talking about.

Yes, indeed! We're talking about several different conceptions of "liberty".

The original post touches on two of the major themes:

... the barrier between roles of consumption and production seems to have been lowered ...

This is close to Marxist notions of "ownership of the means of production". For current virtual worlds, Second Life included, I'm not convinced. Sure, you can create a new object within SL really cheaply, but you couldn't replicate SL's server infrastructure without a substantial investment in hardware, programmers and so on. This matters, because Linden Lab uses its ownership of the hardware and the server software to enforce policies that users don't always agree with (gambling ban, swastika ban, the "broadly offensive" etc). Some of these rules are forced on Linden Labs by the US government, but the fact remains that those of us outside the US can't easily put up our own clone of the server infrastructure. Other virtual worlds, e.g. Ultima Online, are much more restrictive.

Not quite in the old utopian ideal of freeing us fully from pre-existing notions of self but at least opening up new opportunities for self-exploration.

This is an rather more psychoanalytic notion of "liberty". Above, I've directed a lot of skepticism at it, but there's something in it. I've had occasional moments of profound self-realisation in VW's: either from building things (and then realising the meaning of what I've built) or from acting a character.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 12:12:43 PM | link

soulassassin says:

I seriously doubt the idea of VWs to "liberate" people, although VWs provide a way to communicate with other people and somewhat makes it possible to have real-life encounters, because to live a "virtual life" is to pay for the online time and the copy of the software.

Even if I also play an online game, I don't use it as a substitute for real-life relationships nor allow it to negatively influence my life like any other vice.

Posted Nov 12, 2007 9:33:41 PM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Ace Albion>How does a mage act, Richard?

You have to be told?

Assuming you're serious, and don't actually know how a mage acts: given all the options available to them, they'll tend towards the ones that involve magic.

>Is this the same expectation and assumptions that would determine how a mage would be role played?

Not quite. You can, of course, role-play a mage by casting spells a lot and not using swords. However, you don't have to role-play a mage to become one, you just do what you want and if that happens to involve heavy magic use, voila! You're a mage.

>That's still a constraint.

If you're deliberately choosing to role-play a mage, yes, it's a self-imposed constraint. If, however, you're finding your own path, it's not a constraint itself so much as a reflection of the constraints that make you you.

It's the difference between choosing to walk north to see what you find and choosing to head off in the direction of what you find most interesting. You can do both, you can do either, whichever works best for you.

>I'd also guess that early MUDers were mostly comprised of computer science students and D&D players

In MUD1's case, the very first adopters were computer science students because they heard of the game first and had most access to computer resources. It quickly spread to other departments in the university, though. As for D&D, no, that wasn't a big thing at all. I was the only person I knew who'd played it.

>there are hundreds of thousands of people playing at Slightly Better Than Myself.

The pity is, they could be playing at Becoming the Slightly Better Self I Really Am.

>While it may cause eyes to roll, and shoulders to sag to see people choosing to explore aspects of themselves that others see as seedy, sad, tacky, you know, it's a start.

Yes, but it could be so much more. It doesn't bother me what aspects of their identity they wish to explore, so long as they're adults; what frustrates me is that they're obliged to do so in environments that get in the way of it.

>the people I know who got into that kind of roleplay eventually did more with their virtual selves.

This is indeed possible, thank goodness. However, it's such an uphill struggle that far fewer people make it than would if the virtual world were designed for their particular journeys.

>And people will waste that freedom by being slightly buffer or prettier ideas of themselves

That's just the opening foray. People begin by finding the limits of what they can do socially. They stretch the norms as much as they can until they find where the boundaries lie. Then, knowing the parameters, they settle down to something comfortable within those parameters. Looking buff in SL is the signal that you're not a newbie and can explore new things with confidence.

>So long as they don't get hamstrung by things like full identity disclosure, or webcam species, race and gender verification, of social pressure to "be themselves".

The more that SL is like RL, the less SL will be attractive. The same applies for all other virtual worlds.

Richard

Posted Nov 13, 2007 3:30:42 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Susan>Is it reasonable to expect virtual worlds to liberate us?

No, but it's reasonable to hope they will.

>Why should a piece of software do something as radical as that?

Because we can allow it to do so.

>Do we have a real self to be liberated?

Finding the answer to that question is part of the deal.

>So you might think there is a real self and real desires, behind the obviously false social front. But people start to believe their own lies

Personally, I do believe that there's a core sense of identity that holds a personality together; I don't see the human mind as being an onion that you can peel the layers off until there's nothing left. Sooner or later you hit something irreducible.

