Op/Ed: Narrative Games

by Alphaville Herald on 16/04/10 at 11:50 am

by Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia 

Much has been written about whether SL is a game or something else. Most people I know in game call SL a “virtual world.” Most professors I know in real life call it a “serious game,” although I do not think the eggheads are deliberately implying that SL is serious as opposed to fun (it’s a shame they’re so out of touch like that).

It is time to re-examine SL’s status as a non-game, because the idea that SL is not a game is counter-productive and ignores the basic realities of the platform.

Tools of the Trade

In SL we create with scripts, prims, textures, animations and sound clips and that is great, but we are still building things with the tools that Linden Lab has given us. We aren’t really building anything from scratch. When we build we are engaging in the same activity as mainstream MMO players. When we look at why things are created we see that there really isn’t any important difference between mainstream MMO gamers and SL gamers.

When we build we are creating artifacts to go along with narratives, and the narrative is what is important in all MMOs, SL included. A narrative artifact is anything that goes along with your identity or your groups identity in SL, like a medieval roleplay avatar or a half-human, half-dolphin furry (dolphins are mammals too!). Narrative artifacts can be created to go along with a flame war, as we see with the protest signs when Linden Labs hikes sim prices or bans gambling.

In SL we can create these narrative artifacts fairly easily from a technical standpoint when compared to mainstream MMOs. That said, there is nothing stopping people in mainstream MMOs from doing the same thing with the tools that their chosen world has provided for them.

For example, in WoW you can change the appearance of your avatar and you can create your own guild insignia. You can program HUDs in WoW, in fact there is even an integrated development environment (IDE) designed specifically for creating WoW add-ons. This is not exactly the same as creating an SL avatar from the ground up, but as with any set of tools, there are limitations and there are benefits. Mainstream MMO players never have to worry about making a combat system, for example.

Second Life Narratives

In the good old days of SL we had a blank slate as far as narrative goes, or as close to a blank slate as one can get. SL is no longer like that.

When a noob enters SL they are presented with an orientation experience that assumes that there is no built in narrative going on in SL. If they get past orientation they soon find out that this is simply not true. After orientation, if the noob makes it this far, they become an explorer, and soon they will be presented with a series of narratives that they can choose to participate in.

A few examples of narratives the noob will be presented with: Linden Labs wants the noob to buy into the narrative that there is a gold rush happening in SL, so they need to jump in by buying and selling virtual goods. Sex sims want the noob to buy into the narrative that SL is a place to let their libido roam free. Roleplay sims want the noob to buy into the narrative that they should take on a role and perform it in the plot line happening in the roleplay sim. Goons want the noob to buy into the narrative that there are people who do it for the lulz and there are lulzcows who are there to be messed with. Shadow government types want the noob to buy into the narrative that greifers must be stopped and the world must be regulated by them.

Nothing is stopping the noob from creating their own narrative outside of established narrative frameworks like these. Most of the time, though, the noob will just buy into the first narrative they find that appeals to them. This is why most people in SL can’t even build. They purchase items from others who cater to these pre-defined narratives.

Mainstream MMO Narratives

In mainstream MMOs a noob logs in and their first task is to create a character. The first step in creating a character is usually to choose which faction they want to be in. In WoW you have horde vs alliance, in Star Trek Online you have Federation vs Klingon Alliance, in EverQuest your race determines if you are good or evil. Once that is done, you choose a class which gives you skills that will define what your character can do with the game mechanics in the virtual world you are about to enter.

Once you enter the world you can play along with the narrative of the character you just created, or you can create your own narrative. There is nothing in the rules that says you must kill ten rats every time some random peasant asks you to. The game mechanics of class, race, XP and loot can be viewed as a set of hard and fast rules for your character to operate within, or they can be viewed as a suggestion. There are roleplay servers and normal servers, but I have never heard of somebody getting banned for roleplaying on a non-roleplay server. Nobody is going to ban you if you choose to roleplay a narrative that does not exist in the MMO’s built in narrative, unless you have to break TOS to create said narrative. This is a restriction that exists in SL as much as it does in the mainstream.

Creating your own narrative is not as rare as many would have you believe. EVE Online ran a banner ad recently saying something along the lines of “We create the world, our players create the headlines.” Articles and blog posts about EVE are usually not about the machinations of CCP (the company who runs EVE). Articles about EVE are usually about players’ actions.

