Second Life, MMORPGs, and conversation

So, I reactivated my old Second Life account to do some building work for my dad at Baker College. He’s started a virtual space for Baker College in Second Life called Baker Island. It’s apparently a research exercise in the vein of human-computer interaction, and I’ve been tasked with building a caf√© for all the virtually-hungry students that come calling.

As I wandered around Second Life’s many shops and freebie areas looking for resources to help build the caf√©, I noticed an overwhelming number of people running around….but not talking. There was very little chatter in the public chat, and little chatter in the rather large groups I belong to. So, while there is a large number of users in these shopping areas – ostensibly the most populous regions in Second Life – there was almost no social interaction.

Compare this to World of Warcraft, the largest Western MMORPG in terms of paying subscribers. Everywhere you go, there is inevitably a dearth of conversation. People form groups, raids, and arena teams…not to mention guilds. There is a constant loud presence in larger areas like Orgrimmar and the Crossroads.

So why does Second Life have so little person-to-person interaction, while World of Warcraft (and other MMORPGs) has so much?

I’ve noticed in my many gaming adventures online that the more of a sandbox a virtual world or game is, the less chatter there is. The more there is to do, the more likely it seems that people want to concentrate on doing things rather than talking. EVE: Online is an unusual example – plenty of conversation, but a sandbox environment. This one can be rationalized by pointing out that in EVE there are a large number of activities that are heavy on downtime – travel, for instance. Plenty of time to do nothing but wait and, if there are others around waiting, talk.

On the other side of things, games like Team Fortress 2 that are filled with highly attention-intensive activities prevent chatter by engaging players constantly. While the number of possible activities doesn’t match, say, Second Life, the sheer percentage of the players’ brains that must be devoted to normal game activities tends to outweigh the conversational side.

So, really, could you say that the amount of chatting going on is directly proportional to the boredom factor of the game? It’s possible. It’s very possible.

Developers would do well to take note of this fact when designing online games.

Stream of consciousness, part one: the Internet

What follows is a completely unfiltered and unedited post on the subject of the nature of the Internet. This is the first part of an experiment I’m trying on what is popularly called “stream of consciousness” or “free writing.” Perhaps you will find something interesting and comment-worthy; perhaps not. Such is the nature of an experiment.

A commentary on programming and the web.

Java, JavaScript, AJAX, C++, .NET, ASP, all these things are just different languages that achieve roughly the same end. That end is to produce something or to explore something, two verbs with ubiquitous usage throughout history if only in concept.

The web, or more accurately the internet, is a social medium. Unlike other forms of communication such as artwork or books, the internet is by and large two-way. This has given rise to the concept of Web 2.0. Web 2.0 is something of a misnomer, though – the Web has always wanted to be a vehicle for large scale communication. This blog is an example of that. The earliest versions of the Internet incorporated email and bulletin board systems. Nothing revolutionary in that, either; it just meant faster communication.

So then, combining the production of stuff – using programming languages – and the distribution of stuff (since distribution is a social action), the Web is nothing more than an extension of the real world. It’s not particularly fascinating nor particularly original, but it allows us to interact with more people than might otherwise be possible.

Something that, then, follows from this is that people will through communication on a larger scale acquire a larger number of experiences and points of view. Through this, more thought is generated, ultimately speeding up the discovery process.

Interestingly, the Internet can overcome some traditional barriers of communication and thereby promote freedom. Certainly the Internet has been a godsend for the libertarian line of thought. It has also been highly useful to people like those from Myanmar. By the same token though, it has also enabled the more extreme edges of society to have a bigger voice. Disturbing behaviors and lines of thought are present on the Web where they would not be tolerated in more antiquated types of communication and literature, such as libraries.

Imagine, if the speed and reach of the Internet is what has revolutionized the way society interacts….what would society be like if we were all telepathic?

Live free. Live open source.

In today’s digital, global community, many of the old rules no longer apply. One of these is the way in which we get access to and use common everyday information and media. The old way was to do things like buy a CD at a music store, check out a book on writing resumes at the public library, or pay someone $60 an hour to teach you how to play guitar.

The world has changed.

Now, we download songs through GarageBand, read online resume writing guides found through Google, and learn guitar through instructional videos on YouTube. It’s all available freely and instantly, and much of it is open source or public domain. We’re in an age of open source living. And it doesn’t have to be restricted to purely online things.

Open source living is using products and services provided in a collaborative, unrestricted way. It’s all about freedom of choice and freedom of creativity.

Some examples of open source living:

  • living in 1-month, open lease rental apartments
  • using computers with easily replaceable and customizable innards
  • having a jam session with a couple local musicians
  • choosing open-dialogue farm products over supermarket-bought ones
  • writing a book, then making it available to everyone using Creative Commons license – whether free or for profit

…and so on!

