Shameless Gamer

January 2, 2007

Somewhere else under Nexus Prime (spoiler warning!)

Onder Skall reports from somewhere under Nexus Prime

Whenever anybody calls Second Life a game, hordes of veteran residents launch a holy war. They leap to their keyboards, brows sweating anxiously, composing eloquent metaphor and allegory to illustrate that SL is more than a game. “It’s a platform!” “It’s a third place!” “It’s web 3.0!”

That’s nice. I’d like to have fun now. Should I leave?

Nobody who makes these anti-game arguments really wants to chase new players away. At least, they don’t want to appear that that’s what they want. They want to appear intelligent and creative; visionaries of the new frontier. So the next argument is, logically, that all of these people wanting to know “how to play SL” just don’t “get it”.

I beg to differ. I think they’re trying to tell us something.

Look, I’ve been around SL just long enough to get a sense of how profound it is. This is a community-built world filled with creative wonders and infinite possibilities. It’s a tool for the soul as much as anything. I love what it is and where it’s going, and I’m going to ask you to please take my word for it that I “get it”.

Regardless, I’d like to play a game now. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that request. The real world has arcades, sports complexes, mini-putt, movie theaters, and basketball courts in every neighborhood. Even amusement parks, which you would think were fun enough just with the rides, would seem incomplete without a fairway. We like to play. It’s natural.

Somewhere else under Nexus Prime (spoiler warning!)In this way, SL is a pretty terrible game space if you don’t feel like gambling. It has a tendency to be more like a museum: there are lots of things to see, and there are people around to discuss what you’re looking at, and everybody will be angry at you if you’re too loud or make too much of a mess. Apart from dressing up and triggering scripted animations, that’s about the extent of the experiences most people are having right now.

To go any further you either need some kind of insider info or you need to have been in-world long enough to be really good at hunting things down. Otherwise, it’s damn near impossible to find a good, fully-functioning game that doesn’t choke on lag every five minutes. “Fun” and “play”, as the words are conventionally understood, are pretty hard to track down.

The consequence of not catering much more eagerly to this simple request for a game is a far more depressed economy in SL than there could be. The business world sees video games as a massive financial force to be reckoned with, outstripping the film industry now by several times. Companies love games because people love games, and people spend money on what they love. By treating the label of “game” as some kind of trivialization of SL, people are chasing away those who value games. By extension, they’re chasing away massive amounts of business and potential in-world jobs.

What these people are missing the most isn’t just that there’s no shame in wanting SL to be more like a game. The thing is, if SL was more game-like (or at least game-filled), it would be a lot better. Games help make art interactive, give context to design, and make mundane events more meaningful.

Much of this is counter-intuitive to the veteran SL resident. For instance: right now the builders, designers and artists of SL spend a good deal of time promoting things with their name on it. If they were to participate in a game build, their name would just be one of dozens that contributed, and may even be removed from the “Created by” tag on the object by the time the game goes live. Given the current hyper-sensitivity in the community about stolen designs, they will reflexively fight against this kind of thing.

I’m going to make a prediction: the next few years will be very uncomfortable for the long-time residents. The games are coming, like it or not. When Tringo launched there weren’t nearly as many companies working in SL as there are now. The next Tringo will make a splash right in front of them, waving its big prophets in their faces. They’ll step up, hire a dozen builders, programmers, designers, and even actors. There will be a dramatic economic and sociological shift. You won’t be able to spit without running into a game.

At that point, the average user will leap at the chance to give Linden Labs their credit card information. They will think nothing of paying an extra $10/month into the economy. They will all call “Second Life” a game, and possibly the best game they’ve ever played!

Even so, I’m sure that amid all of this success and amusement, there will be a cabal of people trying to hush us all up about it, grumbling: “don’t call it a game!” Ideology has always been the enemy of enjoying oneself, hasn’t it?


One comment

  1. In this way, SL is a pretty terrible game space if you don’t feel like gambling.

    This is part of why I always argue that SL isn’t a game…. If it’s a game that you want, SL doesn’t do so great 🙂

    On the other hand your characterization of SL as a museum is a vast over-stereotype. Yeah, there are a *lot* of effectively abandoned places on SL. Yeah, a lot of the places that aren’t abandoned often don’t have people in them.

    But there is a *lot* of interactivity going on in SL that doesn’t really fit the definition of “game”, although it still does by and large fit the defintions of “fun” and “goofing off”.

    The dichotomy is a false dichotomy. I doubt it will ever get to the point where you won’t be able to spit without running into a game; it can do other things that people are interested in doing. When I first logged on, I thought, sheesh, one can’t spit without running into a casino or sex club. However, after a while, you realize that while that may be most visible in the search function and such, there’s a lot else there. I’ve talked to people who aren’t really terribly consciously aware of all the sex club stuff, but who spend a lot of time in SL.

    There are things that can be done to make SL better for gaming. I suspect that wanting SL to look more like WOW will never work; figuring out the games that work well with SL as it is is what is going to make it take off.

    Even then, though, unless SL gets watered down, it won’t make sense to call it “a game” any more than it makes sense to call the Xbox “a game”, or even the general-purpose computer “a game” (despite the existence of huge numbers of games, despite the fact that it is the gamers that drive much of the devlopment of high-end computing hardware). It will be a gaming platform. There may be great games there. But it won’t be “a game” in the sense that WOW is, unless it loses a bunch of what makes it different and great right now.


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