One could create their own narrative by playing Dr. Who in any MMO, for example. They might have problems getting their hands on a Tardis or a sonic screwdriver, but in the TV show the good doctor didn’t always have easy access to these things either. This kind of narrative is rare, though. Most people just accept the narrative they are given or they go with standard narratives of making money or getting laid.

The mainstream MMO corollary to the SL business owner is the gold farmer. Gold farmers can make as much if not more money than the average SL busines owner. There are usually risks involved, because gold farming conflicts with the published narrative and TOS in most MMOs, but it is done all the time. Gold farming is a 500 million dollar industry. By comparison, the gross resident earnings in SL were only 55 million dollars in 2009.

Another example of players working outside the narrative they are fed by the game publisher is the virtual brothel. Most MMOs have them, although they are rarely a part of the published narrative of the game (the exception being places like Red Light Center). Some of the Herald’s first big stories were about bordellos in The Sims Online. It’s common knowledge that WoW has brothels. It would not surprise me in the least if a story broke about a place in Star Trek Online where you can trade a warp coil for cyber sex with a Klingon (I’m invoking rule 34 here).

We could go on with examples of this kind of thing all day long, but the point is that SL is not as unique as you might think. The narratives we create in SL are no different than the narratives created in mainstream MMOs. The same archetypal stories are everywhere: love, money, avatar vs avatar in greifing wars or avatar vs environment in the case of gold farmers vs game publishers. One might even argue that mainstream MMO players who work outside the narrative they are given have to be more creative than we have to be in SL. The tools used in mainstream MMOs are different and harder to work with, but they get the job done.

Are You Original?

The next time you go to dismiss a mainstream MMO as being passive entertainment outlets for the banal, unwashed masses, take a minute to stop and think about what kind of narrative you are in when you log into SL. Are you really doing something original, or is it something you were given and you just accepted the narrative without questioning it?

37 Responses to “Op/Ed: Narrative Games”

  1. Gaara Sandalwood

    Apr 16th, 2010

    Fun story: I was talking to a friend, Gidget, at one point and mentioned how I felt SL was dying in terms of entertainment. I made the remark because she and some friends were trying to make a Sonic themed sim area in her friend’s sim, and we got to talking about entertainment. I remarked about SL, and her simple response was “SL is not just a game”, as a response to my “as a game, SL is losing lots of value” comment. She then proceeded to explain SL had even more players than EVE Online, to which I remarked that this is only if we don’t count alts(which SL has a shite ton of).

    I then showed her the statistics of active players on other, more often played, MMOs, and her only response was that WoW, one of the ones on the list, sucked. I then proceeded to show her some low gross statistics in terms of how much cash SL makes LL, and she continued saying I was just asserting my own opinion. I THEN showed her that same opinion that SL is a game by several others and she dismissed it, then told me to go to “Philosophy Island” and “learn not to talk”. Then she told me she never said SL was more than a game.

    Many people consider SL to be a social engineering platform. Many see it simply as a virtual chat client. The reason however that more often than not people view it as a social engineering platform is because of what people are capable of in such an open world.

    I simply view SL as a sandbox world in which much, if not anything, is possible, but due to a myriad of things, such as JLU AR parties, strict Linden Lab rules, intolerance for certain things(such as swastikas, the origins of which weren’t even to symbolize Nazi goals), to the point where SL is essentially a virtual PC world where one has to be careful of what one says.

    I caged a guy who claimed to be a U.S. soldier irl once while dressed as a Muslim and going “Alalalalalalala, I caught an American infidel” for shits and giggles, and my account could’ve been suspended(thankfully the fellow follows the rules of griefing those who grief him instead of mass/constant AR).

    The point on that is that if one can do whatever they want in SL why are people so obsessed with things that are viewed as prejudiced(the JLU have people in their griefer database for saying “nigger” over mic for pete’s sake)? But enough about that.

    I tried role playing anime twice(I think I said this before maybe). Both times for the same anime(Bleach). The first one was crap because they had a system where I had to actually go online onto a website and log into an account just to purchase abilities with my experience, and it was just too time consuming(not to mention not many of the members were helpful).

