Porous Magic Circles and the “Ludisphere” (Book II, Secs. 3.7 and 11)
As mentioned in Book I, the magic circle has become an important principle in digital Game Studies, especially as the introduction of the computer creates an additional boundary around the game experience that is generally held to be sacrosanct (Salen and Zimmerman 2004). Castronovahas even argued for a more hermetic enforcement of the magic circle, suggesting that ‘real world’ concerns, such as politics and popular culture, should not be allowed to leak into virtual worlds to destroy the suspension of disbelief or tamper with the world’s integrity (Castronova 2004-2005). This position has some unintentional clashes with contemporary anthropology, a discipline currently confronting a transition from the traditional paradigm of studying ‘primitive’ cultures cut off from outside influence to the study of cultures within a mediated, global context (Marcus 1986). Thus it is unclear if Castronova’s call for ‘purity’ in any world, whether real or virtual, is even attainable. The findings of this study suggest that, just as contemporary world cultures must be looked at in a global context, online virtual worlds must be looked at in the context of the ‘ludisphere’, the larger framework of all networked play spaces on the Internet, as well as within the larger context of the ‘real world’. In this context, as with real-world culture, it may be more useful see the landscape in terms of a series of overlapping and nested magic circles, the outermost being the ‘real world’, with transactions taking place through membranes more porous than has previously been suggested.
Ludic Leakage and Multi-Tasking
Say something here about the fact that playing on the computer, not primarily a play technology, introduces the opportunity for leakages to other tasks.
Traversing Magic Circles
One of the most significant findings of this study is that the magic circle, the invisible boundary that distinguishes play activities from ‘real life’, is far more porous than previously assumed. The prevailing wisdom that the magic circle that surrounds a game activity is inviolate and impervious needs to be re-examined, particularly in the context of cyberspace. The Uru Diaspora in general, and specifically by TGU, exemplify play communities carrying their unique play styles across magic circles, and adapting it to each new play ecosystem they encounter. These trans-ludic encounters also introduce leakages between play, imagination and ‘real life’. Thus it may be more useful to think of clusters of intersecting and overlapping magic circles within the larger constellation of networked play spaces, which we might call the ‘ludisphere’, which exists in the larger frame of ‘real life’. The subsequent section will explore this notion a little further, and also talk about the ways in which persistent individual and group identities reinforce movement among different magic circles within the ludisphere.
Migrating Individual and Group Identities
The practice of maintaining either group or individual identities that cross multiple game worlds extends far beyond the Uru TGU group. Inter-game immigration is becoming increasingly commonplace. Guilds from medieval-themed MMOGs are known to inhabit several games simultaneously, or in some cases, move en mass into a newly released game; creating a form of market cannibalism between games of the same genre. Immigrants from The Sims Online have a community in There.com. Small numbers of players have immigrated between There.com and Second Life, and some keep a primary residence in one and a vacation home the other. There are also groups, such as Uru’s Welcomers’ League, who extend their mission to greet new players beyond their game of origin into other worlds.
Although TGU identifies collectively as a single group, as we’ve seen, they play and carry persistent identities concurrently across no less than five different networked environments: There.com, Until Uru (running on player-hosted servers), Second Life, TGU’s own Atmosphere Hood, and the Koalanet Forum, which serves as a central communication hub across all the virtual worlds the group inhabits. They also augment these environments with voice-over-IP software such as Skype or Teamspeak.
The collective group identity both enables and creates the necessity for identities that persist across virtual worlds. And while their representations may vary from world to world based on the capabilities of each virtual environment, most players who have these sorts of multi-world avatar identities conceive of the character as ‘the same person’. It would also seem that in the case of TGU, the diasporic element also served to reinforce the need for itinerant or portable identities. (Figure 11.1) Players were determined to ‘stay together’, both in an individual sense (‘stay together with my avatar’), and in a social sense (‘stay together with my community.’)
Figure 11.1: Left to Right: TGUers Lynn (left) and Nature_Girl (right) in Uru, There.com, and Second Life respectively.