People can indeed believe their own lies; virtual worlds allow them to believe their own truths.

Richard

Posted Nov 13, 2007 4:28:56 AM | link

Andy Havens says:

"How does a mage act," isn't (as far as I'm concerned) the question, so much as, "How would I act if I was a mage?" Or a vampire, gorean, goth, etc. Assuming that I'm not any of these in RL...

When I played/GM'd pen-and-paper games, we often used the GURPS system, which involves assigning disadvantages and quirks to a character. Experience would often be granted to a player/character who accurately played those disadvantages/quirks as well as advantages and skills. Yes, of course, your mage has XYZ spell-casting abilities and will use them to proactively influence the game in his favor. But the fact that you also took a -10 deafness disad means that you also need to not hear the creaky board that everyone else does, nor the warning about the falling rock. And you can't flirt (verbally) with the nice damsel at the cocktail party, because the ambient noise level is too rowdy. You're stuck nodding and smiling, Mr. Deaf Mage.

For some, the fun of an RPG is the same as for a RTS; maximize the stats, thy will be done. For others (like me), much of the joy in an RPG is in the *intentional* restrictions, as well as the abilities, imposed by the role. The hero's journey isn't just about him steadily advancing in craft and weapons skills, but coming to an understanding and accommodation of his world, including his own foibles.

A VW/MMO is liberating inasmuch as it can provide us ways to explore strengths and weaknesses that would otherwise be unavailable to us. It is the freedom to discover ourselves, and others, within a different venue in the overall context of our intellects, emotions and lives.

For example, I once RP'd the young grandson of a long-term character of a friend. The advantage was that I got to go a'venturing with him and his mates, and I got some extra wealth, because his character had earned mad dough over years of play. The disadvantage was that, from time to time, I had to not do exactly what I wanted my character to do, because, if I did, Granther would (basically) bit the crap out of me and leave me trailside. The character allowed me to explore some aspects of obedience vs... well... exuberance, let's say, that I hadn't thought of previously. Very interesting sessions, those.

Posted Nov 13, 2007 2:40:08 PM | link

blackrazor says:

@Andy Havens

Regarding "liberate" = freedom to discover ourselves and others.

I agree.

At various times, I have chosen to play avatars that are either female, or of dark-brown skincolour, precisely because they are different from my own personal physical traits.

I was curious if I would be treated differently ingame. The results were an insightful and often painful experience into the nature of human prejudice and bigotry.

Posted Nov 15, 2007 10:47:02 AM | link

Sequoia Hax says:

(Doesn't this require you to delineate what you mean by "liberation," as you did for "computer games" in your other post?)

I'm sorry, but I react aversely to your original question of whether virtual world liberate us. It seems pretty obvious that we're going to come to the same ol' conclusion that virtual worlds have the potential to liberate *and* not liberate us. So I consider a more fruitful question to be under what circumstances do virtual worlds liberate us? (After defining liberation, of course ;)

In general, I feel that the fact that x [e.g. virtual worlds, blogosphere, electronic communication] can both enable and constrain y [e.g. liberation, democracy, community] should never be the conclusion. It should be the assumption. I.e. unless there is something INHERENT to x that makes it enable/constrain y in all cases, it should be assumed that x has the potential to enable AND constrain y. (Yes, this is a noetically flat assumption, but I consider it a more useful starting point than having to go through the motions of proving that x's can both enable and constrain y.)

With regards to this post, I feel that coming to the conclusion that virtual worlds have the potential to enable and constrain liberation is not novel/interesting. What would be novel/interesting, as suggested above, is a theory of when/how virtual worlds enable vs. constrain liberation.

Apologies if this is excruciatingly obvious but: assume noetic flatness. Then search for the topography.

Posted Nov 15, 2007 10:51:08 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@ Sequoia Hax

>(Doesn't this require you to delineate what you mean by "liberation," as you did for "computer games" in your other post?)

No, in that post I was asserting a definition, in this one I’m looking at a much more open question.

> I'm sorry, but I react aversely to your original question of whether virtual world liberate us. It seems pretty obvious that we're going to come to the same ol' conclusion that virtual worlds have the potential to liberate *and* not liberate us.

This would be the case if I was asking something framed in technologically determinist of abstract terms, I think that abstraction is that case it not very useful. It looks like I was not clearly enough in the post that I’m asking about is the trajectories of practice that we actually see in virtual worlds i.e. how have people used them, how do they use them now and what might we think about how they could be used in the future from this information.