    The second was worse, it was an attempt by an old friend to make his own Bleach RP. It WOULD have been good, except the guy kept deleting the whole sim’s contents to rebuild it and make it better three times, griefed the sim from a helicopter with wishmaster and lazers, causing loads of lag(although I must admit, it was funny as hell), then suddenly left(at which point everyone in the group we were in just disbanded leaving everything behind).

    I’ve tried Bloodlines RP as a newbie, it was boring. They basically required me to buy everything I needed, and the whole vampire storyline they had going was uneventful. It got to the point where the group was just lingering in my profile, taking up space.

    About the only places I find entertaining at all anymore in SL is WU, Club Carnage, and the sandboxes.

    As for SL in general, I’ve never really thought of my narrative in it. I’ve viewed myself from different perspectives(one being if I was someone else who didn’t know em at all, I’d seem like a conspiracy nut), and most of the time when I’m not working in world I’m idling while I do other things.

  2. Impressed

    Apr 16th, 2010

    Impressive piece. Well written. Good read!

  3. Alex Ponebshek

    Apr 16th, 2010

    SL, like every other game I’ve played, is a virtual world. Virtual worlds are games. Games are virtual worlds. A piece of software that simulates an enclosed universe and set of rules is a virtual world, aka a game. See Conway’s Game of Life for example.

    People who say second life is not a game are people who have gotten emotionally involved in it, and then been burned by people who don’t take it as seriously. But believe it or not, the same thing happens in World of Warcraft. I guess people find it easier to consider WoW a game, since it meets the classic stereotypes, such as goblin killin’.

  4. theBlackUrchin

    Apr 16th, 2010

    Couldn’t you say the same thing about real life? Most things that people do could be considered just buying into existing narratives. Those that build are just using tools that a specific manufacturer has provided for them. Maybe there is not much of a difference between Real Life and an MMO as well?

    Personally I find creating original content in SL infinity more rewarding and enjoyable then farming gold in an MMO. Being able to import hand painted textures, sculpted prims, composed sounds, etc. allows you to create art from scratch to the same level as any traditional medium.

    I do enjoy playing an MMO on occasion with some friends when I want to relax but it’s a very different experience then SL.

  5. Lili

    Apr 16th, 2010

    It’s not a game, it’s a simulation. You can play games in this simulation, if you wish. You could play those same games in real life, but for the embarrassment. People who try to make SL, just a game, will be disappointed. People who try to make SL just a social interaction site will be disappointed. The whole point of SL, is to create your own reality; your own “second life”.

    You can build, play, experiment all without judgement. Or at least you could. That is all beginning to change as more and more people feel the need to know your real identity and destroy this second life. The freedom to experiment without embarrassment is going away, because some people can’t stand not knowing whether you are pretty, ugly, fat, male or female. And much like playing chess, once you remove the pieces it all becomes meaningless.

  6. lets get real

    Apr 16th, 2010

    anything that involves 15 to 30 year olds can only be FAIL

  7. Jumpman Lane

    Apr 16th, 2010

    i’m origional. the tip of the spear. no one does what i do

  8. Alyx Stoklitsky

    Apr 16th, 2010

    Oh look, a philophical wank post.

  9. Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia

    Apr 16th, 2010

    I never really thought about the limitations people place on us with their disapproval. Even if you don’t care about their disapproval, the way the DMCA and TOS are used, they seem built to censor based on disapproval rather than based on any legal rights.

    @Garaa: It sounds like your friend needs to be more open minded. I hate to see PI cast in that kind of light, though. Let me explain:

    I do enjoy conversations and debates at Philosophy Island, but there are people there who try to force their structure of argumentation on others, and I don’t agree with that. IME, if you reference Kant or Wittgenstein when you are there, then they will usually at least take you seriously even if they don’t agree with you. Many of them seem to think that any time they are not being convincing it must be because the person they are speaking with is not playing by “the rules”, whatever that means (it does not actually mean rules of informal logic or debate).

    When they say that you aren’t following the rules of argumentation, IME it usually seems to mean that they are taking what you say personally. That is a signal that they want you to build more ethos before they will consider your argument. When that happens I usually try to compliment their hair or something so they will take me seriously. An argument an appeal to get them to agree with you, so I don’t think this is pandering any more than pointing out that somebody is denying the consequent is pandering.