Practices of inter-game immigration and multi-world identities present some fascinating new research questions which ought to be of interest to game developers, who often have no way to track where players have gone once they have left a game. Furthermore, the implications of multi-game identities are particularly interesting when looking at issues of player representation and game mechanics. Because the affordances for avatar design and modification differ so greatly from world to world, players may find that differences in avatar representations may also lead to differences in personality, even in the same ‘character’, from one world to another. Groups may also evolve in different ways as they come in contact with new play ecosystems cultures, especially as they move between MMOW genres. Further developing methods for tracking and studying player migration patterns could potentially have a very high level of utility to MMOG designers.
Migrating Play Patterns
Inter-game immigration provides us with an interesting case of emergence in MMOWs. Clearly, immigration is not something intended by designers. Such immigration typically happens slowly over time, but in the case of Uru, a sudden cataclysmic event caused a relatively instantaneous mass immigration. This cataclysmic event created the opportunity to track a relatively large group of players across a number of different virtual worlds in a relatively compressed time period. The narrative of TGU demonstrates that emergence begins to instantiate through a particular community’s play style, incubated in the group’s game or virtual world of origin, framed by the types of people that world attracts. These players then move into different play ecosystems where they transport and adapt their culture and play styles to the new context. As we’ve seen in the case of Uru settlers in There.com, the new context also adapts to them, a process which can at times be painful. In addition, TGU then took some of the new mutated play patterns they had developed in There.comback into Until Uru, thus bringing another forms of emergence behavior back into their ‘home’ world. One might see this as an ‘all the world’s a playground’ approach in which, in each new world players encounter, they form a relationship with the virtual space informed and guided by their play style, and the play patterns they have developed in other worlds they inhabit. This echoes Iacovoni, whose small study ‘Game Zone’ explores the many ways that physical and virtual space are subverted in the service of play (Iacovoni 2004). It is also consistent with the Opies’ descriptions of the ways in which different street games mutate from one geographical region to another in the real world, taking advantage of local resources and environmental conditions (Opie and Opie 1969). Furthermore, play will inevitably blur the boundary between spaces as it functions by its own set of rules, independent of surrounding social conventions. Thus spaces are constantly subverted and reconfigured to accommodate the play impulse (Jenkins 1998). TGU’s play style, insomuch that it is ‘of Uru’, is very much about the emergence of social relationships through their relationship to space. The examples given here illustrate the ways in which experimental play can lead to new patterns ‘indigenous’ to the space they occur in, but characterized by the group’s unique play style. Two good examples are Avie Bowling (Until Uru) and Buggy Polo (There.com), described in Chapter Eight. While these games arise from the same play style, their play pattern is unique to the affordances of each world’s design features and flaws (including bugs). A phenomenon such as the Hairier Legion Flight Team illustrates how when play styles such as mastery and exploration meet a virtual world feature such as air travel, a new play pattern is born. Players accustomed to migrating between multiple game worlds appear to become particularly adept at spontaneously adapting new spaces to their own play requirements.
Migrating Identities and Play Patterns to the Real World
While it may be easy to presume that these phenomena are somehow exclusive to the virtual, it would seem that many of these patterns can also migrate outside of the virtual and into the real world. This was borne out during There.com’s ‘RLG’ (Real Life Gathering), which took place at the San Mateo offices of Makena, Inc., now the owner/operator of There.com, in September of 2005. The TGU group, including spouses and resident ethnographer, comprised slightly less than half the total showing of Thereians.
While some members of the group had had encounters with each other prior to There.com’s Real Life Gathering, for most of them, including the author, this was their first encounter with each other’s ‘real-life avies’. The importance of voice became immediately apparent upon first meeting. One could easily recognize others due to the familiarity of voice, which served as a bridge between the real-life and virtual world avatars. Additionally, many players bore a physical resemblance to their Uru and/or There.com avies, and some arrived dressed in the typical garb of their avatars. (Figure 11.4)
Figure 11.4: Some participants at There.com's Real Life Gathering wore pink bunny slippers (above), an in-world item that allows your avatar to jump higher. Real-world Hairier Legion Flight Team T-shirt. (Images by Raena)
While most of the formal event was focused on panels, discussion groups and showcasing player creativity such as machinima films made in-world, live musical performance and real-life crafts made by players, the most revealing aspect from a research perspective took place the last evening in which we met for dinner in San Francisco, and then returned to the hotel to socialize.
