Just because it's digitally-mediated doesn't mean it isn't real.

"I was part of the WELL almost from the very beginning. The Whole Earth 'Lectronic Link was founded in the spring of 1985 - before Mark Zuckerberg's first birthday. I joined in August of that first year.

I can't remember how many WELL parties, chili cook-offs, trips to the circus, and other events - somewhat repellingy called "fleshmeets" at the time - I attended. My baby daughter and my 80-year-old mother joined me on many of those occasions. I danced at three weddings of WELLbeings, as we called ourselves, attended four funerals, brought food and companionship to the bedside of a dying WELLbeing on one occasion. WELL people babysat for my daughter, and I watched their children.

Don't tell me that "real communities" can't happen online."

What the WELL's Rise and Fall Tell Us About Online Community

I want to shout this stuff at people who claim that the only true home I've ever had wasn't / isn't 'real'.

The Artificial Ape a.k.a. Once You Start Seeing Parallels in Virtual Environments, You Can't Stop

There may, in fact, be a choice to be made. Although Robin Torrence is right to contrast the flexible responses of people in resource-rich, unpredictable environments with the highly logistical survival routines of those in high-latitude, harsh environments, the correlation is only general. As the archaeologist Everett Bassett has pointed out, the farther north or south you get, the more risk-reduction strategies are forced to diverge. The orthodox strategy is to become ever more specialized, going big on sleds, kayaks, harpoons, fall-traps, summer gear, winter gear, big-game gear, small trapping gear, and so on. As things become harder to find and hunt, water and wind get colder, and light and dark shift from a twenty-four-hour cycle to a twelve-month alternation. Investment in the insulating, adaptive technology is attractive. This is the "life-pod" approach, where getting food and staying warm are guaranteed by technological fixes at every point. The alternative strategy is a dramatic opposite and involves extreme opportunism. It is unorthodox, because in such demanding environments you need to be really good, divesting yourself of every encumbrance for maximum flexibility, weighing energy costs with potential risks at every moment. In the orthodox case it can be fatal if the gear fails, in the unorthodox case, if you do.


Perhaps this explains the expedient technology of the Tasmanians. Instead of sitting down for a long time to make a complex tool that you might lose or damage, you hardly break stride to knap a sandstone blade edge and deal with that seal. The Tasmanians were highly skilled land hunters, yet they used neither spear thrower nor stone-tipped projectiles. They did not have ground stone tools because grinding stone is very laborious, whereas efficient knapping can be a matter of a few highly skilled strikes. Everything was quick, and replicable. If a blade was lost, you made another one, or picked up an old one and refreshed the edge. Being without clothes reduced your other possessions, so that what you owned was yourself. Entailment was minimized. This was Hermann Buhl's logic on Nanga Parbat: not naked, but with an absolute minimum of gear. It could be described as reverse entailment.

The Artificial Ape
Timothy Taylor

The basic premise of The Artificial Ape is that technology has evolved us, as much as we've evolved it. The technologies we've come up with present a third force, together with environmental/natural selection, and culture, that are even now changing how humans evolve. We're smaller and weaker than our ancestors, simply because with the technologies we have at hand now, we don't need to be larger, or stronger, or even the same as they were. It's a fascinating book, and very persuasively argued.

However, as nuggets are wont to do, this is where I tangent off from what Taylor talks about. Reading the two quoted paragraphs above, I couldn't help but feel as if he were describing World of Warcraft (orthodox) and Guild Wars (unorthodox) in anthropological terms, with going big on specialised technologies being the veritable smorgasboard of add-ons available for WoW, vs GW's very, very minimalist, pared-down system. The statement, 'In the orthodox case it can be fatal if the gear fails, in the unorthodox case, if you do.' was the nail in the coffin - or the icing on the cake, if you prefer.

The second paragraph also rings very true for me when juxtaposing these two MMOs. Many's the WoW-player I've heard lament in GW that 'there's nothing to DO at 20!' There is - but it's all about yourself. What you own is... yourself. There's no sense of, 'Oh I should be raiding now, I need more stuff so I can get more stuff...' GW gives you an immense amount of freedom in terms of deciding what you want your endgame to be about - and it's that exact freedom that can lead to people not knowing what to do, just like how it's easier to create a project if you're told the goal and purpose, rather than being just told to go and do whatever you like.

I'm not trying to say that one type of design is necessarily better than the other - just that they're different, and work along different lines.

I hope ArenaNet remembers that, while they develop Guild Wars 2.

Terra Nova: An Exodus Recession?

