Game talkThe world, virtual

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Jan 072011
 

Lately it has been hard for me not to see recent trends ranging from gamification to the increasing prevalence of robots in the household as a sign of the way the real world is starting to imitate a virtual world.

  • We’re adding friends lists via well, everything
  • And bots via robots
  • and reputations via LinkedIn
  • and auction houses via eBay
  • and secure trade via Craigslist
  • and profiles via Facebook
  • and virtual currency with Facebook Credits
  • and quests via serious games
  • and points for meaningless grinding via gamification
  • and strategy guides via Quora
  • and guild chat via status updates
  • And stats to ourselves via ‘quantified self’ approaches
  • And classes and skills via the march of specialization in job roles

Now, you may say that all of these are things that existed before. Yes, and we then built adapted versions of them for the virtual world that accommodated the fact that they were being simulated in a virtual space. And now those adaptations are being ported back to meatspace. We could call these three stages of development:

  1. real world, inhabited by people
  2. virtual world, inhabited by users
  3. wold virtual inhabited by userplayers

Take a look at Leigh Alexander’s hilarious and spot-on critique of Foursquare:

I go into a coffee shop with my friend. While we are in line [for] beverages I access Twitter via my mobile device to ‘check in’ on FourSquare. My friend is trying to talk to me and eventually becomes perturbed that I am immersed in my mobile device. ‘What are you doing,’ she asks me. ‘Checking in on FourSquare,’ I tell her. ‘What is that,’ she says. ‘It’s a social game,’ I tell her. ‘It’s very social.’ I try to explain about check ins and badges and mayors and she is looking at me in a way that says ‘I was talking to you about my career anxieties or about how I have not been feeling well and you were doing this.’

My ‘check in’ notification appears on Twitter. My 31 followers are not interested. Many of them live in other towns and do not find a map link relevant. I lose 1 follower.

If this were happening in a virtual world, these bugs would be fixed. The friend would be unaware you had just opened another HUD window to post your coordinates. The map link would be useful because everyone could just teleport there. There’d be a specific chat channel for location updates, rather than an undifferentiated stream. And mayoralty and badges would mean something.

Some of these bugs are fixable in the real world; surely Twitter could support “channels” for better filtering of updates, for example. And maybe that quantum entanglement thing will fix the teleportation issue eventually, too.

If the world is becoming more virtual, this immediately suggests to me three things:

  1. We should be able to anticipate the sorts of issues and developments that are likely to occur based on past VW history (for example, the development of “multi-channel support” in Twitter via the user-driven invention of hash tags)
  2. We should be able to identify likely bugs that occur because the meatspace world has a different feature set than than the typical virtual world (as in the map link example above)
  3. Given the above two, we should be able to anticipate and leverage the sploits that are going to occur.

A random list off the top of my head:

Reputation is barely getting going as a “world virtual” structure. It’ll probably continue to kludge along because frankly, virtual world never fully solved it either. But it’s easy to foresee the need for an oversimplified globalized single reputation value, which is one startup that likely aggregates  rep systems a la Rotten Tomatoes; followed by a second one that is a rep farming or maintenance exploit startup designed to falsify reputations; followed by another that is a trust verification or exploit detection firm.

Clearly, current job sites, certification systems, and university degrees do not adequately serve the need for publicly visible levels and classes. An overall game system, perhaps primed via the flawed reputation system, would allow for a classless system to be built whereby world virtual userplayers could acquire levels in a range of skills. Levels in your top few classes would then be the single most prominently visible thing on your profiles like Facebook and the like.

A combination of these should revolutionize the hiring industry and the dating industry. You would now be able to create a meatspace LFG system pretty easily. Adding in a few extra things like detailed analysis of physical and metal stats gathered via quantified self logging; geolocation; social network analysis to determine degrees of proximity; and cluster analysis of consumption patterns, typical communications and status update semantic content, etc, would allow the algorithms to quickly build up userplayer compatibility data, with a genetic algorithm no less, which would allow these LFG groups to largely automate the process of building kickass teams or highly compatible marriages.

Needless to say, these would lead to meatspace powerlevelling services, ways of trading money for higher level rankings in skills. These will be of dubious long-term value as they distort the metrics around the LFG systems and undermine the core of the levelling system — sort of diploma mills actually ending up as meaning something real.

Social effects will then come along, as organizations spring up to wean people off of their addiction to gaining more and more levels, or to force them to take vacations or lean to play the social game “the right way.” After all, society needs good retention, and reaching max level too quickly means you are more likely to opt out.