What I also find interesting is how people think of liberty and how they think of it in relation to virtual spaces, I did not want prime that debate too much with specific notions but I thought I would get the ball rolling.

>So I consider a more fruitful question to be under what circumstances do virtual worlds liberate us? (After defining liberation, of course ;)

Indeed, and from what we see out there now, what in your view is the answer?

Posted Nov 15, 2007 1:55:47 PM | link

Ken says:

I believe Virtual real Worlds will liberate certain classes of our society; those bedridden and bored members who are constrained by events. They will be able to contribute more and be able to help and mentor more people. We must start to digitize the past environments before the memories are lost forever; as assumptions of the past are usually incorrect.

Virtual Worlds must be aesthetically pleasing and be as realistic as possible.

Posted Nov 16, 2007 3:01:43 PM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Ken
“I believe Virtual real Worlds will liberate certain classes of our society; those bedridden and bored members who are constrained by events. “

Why do you give primacy to physical limitations? Surely you are supporting Richard’s idea her that Virtual World can liberate us in all kinds of ways – the constraints could be those of class, geography, up-bringing, in short, we are all constrained.

Also what do you mean by ‘Virtual real Worlds’. All virtual worlds are ‘real’ they just don’t happen to have certain physical characteristics (though at various levels of abstraction they have others) that other things do.

If you mean that they are ‘realistic’ or in some way embody 'realism' – then you need to take a position on these notions. Certainly if you start down a track where you might suggest that faithful visual mimetic properties make something ‘realistic’ then you have a large weight of aesthetic theory to battle against.

Maybe you mean that they would engender real emotions or social relations – if so, how do current virtual worlds not do that?

Posted Nov 16, 2007 3:18:38 PM | link

Amarilla says:

" Do virtual worlds liberate us?
Ren Reynolds

I’m wondering what TN reader’s view is of the trajectory of the intersection of virtual worlds and what some term the political economy is. In short do we think that the practices associated virtual worlds are tending towards liberating us or are acting as just another way for dominant ideologies to be re-enforced? "

" Why do you give primacy to physical limitations?"

This remainds me of an ol friend , who " did time ", long time i could say :) He once told me :
" ...you know, my dear , sitting there in jail...actually there i've been forced to discover my real freedom and liberty , in my own mind and heart and soul ".
LOL i told him : " ...dude, so, you were sitting in a shit and told yourself : it's a warm shit, afterall ! I wonder how could you ignore the smell ?! ".


"...way for dominant ideologies to be re-enforced? ".

LOL again : don't forget the plain greed , as a very strong primary human motivation .


Posted Nov 16, 2007 10:28:48 PM | link

Ken says:

Re: “I believe Virtual real Worlds will liberate certain classes of our society; those bedridden and bored members who are constrained by events. “

I just believe the main benefit would be to those who are bedridden and bored for whatever reason; these people are totally constrained physically and maybe mentally, they also will help liberate the problems of class, colour, creed, sex orientation, etc. by enabling real ideas to be exchanged without predudice.

The term Virtual Real World is meant to describe a as aesthetically pleasing environment as possible;
An environment that simulates a real environment to the point where you have to reassure youself which world you are in.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 7:36:20 AM | link

Patroklus Murakami says:

Many posters have identified the fault with your original question 'liberate us from what?' so I won't labour that point too heavily. I think the problem you're having is that you've set the expectations for what virtual worlds could achieve too high (liberation from wage slavery/capitalism/internalised norms/delete as appropriate) and the actions of the people who've pitched up in SL haven't yet met your high expectations.

My question would be "Who gets to decide what is 'liberating'?" I detect a snobbish tone to your characterisaton of "endlessly reproduced norms of body type etc that look like the products of an internalisation and then self production of dominant types". The liberating aspect of Second Life is that people *get to choose* what they look like; your opinion of the choices they make tells us about your prejudices but I would question whether it really tells us anything about the people you're observing.

If someone is able to found a Second Life business and make a real life income from the production of virtual goods (or any other of the many opportunities for wealth creation in SL) they may well experience that phenomenon as 'liberation'. If someone is able to explore aspects of their personality through presenting themselves as an avatar of a different gender they feel that this is 'liberating'. Now you might want to characterise this as 'false consciousness' but that would be patronising in my opinion. Virtual worlds are felt by many of us involved in them to have liberated us in some way. Surely, that's enough?