Let’s construe the notion of “virtual economy” quite broadly: If you receive an experience by yourself through a machine that runs on digital technology, without doing or buying anything physical (other than press a few buttons), it’s virtual. To download a song and listen to it on your iPod is virtual; to go to a concert is real, to buy a CD and play it is real, to play your own instrument is real. The difference I want to highlight is in the physical nature of the economic transaction. The virtual transaction does not require the movement or alteration of anything physical. Not even physical money changes hands. The real transaction involves material being created, moved, consumed, all by human hands.

Using these concepts, there’s some evidence that an exodus from the real to the virtual is not only already underway (as I argued in my second book) but that’s it’s gotten big enough to affect our sense of a whether the real economy is healthy or not. In support, here’s a series of random judgments about the state of the real world.

TV viewing is down among 18-34 year old males, and movie attendance is flat. Meanwhile, more and more time is being spent online or playing videogames. If you want to get 80 hours of fun watching movies, you need $1000. You can get the same fun from a game for $50. Spending time online or playing videogames simply involves less expenditure in the real economy.

Human eyeballs see a lot fewer ads than they used to. As noted, some people are watching less TV. For most others, the TV they’re watching is increasingly DVR’d or Hulu’d, that is, stripped of ad content. On the internet, we avoid ads easily – they are usually in the periphery, and if not we can click them away, or surf to something else. Advertisers have made an industry on the presumption that ads make people buy things. If they are right, it follows that fewer ads would result in us buying less. Ads are less and less a part of our daily experience. HBO’s success with a show about evil advertisers is perhaps apt now, because we feel we finally have gotten the upper hand on these miscreants. The net result of our power over advertisers, according to their own model, would be a weakness in general real-world consumption.

Facebook is a great way for people to connect. In some FB games, you can buy someone else a beer. You can poke them, write on their wall, friend them. None of this causes anything in the real world to be moved or changed. There are 500m people on FB, hundreds of millions more on other, similar social networking sites. If you’re friending people on FB, you’re ever so slightly less likely to be sending them a real Hallmark card, ever so slightly less likely to write them a note on paper, ever so slightly less likely to give them a call. That’s probably not going to turn around, either. Our ability to socialize online puts a crimp in our general need to move stuff or change stuff in the real world.

People who spend time online don’t have to worry about what they are wearing. Suppose that some percent of a given day can be spent in pajama’s, the rest must be spent in decent clothes. For decent clothes, you need a whole and varied wardrobe. For PJ’s, you need a few comfy ones. Now increase the amount of time that can be spent in PJ’s. The demand for decent clothes falls, if ever so slightly. The internet allows us to do all kinds of stuff in our PJ’s – so it must have an ever so slightly dampening effect on the market for fashion.

One could go on. It is possible, slightly, that there’s a general weakness in consumer spending simply because, to get our social, emotional, informational, and needs met, we just need fewer movies, fewer beers, fewer trips, fewer shoes, fewer things in general. What if the world of human beings suddenly became converted to the idea of consuming less stuff? Why, there’d be a recession, of course. Less buying means fewer jobs and less investment, which means economic contraction. It would mean a general pessimism about the prospects of business.

Really interesting and balanced post on how the move to virtual goods and services is influencing economies, complete with a highly intelligent (and answered!) comments section.

One of the things that makes it so convincing is that Castronova isn't running around splooting blood like a headless chicken (!the sky is falling!), but rather emphasizing how little things can add up.

Pink Day in Lion's Arch 2010!

Earlier today, I switched to International District to sync Vizunah Square with someone, then, like most senile people, forgot to change it back.

A couple of hours later, I wandered over to Lion's Arch, and found a whole bunch of pink-clad people bouncing around, dancing and whatnot. Now, spontaneous strange dancing does happen (I think) in every MMO where there IS a /dance in the first place. However, spontaneous strange dancing of people all dressed in varying shades of pink is... not so common. Add this to the fact that random people kept asking when the 'Pink Dye Guy' would show up, only to be told, 'In 8 hours', I decided to investimagate!

And this is what I found. O.o


Well, guys and gals, it's about that time of year again. Saji here and I'm going to give you a little information about this year's, Pink Day in LA.

We're going with the theme that, "Gamers Care Too." Why? Well, with all the recent news stories about how people who play video games, especially violent ones, are bad people, and when a crime is committed, such as a shooting, you will no doubt hear about how the person was playing the newest Grand Theft Auto game, or some other violent game. But, obviously, not everyone who plays games is violent or bad. We're doing this event this year to show others that an online community with players from around the world can get together and support a worthy cause. We want to show the world that GAMERS CARE TOO!

