TSO: High School Redux?

by Alphaville Herald on 08/11/03 at 1:04 pm

Most MMORPGs have some way of marking achievement (moving up through a guild or acquiring weath, for example), and TSO is no exception; the game is designed so that one can achieve both by acquiring virtual goods and currency and by attaining social status (which is indicated by posted rankings). The problem is that the utter simplicity of hacking these vectors has allowed the official game rankings to become meaningless. If you are rich then it means you are either running maze bots 24/7 or you are buying simoleans from someone who is. If you are in the top 100 sims, it probably means that you have created a number of sims and given yourself a friend link or paid someone to give you a friend link, or exchanged friend links and then immediately broken your outgoing link. The achievement markers built into the game has completely broken down.

On the other hand, an unofficial game has emerged in TSO (or at least in Alphaville) in which social status is coveted within certain subgroups, and I only just recognized what that game is: it is high school redux!

Back in the 70s, the social structure of high school was something like the following (for all I know this is still more or less true). You have your jocks, your freaks, and your geeks. You all know how this works. Jocks don’t have to be jocks, but at least connected to them and they have to have a certain sheen of general social legitimacy. Freaks are on the margins ?darksiders by virtue of doing just a few too many drugs or getting a little too much into Wicca or whatever. The geeks grew up to be Bill Gates. The longer I live in alpha the more apparent it is too me that this social organization is being recapitulated, not by design, but by some odd self-organizing principles. And the weird thing is that people are falling into the same slots they fell into in high school, even if that was 30 years ago.

Who are the jocks in alpha? Well, to a first approximation let’s say that they include the members of the Sims Shadow Government (SSG), the sims that live in the successful skilling places, the DJs from Fueled and other radio stations and all sims that are one degree of separation from them on the friendship web. The freaks are many, but no doubt in alpha one thinks first of the B&D crowd living in the Rose Thorn Gardens neighborhood. Geeks are harder to locate, and probably for a reason: they are all playing EQ or SWG of some other geek-worth MMORPG. Still there are a few, and I guess anyone who writes for the Alphaville Herald has to count as having at least one foot in this camp.

Initially I didn’t notice this social structure at all until a friend of mine came to me in a panic about a bit of drama involving her and a jock sim (DJ) that she had cybered with. The jock girls (from a top 5 skill house) were playing some catty game with her and my friend was afraid that her reputation was being damaged and she was being socially ostracized because of her “bad” behavior. At first I didn?t get it. After all, I live in a satanic church and my avatar is a high priest in said church. I couldn’t understand why this woman was exercised by what some girls in a skill house might think. Being dismissive of her plight, I said, “this sounds like high school” to which she replied that she had the same problem in high school some 10 years earlier. Then the awful truth dawned on me: I was also recapitulating my social role of 30 years ago.

Back in the day, for some reason, who knows why, I triangulated a social position between all three camps. I think I moved pretty smoothly between freaks, jocks, and geeks, by having just enough cred with each group. But now, in Alphaville, I had The Church of Mephistopheles as my freak tag, and I had even moved it into the Rose Thorn Gardens neighborhood. I also had a lot of contacts with various members of SSG, and had collaborated with them on certain projects (my jock tag). And of course I had the interest in MMORPG theory which made me a geek. I had retriangulated the same social position!

I’m not sure what the moral of this story is. One of them is surely that the social structure of Alphaville is not being driven by anything in the actual game architecture or the reward system in that architecture. This is interesting in its own right. But the additional question of how the new social game emerged is a very deep one. In a place where you can look however you want and in some sense be whatever you want, why are so many of us (speculating that there *are* many such cases) falling into the same roles we did in RL? I have no idea.

4 Responses to “TSO: High School Redux?”

  1. Candace

    Nov 8th, 2003

    “High School Redux”— is there anything worse? Oyyyyy. Your insight is thoughtful. I don’t know what to add to it, but it is striking. I agree that it seems that TSO follows this pattern. Why this particular pattern? One suggestion is that a large group of the players are young— I’ve met a number of purported high school students playing this game and maybe they bring the only mentality they know into the game. Then again, (even though we’re assured that it will) do things *really* change when we grow up? Perhaps we learn to care less what people think of us. Yet whenever you get a number of people together, doesn’t it seem natural that a caste system of sorts will come into being. As adults we have still have the “geeks”- professionals, academics….we have the “loners”- drifters and quiet types….we have the “jocks” or “cool” kids…people: beautiful and seeming superstars. I think it’s an interesting sociological observation. Why we feel compelled to classify one another, I can’t really answer. I suppose stereotypes help us to function in terms of interaction. If I can label you, I know how to expect our social interaction to go. The unfortunate aspect of labeling people, that by doing so we reduce each other to something less than fully human, with diverse histories, opinions and philosophies has been well noted. In this way, maybe we never truly grow up—-”High School Redux.” I like how you’ve coined the term for this particular aspect of gaming.

  2. Shallow Hal

    Nov 9th, 2003

    Uri..you know who I am but that is all I am going to say about myself. I may seem totally Shallow saying this but what the heck. I totally agree that there are categories, social status, ect. like in High School and much like you I was one that didn’t fit in any one group I floated between them. I have noticed one thing in Alphaville..lol here it goes, most people that run in the popular “jock” category are totally UNATTACTIVE! I have seen the pics on http://www.realsimsonline.com and let me tell you there is no way those people were popular. Maybe they feel the need to run in the “in crowd” in game to make up for the lack of popularity from their r/l high school experience. I am not sure what the deal is with all of that but most of them have very low self-esteem and feel the need to prove something. I guess I because I didn’t have a bad high school experience I don’t feel the need to be catty, and involved in all the drama. I grew up.

  3. urizenus

    Nov 9th, 2003

    Well Shallow Hal, I wondered if that might not happen: a kind of revenge of the nerds phenomenon in which certain people break out of their social position in high school and engineer roles as cool kidz on TSO. I think that is great if it is happening. I would caution against making this assessment on the basis of realsims pics, and I guess I’ve been more than a little surprised by how non-nerdy some of these sims actually appear to be. Also, 10 years out from high school you can really start to look like shit, so just because someone looks like shit now, we can’t make assumptions about what they looked like in their prime. The other element to consider is that, if you go back to your high school yearbook, you may discover that in hindsight the elite kids actually weren’t all that attractive.

  4. Candace

    Nov 9th, 2003

    “10 years out from high school you can really start to look like shit” — that says it all; guess I know what I’ll have printed on my next birthday cake now. Uri, Uri, Uri…….

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