I liked your description of the Vodafone ad presenting the use of modern communications technology as some kind of liberation by the way; the one you referenced always makes me smile when it comes on. But what you miss is that people don't necessarily believe the hype! We *know* that mobile phones can erode the divide between work and home; we *know* that an 'always-on' Blackberry can steal our attention even when we're officially 'off the clock'. People aren't dupes and we find our own ways to make technology serve our needs rather than controlling us. These can range from the assertive (you agree with your boss if/when/how you can be contacted outside of working hours) to the passive-aggressive (you keep 'losing' mobiles until they stop giving you replacements).

In both cases (SL and modern communications technology) it's the people who are important, not the technology. It's the approach we take to it, the way we use it, the agreements we reach on how to use it (the social technology if you like) which determines whether it is felt as 'liberation' or as 'control'.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 7:50:40 AM | link

Ken says:

Liberating children from the industrial age methodologies of education; learning using text and images in a class with dark sarcasms is not conducive to an inquiring mind. Kids can learn in 3D experiencing objects in a thought provoking environment is a more efficient way (just like the real world) and more natural.

Using digital 3D objects is very cost effective as once created they are persistent, reusable, and can be used over and over again 'til the end of time.

Yes we will all be liberated to a greater or lesser extent. Although the Ordered Minds will cry chaos for a long time.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 11:16:45 AM | link

Sequoia Hax says:

Thanks for responding in such a diplomatic and inviting way, Ren. (TN has an impressive way of finding authors who do this, which keeps the conversations going ;). So I'll attempt a response to the question of under what circumstances virtual worlds liberate us:

Any theory of real-virtual interaction requires a conception of the boundary between real and virtual. (We could dissolve the boundary but then there'd be no question of liberation and we'd end up with only one ingredient: sausage.) Besides drawing and re-drawing this boundary, what about elaborating a typology of interactions between what's on either side of the ever-changing line? Ecology draws boundaries between taxa, but also elaborates a typology of interactions between them – parasitism, commensalism, mutualism, etc.

Using this approach, I conceive of liberation as 'type' of interaction between real and virtual. As other folks have suggested, virtual worlds are liberating when they enable us to do things we're unable to do in the real world. Two obvious examples: 1) make money doing work we're capable of but aren’t hired to do in our real lives because we lack the adequate qualifications (school diplomas, etc.), and 2) develop intimate social relationships in ways we cannot in our real lives because due to social disabilities. So as far as circumstances go, it seems that there's a 'window' of liberation: above this window, we're sufficiently able to do these things in our real lives, so virtual worlds aren’t necessarily liberating; below this window, we're so unable to do these things in our real lives that virtual worlds become addictive, and we develop dependence; within this window, virtual worlds enable us to do these things within virtual worlds, and in so doing (this is the key point), enable us to do them in our real lives. In other words, virtual worlds are liberating when they help us not need them in order to do the things they help us do. Like preventative medicine. Perhaps I can't make money in the real world doing fashion design because I didn't study at Parsons, but being a successful fashion designer in SL helps me land a job at a hot-shot real-world fashion agency.

If I stick to virtual worlds being liberating when they enable us to do things we're unable to do in the real world, I'm pretty safe. But if I throw in the without-becoming-addictive and preventative-medicine bits, there are glaring exceptions (e.g. the bedridden case). I just like the possibility of regenerative change. Also, it's semantically difficult to move from real and virtual as things-in-themselves to the interaction between.

I.e. these ideas are unleavened. But I'm willing to play with them.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 2:04:10 PM | link

Amarilla says:

"Ken says:

Liberating children from the industrial age methodologies of education; learning using text and images in a class with dark sarcasms is not conducive to an inquiring mind. Kids can learn in 3D experiencing objects in a thought provoking environment is a more efficient way (just like the real world) and more natural."

When i think what the Chinese put in toys these days , i'd rather prefere to educate my kids the old fashion way ; in wich i can slap kid's butt; or teacher's butt , if he's a handsome young man ofcourse :)

Posted Nov 17, 2007 2:56:34 PM | link

epredator says:

@Sequoia Hax I think it is very important, as you have stated, to deal with the variety of interactions between real and virtual and augmented mix. I am agree it is very easy to show that there are things that people can do and explore that that cannot do in real life and consider the liberating effect. However when the virtual helps you discover talents for the real world that you did not know you had that is equally liberating.
It may be just as liberating for some people to resist the virtual all together, those pure realists who regard anything virtual as fake. Those people are exploring areas of resistance as much as those of us who promote the benefits for additive and adaptive purposes.
So just as I have used virtual worlds to bypass traditional command control structures, the command control structures can use the anti-virtual world sentiments to re-establish the command control structure. Its all checks and balances, but still very interesting.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 4:14:06 PM | link

Ken says:

Changes will be as dramatic as was the industrial revolution with all the same emotions. Luddites went to smash all the power driven automatic machines to try to preserve their jobs. They didn't understand they where being liberated!