Now, remember last year, where I gave a little speech on the subject of Breast Cancer? Well, it was awkward, trying to get people's attention with others constantly spamming. So, this year, there won't be any big speech on the subject, but instead, DRGN is making a site dedicated to informing gamers about Breast Cancer risks, treatments, and more. Check it out over at the Pink Day in LA Website.

"But what about in-game?" - I hear you ask. Well, to show support, like last year, we want everyone to get their armor decked out in brilliant pink. We want to see everyone in the district wearing pink, but, you'll have to supply your own dye! Sadly enough, last year we had many people take the free handouts of dye for granted, along with the fact we had rude players who interfered with other aspects of the event (such as the end photo-ops).

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reply to this post or email me at, mastersaji@pinkday.draconus-united.com or you can reach me on AIM or Yahoo IM at, Tooker311

And they've done it for 2 years already. O.o

As a former WoW player, all I can say is... wow. Not without respect for BBB's Raid from the Heart recently, I never saw anything even vaguely like this when I was playing WoW. Player-run events, sponsored by guilds, for no other reason than they find something important. Just... wow.

I think it helps greatly that in GW, as opposed to WoW, you can switch servers whenever you like. So there's no, 'Oh I would love to but I'd have to organise it on MY server, or I can't make it on YOUR server because I don't have a toon there that's high level enough, that can get there, etc'. I had a poke around another player-run event earlier this year - Mantlecon, which was rather fun as well.

Somewhat related is GW's Canthan New Year, where alliances will sponsor districts... just because. They'll go farm up all the stuff the chefs need, so all people have to do (if they don't want to / care to / haven't farmed enough to help) is stand around and chatter and get presents.

This is one of the things I really love about Guild Wars, that I don't think I ever experienced in World of Warcraft.

It's strange, really. How is it that an MMO where you can choose to spend almost all your 'gaming' activity time with your own AI encourages so much more player-run social interaction than one where people are forced to group with each other? Or did I just answer my own question?

MMOs, MU*s, "Harsher Death Penalties, NOOB!", and Deathtraps. What Fun!

As Psychochild says, somewhere in that stream of comments to this post by Larisa from Pink Pigtail Inn, someone coming from a text (MUD/MOO/MUSH what have you) background comes with a different perspective from someone whose first experience with a virtual world (however deep, or shallow) was an MMO.

As someone who came from MU*s, I think one of the things that is often overlooked when the cry for harsher death penalties goes up, is that MU*s, even the largest ones, are much smaller than MMOs.

In MU*s, if I stayed long enough, I cared not just about the inhabitants, I cared about the *world*.

The fact that these worlds were free - really, truly free, rather than being tied to some payment model, mattered a whole lot. I'm leaving out Iron Realms because I think, though I may be wrong, that even today, most MU*s are free. That these worlds were labours of love mattered to me. And that aspect was, and is, intrinsically bound up with their being free. Art for art's sake, if you like.

As a result, it's like the difference between going to a local restaurant, owned by a husband and wife, who greet each of their patrons by name... and going to a McDonalds, or any other franchised food establishment.

The death penalties that many MUDs had, which seem horribly harsh by comparison to our themepark MMOs now, were appropriate to those MUDs, precisely because of all those things I mentioned above.

In LegendMUD, my longest played (8 years) MUD, and what was, I think the *only* virtual world I ever lived in, there were Deathtraps.

To those unfamiliar with the term, Deathtraps are 'rooms' that, when you enter them, eat all your gear. It's gone. Just like that. POOF!

If an MMO had deathtraps (hacking doesn't count, and EVE is an anomaly) players would be screaming bloody murder.

And they'd be absolutely right to.

Deathtraps served a few purposes on MUDs - the purposes varied depending on the architecture and design of the MUD, but broadly speaking, Deathtraps were there to:

  • Get rid of grandfathered gear, or old, overpowered gear no longer available, thereby putting newer players on more even ground with older ones
  • Foster community through having the players come together to support one of their own
  • Serve as gold sinks, because everything is gold, eventually, and deathtraps eat that, too. Gear is just transmogrified gold! XD
  • Impart a sense of risk to some areas where they fit with the atmosphere
  • Increase immersion by forcing (or trying to force, anyway!) players to pay attention to their steps

In an MMO, I don't see Deathtraps fulfilling any of those functions. Because MMOs aren't free. Especially not the F2P ones.