    This doesn’t happen all the time, but it is not uncommon at PI. Generally, PI is a good place to hang out and shoot the breeze without worrying about coming off as too pretentious (try referencing Kant or using the phrase “ad hoc fallacy” in the average SL dance club and you’ll see what I mean). PI is also a huge improvement over Philosophy House, which at one point used to be the only philosophy community of size before PI. PH definitely has it’s good points, but things get crazier there than they do at PI (PH has a lot of pundit logic and things like that). Thothica seems to be a balance between the extremes of PI and PH, but the community is smaller at Thothica.

  10. Sylauxe

    Apr 16th, 2010

    @Garaa: Nice story about your sonicfur friends, 4.5 out of 5 would yiff again.

  11. Troy McConaghy

    Apr 17th, 2010

    You could use similar arguments to ‘prove’ that reality itself is a game. Game Theory, the branch of mathematics, is used all the time to model real-world interactions, from nuclear disarmament to men leaving the toilet seat up.

    Similarly, botanists will tell you that green beans are “fruit” because they’re the part of the plant that carries the seeds.

    My point is that there’s a societal convention about what a “game” is and what a “fruit” is. Academics can argue against society’s conventions until they’re flushed and it won’t matter one iota. Society as a whole will continue saying that “SL is not a game” and “green beans are vegetables.”

  12. Gaara Sandalwood

    Apr 17th, 2010

    “It’s not a game, it’s a simulation.”

    It’s both, in a way.

    “You can play games in this simulation, if you wish.”

    Just for humor’s sake: Third Life.

    “You could play those same games in real life, but for the embarrassment. People who try to make SL, just a game, will be disappointed. People who try to make SL just a social interaction site will be disappointed. The whole point of SL, is to create your own reality; your own “second life”.

    You can build, play, experiment all without judgement. Or at least you could. That is all beginning to change as more and more people feel the need to know your real identity and destroy this second life. The freedom to experiment without embarrassment is going away, because some people can’t stand not knowing whether you are pretty, ugly, fat, male or female. And much like playing chess, once you remove the pieces it all becomes meaningless.”

    Actually some in-game friends of mine have seen my IRL pics, and know, while not my identity, in a way who I am IRL.

    I’ve never tried making a second reality for myself, I was just told in highschool years back that SL was a game you could do anything in Second Life, figured I should check it out. I don’t particularly believe in doing that though anyway. To me, making a second reality for oneself in that fashion is like living in your own fanasy world.

    “i’m origional. the tip of the spear. no one does what i do”

    You’re right, hehe. No one else does what you do.

    @Bubblesort: Ah. Well I’ve never been there myself. Personally I don’t like the kind of debates where I actually have to make people like me to get them to listen to logic(I’m an expert asskisser anyways though). But yeah, I’ll check that out at some point.

    “Nice story about your sonicfur friends, 4.5 out of 5 would yiff again.”

    Most of the time I tend to worry about my friend’s gender more than sexual preference. Most of the chicks I’ve come to know in SL so far have had tendencies to act batshit crazy.

  13. Deadlycodec

    Apr 17th, 2010

    I have a really good question. Why on earth is it so important to some people to make everyone else think that SL is not a game? Could it be because you’re trying to convince yourself, and not us?

    Second Life is a game. Just because money changes hands doesn’t make it any less so. There are a lot of games where you have opportunity to win or earn some money. The unique thing about Second Life is that the goal of the game is whatever the player wants it to be. For some, that goal is building an sl business empire, for others it is socializing, or e-sex, scripting, and even griefing. I stopped hanging out in SL long ago because of the fanatics who force themselves on everyone else because “second life is not a game” and it’s so damn serious,etc.. When it gets to the point where you’re expected to be reverent, treat it like it’s a religion or something, and people trip out when you call it a game, that’s when it’s time to leave. Leave it to the psychos to bicker amongst themselves as they fight over “serious” issues in an online game, and help foul up what was once a very novel idea.

