I wrote this article at the beginning of last June and posted it in a personal blog. With all the buzz going on about immersive worlds, particularly those that utilize player created content, I thought it would be apropos to put a copy of it in here. What buzz, you ask? Well, there’s Sony’s “Home,” and Raph Koster’s “Areae,” to use some of the big names. It seems to me that people are still trying to figure out exactly what our technology driven community is going to look like, and how to steer its virtual representation.
Metaverse: June 08, 2006
I recently read Cory Ondrejka’s, “Power by the People: User-Creation in On-line Games,” an article he wrote on Linden’s vision of the metaverse. (Massively Multiplayer Game Development 2, Charles River Media, 2005) In it, he gives many compelling arguments for players owning their created content, then swings that argument around to support Linden’s land owning model. The connection felt forced. His argument was that creative people with a vision and no outside funding frequently mortgage their houses as a source of funding, therefore the metaverse must have land that people can own in order to create content. This vision of ownership seems to go against the ToS statement that, “You agree that even though you may retain certain copyright or other intellectual property rights with respect to Content you create while using the Service, you do not own the account you use to access the Service, nor do you own any data Linden Lab stores on Linden Lab servers (including without limitation any data representing or embodying any or all of your Content),” since the account you use is directly related to the land you “own”. On top of this, “ownership of land” is the quantitative measure of how much you get billed to play – all of which more closely resembles a real life rental than property owning.
The property that players own is actually their created content. Linden does allow all players to retain the copyright for any content that they create within the game; with a clause that allows Linden Labs the right to use your content, free of charge, however they see fit in their on-line world, and for real world advertising.
The current game design fad that Second Life currently spearheads, which is to build an all consuming metaverse, ala Neil Stephenson’s vision, doesn’t take into account that we have our metaverse. The Internet, in all it’s vastness, and in it’s connection and application to our real world is the metaverse which humanity came to out of need. Just as our submarines differ from Verne’s Nautilus, in accordance to the needs and limitations of our world, so does our metaverse differ from it’s fantasy counter part. Our metaverse is not avatar based because we as people do not need avatars for most of our interactions with our Internet. Where and when a representation of ourselves is necessary, we have allowed ourselves the option to create a venue specific avatar according to who we need or want to be in that circumstance.
In our metaverse, we own all the content we create, and we own whatever land we want to, in the form of hardware and servers. What Linden had created is another fantasy, no different from next week’s top sci-fi writer’s version of a submersible ship. There is nothing wrong with new fantasy worlds, and there is a proven market for them, but the concept that one company can embody the metaverse is ridiculous.
Daniel James, CEO of Three Rings inc., has recently written a pair of blog articles which wax poetic about the potential of game environments to mimic collaborative societies such as Burning Man. While I don’t think that one game can become the new Internet/metaverse, I do think that all games are a part of our existing metaverse, and that the very existence of this virtual world (the Internet) which connects our real world to its self and plays havoc with space and time is the beginning of a societal change which will move us toward a consenting interdependent and creative community akin to Burning Man. All games become, in essence, themed camps that one can visit, participate in, and learn from within the over-arching metaverse. Unfortunately, the vast majority of games on the market teach outmoded values and lessons which apply to our real world less and less, and to our metaverse almost not at all. The value of games such as Second Life, with more interactivity or player created content, is not that they are the metaverse, but that they are games for our new world, ones which teach us how to think, invent, and interact, rather than hunt and lead. In a world where we are already taking steps toward a new social order, these games are classrooms and subverses wherein we will learn how to exist in our new metaverse.