Once money enters the equation, it brings with it a sense of entitlement. Throw a 'massive' franchised feel into it, and there goes the sense of community. Help the other guy? Why should I! I'm not paying <Subscription amount of your choice> here a month, or I didn't spend <amount of your choice> in the cash shop to be at someone else's service, Nosirree! Yes, I'm generalising, how else are nuggets supposed to frolic on their soapboxes? 

In LegendMUD (and others), I'd risk my hard-won, oftentimes customised gear, to help a friend with corpse retrievals. Because in the smaller communities that MU*s encourage, the human connection is worth more than gear or stats. You *know* those people. And even if it's just a newbie that happens to have their tragic death announced on a MU*wide channel, if they ask for help, if people are around, they tend to help gladly. Sometimes, the newbie doesn't even have to ask. There isn't a culture of 'L2PN00b!'. I believe it's because in MU*s, the communities are small enough that there's always the thought that this newbie could become a friend. That you're proud of your world, and you want them to love it too. Because the world itself is a labour of love.

In a context like that... Deathtraps and harsh death penalties make absolute sense. MMOs are not the same beasts. Just something for those who consider harsher death penalties the Holy Grail of MMO excitement to ponder.


Virtual Homesickness

A while back, I bought a beautiful illustrated edition of the poem Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney and John D. Niles. I plopped down on the couch and stuck my nose into my lovely new book, with all the wonderful heft and flop that only good paper has. I hadn't gone beyond the first five verses before I was hit by a terrible wave of homesickness... for LegendMUD.

I could suddenly see Hygelac's mead hall, with women of the Geats wandering about. I could hear the songs praising Hygelac as a gold-giver. Vivid memories of crawling along a ledge above the lava to peer down at the dragon Fadhmir, with death just a mis-step away (thanks to that deathtrap in the lava...) washed over me. And I abruptly missed the world of LegendMUD so much my heart felt like a stuffed toy clutched by a distraught child. =/

Very often, when people talk about virtual worlds, they say that it's the people that contribute to them sticking around. That the social connections and people they meet mean more than the world, in the end. In terms of MMOs, I think it's certainly true. But for me and LegendMUD... I'm not so sure. The things I miss so much, that my nuggetty heart fills with longing to see again, that - honestly, if melodramatically - I'm still brim-full with love for, are not the players. If I had a chance to mosey around a LegendMUD empty of people, to visit all my old haunts, and just totally sink into that rich world again - I'd take it in a heartbeat. Oddly enough, it's very much the fact that I might still know some people there, or even worse, that they might know me, that makes me certain I'll never go back again.

Don't get me wrong. I love LegendMUD very, very much. For a newbie, the community is superb. I've been saying for years to anyone who'll listen: if you only ever play one MUD, make it LegendMUD. It's that good. And having played at least 750 MU*s over my MU-ltiverse hopping nuggetlife, I'd say I have a fairly decent gauge of which MUDs are worth playing. LegendMUD is the best MUD I've ever played. It may be one of the best games I've ever played. It is certainly the best digital world I've ever lived in. I'd go so far as to say it's the only digital world I've ever lived in.

I'll recommend LegendMUD to anyone and everyone... but I also tell the recommendees that I simply cannot and will not go back. Not even to show them around.

This, naturally, leads to a certain amount of, 'Uhh, but nuggeet. If it's so great, why won't you go back and play wif me?' =/

And then it gets hard to explain. But since I've spammed this much, struggle gamely on I shall, and without any regard to political correctness!

To a nugget, LegendMUD is like the girl you thought you would spend the rest of your life with... until she broke your heart into so many teeny tiny pieces that even crazy glue + an OCD sufferer could never be able to put it back together again. You still love her so, so much. You want only good things for her. And you can never stand to see her again.

I left LegendMUD just over 5 years ago, after playing for 8. And you know, I think I'm still not over her. Maybe you never get over that girl. You might grow wiser, older, and more peelosopical... but there's always an empty room in your heart where she used to be.

...so this nugget can't go back.

...but she can sure feel homesick down to her very bottomest batterbits. :(

Which leads to the pondering - could it be that people so often cite the 'community' and 'social ties' as reasons that keep them to a world, especially with regards to MMOs, precisely because those worlds are so hollow? Comparing MMO worlds to LegendMUD (or any decent MUD) is like comparing Twinkies to a full course meal. The difference in depth and richness is that great.

If we had more digital worlds that our minds could live in, instead of just chasing achievements and pretty graphics, would there be more people citing the world as a thing to love, and a reason to stay?

Or is this nugget just Not Normal?