    Any of you guys watch Hot Tub Time Machine? It’s a comedy that is currently playing in theaters. In the beginning, one of the characters is playing Second Life and we’re told that he just spends all his time in an e-prison, doing e-push ups, and listening to rap music doing “hard time”. One of the other characters walks in and tells him to get a job or something, or go outside. And you know what I realized at that very moment? I realized that the world at large sees Second Life and Second Life users the way they were portrayed. As weird.

    But the REASON that people see it that way, and the REASON that Second Life is uncool for many, and the butt of many jokes, is because of people like you. People who turn a video game into the frigging Nicene creed. You will always try to exist in your fantasy, always seeing what you want to see. Always and forever. Well, you’re welcome to it. But I won’t be buying into it, whether or not you argue and rant until you’re blue in the face.

  14. Afroduck

    Apr 17th, 2010

    Second Life is what you make if it. “Your world, your imagination” and all that. Srsly, it is what YOU make out of it. If you believe it’s not a game, then for you it isn’t. If someone just wants to beat the high score, then that’s what it is for them. The one true price of SL is you have to deal with everyone else there and their own ideas and interpretations. Debating absolutes is a waste of time.

    Just go about what you want to do and let everyone else do what they want to and stop fucking worrying about what everyone outside thinks.

  15. theBlackUrchin

    Apr 17th, 2010

    SL is just a game to some and it is more than a game to others. Why does it have to be considered negative if someone finds uses or value in something that you do not? Why don’t people spend their energy and time on things they enjoy rather then bashing things they don’t like?

    SL can be used for education, communication, art, etc. All things that do not have to be considered a game. Although the way a game is being defined here every singe thing in life is a game.

    Fantasy does not always have to be a dead end. People can use their imagination to improve their real lives and to shape the world around them. As far as escapism how is TV, video games, watching sports or anything else people do in their leisure any better?

    Anything can be taken too seriously if it becomes a negative impact on that person’s life. I don’t like to make that call on other people without seeing the whole picture.

  16. Gaara Sandalwood

    Apr 17th, 2010

    I don’t mind when people want to think it’s more than a game. That’s alright. But if someone tries to tell me SL isn’t just a game if I myself mention I feel it is, and even worse, backs it up with a simple non-important fact(I wasn’t trying to convince Gidget further at first that it was a game, just that SL is losing value in general, then when she kept on finally got several opinions from others), I just decide to debate it with him/her.

    People can think whatever they want, but the second they start being intolerant of how others view SL is when they don’t have the right idea about it.

  17. Troy McConaghy

    Apr 17th, 2010

    I don’t mind when people want to think the Earth is round. That’s alright. But if someone tries to tell me the Earth isn’t flat if I myself mention I feel it is, and even worse, backs it up with a simple non-important fact… I just decide to debate it with him/her.

    People can think whatever they want, but the second they start being intolerant of how others view the Earth is when they don’t have the right idea about it.

    (In case it wasn’t obvious, the above was parody. I find it necessary to point such things out online because some people are members of what Molly Wood calls Literal.net.)

  18. Otto

    Apr 17th, 2010

    How anyone else views SL doesn’t matter. It’s when someone tries to force their “narrative” on others (griefing) that we have a conflict. I couldn’t care less what happens at WU or any other location on the grid. Your “narrative” should never involve disrupting other’s “narratives” whether they be “serious” fashionista, wanna be SL Celebrity, or a noisy mainland landlord or any other of the countless “narratives” in SL.

  19. Deadlycodec

    Apr 18th, 2010


    You wouldn’t be trying to lecture a former griefer who stopped griefing two years ago about griefing, would you? A little late there, aren’t ya?

    The discussion didn’t seem to be about what people should be doing, but rather what they are doing. I merely stated my observations. For griefers, griefing is their way of playing the game. Not saying it’s right, but it’s the way it is.

    And I don’t “force” my narrative on anyone. Oooh! The big bad wordpress comments are going to get you!

  20. Deadlycodec

    Apr 18th, 2010

    “Society as a whole will continue saying that “SL is not a game” and “green beans are vegetables.””

    I lol’d at this. Wonder what society this dude is living in? Doh!

  21. Otto

    Apr 18th, 2010

    @ codec
    Wasn’t aimed at anyone in particular.