I dislike SL it has no aesthetic appeal, reminds me of the BASIC programming Language (an interpretive process that introduces the concept) that could never be used in a serious real-time programming project.

Virtual Real Worlds use a state of the art 3D engine with enormous potential for huge high density 3D models now and in the future.

By enabling digital components to be easily available like LEGO everyone will be able to construct a Real or imaginary Space with high definition.
We will only realize liberation when we experience what we are trying to create.

http://www.koinup.com/Tele3dworld/works/coolest/

Some of the VRWs are shown in 2D above URL.

Posted Nov 17, 2007 5:25:51 PM | link

Ken says:

2D example pictures and Videos of Virtual Real Worlds

Ken

Posted Nov 17, 2007 8:42:04 PM | link

Ken says:

The new Virtual Real Worlds will allow you to construct and host 'your' Virtual World. You will then be able to invite friends, etc. into your world just as in the RW. Alternatively you can globally advertise on a master server for anybody to enter.
A TV channel can be run on a separate server to passive users so they can monitor real time events.

Liberation? Well, we are truly entering uncharted waters for the human experience, however, we think should keep to mimicing RL environments until we understand the metaphorical language.
Experiencing a VRW reminds me of learning a foreign language; until you start think in the language you keep converting back to English and then back.

2D example pictures and Videos of Virtual Real Worlds

Posted Nov 18, 2007 6:59:19 AM | link

Ken says:

The new Virtual Real Worlds will allow you to construct and host 'your' Virtual World. You will then be able to invite friends, etc. into your world just as in the RW. Alternatively you can globally advertise on a master server for anybody to enter.
A TV channel can be run on a separate server to passive users so they can monitor real time events.

Liberation? Well, we are truly entering uncharted waters for the human experience, however, we think should keep to mimicing RL environments until we understand the metaphorical language.
Experiencing a VRW reminds me of learning a foreign language; until you start think in the language you keep converting back to English and then back.

2D example pictures and Videos of Virtual Real Worlds

Posted Nov 18, 2007 7:00:52 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Sequoia Hax
Thanks for the response. I broadly agree with what you are saying. I don’t agree with the use of the word ‘real’ as I think virtual worlds are real, I’m not sure this is important in what you say though it might be. I think that virtual worlds are a different domain – so we can no longer say, for instance, that SL can only help you financially as it helps you get a job in the ‘real world’ when you can make money fine there.

I also agree with this notion of liberation from certain constraints on the self – this is very much Bartle’s idea that the virtual enables us to be our ‘real self’.

However I guess I also wonder whether the forces that structure virtual worlds and the associated practices will mean that there are just as many constraints that one might view negatively in these spaces e.g. the reproduction of forms of production and consumption around the very same symbols.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 7:49:00 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Ken
I really think you are confusing mimetic faithfulness with realizing notions of the real.Look at the development of art from Impressionism on. Artists are striving to get at the reality of reality in deep and emotional sense but they did this by getting away from faithful reproduction.

Virtual worlds that allow you to create your own space and invite people in are here, ones that do this at pretty high levels of detail are too. I don't see these as progress in terms of broad liberation, indeed on could argue the opposite, the more we reproduce what the physical world is the more we reproduce our modes of being.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 8:26:54 AM | link

Ken says:

I don't agree. Being involved with highly complex and mainly intangible working functions of electronics and software in the Aerospace industry. We have to be able to create a mental picture of how things work. Using 3D metaphors for intangible functions not just the input and output physical ones is going to be an essential requirement in producing the next generation of intelligent products. Therefore, we need high levels of detail with animation to teach and record how they work for design, development and maintenance.
Using 2D processes are very expensive, confusing, and extremely expensive; see all major complex projects and the cost of development!!!! just wait until the maintenance bill arrives.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 9:38:21 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Ken
>We have to be able to create a mental picture of how things work. Using 3D metaphors for intangible functions not just the input and output physical ones is going to be an essential requirement in producing the next generation of intelligent products.

