Thoughts on Lives (part 1 — history)
I wanted to jot down some quick notes as I play Second Life about the nature of online relationships. As I started to write, I felt like I needed to include a little back story. Writing this intro paragraph, I realize that already what follows is too long for a single blog post, and I’m not even out of the back story yet. That said, I’m not going to break it up further. It was an interesting write, whether it makes for an interesting read will doubtless depend on whether you share my fascination for virtual worlds.
I’ve been “playing” a lot
To expand on this, a Ghod (named, for example ‘Thymeless’) could type
> emote inhales deeply and concentrates. and the world (or at least those in the same room) would see the text “Thymeless inhales deeply and concentrates.” A mortal (named, for example ‘Ender’) could only type
laugh and the world would see something like “Ender lets out a belly laugh.” Reserving this capability for those who’s responsibility it was to shape the world was, I think, largely responsible for it continuing to be a game. Without a broad social palette, the way to have fun in the game was to follow the ‘rules’ — in other words go hunt things, get better weapons, get stronger, hunt bigger things, repeat.
Then came TinyMuds
There was one couple on our MUD who spent a great deal of time online there, much of it together. Their characters got “married” (One of us even went so far as to code them “wedding rings” that they could wear that would notify them when the other came online or went offline. Unlike most Mudders, they actually knew each other in RL, and their online love blossomed there as well. They got married (for real), and what better way to celebrate their new union than a pilgrimage to meet g(h)od(s)? That’s right. Their honeymoon was to come stay in a hotel near our college campus, and meet the people that had shaped the world they spent so much time in. They did other newlywed things as well — come to think of it, we didn’t see that much of them, actually. But we did throw a party for them; A RL party. Other mudders drove across as many as four states to come to a party celebrating the union of this couple, and getting to meet the people they played with. As I was an RA, I had the biggest dorm room, we held it at my place. In retrospect, I wish I had been neither underage, nor a teetotaler. Perhaps enough alcohol (or pot) would have lowered the inhibitions and social insulation of a bunch of geeky kids who only knew how to relate to one another in a very specific context. Alas, that was not the case, and while some reasonable conversation was had, it was probably the worst party I’ve been to in my lifetime. Things did not warm back up until the awkwardness was so high that we decided to sneak these people into the CS lab, log them on via our own accounts, and let them back into the warm, comfortable embrace of their text-based universe. This particular tale, does not end well. The couple broke up little more than a year later, though we’d already moved on to other games. Still, it was this fascination with virtual worlds, and the promise of them being in 3D that led me to do graduate work in Virtual Reality. VR programs were housed in Computer Science departments. And while I am a computer-geeky sort of guy, what really drives my interest in these environments are what I take to be sociological or psychological aspects rather than the technical aspects of stereoscopic displays or level-of-detail rendering. I stopped with a Master’s degree.
After graduate school, I went to work for a company (Kesmai) that made a MUD-like game except instead of a multi-player world being populated by text descriptions of the form, “You stand next to a copse of trees in a verdant forest.” The text symbols were iconic. Pipes (|) were walls, tildes (~) were water, and so forth. You issued the same sort of commands (move west), but you stayed in the center of the action, and the world shifted around you. This game was called Island of Kesmai (IoK), and during the early part of my tenure there was reworked to have a graphical front-end and called Legends of Kesmai (LoK). Once again, the game mechanics were sufficient to make it playable, but the enjoyment, for me at least, came from the social interaction. You got to team up with people who would help you manage things that you couldn’t do alone. Even just getting to understand the rules of the world and how to play often required the guidance of someone already familiar with the world. I again knew of a couple that had met in this world, and married (though AFAIK, only married “offline”). While I’ve not kept up with them recently, I believe them to still be married.
While there have been plenty of “Massively Multiplayer Online ((Roleplaying) Games)”
Next time: More detail about “What is SL?” and finally some of the pondering on the nature of virtual relationships.