audaces fortuna juvat (caliah) wrote,
audaces fortuna juvat
caliah

The Great SL Is Not A Game Debate

First off, let me state that all along I've considered myself to be playing a game whenever I was using SL for casual purposes. The reason? I spent most of my time outfitting my avatar and having fun while interacting with different social groups. Not really different from any other MMO I've played in terms of the social aspect, and as a whole it was actually easier at times to deal with the residents of such MMOs as L2. I've also never really given this much of my time, as it didn't really seem all that important. But I was surprised at the vehemence of several residents who began reacting violently to the use of "game" to describe SL, and even more so at the arguments they'd lobby - most illogical and way off-base - at players who didn't mind using that term at all.

I've discussed this at length with many of my closest friends and acquaintances from SL, and come up with a number of observations on the reasons some residents come up with to counter the "SL is a game" argument. I've listed those of them that some players have been browbeating people like myself with their opinions as to what SL should be called.



1. SL is real and therefore not a game! The people behind the avatars are real and we're dealing with real emotions. SL is a community!
Players behind avatars, whether in self-professed virtual worlds or MMOs, have always been um, real. Unless AIs have somehow magically replaced the players in WoW it'll continue to be that way. This human aspect is what makes MMOGs - and indeed traditional table games - so attractive to play. Whether it's interaction with clanmates or meeting new people - apart from the aspects of gameplay that keep us intrigued, it's the human interaction that makes us choose an MMO or a networked console game over a single-player game. Real human players on virtual worlds have been around since the advent of MUDs, which was about three decades ago, and MUD players have gotten married RL after meeting on them. The communities respective to each game are dynamic and the interpersonal relationships very real. So yes, Not A New Thing. The decision to treat players with respect or as less than fellow humans comes from the player himself, regardless of the platform.

2. You can make things on it! It can't be a game as universities and schools use it as a platform for learning!
You may be engaging in "serious bizness," but that doesn't mean the next player is as well. Again, this is not new technology. Online social games have existed and been used by such universities as the University of Pennsylvania for writing labs. Note nobody gave a damn about whether they were called "textbased virtual worlds" or not [1]. As far as I recall the listings always used "social games" to refer to the category in which such MU*s were placed, and no-one had a stick-up-arse about them being called games or derived from games regardless of whether they were using it for educational purposes or social interaction. And no the number of universities and NPOs using your game is not a qualifier for whether it's to be called a game or not. People using this argument forget that games are being used to train or rehabilitate soldiers, build better dynamics in an office environment, etc. The "seriousness" of intent and purpose does not a game or non-game make.

3. SL is open-ended and has no quests or storyline. Thus it cannot be called a game.
This is perhaps the argument on which the debate hinges. Yet social open-ended games have existed for years and never really required the creation of another term just to specify them in particular. Social MU*s which were built primarily to bring people together, with no real purpose but that, have flourished on the net for years, and were always called games. They let users build their own rooms/objects and shape the world to some extent. Some people call SL a "glorified chat room," and in a sense it is. Yet, for obvious reasons, this argument makes much more sense than the above two. Note that Richard Bartle is credited with creating the first virtual world, and it was a MUD. The purpose of which was...that's right, gaming.

Richard Bartle on MUD and virtual worlds (refers to SL as well). He talks on how game and social worlds were one and the same in the first ten years and the growth of the schism between social and gaming worlds. Essentially he uses "virtual worlds" as an umbrella term for both gaming and social worlds.

My opinion? SL is what you make of it. It can be a game to some and another life to others. Go ahead and call it a virtual world/creative learning platform if you want, which it is, too. But that doesn't bar the use of "game," in the meaningful sense of the term, to describe it for some people who use it as such. One other disturbing thing I've observed is that far too many SLers keep sneering/looking down at gamers and other platforms, believing it to be utterly revolutionary in terms of virtual worlds.

From Cybertown's Overview:
  • A private 3D VR (virtual reality) home with your own personal chat, inbox, message board and free e-mail. You can invite your friends over to hang out, chat and party - all in full 3D!
  • The Cybertown shopping malls and Flea Markets where you can buy, sell or trade cool 3D objects for your home.
  • A Virtual Pet for your home.
  • Customizable bodies to use in the 3D worlds.
  • Ongoing Role-Playing Games.
  • Interesting Clubs with 3D Clubhouses to join or start your own.
  • Awesome movie theaters and music concerts.
  • The Black Sun Club where you can dance in 3D and listen to your favorite tunes.
  • Live events and celebrity chats.
  • The opportunity to get a virtual job, earn CityCash and become a respected citizen of a large intergalactic online community.


Sound familiar? This was all back in 1997, in a world which was based on Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash no less. The technology was primitive and the visuals extremely rough, but it was there. What SL offers us is a step up, but the concepts are not new, at all. What IS new is how mainstream and populous SL has become, and the degree of realism we can imbue in-game creations with.

So, these seem to be the core reasons/beliefs that drive people to vehemently protest SL being called a game:

Games are relatively unimportant and ranked with simple amusements. Calling SL a game implies that I'm wasting my time.

Calling SL a game implies that one treats his fellow players as game NPCs and implies a lack of respect to other people in it.

Both seem to be hasty assumptions, especially given that the magic of SL lies in how it can offer different people different experiences. Given that this is an age where gamers have become a majority, and the power games have in shaping popular culture and opinion (so much so that Rock the Vote facilitated Xbox voter registrations) it seems a little bit much to be infuriated that your favourite pastime's being called an online game. This could also be because much of the playerbase of SL is older and the concept of online games as bonding activities and "serious" leisure time is one that younger people have an easier time grasping.

So, please, don't demean gamers, people who play SL as a game, or other games or platforms in an attempt to make SL look better, more important, or to justify the use of your time on it. Playing it as a game does not imply a lack of respect for the players inside it. And don't forget to have fun...if that's what you came here for.

More reading:
A Second Look At Second Life
Tags: musings, rambling
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