On MMO's - Part II

On my latest blog post, I intended to write about why am I interested on Virtual Worlds, but the text kept flowing, and I ended with a rant on Virtual Worlds nowadays, and what aspects in them I don't like and would like to see changed. Yet, Robert seems to disagree with me in several aspects, and made a comment with his opinion. So, let's revisit my initial comment, Robert's disagreement, and my considerations for each of those points.

I claim that in a Virtual World you have to abide to some sort of well-defined physics: for instance, if you have the concept of physical body, then bodies must follow physic rules - for instance being able to step on something on the floor, but not being able to pass through walls or other avatar bodies. Robert claims that this can lead into frustration, and I have to agree in a certain point. A MMOG designed so that players can have the immersive feeling of embodiment need to have a stable, well-defined and non-conflituous set of physics. That's what I mean when I say, for instance, that people shouldn't be able to trespass themselves, but must be able to "pass through" a sword abandoned on the ground. In the same stream of thoughts, the game must be designed in a way that, while bodies have physics, they must not mess up with the user experience. See, I'm not talking here about "there's a 1x1 passage, where 1 is one square in a squared field, where every object (including avatars) occupy 1x1, and there's a NPC in that passage". I even told that a Virtual World shouldn't have NPC's. I was talking about a simulation of real world, with it's physics. If I go to a crowded club, I might take a couple of minutes passing through the crowd from the entrance of that club until the bar. Having someone in front of me doesn't mean I can't go towards that direction - you just need the right set of physics to implement such movement laws. Of course that if there's the possibility of having people stand in front of things, of course that if there's only one seat only one person can sit there. That, considered by Robert as annoying, is, for me, one advantage on having physics applied to VW's. Yes, people will tend to act differently in VW's and IRL - but that's not necessarily bad. Plus, if you decide to do a "real-world like" VW, like Second Life, for instance, where players have sex (heck, they can even engage into sexual intercourse), then it should be possible to give that swift kick to the groin you wanted to.

Still talking about avatars, bodies and crowds, Robert says that he should choose to tour one virtual museum alone, "no matter how many people are there". But, Robert, is that a virtual world then? I understand your point, but I see it in another perspective. I think that it would be awesome if I was able to visit a virtual version of every museum of the world, for instance, but that doesn't have to be a multiplayer experience. Yet, when I go to a massively multiplayer online world, it's expected to go there to interact with the crowd, and the results of it (like the world itself, affected by players, not individually but as one entity alone - the crowd). Yet, nothing stops a Virtual World to implement a set of physics different from those of the real life, and I'm certainly not against it. For instance, Second Life lets people fly. Why shouldn't a virtual world have every player with the ability to have "superman vision", seeing through things (including people?). If that's implemented with a good set of physics, it might be really cool, and my vision on Virtual Worlds definitively isn't against such physics.

He also asks why can't he decide to "ban" (as in "he doesn't exist for me") someone from his world. And this sets the whole difference in our vision: I'm describing one Virtual World, and you're describing "your Virtual World". If we're talking about one Virtual World, the world isn't yourse, or mine, or from his creators, if that matters. If a set of people choose to have a presence in that virtual world, they have. Of course that you can try to ignore someone you don't like, but - like in the real world - that person still exists, no matter you know or acknowledge it or not. The same goes with Robert's next question: why can't he have an experience in that virtual world where only his friends exist there? That follows the same line of thoughts, but raises a cool question. One one hand, you're still telling that you don't want to be in a massively populated virtual world with lots of people, but instead you want to be in your own virtual world, with your friends that go to the same world. While that can seem something against my own vision of a Virtual World, as a matter of fact it isn't. You want, and should have, the ability to have your own "instance" of that Virtual World, meaning - in fact - that you have your own Virtual World. Picking your example of World of Warcraft, you don't really want to go to WoW and "don't see" all the other players, you want to buy a game called WoW that lets you either create one virtual world (and invite there whomever you want) or connect to other's VW's (possibly including Blizzard's VW).

Then, Robert wrote a paragraph that was describing something that he considers bad, but that's exactly what I think it would be good about a Virtual World like I described. He said:
If you think that people in virtual worlds will behave themselves without restrictions you are sadly mistaken. A small group probably will but larger groups will not. Too many people get online to vent in ways that the real world prevents because they can more often than not act like a jerk without reprise because of the anominity and protection the virtual world provides. The only reason real life people don't act like this is because of the fear of immediate and long term reprisal, providing that infrastructure would require a massive programming and social undertaking for a virtual world. That undertaking world mean work and that is not what people are there for online. We have to enforce civility in RL because we can never truly escape it, online you just need to turn the computer off.

I completely agree with Robert here. If you set up a real world without rules or restrictions (beyond physic ones), several groups of people will act in several different ways, and one player won't like several of them. That is, in my opinion, awesome, since this exactly describes "a new world" - and people will have to adapt themselves, and the world, to fit in. That also means that the world itself have to adapt and evolve, and citizens of that wold will end creating their notion of civility, their set of rules, and define what's "socially acceptable" or not. The big difference here is that it is not the worlds' creator that defines what is that set of rules, but instead players do - like what happened in the real world.

Finaly, on the issue of death. Robert says that "good police work is difficult and how many people want to play a game where they have to be policeman, social workers, lawyers, etc to enforce civility?", but I also disagree here. See, the fix for this one is really a no-brainer, if you implement the right physics: for instance a newbie to the game may not have the ability to kill another player. Also, while this kinds of settings implicitly demand a social structure, possibly with different roles and different people assuming that role, those roles don't have to be those of the policeman, the social worker, the lawyer and so on. Maintain civility will probably be one of the targets of that virtual world community, but the idea that it must be enforced isn't really true - there are several ways that such a virtual world could evolve into, and most of them are completely different steps for those that humanity took. That's one of the most funniest parts of the whole concept of Virtual Worlds. I also agree that if you're paying to play a hack'n'slash game like World of Warcraft, you have to have the ability to re-spawn after death, but I'm not talking about building another WoW-like world, I'm talking about building a real good, new and innovative Virtual World.

The comment ends with one sentence: "If the virtual world is there for me to view the worlds wonders from my living room, why even make it possible for me to die at all? Or get mugged, raped, or otherwise violated." My reply to that is cynical, yet truthful to my beliefs: would you like a (real) world (or humanity) where people hadn't the possibility to have urges to kill, rape, mug, or otherwise violate? Where there was no sadness, no depression, no pain? The concept is far from new: a world like that as called as a dystopia, and if you want to see the dark side of that I recommend you to read some books like Zamyatin's "We", or the well-known 1984, Brave New World or Farhenheit 951.