MMO Behaviours, Bruce Sterling at AGDC

19 09 2008

Bruce Sterling gave a keynote at the Austin Game Developer’s Conference, and Rudy Rucker quickly posted a transcript of the talk. He manages to use a set of nonsense words to illustrate how the present regards the past, presenting his talk as someone from the future talking about our present. The entire thing is entertaining and worth reading, but one part in particular stuck out to me:

The other question they ask—if they’re smart—is, what is that I did not see? What was I NOT thinking about? What is that blindsided me? What is that I couldn’t see in my industry? The future development I just didn’t understand. The wild card, the black swan.

Well, I can tell you about that problem.

[…]

Entertainment is fun. Am I correct? I’ve gotta be. If it’s no fun, obviously it’s not entertainment. It’s one of those phony game educational applications that kids have to be tortured to use. You definitely want the users to have fun. That’s the definition of your industry. That’s what it is all about.

Except for three kinds of people. They’re not fun people. They’re not even users. They’re abusers, you might say, because they don’t obey your rules.

First, gold farmers. Rip-off artists. The excluded. The black market. The pirates. […]

Second, griefers. […]

Third—and these are the weird ones—the convergence culture people. They will play your game all right, but they play it while using six or seven other kinds of media. They don’t make any distinction between the media they use. They use the networks as a meta-medium. They don’t play the roles in your role-playing games.

People play roles in Dungeons and Dragons because that is a paper game, it’s like little theater for the home. People play roles. You don’t see D&D people passing each other text messages and looking for cheats on wikis. Convergence people are metamedia people who are looking for meta-fun. Not your fun.

New and emergent forms of game are dependent on new and emergent forms of play. Not enough of us are looking at these trends, least of all developers who mainly have their heads down in the trenches producing AAA code and art assets.

The picture at the top of this post is a mount in Age of Conan, inspired by this video of a griefer with a horse. Cut down, shown without context as in that video, we tend to find griefing hilarious, yet if it’s done to us in game we tend to be outraged.

As a behaviour, it’s probably only been on the radar regularly for less than a decade. We’re not even close to understanding it, though along with others it is being studied. Videogames are a fascinating lens to look at ourselves through, and doing so may give us some clues about the future.

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