    The force I was referring to is when a griefer interferes with others because that is how he or she “plays the game” then they are forcing their narrative on others just as much as if a shoplifter stealing a condom because it’s how he plays the game of RL he is forcing his narrative on the store owner. (of course the RL event is more serious than SL)

    My comment had more to do with Gaara’s on intolerance. When a griefer involves others who do not wish to be involved in his or her game then they are being intolerant.

  22. Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia

    Apr 18th, 2010

    In the investigations, Wittgenstein said that “game” does not really have a definition, but rather it has a group of definitions that share a family resemblance.

    Since the meaning of “game” is so hazy, you can say that SL is a game or not a game and be correct either way. Whether you say it is a game or not says more about you than it says about SL, though. Like Toni Morrison said, “definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”

    I am just pointing out that it seems odd to me if you consider mainstream MMOs to be games but you think that SL is not a game because people basically do the same thing in both worlds.

    Also, I was just informed earlier today by my old game design professor that all the cool academics stopped using the term “serious game” a while ago. The cool new academic jive talk for academic uses of SL is “Immersive Learning System”, which was coined by the eLearning Guild. I feel so square for not knowing that.

    @Urchin, Troy: You can use similar arguments to say that RL is also a game, but I would not. The mechanics are different between RL and MMOs. For one thing, everything in RL is not a narrative artifact, but everything in an MMO is. For example, my RL underwear is part of my narrative, but it is also here to protect me from the elements. In SL my underwear is not necessary, so it’s only function is to add to the narrative of my avatar. Also, in RL violence is not the same as it is in an MMO, because violence can do permanent damage and cause real pain in RL. In MMOs, violence does no real damage, so violent acts can be undertaken purely for fun.

    @Troy: IME, society at large sees SL as a game. Only SL players seem to perceive the haziness of the claim that SL is a game.

    @Deadlycodec: I couldn’t agree with your earlier comments more, but I didn’t think Otto was really going after you personally.

  23. Troy McConaghy

    Apr 18th, 2010

    The arguments over whether SL is a game played out on the Wikipedia page for “Second Life” years ago. See the associated discussion page there.

    Here’s my ultimatum: see if you can change the opening sentence of Wikipedia’s article about “Second Life” to call a “game” and make it stick for the long term. I bet you can’t. The best you’ll be able to do is say that people have debated the point (as we’re doing here).

  24. JustMe

    Apr 18th, 2010

    @Bubblesort … you say the definition of a game is hazy .

    It’s pretty clear to me … a contest with rules to determine a winner

    SL is NOT a game.

  25. Otto

    Apr 18th, 2010

    Saying “We aren’t really building anything from scratch” because “we are still building things with the tools that Linden Lab has given us” is just inaccurate. That’s like saying the writer who writes a novel didn’t create anything because he just used the tools Microsoft gave him (ie. Word) or the carpenter didn’t build a chair because he just used tools and parts from Home Depot. Building in SL is not the same as in a “game” where you “build” something just by clicking an object so many times or spending a certain amount of time performing a role play activity.

  26. theBlackUrchin

    Apr 18th, 2010

    @ Bubblesort

    We can philosophize all we want but it does not change the fact that some people including myself use SL for things that could not be done in a traditional MMO or game. For example I save time and money building prototypes for things I’m building in the real world. If I have an idea or vision I can quickly bring it to life.

    I was not trying to argue that RL is a game, I was trying to clarify how you were using the word narrative. Are you defining something as more than a narrative if it meets a physical necessity? It has been proven that art, music, games etc. can affect one’s physical body, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. If someone has high blood pressure and uses music or a multimedia experience in SL to lower it, is that still just a narrative artifact?

    I agree that RL violence is not the same as virtual violence. If the virtual violence is forced on an unwilling participant in an inappropriate location it would be considered harassment and could do mental harm, even physical harm indirectly through the mind body connection. I’m not against virtual violence in areas where it is allowed.

  27. Pappy Enoch

    Apr 19th, 2010

    Ol’ Jumpy dun writ:

    “i’m origional. the tip of the spear. no one does what i do”

    Well, there must be a God, then. If’n Jumpy am an “origional,” then that means they ain’t no more folks like him.

  28. KWS

    Apr 19th, 2010

    To me the interesting point here would not be whether or not SL is a game, a game like any other, a different kind of game, a thing that belongs in the family of other things that are sometimes called games, etc.