Key characteristics of group members became readily apparent once within an open physical space. Finding parking places and coordinating a meet-up became a kind of puzzle, with members calling each other from mobile phones to arrange a meeting point. The exploratory urge came into action within the context of San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, a popular and crowded tourist area. Several groups dispersed to explore, one, lead by Lynn, to visit the Ghirardelli Chocolate Factory. This exercise brought into sharp relief the contrast between unencumbered exploration of a virtual world and attempting to navigate a hilly turn-of-the-Century urban area in a wheelchair. Again, rising to the challenge, non-disabled members augmented Lynn’s skills at seeking out ramps, lifts and other pathways to enable her to arrive at her destination. Thus the puzzle-solving urge and spatial literacy were no less present in the real world than to the virtual.
Navigating out of San Francisco and back to San Mateo with Hairier Legion founders Wingman and Shaylah was equally revealing. Negotiation of the best path back to the highway was highly reminiscent of discussions regarding the optimal buggy path from point a to point b in There.com, especially with respect to finding the best shortcut, the most direct or least hilly route.
Once at the Marriott Hotel, I was able to see TGUers in an actual real-world play setting. Thereians, instigated largely by TGUers, transformed the hotel lobby into a play space. Having brought playing cards, players colonized seating arrangements and initiated spades games, re-creating the standard configuration of the spades tables in There.com.
Perhaps the most noteworthy distinction between the real-life and the virtual spades game was that, accustomed to There.com’s built-in computerized scoring system, no-one was really clear on mechanics of keeping score. Once the scoring formula was arrived at, it became apparent that it would not be possible for the players to keep score themselves. Ultimately, Lynn’s husband Frank took the computer’s role as score-keeper. For this and other reasons, the game was lengthier than usual, but it provided valuable insight into the differences and similarities between real-life and mediated interactions.
Players’ sense of humor and approach to the gameplay were similar to their in-world play personae, but with subtle variations. As with both spades in There.com and Heek in Uru, informal spectators stood at the corners of the table. Unlike There.com, however, it was possible for both spectators and players to see people’s cards, opening up the possibility of cheating, entirely absent in There.com’s variation of the game.
The familiar avatar animations were replaced by physical gesture, eye contact, and other features of the ‘real world’, although the voices were the same. This served to create a connection between the real-world persona and the virtual persona, and although the experience was a little disorienting, there was a familiarity to both the company and the scene that made the entire situation seem quite natural.
Oh My God, this made me laugh and cry at the same time. What a fun time it was meeting you in RL. I hope we can do it again. Meeting each other in RL was as comfortable as putting on a pair of beloved old shoes. We all just "fit" together.
Yes, I agree, the highlight of the gathering for me too was the San Francisco jaunt to the Chocolate Factory and taking over the lobby of the hotel. Too bad they did not have a fountain in the center for us to dance on. ;-)
The other noteworthy event that night was the heroic task Raena performed by walking around and making sure the web-cam was on and trying to show others who could not make it to the gathering what it was like. I heard so many comments on how deeply that was appreciated by those who could only wish they could have joined us. We wished they could have been there physically too but I know they were there in spirit.
Oh yes, and who could forget the little oriental doorman who kept mooching chocolate and getting in the group pics on the stairs of the restaurant? Lord I loved it. HAHA
Hey, who won that spades game anyway?
Posted by: Lynn | January 29, 2006 at 09:08 PM
It was quite an experience getting to the evening dinner event in the "tourist" harbor area of San Francisco. I recall a 2-hour exploration to find a parking space for the large wheelchair enabled van. Various members of the community spontaneously collaborated to help solve this problem, employing use of cell phones, foot excursions... etc. The group quickly found out that RL has its disadvantages! Oh did we long for a hover boat or even just a Linking Book.