Besides promoting the free exchange of ideas, open source living is also frequently cheaper and more fun than what I called “lock-in living.” For example, say you buy a voice for a season in an open-dialogue farm. The costs vary but are usually pretty cheap, since these farms are smaller and don’t have to worry about specific crop quotas like the big farms do. Since you’ve got a voice, you can choose one or more products for them to grow, and you get a portion of everything they make for a season.

Another example is choosing open-license music over licensed music. The artists gain prestige, exposure, and input – and sometimes event gigs – and the consumers enjoy themselves. While open source doesn’t mean completely free, it usually provides greater freedom of choice.

Things that go hand-in-hand with open source living are alternative medicine and alternative energy sources. Solar power and herbal medicines in particular are very “open source” in nature, since instructions and discussions regarding them are easily found online. A Google search for renewable energy will turn up scores of sites about alternative energy sources, and a search for holistic medicine will find you plenty of natural alternatives to the drugs pushed by pharmaceutical companies. Keep in mind, though, that not all medicines are created equal, and you should be very careful about what you do to your body!

Partisanship is vile. What loss to this country…

Seriously. I see Republicans railing on Democrats and Democrats railing on Republicans. The fighting and partisanship is completely at odds with what our forefathers intended. Benjamin Franklin must be turning in his grave at the extreme partisanship that many Americans today profess.

I do not belong to a political party. Neither should you. This is not because I am Right and you are Wrong; rather, it is a simple matter of reason. Political parties inherently divide people into differing camps of rhetoric. This is self-evident. Also self-evident is that rhetoric snuffs out free thought and discussion.

For this reason, every time I see someone who proudly declares that they belong to one party or other, I will shake my head sadly at the sorrow state of our once great nation. Powerful we have become, but divisive and hostile. So sad, and so unnecessary.

Here are a few action items for you to help improve the political climate of our country:

  • Print and distribute flyers promoting nonpartisan discussion of an issue important to you.
  • Start a discussion club at your local coffee house.
  • Unregister yourself as a member of the political party you presently belong to.
  • Pick one hot issue and start a blog about it. Discuss all possible repercussions it could have.
  • Invite your family and friends to switch parties for a single month and give themselves wholeheartedly to the opposing lines of thought. Don’t vote during this experiment though!
  • Read one of Benjamin Franklin’s works. There are many, and your local library will have at least one.
  • Start a newsletter for your town that promotes nonpartisan exploration of issues.

True open source – death of the individual or celebration of individualism?

Many, many people speak glowingly of the benefits of open source software. A growing movement also seeks to make a great many other things “open source” – from the file-sharing freedom fighters at FreeCulture.Org to the unusual licensing of the newest editions of Dungeons & Dragons. Libertarianism and the concept of freely available content appears to be on the rise. However, is this necessarily a good thing? What of individualism and ego, concepts central to Western culture?

Before the Internet and the World Wide Web enabled easy, free sharing of information and data, the individual had two primary levels of protection for his works. First was copyright law, which prior to 1976 and the introduction of Fair Use was a strong wall against unlicensed propagation of content. The other was the simple and undeniable fact that content could simply not be transmitted with any reasonable speed or transparency. The advent of Betamax and the subsequent legal turmoil ended up making unlicensed (and also, licensed) distribution of content much easier.

The recent case by Regal Cinemas against Jhannet Sejas highlights a similar paranoia by an industry juggernaut targeted against a consumer and potential distributor. Ignoring the legal implications of the Regal v. Sejas case (that the possibility of infringement is equal to infringement in the eyes of the law), these kinds of events demonstrate growing pains inherent in the development of an entirely new socioeconomic system. Instead of the traditional producer-distributor-consumer model prevalent throughout the past few hundred years, we are now presented with a direct producer-consumer model – or, in some cases, a consumer-consumer model, whereby the individuality of the producer is apparently cut out of the picture.

And that, my friends, is the crux of this post. Does the removal of the producer from the cycle and the distribution and modification by consumers of their works remove the individualism from the quotient?

For my part, I say no. In fact, it seems to me that rather than removing individualism, it promotes it – albeit in a slightly different form. After all, the concept of inventor-as-hero is a fallacy, with most inventions actually developing from several different points at several different rates. Ely Whitney, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and similar inventors – while important – were not absolutely critical to the development of the technologies they became famous for. They simply became standard bearers.

Similarly, the advent of open source society is not going to crush individualism. Rather, it will promote the free exchange of ideas and, thereby, accelerate the process at which these producer-heroes arise. Further, with the free flow of information, their fame will spread far more rapidly than did their cultural predecessors’. Linus Torvalds and Matt Mullenweg are prime examples of this.

So lead on, brave open source pioneers, and may your paths be paved with cookies. Yours is the cause of freedom and of the future.