    But in what sense are the pre-fab spaces into which Bubblesort imagines nubes enter actually narratives. And what does do, how does it shift our appreciation of what’s going on their to see these situations as narratives as opposed to another frame.

    In Roland Barthes’ _Mythologies_, he writes a kind of loose ideology critique of toys, in one short essay — complaining that all the toys given to French children are based on a kind of ridiculous projection of adult social value systems onto the child’s world. Thus the boy is to imagine himself MD or architect, the girl nurse or cook, etc.

    What he finds crushing is not even so much the gender bias, but that the toys are so much less playful (because the outcomes are so constricted) than something freeform like blocks.

    So here it seems like Bubblesort is looking at (for me) a similar problem of a kind of play that is, in his view, unnecessarily constrained. SL is fascinating and exciting, a sandbox worth learning how to play in to the extent it is freeform (or open) like the set of building blocks, and much less cool if it’s just another space to act out, consume, in the usual old ways that are so often given to us by structures that preexist.

  29. Tux Winkler

    Apr 19th, 2010

    Do you play Second Life? . . . . . Then it is a game.

    Do you live Second Life? . . . . . Then it is a false reality.

    Although, at the start of the year I blogged about how I saw the future of the internet. And I said that I thought it would change from static pages *sigh* to a 3D environment. Businesses will have offices that people can walk their avatars into. Etc etc.

    But this would not be the Second Life platform, simply because LL prevents a free option. I will explain. ATM anyone with access to the internet can setup a local webserver and display their site to the world. OSG goes some way to this, but it isn’t fully unified or simple enough. Plus I think the client will have to undergo a major rethink. Either and web based java client or something better thought out, and I do not mean SLV2.0!

    SL residents seem to be riddled with all sorts of ailments, and most I believe are claimed as some sort of status booster. Whilst I fully believe many disabled or ill people do play SL (I include myself here btw). I think many more use it as an excuse.

    For me it doesn’t matter what colour the RL person is, or what sex (I don’t do the virtual sex thing anyways) they are. IDC if they are obese, gay, deformed or anything else. Because I play SL, my interaction is with other players avatars and their personality traits. I enjoy filling in the gaps.

    Nothing drives me more crazy than places like Help Island where the in-click there discuss what they bought from the supermarket whilst claiming to be helpers. Usually ignoring people until after they have finished explaining how well their diet is going. Crying griefer when anyone wears a box or comedy face.

    So yes, SL is a game.

  30. Gaara Sandalwood

    Apr 19th, 2010

    And as my in game tag states: I like vidya games.

  31. Mimika Oh

    Apr 19th, 2010

    Sorry, but the ability to build in SL is fundamentally different from progress through an MMO. That is like saying that writing a book is the same as reading a book. It doesn’t matter that someone else gives you the pencil and the paper.

  32. Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia

    Apr 20th, 2010

    @Urchin: Fiction definitely does have impact on real life, and real life does impact fiction. I think that interplay is important. I can’t really say there is a hard, fast line between the two that can never be crossed, but there is a line there. It’s blurry, but it’s there. Virtual violence seems to be a place where we can draw a hard line between reality and fiction, but what about things like sex? As an objective observer I can tell you when you have engaged in real vs fictional violence, but I can’t really tell you when you have engaged in real vs fictional infidelity.

    @KWS: I wasn’t actually trying to say that anything is unnecessarily constrained. The narratives people follow might be necessary or they might not be, but either way I would like people to think about how they spend their time in virtual worlds. It’s like a recent blog post on Henry Jenkins’s blog, coauthored by the Herald founder Peter Ludlow said, “Choose your fictions well.” That was really the point of this essay.

    Link: http://henryjenkins.org/2010/04/choose_your_ficitons_well.html

    I also would like to encourage people to consider being more mobile between virtual worlds. Good content creators don’t shy away from transmedia shifts. They find inspiration and possibility in them. I see too many talented SL creators limiting themselves by refusing to look for the creative potential in mainstream MMOs. As artists we should appropriate from everywhere.

    @Tux: I agree with you, but I think technologies like WebGL are the way of the future. I don’t see SL revolutionizing the internet unless LL goes bankrupt and starts giving away all it’s code open source. Even then, it would have to be ported to something like WebGL (BTW, I wish you luck with getting your account back, it would be a shame to loose you).