That's a different point. I'd argue that the futurists with their passion for speed conveyed more about the real feeling of flying through semi-abstraction than a detailed schematic of a plane or a detailed virtual plane. Though I don't deny the utility of these things. Being real covers emotions too. Hence if VW's are to liberate in ways that change out being they need to convey and enable feelings.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 10:50:24 AM | link

says:

@Ren
"Hence if VW's are to liberate in ways that change out being they need to convey and enable feelings"

Humans will migrate from text and images to expressing themselves using 3D environments; eventually when the smoke and dust clears from the anti-change brigade. Learning will become a dream-like experience with all the emotions and feelings that invokes; just like shakespears' plays did in the 16th/17th century.
Liberation to do what you want to do rather than by a curriculum set by Governments. Why do they have the right to control our minds this is the 21st Century? The cold war should be over; the long term lose / lose philosophy needs reverting back to the old win /win I was brought up with.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 1:52:19 PM | link

Amarilla says:

i love the way you put it : let forget how the VW's actually looks like, and focus on "...will , very soon, if not today then the next century , that's for sure ".

also, i admire your willingness to do " what you want ".

also, i can understand your " win/win " situation : i sell you a game, you stand there in front of your PC ; i earn your time, work, effort,attention and cash, and you earn the feeling of being great, competent,involved, kinky , high skilled , immersed, part of a great virtual community and all. We both win . Meanwhile, i spend my life on a luxury yacht travelling around the real world , using your cash. And selling your ID and your net-surfing habits to addware companies, to CIA , to BinLaden and to anyone else interested. Google " warden client ". That much for your liberty and freedom to do whatever you want on internet. Dude, the life is limited, the resources are limited . Grow up.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 5:05:05 PM | link

Amarilla says:

"Humans will migrate from text and images to expressing themselves using 3D environments;"

we already do that, i mean those of us who use to look around , not only on a 2D screen . Even if you'll make a holo interface , there's nothing that it's not already in the RL , and the entity you wanna express there in your virtual/3D holo environment already exist in the real 3D . What do you expect to do there , more valuable than your real life , real time, real body , real feelings toward the real persons around your real self ?!

Posted Nov 18, 2007 5:15:22 PM | link

epredator says:

@amarilla I hope you enjoy your yacht and all the joy and pleasure that may bring you :-)
@ken Clearly I agreee with you that the use of 3d is an aid to communication, thats what we do as humans all the time in descriptions of ideas though we often drop into 2d simple 7+-2 diagrammed boxes.
@anonymous "Humans will migrate from text and images to expressing themselves using 3D" I think we already do, though I agree that we will do it more. In RL I stand in front of an audience and use the space, tone, position etc to add to the effect. Now I can extend that, and in the future extend it more easily. That liberates my delivery of ideas and information to a wider audience. If I am delivering a "good" message that is liberation, if I am giving a "bad" one it is oppression?

Posted Nov 18, 2007 5:21:16 PM | link

Amarilla says:

epredator , have you had already made yourself well understood to your relatives and friends , and now you need a wider audience ? have you solved your / your friends/relatives problems and issues yet ? is there , on your street, a child or a homeless in need of the $15 you pay as subscription to a VW ? wanna make a better world ? look around you and start from there. you could also start with yourself.

Posted Nov 18, 2007 6:40:11 PM | link

Amarilla says:

and, epredator, why would you transmitt your message thru a mediated, controlled, censored environment ?

Posted Nov 18, 2007 6:44:36 PM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@””

>>@Ren
>>"Hence if VW's are to liberate in ways that change out being they need to convey and enable feelings"

>>Humans will migrate from text and images to expressing themselves using 3D environments;

I doubt there will be a migration. Different forms of media provide different goods, people like books because they get to control the images and they can be personal to them, they like films because they like another’s vision. Different ones work in different ways. 3D spaces and overlays on physical space will augment life and add new goods.


>>Liberation to do what you want to do rather than by a curriculum set by Governments. Why do they have the right to control our minds this is the 21st Century?

Because we submit to their protection.

Posted Nov 19, 2007 3:51:17 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Amarilla says:

>>epredator , have you had already […]look around you and start from there. you could also start with yourself.

And that would be Bartle’s point, and in part mine, if you want to start with changing your self and thus change the world for the good then Virtual Worlds provide an invaluable starting point as they can liberate us from some, but not all, constraints.

>>and, epredator, why would you transmitt your message thru a mediated, controlled, censored environment ?