Posted by: Raena | February 05, 2006 at 05:43 PM
Raena...thanks for the reminder of the parking co-ordination. I think this is actually a very interesting story because of the 'distributed' nature of the communication that took place. I’ll be sure to include a description of that in Being Artemesia!
Posted by: Artemesia | February 05, 2006 at 10:51 PM
Something else struck me about the jaunt. I felt totally safe in everyone's hands in a strange city without my protective hubby. I appreciated the fact that without my asking the path to follow was discovered in advance of me by all in that group.
It is like it happens in the games. We all see a need and try to fulfill it without question or having to be asked.
Of course my situation was obvious at the time being in a wheelchair, but there was no discussion and because I had made a comment some time before that I really would like to visit the choc factory, it then became a goal for everyone to get me to it.
I had taken a look at the streets and did not think it was possible to get to it but hid my disappointment and did not say a word about it looking like a lost cause so not to have to try and fail and be a drag on everyone. HA HA. Little did I know I was going to be gotten there by hook or crook with this gang.
My desire was acted upon by others calling me across the busy street and saying ‘follow them’. I had no idea until the next block that was the mission we were on. So I figured YAY, lets try and the mission accomplished by many. The forward guard ran interference and lo and behold, the store was found. The route sometimes was a bit round and about but you all got me there. It was worth the trip. :-)
Posted by: Lynn | February 13, 2006 at 03:28 AM
Lynn it's good to hear your perspective on this because it also reinforces some of what I've been saying about the dynamics between the individual and the group, and the fact that every problem encountered becomes a 'puzzle’. This is one of the interesting distinctions I see between Myst and Uru was that Uru added this collaborative puzzle-solving skill to your repertoire.
Posted by: Artemesia | February 27, 2006 at 09:58 AM
Emergence as Design Material (expanded from Book II, Sec. 12)
Reframe the study conclusions as they pertain to emergence and design.
12.1 Emergence and Design
The primary question driving this study has been the question of whether a relationship can be recognized between game design and patterns of social emergence among players in massively multiplayer games and virtual worlds. The findings of the study suggest that indeed such a relationship exists, and operates at a number of levels. While this study represents a single case involving a single group of players moving between multiple game worlds, it provides numerous examples of how both the values of the virtual world and its underlying architecture, as well as its specific design features, intersect with distinct group play styles to produce different types of emergent behavior. This process has included an analysis of how such group play styles emerge over time through their interaction with different virtual worlds and play ecosystems.
Perhaps this study will encourage game developers to understand there is much more in the world as a market for games than violent first person shooters.
Disabled people can be a great market source for community-based games because of the time they have available. It not only gives them a badly needed outlet to feel like they can once again function in a whole body and do the things they once could or never thought possible.
They can contribute much to an on-line community-based game in many ways and that allow them to feel they are productive members. I personally think that has been of the greatest importance to me other than being with the many friends I made in URU.
This study revealed two distinct types of persistent virtual worlds or play ecosystems that exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. At one end is the ‘fixed synthetic’ world of Uru, a wholly contrived story world that is also a ‘game’ with limited and controlled agency. Like a theme park with no tracks, players can explore at will, but cannot change anything in the world except in prescribed ways. At the opposite extreme, co-created worlds like Second Life and There.com emphasize the social and invite players to make a major contribution to the world’s construction. There.com is on the more moderate end of this spectrum, with a higher degree of designer controls and constraints, while Second Life represents the furthest extreme of an open-ended co-created world. Such co-created worlds, fuelled primarily by emergence, are always works in-progress that change on a continual and unpredictable basis. The defining characteristic along this spectrum is the amount and type of agency players are given (as opposed to the agency they actually take) to participate in the design and creation of the world itself. The more such agency players are given, the larger the quantity and variety of emergent behaviors that are likely to occur.
The narrative of emergence told here is that of a culture from a fixed synthetic ‘game’ world immigrating into co-created ‘social’ worlds where they worked within the world’s constraints to create their own unique sub-culture.
