Blog Post

A Next Step In Interactive Digital Life

Since my confirmation as a HASTAC scholar in August I have not posted to my blog here or responded to others posts. It is not for lack of interest. It is a result of being weighed down by my studies. so, I am “stealing” time from myself to let you all know I am here, and I am reading.

In this, I offer a brief description of what I have been thinking about and doing. You see, I have this idea. This idea is what has propelled me into a graduate program because I feel it is only in a graduate program I can find the words I need to describe my idea.

What is my idea? A space where game is present, even partially dominant, but is also transformed into something more accessible. I would evoke the idea of casual gaming or playing if that too were not so polluted with flash games and free to play systems like Club Penguin, Habbo Hotel, and Free Realms. The casual I speak of is more or less a kind of “laid back” form rather than a “play once in a while for only an hour or two” that is implied by the popular variation of the term “casual game”.

It is a virtual world as a destination, a place to partially live, a community of Explorers and Socializers (in the Bartle sense) but not absent of Achievers and even Killers. It is a destination where in a user has more opportunity for truly individualized recreational time but not so strictly bound to kill ten rats, cap your stats, or gank the noob but allowing for that regardless.

It is a game environment with a massive amount of latitude in which you are provided ludologic reward for going out into the world and conquering NPCs and PCs alike. Users are also rewarded for just hanging out at the local pub, haggling over the price of player-made goods, or acting as a tour guide to a developer created city or player constructed town. It is a world where in satisfaction can be had from taming the wild places of the to farm, create an outpost of safety and reprise, or establish a fully functioning player run social and economic community.

It involves skill leveling but not adventure leveling. Ah, the skill tree, such a beautiful and neglected schema in the MMORPG genre. Yes, this is a “leveling” schema without levels. Adventures and Achievers would not be limited in their actions by a lack of that pesky numeric value that is a “level”. A user is only limited by what they want to do not by what they can do. Over time, more tools would be made available in pursuing interests but the tools are just that, tools, not rules.

I want to make a world in which all player types can find common ground. The Socializer would never have to go out into the dangerous world of PvE/PvP but could sit down with those who would and chat for a while. A world where the “game” is not the only thing in town to play. In the furthest reaches, digital authors, aspiring designers, will have the ability to express them selves in a way that they can share their works with the whole community.

The current trend in MMO development is moving away from this amid the screams and protests of players and potential players of the genre. The MMO developers are moving into pure adventure designs and losing users as a result. Player interests are changing. They moving towards emulating some of their real life in a virtual world. Fighting is not  necessarily part of that transfer.

This proposition is a step in the evolution of MMORPGs that propels beyond the confines of MMOG as game to a world that is a living community beyond that of stat mongers. It is to people trying to not be adventurers in a system that only fosters adventuring. It is a nurturing of a kind of digital authorship. It is the creation of a fictional life. In that, it is living as an actor in a huge community of actors. It has been said that in a world of heroes there are no heroes. I counter that with the idea with: in a world of people there are only people who pursue their wants and needs and in such an environment the ultimate wants and needs of a digital population is the ability, the tools, to tell stories. Human culture is a culture of storytellers.

My proposition is to develop a virtual space that is part game, part open book, part social space, and part communal fire around and in which users/players/readers/authors can tell stories to and with each other. Looking at the vast array of digital composition and new media studies over the last few years in their massively diverging variety, we are turning into a pedagogical and entertainment media development community. In this, I feel we are moving ourselves and our students (those of us who have students) in the direction where the above described form of expression will be a cultural request. In fact, I hear the request for it starting now.

Practically every one of the popular game forums on the internet contains the communication to the developers that players want a stake in their games, they want an alternative to playing presented quests, they want to write their own stories. The posts across the web have blatant request and messages. They all say the same thing: they want to write their own narrative, they want live in and with their own saga.




Interesting. It sounds like you're shooting for a combination between a virtual world like Second Life and an MMORPG, where you can do just about anything, but still gain experience from it. Is that a fair characterization?



Second life is too unstructured. It is only a set of tools and not much more. Indeed, we see that those tools have been used to generate a world of sights and sounds but it is not inherently a world of living story. The difficulty in describing the idea I have developed is it is related to existing artifacts but is, in its final manifestation, not really like any one or two things.

The MMORPG is probably the most closely related artifact but is also the most difficult. The MMORPG is constructed around three main elements, class/race, linear levels, and the quest. Class/race provides identity by defining role or niche and standardizes that identity: “this is who and what you are, you cannot change that”. Level defines how well you can survive by quantifying or your identity and aids in standardization. The quest is what you do and advances you along a predestined path with little to no deviation.

In this, there is room for deviation from your path but that deviation is slight and is not systemic. Deviation from that path is purely social, which is not necessarily bad, but is not universally acknowledgeable. To be something other than an “adventurer” in a community based on class and level, like socioeconomic position in the real world, is difficult to break.

This is a proposition to reverse this paradigm. There are no levels, only capability or capacity. That capacity is not defined by a class system. The quest is a feature of such a world but is not the reason for the world, as it is in MMORPGs now. Quest is something a users can choose to do but is not necessary.

One of the places this idea arises from is not every person wants to be an adventurer or a crafter, which are really the only two choices in the field of MMORPGs right now. I have discovered, over time, users desire to be “just regular citizens” of storied virtual worlds. In thinking about the spaces in MMORPGs and the nature of deviation preformed in role-play, we can see that people want to actually be bar keeps (not food crafters), people want to be actual farmers (not resources collectors), people actually want to fill the untouchable roles or be characters that make up the NPCs in storied webs or network of quests.

Those NPCs would be there but users/players/readers would also become storytellers and authors by enacting a life within a world laid out as a setting making the setting the destination not the class/race and level the destination. We read books and watch movies or television through the eyes of heroic avatars. This is entering a storied world and choosing to be a true supporting character that is a focus rather than peripheral.