Well post up your name and address and epred can come round and talk to you direct. Of course there would be the impact on the environment, the inefficiency, oh and he is a predator,,,


Posted Nov 19, 2007 3:55:55 AM | link

Amarilla says:

tyvm :)) all of you ofc :)

Posted Nov 19, 2007 4:24:11 AM | link

Ken says:

The biggest drain on human endeavor is the inability to control and manage large complex projects. Billions are used to maintain bureaucratic processes created to feed Orwellian Pigs; while the other animals are told times are hard.
They have no interest in moving the efficiency boundaries to improve the human condition; maintaining the status quo is their aim and spend effort and money in keeping it so.
Efficiencies in learning are greatly enhanced by experiencing 'best practices'; but whose best practices are we to believe the OPs have their own agenda.
We need a 3D guru like Shakespeare was to text.

Posted Nov 19, 2007 4:55:50 AM | link

Susan says:

In Plato's Republic, the cave is a metaphor: Philosophy will enable us to understand the nature of the good, and this "seeing the light" is like escaping from a dark cave. This "enlightenment" is essential to Plato's political project: rulers must be philosophers, to avoid the society becoming an imperfect society, a tyranny.

In virtual worlds research, we encounter something like Plato's cave as a technological artefact, a really existing thing. And the question we ask ourselves is: does this thing, this concrete manifestation of Plato's cave, politically liberate us? And if it does liberate us, what form of liberty does it enable, and how does it achieve it?

It's almost like we've turned Plato on his head (like Marx turned Hegel on his head). For Plato, the cave represents the political tyranny and ignorance that we are to be liberated from. Here, it becomes a potential tool to achieve that liberation. The idea seems to be that by playing with the not-real, the obviously and admittedly fake, we can somehow get more in touch with our real selves.

A few weeks ago, I was talking to someone in a virtual world and they described their VR experiences as "more real than the real" - more real than their memories of actual events that they had experienced in person.

Posted Nov 19, 2007 7:53:27 AM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@Susan
>> It's almost like we've turned Plato on his head (like Marx turned Hegel on his head). For Plato, the cave represents the political tyranny and ignorance that we are to be liberated from. Here, it becomes a potential tool to achieve that liberation.

Yes, what’s more Plato’s notion of justice was found when each had found their right position in society and stuck to it. In much of what is being said here while we are talking about using virtual worlds as a tool for gaining a form of self-knowledge. However I guess many would argue that society must be much more dynamic than Plato envisaged and actually it our motivation to change role that is important – I suppose one could bring the two views together by saying that we get to realize our role in the world but just so long as we did not see this as a static state (in a number of senses).

>>The idea seems to be that by playing with the not-real, the obviously and admittedly fake, we can somehow get more in touch with our real selves.

Well this does take Plato’s line, and here I am thinking of Ryan’s analysis of the virtual. Plato would say that it, like much art, is Fake. I tend to think of it more along the lines of Aristotle as being a potential, and of course metaphysically argue that virtual worlds are real they just don’t happen to have some physical properties, but they are not in the same class as numbers or square-circles.

>>A few weeks ago, I was talking to someone in a virtual world and they described their VR experiences as "more real than the real" - more real than their memories of actual events that they had experienced in person.

I’ve written here about memory and virtual worlds. The notion of the hyper-real is not something that I often see applied to VW’s, maybe it should be more often.

Posted Nov 19, 2007 8:32:17 AM | link

epredator says:

@amarilla as Ren Says there are many ways to make changes internally and externally. I dont think I have ever suggested that VW's are the only way to make good things happen. Clearly as with all technology, printing presses, internal combustion engines etc there is a rather unfortunate disparity in distribution across the worlds population.
However, the nature of the digital world makes it even more likely that people will be able to interact and liberate themselves in a variety of ways that the need to for large physical device installation did not allow.
The choice as to who pays, who controls etc is one that the internet seems to manage to route around.
Clearly not everyone in the world has the opportunity for comfortable lifestyles, they are not all able to comment on this thread as they have more pressing life threatening issues to deal with.
However if we do figure out how to either make lots of money and then give it all away in a philanthropic way, or discover that we are now communicating across country boundaries and understanding our fellow inhabitants of this real planet through interacting in ways we have not as yet, and maybe not cause ourselves all these problems caused at government levels that generate conflict and poverty. Another idealistic statement, but what if we end up with world peace as a side effect of some geeky behavior by a few thought leaders in metaverses?
@ken love the shakespeare metaphor, we do have to learn the metaphors that work, I think we are more likely to find many Shakespeares

Posted Nov 19, 2007 10:21:51 AM | link

Ken says:

Socrates was force to kill himself for 'thinking out of the box'; and Plato was a follower I believe. But the establishment could not accept that there could be discoveries that would clash with their beliefs. The same is happening now.
Yes, virtual worlds are/will be more real than real and be persistent so the cost will be negligible when compared to a user/cost ratio. We need to empower this generation to digitize the planet for future generations to explore in 100, 1000, 10,000 years time. They will then be able to say that is what it was like in 2007. We put a man on the moon why not motivate for a digital Planet?