  33. Mimika Oh

    Apr 20th, 2010

    Don’t forget you can also “transmedia shift” into IMs, e-mail, or even letters and postcards to create “narratives”. Why oh why don’t more SL creators write letters to each other. It’s just as valid as a creative outlet. Or maybe that’s a vacuous observation.

  34. Deadlycodec

    Apr 25th, 2010

    “Here’s my ultimatum: see if you can change the opening sentence of Wikipedia’s article about “Second Life” to call a “game” and make it stick for the long term. I bet you can’t. The best you’ll be able to do is say that people have debated the point (as we’re doing here).”

    Ultimatum? That doesn’t sound like an ultimatum to me lol. Anyways, whether or not you can change a wikipedia entry to say something else isn’t a reliable way of determining much of anything. Anyone can edit wikipedia. Hell, I could write a bot in C to detect when the page has been changed and re-upload my versions. And if someone wasn’t using a bot, then you just have a bunch of crazies sitting around bickering over a wikipedia article as they go back and forth changing it, all because we can’t agree on whether or not a game is a game.

    Seriously, does it even get any more petty and stupid? Wikipedia is not Encarta dude. I can change the wikipedia article to say that Second Life is a delicious chocolate bar with caramel and nuts. If I did that, then would you start arguing over whether or not your game is a candy bar? Most colleges don’t even let you cite Wikipedia as a reference for papers. At least, the ASU semiotics class didn’t.

  35. Deadlycodec

    Apr 25th, 2010

    I do agree though that I wouldn’t expect much luck changing the wikipedia article to say that SL is a game, and keeping it that way in the long run. Of course, that would be because the people who consider SL a game aren’t dedicated enough to bother fighting that battle, as opposed to the people who are so obsessed with SL that they will burn hours and hours making sure that no one calls it a game.

    Also, sorry @Otto if I misinterpreted what you said. Thought someone thought I was advocating griefing again because I try to approach it from a neutral stance – which for me isn’t too difficult as griefing in Second Life ceased to have an impact on me or anything that I am doing quite some time ago. You know how it is, certain people like to holler griefer at anyone who views griefing as something less than terrorism.

  36. Nathan Hopkins

    May 9th, 2010

    @Bubble… I am late to the conversation it looks like, but wanted to point something out.

    It seems to me that using the term “narrative” is doing most of your work for you. You *assert* that what people do in SL can be characterized as “narratives” right at the start, then make the less controversial/more sensible claim that WoW is about narratives, and then you make the jump to “the narratives we create in SL are no different than the narratives created in mainstream MMOs.”

    I saw someone already mentioned that your criteria for what constitutes a “narrative” could really be applied to anything in real life (which presumably is not a game if the term is to have any meaning, and nontrivial implications, at all), and your response seemed weak to me. Your RL underwear serves a physical purpose, but so could a lot of SL activity (generating an income being the obvious example).

    I generally have an allergy to murky PoMo lingo, and this is why…

    1 – Assert that something is merely a text, a narrative, an artifact, or whatever.

    2 – Then, take the terminology’s fictional implications as applied to actual fiction based activities to create the appearance of uncovering some deep connection or fundamental similarity.

    But the whole time you have just begged the question in a way, smuggling in a murky term to do your work for you. In fact, I’ve never seen this term accomplish the heavy lifting its often called in to do, but has a knack for appearing as if is.

  37. Dave Bell

    May 11th, 2010

    That’s a pretty good description. Narratives might not be the only framework, but it works, and illuminates some aspects. Narratives, and the expectation of narrative, maybe goes some way to explain why new people find it so hard.

    Last week, Linden Lab were encouraging people to get Premium Accounts with promises of access to adult areas.

    My narrative is pretty flexible in some ways, but the core–the name and the usual look of the character–comes out of a story I wrote. I arrived with a narrative of my own, and picked up a few bits and pieces of others. I’ve built my “house”. I’ve tried being a “merchant”, and I’m beginning to wonder if it’s worth doing. Has the Premium account been worth it? The quality of the service has plummeted since I started paying, but there’s no narrative there.

    There’s other ways you could describe the whole thing.

Leave a Reply