Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Lessons of MMORPGs Today

Via Boing Boing:

I find this interesting because of its commentary on the limitations of internet social existence. Limitations waaaay too often overlooked by scholars eager to find "revolutionary social potential" in new techology (or anywhere else for that matter). I wonder how much the particular medium of the MMORPG and the business model behind that medium are responsible for the effects this author is noting. He points out that they tend to convey the message that: "Intelligent beings who have civilizations and languages of their own are generally evil and should be slain." This, of course, is driven by the central game mechanic of the genre... killing, gaining experience, levelling up. But what makes this mechanic compelling?

I think it has something to do with visible, measurable achievement. For folks in jobs where they are deeply alienated from the actual, tangible outcomes of their employment, workaday life may seem an endless repetition of almost ritualized actions that never lead to anything, or make any progress. The illusatory progress of the gameworld may be a welcome relief from this. But of course, its not really progress at all. And why the game world may seem to allow a character progressive change and development, as the author of this post points out, it is in fact dangerously static. The monsters just regenerate tomorrow, after all.

The question then becomes, can we build on-line experiences that don't have these sorts of dengerous static natures? Second Life would seem to be an attempt, but it hasn't caught on, and I must admit, I found it weridly uncompelling when I tried it.

Or is it time to give up on the idea of internet as "social space" entirely, and imagine instead as communication medium, transferring information between real spaces, but not really able to exist as space on its own?

No comments: