Wednesday evening, September 21, I was at the second Cyberspace Salvations lecture (missed the first one) at Waag Society, Amsterdam. Cyberspace Salvations is a cooperative project by several Universities in the Netherlands, together with Waag Society that researches the “re-enchantment” of the world under influence of new technologies.
Talked to two members of the research team afterwards and made some sort of vague promise with Stef to work together on some fronts. Could be useful, as our projects look alike a lot. They also organise a couple of smaller meetings which I hope to attend.
Below the full notes of the meeting.
050921 Waag – Cyberspace Salvation, 2nd lecture 20:00 – 21:45
Waag lecture: Hackers & Utopia # 2
Richard Bartle: “A better World through Better Worlds. MMORPGs and Practical Hacker Ethics”
Moderator: Marinka Copier (Utrecht University)
Introduction by Stef Aupers
Waag Society for Old and New Media, Nieuwmarkt 4, Amsterdam, 20.00-22.00 hrs.
Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw developed the first Multi User Domain (MUD) around 1980. He is also a writer on all aspects of virtual world design and development.He authored Designing Virtual Worlds (2003) which rapidly became the standard work for anyone developing persistent 3-dimensional worlds (like MMORPGs). Bartle is currently a visiting professor in the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering at Essex University, Essex, United Kingdom.
// introduction by Stef Aupers:
“Promise of enchantment” in virtual worlds. [cf. Huizinga’s magical elements in ‘play’]
// Lecture by Richard Bartle
## Virtual Worlds
invited to talk about “utopian thinking in dev. of computer technology”. But also about “hacker ethic”.
Characteristics of virtual worlds: persistent, simulated environments, multiple players, simultaneous. Why are they important? How did hacker culture shaped them?
example: World of Warcraft (WOW): 4 million players ww. They pay $15/month subscription. 25 % female (rumored 45 %, but kept secret not to ‘disturb’ the game).
– in Asia: players look alike; in west characters look different.
example: Lineage, game from S-Korea. 4.2 million player, 50 % of pop. S-Korea has played Lineage at least once.
– problem of addiction. Some countries pose limits on playing games (Thailand, China)
– real money trading (RMT): Runequest characters for sale on eBay for > $ 1000. itembay makes more money from RMT than all commercial subscriptions together. Estimate: $ 1 billion, could be 20 X this!
## Hacker Ethic
Hacker ethic influences: games have developed from previous games, but *done better*.
1999 Everquest (EQ 480.000 players) > WOW; shared architecture, design, ideas, code is different: ‘branch/fork’
1990 Dikumud > EQ; EQ is quite identical to D.
1987 Abermud > Dikumud; D was improvement from A for achievers, ran out of the box, tested. Alan Cox involved
1978 Mud1 > Abermud; Mud clone, ran on Unix-based systems too, Mud only on Dec. A. swept up Mud.
Concept of virtual world invented independently 6 times in diff. games.
Bartle c.s. invented Mud, some virtual world design decisions from MUD are still intact: e.g. different levels; language use like ‘mobs’, ‘newbie’. Behaviour of players in VW is shaped by the code of the game and its culture, both inherited from parent VW. Real world brings in culture too. As MUD was designed by hackers, hacker ideals were promoted, deliberately. E.g. freedom of identity: B. “I wanted players to be who they wanted to be; in other words: who they really are. So: as open-ended as possible, no narrative.” VWs still value freedom to be..
People bring in real world culture into games: language, morality, social norms. But traffic not one way. People change the VW: “they become more of who they are”. Some key-words inserted into MUD still affect people ww: freedom, tolerance, individuality, imagination, art, rebellion, understanding. So in political terms: “non-paternalistic, counter-cultural liberalism”. [are these concepts so very “counter-cultural?”]. Certainly NOT religious…
Hacker culture was present at Essex univ. at te time, but B. didn’t consciously adopt it, he didn’t know the term.
Steven Levy’s ‘hacker principles’ in MUD
– information should be free > concept VW in public domain
– create art and beauty > MUD as artistic expression
– computer can change your life > MUD: and live of others
B.: we wanted to create Utopia, yes, but not in software but through software: changing real world by means of virtual worlds. Creating virtual worlds as Utopia is missing the point.
// Q&A Stef & Marinka
Q: Utopia in real world? A: Changing lives normally goes via metaphores and stories. Game offers possibility for people to become better people. ‘rite of passage’ in RL, often nasty. VW presents less harmful way of ‘becoming’.
Q: Have people actually implemented values from VW in RL? B. thinks so. People have become more tolerant from playing games. Helping for sake of helping [‘responsibility’].
Q: to what extend are players becoming their characters, vs. only playing their character? A: That the aim of playing. Characters as extension of me. Role-playing is immersive: playing someone you’re not doesn’t immerse you as much. The longer you play, the more you become what you want to be. Eventually you ‘lock’ the 2 together: you are playing yourself.
Q: is playing helping you to find ‘the magician in yourself”? A: games help you to become yourself. Before VW existed, you had to travel to find a new metaphore for becoming. Q: VW also make use of symbols, narrative, etc., its not that different from RL? A: People play because its fun. Spiritual? Could be. If you take spirituality as something that can help a change in life, them OK. Games are experience of different world, not an imagined other world.
// Q&A audience
Q: “Become who you really are”: doesn’t VW – RL create a discrepancy? Can it lead to MPD? A: VW identities cannot always be transferred back to RL, and vice versa. RL identities like ethnicity become meaningless in VW. [is that so? language use tell-tales]. Physical body as part of RL identity cannot be taken with you in VW. VW aren’t healing environments per se.
Q: what are the metaphysical differences? A: there are of course differences, otherwise it wouldn’t be fun to play, as opposed to the real world. Different rules apply.
[what help can the concepts of the sacred vs. the profane (Durkheim) offer in understanding the role of games?]