Posted Nov 19, 2007 1:16:16 PM | link

Sequoia Hax says:

@Ren, thanks for responding again.

>>I don't agree with the use of the word 'real' as I think virtual worlds are real, I'm not sure this is important in what you say though it might be. I think that virtual worlds are a different domain – so we can no longer say, for instance, that SL can only help you financially as it helps you get a job in the 'real world' when you can make money fine there.

I use the word 'real' for practical reasons; of course I think virtual worlds are 'real' but find it less useful to collapse the boundary entirely (hence one ingredient: sausage). It may be time to move from binary distinctions (real/virtual) to nested systems (worlds within worlds) or typologies (types of world), which is why I suggested a typology of relationships. But what approach would you take? (What does it mean for virtual worlds to be a "different domain"?) And what word would you use?

>>However I guess I also wonder whether the forces that structure virtual worlds and the associated practices will mean that there are just as many constraints that one might view negatively in these spaces e.g. the reproduction of forms of production and consumption around the very same symbols.

"Just as many" implies quantity; whereas the difference could also be conceived qualitatively, i.e. a different type of constraint. If constraints are the same across worlds, this implies that there's no difference between them vis-à-vis constraints. If there are more constraints in one world than another, this implies that different worlds exist along spectrum of increasing constraints. But if there are different types of constraints, this suggests the need to elaborate a typology of worlds. Again, what approach would you take vis-à-vis constraints/liberation?

I hope this may be somehow helpful to you ;)

Posted Nov 19, 2007 4:35:52 PM | link

Ken says:

The design and construction of a Virtual World is only limited by your imagination when you have all the artefacts in component form. We have a data-base with most plants, flowers, trees, grasses, fish, animals, common objects, buildings, etc., all high resolution that can be used in the production of virtual world. Seeing a mosquito the size of a dog in 3D does make you think 'so thats what it looks like'. The same can be for germs, and viruses. Seeing something in 3D has a believable attribute as against text and pictures.
8))

Posted Nov 19, 2007 8:31:19 PM | link

Ren Reynolds says:

@ Sequoia Hax

>But what approach would you take? (What does it mean for virtual worlds to be a "different domain"?) And what word would you use?

I use the work virtual. Going along with some of the thrust of Thomas’s definition of Game discussed in another thread I guess we need to think of the domains of the physical and the virtual as having a highly permeable and vague boundary. So lots of things that we might say and how we would frame them would depend on what kind of statement we want to make. At a language level Ludlow’s work in this area about things like propositions such as ‘Buffy killed the vampire’, I think is highly instructive.

Certainly as we are noting in this thread there can be both differences, similarities and inter-relations that are important to note. There are some affordances that VW’s have that enable certain freedoms that can be carried over in some ways to the physical world – here I’m thinking in Bartle’s terms about notions of self – a thing that is not physical (lot’s not get into subvenience here please) but can have both physical and virtual outcomes.


>>"Just as many" implies quantity; whereas the difference could also be conceived qualitatively, i.e. a different type of constraint.

Yes and force too.

>>If constraints are the same across worlds, this implies that there's no difference between them vis-à-vis constraints. If there are more constraints in one world than another, this implies that different worlds exist along spectrum of increasing constraints. But if there are different types of constraints, this suggests the need to elaborate a typology of worlds. Again, what approach would you take vis-à-vis constraints/liberation?

>>I hope this may be somehow helpful to you ;)

One might need some kind of multi-D diagram of various constraints and the force by which they operate in a given world – hmm, It’s all probably vaguer and more complex than that.

Posted Nov 20, 2007 5:29:22 AM | link

Ola Fosheim Grøstad says:

What's wrong with virtual worlds is that they have too many players per world. That deprives the players from a real sense of ownership and belonging to the world. In the MUD days players would visits many MUDs, admins would welcome them as admins truly hoped for them to stay, to share their vision and help build it. Of course, you had many bland MUDs too...

Visitors in MMOPRGs appear to be free to enslave themselves, perhaps they get the same freedom as in a MUD for the first 2 weeks, but they don't get the same deal you would get by joining a small MUD where you were elevated to wizard in a small wizardy community. What they get is a slave-trail.


Hm... Richard Bartle is starting to sound like Richard Stallman re "freedom"... :-D

Posted Nov 20, 2007 5:39:35 AM | link