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Jul 16, 2005



There'll be a continuum, from small, personal worlds to large-scale, social worlds.

In the real world, if you want to be part of a crowd you go to a sports stadium or buy the latest Harry Potter book. If you don't, you go hiking or visit the pub. There are degrees of socialisation that people like to experience at different times, and virtual worlds will address them all.

Is Terra Nova part of the World Wide Web? Yes, it is, obviously, but it's also apart from it. It connects to it, but has its independent boundaries. A World Wide World Web would be similar: the worlds would be connected, but distinct.

>If so, what does "buzz" mean to you?

Hmm, well off the top of my head... Noise is the 3rd-person reporting of interactions between people and each other or the environment. Buzz is when the noise is interesting to the extent I want to participate in generating it.



At issue is the ease of shutting out others in the virtual world. In some modern VWs, we are seeing a balkanization of player communities into separate groups. The trend is toward preventing players from experiencing the "inconvenience" of other players. Examples of this include instancing and more robust methods of avoiding those who offend.

This balkanization creates a general siege mentality among player guilds and societies. Other guilds are enemies or partners to which communication becomes ritualized and bereft of new ideas. Un-aligned players are simply the harvest of newbies to be picked up or ignored as the needs of the guild dictate. As the technology to shut out others continues to insinuate itself into our virtual worlds, it becomes less of a sharing experience, and more of a "getting mine despite those damn others."

The role of reputation enters this. As virtual worlds begin to interconnect (under corporate flags or community ones), then the reputation of the player becomes more important than the quality of their play.

Default behavior being what it is, players will try to avoid both shaking hands AND listening to the buzz of the living virtual worlds around them. No matter the design of the worlds, players trained to instance and use robust ignore features will carry that to their next world... even if the game is designed with a more social bent.

In the larger realm of interconnected society, such a thing can become reality as well. As cellphones become a more secure and simple method of communication about functional reality and game-like fantasies, the default responses may become AFK, macroed responses, and cellphone ignore lists.

What does "buzz" mean to me? It represents a feeling of life in a virtual (or the real) world. Sitting in a silent room may be easier, but it's dead... dead socially, dead emotionally. VWs are trying to pluck heart-strings and give players the ability to empower themselves within the world, they are also shutting the players out, group by group, player by player.

I can see a number of VWs in the future that create individuals with ultimate power, but no one to share it with.



I think a more continuous virtual space would be preferable to the "foggy but resilient" space of multiple media we currently inhabit.
Not so much as a replacement, obviously, but as an added base to all other virtual activity. It's only a matter of time before the right vision for such a world gets implemented, I think.

It's really a question of whether a real public sphere, where you can witness the actions of, be surprised by, and engage in conversations with strangers, is a worthwhile thing. The strength of Reality is that we all basically share a common medium for the exchange of information. And within that medium we can choose to live in an urban situation, where we are heavily engaged with the activity around us. So I think for virtual worlds to get to the next level, one where "citizenship" would exist, where we could feed off the buzz of our common activity, we need to create common denominator spaces of some kind, with a certain density to them -- we need a virtual urbanity.

One could perhaps draw a parallel between current "virtual worlds" like SL and the original private colonizers of North America, like the Hudson's Bay Company. How did public space emerge in Canada...? I'm not qualified to answer, but a lot of it must have had to do with the fact that the people working for the Company considered themselves to have certain inalienable rights that existed regardless of the company's will (religion helped too). So if avatars did the same in all the various games, and banded together to protect each other from abuse, perhaps we could get somewhere... we need a bill of avatar rights.

This is where Steve's comments on responsibility become important: we need verifiable and hence committed forms of identity, way beyond escapism, for transactions in any virtual space to carry the weight of, say, politics or civics. With "real name" identity, Real World politics would immediately extend into the virtual realm, and a feedback loop of some kind would be created between virtual and real.

Boy I'm not too coherent this morning, sorry. Let me just finish by saying that I find this kind of discussion on TN a little frustrating because I feel like all the ideas for a true virtual political space have come up at one time or another here, but everybody is "waiting to see what happens" rather than just doing it (not that it would be easy or cheap). The result is we have more and more commentary and research on the various iterations of company towns and escapism that the industry churns up, but no clear steps towards what would obviously be a more politically, socially, artistically interesting framework. (NOTE: I have a lot of respect for the work everybody is doing here, I just feel there's a disconnect between the quality of the discussion here and the quality of current world design, etc. in the Industry).