One important observation is that ‘emergence happens’, regardless of whether the virtual world has affordances for it or not. Hide-and-seek, Avie Bowling, the D’ni Olympics and other forms of alternative play conceived by players within the fixed synthetic world of Uru suggests that emergence is the inevitable outcome of a large number of players within a network. Many examples outside of Game Studies attest to the notion that the larger the number of nodes or agents in a complex system, the more likely it is that emergence will occur (Johnson 2001; Levy 1992; Rheingold 2002; Surowiecki 2004).
Social emergence in this context is the outcome of prolonged and repeated interaction with a persistent networked virtual world through a persistent identity. Because emergence occurs over time, observing its full effects requires a longitudinal, qualitative, multi-scale approach, the ability to observe the forest and the trees concurrently (Bar-Yam 1997; Bar-Yam 2000a; Mills 1959). Furthermore, some forms of social emergence can traverse the borders of virtual worlds and even between the virtual and the real. Further knowledge about these phenomena can be gathered through long-term, multi-world studies, which will necessarily require a team approach. Problems of multi-national ethnography are not new to the anthropological world, which has seen a shift from the classic ‘hermetic’ scenario of the ‘primitive’ cultures to a global system where cultures are more porous, and migrate, intermingle and recombine on an ongoing basis (Marcus 1986). How to study these cultures becomes an increasingly complex problem, and likely one that cannot be sustained by the traditional notion of the lone embedded anthropologist.
This study revealed that emergence may be generated in one context, move to another context, and mutate within the particular constraints of the new ‘world’. Studying these trans-world migratory patterns provides a glimpse of how the design of networked virtual worlds impacts the emergent behaviors that happen within and through them. This information is particularly useful to designers of multiplayer games and virtual worlds. The more conscious we are of the patterns that emerge from specific design features and technical constraints, the more able we will be to work with emergence as a ‘material’ of game design.
Each of the virtual worlds explored in this study embodies a set of values that form the substrate for the software’s design. Uru, as an entirely synthetic ‘fixed’ world has a deeply rich storyline that creates a metaphor for software production. Its narrative, aesthetic, and spiritual subtext attracted a particular type of audience that was predisposed to certain types of behavior. The value of mastery that was cultivated by the gameplay delivered a puzzle-solving, exploratory player who was intelligent, inquisitive and pro-active, and though Uru provided nominal player agency, players began to insinuate their own agency into the game world through emergent behavior even though the world itself was relatively immutable.
Once Uru closed, these highly-skilled puzzle-solvers dispersed to find new homes. Players who gravitated towards Second Life sought an environment where they could re-create Uru. The flexible, in-game, collaborative construction tools coupled with Linden Lab’s open policy of player creation (no company censorship or approval required) enabled them to achieve this goal with few impediments. Players adapted the Uru culture in Second Life, creating ‘modern’ Reltos, and eventually, joined with Myst players to create an entirely new Myst/Uru Age. Second Life’s creation tools and policies made it easier to collaborate on large-scale environments, and also to create content derived from Uru without fear of Linden Labs rejecting content due to presumed copyright violations.
There.com provided more of a ‘ready-to-play’ social environment for the TGU group, whose main interest was predominately social. TGU players gravitated towards There.com because it was easy to navigate, they liked the expressiveness of its avatars and its client-server architecture provided pleasing scenic views for avid explorers. Creation was more solitary, and more artifact- rather than environment-based with There.com’s policies precluding the level of Uru re-creation possible in Second Life. Motivated by the desire to create objects meaningful to their community, Uru artisans in There.com began by creating isolated artifacts and spaces that were derivative of Uru but eventually developed a hybrid Uruvian-Thereian style. Because it was not feasible to create an entire Age, for both technical and cultural reasons, Uruvians in There.com opted instead to take an ‘emergent Age’ approach through the propagation of Uru-like artifacts throughout There.com. Uru immigrants also liked the simpler, more controlled environment of There.com, preferring to avoid what they perceived as the seamier side of Second Life.
