Yesterday, Blizzard announced a new policy for their WoW forum posters. Henceforth, people who use the forums will be required to use their real names as authors to their posts.
Both of them.
Blizzard's forums are a great example of a community gone amok... trolling, flaming, verbal assaults especially to newcomers, etc. etc. There are a bunch of parts of this that are worth a quick note (probably more, but...)
I met Stungthumbz when I was working on There.com, the now defunct general population virtual world. One of the most exciting projects, just getting off the ground as I left, was the University of There, a virtual campus, with growing numbers of students, classes, and affiliated institutions. Both Celia and I became big fans of Stung via his work there and with the Uru community.
When There closed, the UOT was left in the lurch. There are a number of topics that might be discussed from here, but I asked Stung to share some of his investigations into alternatives for the UOT, and for some of his very deep thinking about the future of the virtual world.
Here's his response:
The recent collapse of There instantly created a special class of refugee, the virtual university, which was developed and run by volunteers over the past six years.UOT and its staff have absolutely no intention of quitting, but they are a little wiser now.
The following are extracts from some of the posts and mails recently written by Stungthumbz, the Dean of UOT, which is currently meeting on alternate Tuesdays in MOUL and alternate Thursdays in Twinity.
My name is Artemesia. I’m an avatar. For the past six years,
I have lived, played and worked in the virtual world There.com. When I say
“worked” I mean that quite literally. I did my Ph.D. “in” There.com, studying a
group of refugees from the defunct MMOG Uru. I defended that Ph.D. in
There.com, with the person who operates me, Celia Pearce, at my side. I am
cited as co-author of her book, Communities of Play, and appear on its cover. I have given keynotes
to hundreds of people on her behalf in foreign countries when she could not
physically attend. If you go to her facebook page, or have her on your chat
buddy list, you will see me. Less than three hours from now, I will be gone.
And a piece of her will be lost forever.
One of the things I love about anthropology is that if you
study cultures, what you find is that very few things that happen online do not
have a real world precedent. The destruction of cultures is nothing new. For an
ethnographer to suddenly find herself a historian is an-all-too common fallout
of Colonialism. But this is a strange reversal: in a sense my friends and
research colonized this world and made it their own. Over seven years,
There.com’s incredibly creative players brought life to this place, and now
that life is being taken away.
Over the past few days and nights we have been convening in
groups large and small, having parties, exploring places we will miss,
appreciating each other’s handiwork, sharing memories and feelings, and
discussing where to go next. These moments feel less like a grieving than a
celebration…we are celebrating all that we’ve accomplished together, the new
cultures and artifacts we created, and the magical experience we all had in
this cartoon world. For most of us, being an avatar allowed us to learn more
about ourselves, to play, to exercise some freedom outside of our everyday
lives, to explore new aspects of ourselves. One of my research subjects once
said, “We make our avatars, and thereafter, our avatars make us,” borrowing
from Marshall McLuhan’s famous comment about tools. This is perhaps one of the
most profound statements about life as an avatar. She made me, and I made her,
in an iterative feedback loop. While this is true of all of us, probably no
moreso in our case: It was through me her real-world avatar became a Ph.D. and
began her adventure as a college professor.
In the average MMOG, an avatar dies a thousand deaths, is
resurrected, only to go into battle and die again. We were always told that our
There.com avatars were immortal. We could fall from tall trees, shoot each
other with paint guns, or jump off of “Avie Sacrifice” without no particular
consequence except a few contorted animations. But it turns out we were not
immortal at all. And this will be permadeath. In a few short hours, I will be
nothing more than a pile of bits on a hard drive, asleep forever…unless there
is a miracle.
And miracles do happen. The group of refugees I first
studied have seen their “homeland” reopen not one, not two, but three times,
the most recent of which was only a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, we are all
looking for new places to settle, comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the
alternatives: this one has nice avatars but is to buggy, that one is
unplayable, this one looks the closest to There.com but appeals mostly to kids.
Some of the creators have bought their own serves on a free virtual world
development platform, and have taken things into their own hands, eschewing the
slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of virtual world companies, perhaps
tired of being tossed willy nilly from place to place.