George Showman> I think a more continuous virtual space would be preferable to the "foggy but resilient" space of multiple media we currently inhabit.

George Showman> we need verifiable and hence committed forms of identity, way beyond escapism, for transactions in any virtual space to carry the weight of, say, politics or civics.

That's fine, as long as the opportunity for escape through multiple media is preserved.

If you're talking about creating new spaces that are both more social and less anonymous, that could be interesting. I'd like to see that. But "more continuous" sounds like imposing overlap on existing spaces... and that, I'm not too sure about.

What about those who don't want someone else's reality bleeding over into their world of choice, who choose a particular kind of space for a particular reason? When I'm listening to a Michael Hedges solo guitar song in my car, I don't need some guy pulling up next to me with thrash metal cranked up to 11. If I'm expecting Captain Solo, I shouldn't have to see Captain Kirk.

There's also the question of the increased complexity that would probably emerge from more continuity between worlds. Complexity can create novel effects, but despite the current lust for novelty I'm not persuaded that everyone wants more complexity in their environment. For those already experiencing the complexity of modern life, simple virtual worlds are a chance to decompress. Those who don't want complexity shouldn't have it forced on them; they should always have Hobbiton.

A more continuous (more civic) virtual space is fine as long as it remains possible for any individual space to opt out. Public space is good, but so is private space.

We need both the City and Walden.



Wow, I got air time. Neat.

A lot of these comments are a bit too rarified for me to translate into English, but I'm really glad people are thinking hard about the issue!

Richard Bartle's commentary is pretty much the same basic idea as my own, but I believe we'll see a steady weakening of large groups. Not that they won't exist - just that the actions people take inside them will be much more limited. With the option to join smaller, more focused sub-groups, that's where their attention will go.

Bart Stewart's commentary I have to disagree with: I don't think a "simple world" in any way equates to the number of people in that world. If anything, the larger the world, the more simplistic it is to the average person. The tiny world of linguistic experts is excessively complex to the members, whereas the massive world of AOL is almost transparent to the common user. This is because of how far down the "common denominator" is, although that may not be the clearest way to say it.

By the way, I have the unfortunate last name of "Perko", not "Penko". :)


> last name of "Perko", not "Penko"

Thanks Craig, fixed, we're so rarified around here, we can't spell!


> Bart Stewart's commentary I have to disagree with: I don't think a "simple world" in any way equates to the number of people in that world.

I may not have been clear. I agree that mass entertainment has a "common denominator" effect that pushes everything toward simplicity, but that's not what I was referencing. I was considering what happens at the intersections of multiple worlds, not how the core of a large individual world looks.

What George Showman mentioned that interested me is the idea that the links between multiple worlds are likely to increase. An individual world (especially a big one that serves a diverse group of people) may simplify over time, but what happens at the intersections of multiple worlds?

It's my view that unexpectedly overlapping rule sets creates a zone of more complexity. When the "physics" of two worlds or the laws of multiple systems are combined, you get a new space with some rules from A, some rules from B, and some conflicts between rules.

Where rules conflict, who wins? For that matter, who gets to decide who wins? These questions don't come up in simple spaces... but they crop up in complex spaces all the time. It's because intersections of systems tend toward greater complexity that surprising and interesting possibilities emerge there.

My point was that while it's fun to explore these zones, having them can also impose a cost: you lose some of the focus of your individual system. For example, adding an IM capability to your virtual world means that more of the real world can bleed into the virtual world. If the virtual world is primarily a social space, maybe the cost is trivial (or perhaps even viewed as a benefit). If the virtual world is a cyberspace simulation, maybe the cost is small. But what if the virtual world is a fantasy or medieval setting? What happens to the immersiveness of your world when there's bleedover from other completely dissimilar worlds?

I like the idea of increased complexity at the intersections between worlds. But I also see value in preserving the nature of a world if that's what the designer of that world prefers.

That's why I wanted to respond to the suggestion in George's message that some places need to be "beyond escapism." I don't mind the existence of such places as long as it's possible to opt out of them (though if you do, you forfeit any claim on the benefits of participating there).

I support being able to escape the inescapable. :-)


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