12.3 Contributing Factors to Emergence
This study demonstrates that there is a traceable connection between game and world design and social emergence in MMOWs. It identifies six factors in the propagation of emergent behavior, which were outlined briefly at the beginning of this document. Each of these provides us with insight as to how emergence occurs in virtual worlds, and its implications in terms of design.
Fixed Synthetic vs. Co-Created Worlds
One of the key findings of this study is that virtual worlds exist along a spectrum ranging from fixed synthetic to co-created worlds. In either context, it was concluded that ‘emergence happens’, regardless of the world type, but can be promoted or hindered, whether by intent or by accident, by the game’s features, flaws and bugs. Fixed synthetic worlds tend to fall into the category more properly defined as ‘game’, worlds with a goal and a formal structure for its achievement; they also tend to have a more fixed narrative structure. Co-created worlds are open-ended worlds to which players can make an active contribution; these tend to fall under the classification of ‘social world’ or ‘metaverse’ rather than ‘game’, although they often contain games. The distinction is based on the amount and types of agency players have in the world. In fixed synthetic worlds, players generally do not have affordances to physically alter the world, while in co-created worlds, they do. Thus, in co-created worlds, players are encouraged to contribute to the actual creation of the world, a design approach that leverages emergence as a production strategy. Regardless of which type of worlds players inhabit, evidence from this and other studies suggest that an inevitable pattern of emergence is that over time, players will come to feel they have ‘rights’ and to a certain respect, that they ‘own’ the world, especially if they have had a hand in its creation.
Communities of Play
The study joined with others to identify ‘communities of play’ as a relevant form of distributed, networked culture, worthy of study alongside more established forms of networked groups such as communities of practice and communities of interest. Group play style was found to be a marker of identity, and the study explored the role of group identity in facilitating trans-world immigration. Inter-world group migration creates the necessity for trans-ludic individual identities that move across multiple game worlds. Emergent behaviors of communities of play arise out of a combination of the proclivities of people who are attracted to a particular virtual world, and the intersection of their values, interests and skills with the world’s design feature. Players also acquire certain skills that lead to mastery of certain play styles, which can be carried into other play ecosystems and translated into new play patterns and forms of game culture.
The Social Construction of Identity
Supporting the findings of previous research, the study found that individual identity is an ‘intersubjective accomplishment’ that develops through a process of social emergence. Here it was noted that the group identity frames the individual identity, and the group itself constructs both its collective identity and that of the individuals within it. An example of this social construction of individual identity could be found in the ‘bottom-up leadership’ style of the group, through the ways in which TGU’s leaders grew into their leadership roles through transactions with and feedback from the play community.
A key finding of this study was the phenomenon of ‘intersubjective flow’, building on work by DeKoven and Csikszentmihalyi, (Csikszentmihalyi 1990; DeKoven 1992), a sociological reading of the deep engagement suggested by this psychological phenomenon. It would seem that ‘people are addictive’, (Lazzaro 2004-2005) and in play communities, the line between the individual and social may blur as players push each other to higher levels of engagement. The study also concluded that intersubjective flow appears to be one of the drivers of emergent behavior, and plays a major role both community play styles, and the social construction of individual identity.
The study challenged the traditional axiom that play is unproductive, and proposed the notion of ‘productive play’. Especially in co-created worlds, productive play becomes a major engine for emergence, and prolific player-producers can play a significant role in emergent cultures. The creation of artifacts was identified an expression of social agency, promoted by feedback, manifested in part through in-world economies, thus encouraging player-producers to produce more. Over time, an emergent pattern could be identified in which productive players tended to move from a more derivative approach to migrating a game’s culture into a different environment to feeling emboldened and equipped to begin creating their own original artifacts and content inspired by their game of origin. Thus fan culture morphs into the creation of original content. This also intersected with the notion that players crave self-determination, whether in the form of representation to game players, or by actually ‘owning’ the game themselves. In the case of the Uru Diaspora, this was manifest through the creation of the Atmosphere Hood by TGU, as well as the initiation of the Until Uru player-run server network.