I am continually amazed by the resilience of my people; the
Uruvians especially, they have been through this before.Their response, as always, is, well
this sucks, what next? But it’s hard to say goodbye. To our avatars, to our
history, to our culture, to all the things we’ve created. My friend and I built
a massive and highly complicated treehouse classroom complex for our university.
I only used it once—only a few hours before the announcement that our world was
coming to an end. I was happy to have the chance to have used it if only that
What will happen next? Who knows? I do know that my operator
will miss me; I have become such an integral part of her life and her
identity…even now, she finds it hard to imagine life without me. We will go
into another world, inhabit other avatars, but Artemesia in There will always
be “home,” even when she is nothing more than a ghost.
But like I said. Who knows? Perhaps a miracle could happen.
In the words of Yeesha, the heroine of Uru: “The ending is not yet written.”
I have to start
out on this reaffirming my status as a practitioner: all of this comes out of
my observations working with online community, non-digital community, and
trying to understand the social dynamics I saw unfolding, both in traditional
and newer, emergent, contexts.
So this all
starts with the notion that we're social creatures, and further, that we've
evolved to be social creatures, that some of our success as a species rests on
our ability to work together to accomplish mutually satisfying goals.
There are a
number of ideas that fall out of this, that explain, or connect, to very
One broad area is a set of behavior I've taken to calling "collaborative accomplishment": basically, an evolved fitness for and enjoyment of small team activities. We love working together to get stuff done (even if it's simply beating the other team) - in part our success at group activities is driven by our enjoyment of them (no coincidence here). More on this another time, it's a huge and, I think, very exciting area.
So, I happened to have lunch recently with one of the head honchos of a popular MMO, and he mentioned a community management problem that I'd actually been thinking about for years, without solution. But thinking about his situation has led me to a (totally obvious) solution. NOTE: I'm being a most-time dad these days, and it's hugely good and rewarding and exhausting. Apologies in advance...
So the issue is the twin currents of marketing conflict and competition, and managing a productive, positive community. I'd run into this several times, notably when I was working on Splinter Cell (and I dodged the bullet, so to speak, there, by having Morgan Romine, aka Rhoulette of the Frag Dolls, work with me - her charisma drove the community effort). In a conflict-based game, the effort is to enhance
So I've recently been thinking a lot about what I've come to call collaborative accomplishment or collaborative achievement (which term works better?). And it's sort of a meta concept for me, really, encompassing neatly a number of powerful experiences and human dynamics that have cropped up in different places, a sort of unified field theory of social dymanics.
My understanding of the workings of online (and other) social dynamics is all rooted, so much as I can, in the basics... Why are people so engaged with games? They're sandboxes, enabling us to experiment, challenge ourselves, and learn to win. What's with the odd twistings of online social identity? Again, it
Really rough notes on how I've come to view culture... both online and offline. And both.
My wife, the religious studies ph.d, sez I'm becoming a "bootstrap anthropologist".
These topics need to be developed fully, there's a lot more here, but wanted to get the concepts rolling, so to speak.
I have come to look at culture as a combination of:
1) development of new strategies for success in life and as a group - what works for us? What might work better?
2) information about what strategies work in life and as a group - ooooh Britney does that! That'll work for me...
3) systems for achieving status (I'm a leader, I'm a comic, I'm a bridge builder, etc.)
4) systems for collaborative accomplishment (a really powerful component of human experience, I think, see WoW or Burning Man or the Armed Services... or even, online discussions like this. We're hard wired to find a place in the group we're in and contribute to its success, and it feels gooood)
I've been playing with Twitter lately, and wanted to jot down a couple of quick thoughts.
First, I'm really enjoying how you get to know people on Twitter... "ambient intimacy" isn't it for me, it's more a "playful intimacy" or something similar. It's light, non-demanding, surprizing, fun... the best qualities of the social tech discoveries that (not too long ago) got called Web 2.0. Fun. Light...
Second, it's a great way to ... meet people? Connect with others who seem interested in the same things, topics, people and such. People who think you're interesting! Delightful.