Porous Magic Circles
This study clearly refutes the previously asserted imperviousness of the magic circle that bounds play in time and space from ‘reality’. Instead, players migrate between magic circles, importing play patterns and identities with them. They can also mutate play patterns and then transport those mutations back into the original play context. Another form of emergences arises when play communities adapt to new play ecosystems, and when these play ecosystems adapt to them. Also introduced was the concept of the ludisphere, the aggregate of virtual play spaces that are connected together via the Internet, and the ways in which the Internet’s multiple communication functions enable reality to leak into the virtual play space. Beyond the Internet and the computer, play styles derived in virtual space can be transposed into the real world.
These six contributing factors to emergent behaviors in games provide a framework with which to begin to engage with what might be called the ‘material properties’ of emergence as a component of game design. By beginning to identify where, why and how emergence occurs, while we cannot entirely control it, it may be possible to integrate its patterns into our design process. How this is to be done will be the subject of subsequent research.
Productive Play (other types of benefits)
The word Therapeutic comes to mind instantly for the disabled in playing on a more level field in an avatar.
Making friends from all over the world allows us to learn about others thoughts, customs and cultures as well as to share our own with no constraints from governments or media. I find this has brought me a better understanding of people.
Posted by: Lynn | January 29, 2006 at 09:48 PM
12.4 Ages Beyond Uruxiv
As this study was drawing to a close in September of 2005, Cyan Worlds also announced that it would be drawing the final curtain over the world of Myst. Yet over the past year, through the various instantiations of Uru in other games, as well as new ‘Ages’ created by players, Myst/Uru now appears to have a life of its own. The appearance of ‘Inara: The Clay Vessel Quest’ in Second Life, Damanji’s ‘emergent’ Ages in There.com attest to the fact that players are perfectly capable of taking on and expanding the Myst/Uru legacy.
In November of 2005, only two months after Cyan’s announcement, the hacker group that had arranged the Until Uru player-run server system announced the beta release of the first Age built by Uru fans using their own home-brewed Age development tools. The granting of both server and content-creation rights to a fan community is an unprecedented move in the game industry, and illustrates the powerful role emergence plays in the dynamic between designers and players. It also illustrates that while players may feel powerless and at the mercy of corporations whose decisions may not always be in their best interest, they also have the power to exert their own agency through large-scale group emergent behavior.
In March of 2006, Cyan opened its own shard of Until Uru: an exploratory that was a prelude to a re-launching of the game. At this writing, a new Uru beta test had just been announced. The parties involved in this re-launch have referenced this research in moving forward, impressed by the longevity and devotion of the Uru fan base, and inspired by the clear impact the game has had on ‘real culture’ beyond the screen (the main evidence for which is this thesis). In a remarkable show of evidence for the impact of scholarship in Game Studies as decidedly NOT a waste of time, this funder has taken the scholarly treatment of Uru as evidence that a new improved version of Uru Live, integrating a number of new features to accommodate fan creativity (including Age-building tools) is both wanted by players (thus marketable), and useful to society more generally. Game on.
The ending has not yet been written.
The "real world" has become a difficult place to socialise. It isn't easy to meet people, friends and families are separated by great distances, stress levels are high and danger lurks. Virtual worlds bring people together over great distances from diverse backgrounds. For many, like myself, they become a place to blossom and live as we wish we could in the real world - they are what we wish the real world was.
We are, for the most part, denied play in the real world which increases our stress levels and keeps us at arms length from the society around us. Life has become too much "strictly business". The opportunity to play not only relieves those pressures but also fills in many of those empty spots we find in our hearts and souls.
Children no longer play innocent games. Winning and competitiveness are all that matters - gone is just having fun. There's more stress at a little league game than fun. Families rarely play together anymore. People are becoming more insulated and alone, violence is on the rise, family structure is disintegrating - we are, to some extent, going nuts as a society. I believe the absence of real play in our lives, as children and adults, is a major contributing factor.
I feel this is demonstrated most noticeably by people who had given up on life, had substance abuse problems or were borderline suicidal who have taken up playing in virtual worlds - they have found a reason for living and have turned their lives around.