We will hear of teams and marriages being broken up because one person outlevelled the others. A booming business will exist in walkthroughs for industries, though some businesses will decry these as cheating. Othes will instead supply cheat codes for career advancement.

Jobs will stratify, as in “I work in a level 10-20 company” that fills a particular economic niche. Many of these exist just to do repetitive activities that really don’t add huge economic value to anyone, but do result in the employees grinding up their skills.

But the whole economy will have changed anyway, because ever since that first dupe bug of world virtual credits, the whole thing has been a little weird. Sure, all the world’s currencies fell away in favor of a privately managed currency with perfect tracking where every single credit is tracked through the world economy perfectly, but nobody foresaw the stacking bug. Plus the fact that the holding company gave away state currency as an incentive to join the system means that now there’s a rash of false userplayer profile creation in order to farm the newbie bonus.

Not that the need for alts is ignored. Subcultures emerge wherein you can create a completely separate identity profile with its own alternate levels and identity; these start out as competitors to the principal identity system, but quickly turn into leeches instead, leveraging false profiles on the main identity system. These are sometimes used just for entering specific subcultures (the closeted fetishist identity versus the public school board member identity) but eventually also get used for muling, and thereby tax evasion.

Which results in a whole new class of admins whose job it is to find instances of simultaneous play of alts, because multiplaying the meatspace world is a huge source of bugs. The whole system relies on a unique namespace for individual ID’s. There’s a moment of panic when the admins first realize that they were running out of bits, then another one when they implement ID reuse, then another one when people start getting free levels and rep and money because they find that id reuse did not adequately clean up all the joined tables from the deceased.

Unfortunately, when a hacker manages to get a bunch of celebrities and politicians banned from the identity system, we discover what happens when someone has their entire publc identity erased. It wouldn’t be too hard for the President to reroll (except that he had to get a new Social Security number — the admins really don’t do reimbs, sorry) because he has a big platform, but when an aging actor who doesn’t get roles anymore is forced to, they may kill themselves rather than pay dues all over again.

Needless to say, that actor and for that matter that President were actually corporations embodied by a synthetic idoru-style entities, because from very early on in the development of all this, it was pointed out that legal entities can have reputations, levels, skills, compatibilities, personalities, and so on. So at the root level, there’s no distinction there between a meatspace userplayer made out of meat and a meatspace userplayer who is actually fully virtual and using a meatspace identity as a sort of avatar into meatspace.

In fact, there’s likely to be a booming business in what we might term the child industry of brand management, which does nothing but create and sell meatspace avatar identities for virtual beings such as corporations, lobbying organizations, movies, and new brands of detergent, enabling the detergent to pick up classes, levels, blood types, social security numbers, retirement accounts, a boyfriend, and a dog. The detergent belongs to the household goods guild, needless to say, which has its own identity, which can be kind of confusing when the constituent members of the guild have personalities and voices and argue with the guild (not the guild leader, but the guild), and let;s not even talk about how we can’t get the dishwater serviced ever since it got kicked out of the guild and lost guild bank privileges.

Or I could be on crack.

Actually, though, if you go back and re-read, maybe all this exists already. After all, it’s just a natural consequence of gamification and other trends we see today.

Either way, you can go tweet this, republish it, and up my rep score so that I can level up in futurism. Ding, grats, gg.

  17 Responses to “The world, virtual”

  1. I think what you’re alluding to is we have crossed a threshold where there is more back and forth when one says “life imitates art”. The lines have certainly blurred. Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare…they are all integral pieces of the real world MMO. These three alone make up for a core “gameplay” mechanic that has everyone enthralled.

    I don’t know how this will go in the next 10 years, but I am quite happy to be along for the ride. =)

  2. Reputation is barely getting going as a “world virtual” structure. It’ll probably continue to kludge along because frankly, virtual world never fully solved it either. But it’s easy to foresee the need for an oversimplified globalized single reputation value, which is one startup that likely aggregates rep systems a la Rotten Tomatoes; followed by a second one that is a rep farming or maintenance exploit startup designed to falsify reputations; followed by another that is a trust verification or exploit detection firm.

    Alas, I know of the beginnings of a global reputation system — and it’s credit score.

  3. About time I say. Once the real world works almost exactly like a virtual world, my abilities to manipulate it will be unparalleled.

    Muahahahahaha.

  4. @Tachevert: and look where that got us.

  5. I think this is awesome. Your criticism is dead on. Lemme go tweet this.

  6. Technofascism has never been so sticky.

  7. You can’t be far off the mark, Raph. I showed a young colleague how to configure some new equipment he had never worked on before. Upon completion, he turned to me and said, “Ding! Levelled.”

    I said, “Grats.”

  8. Circularity… RPG classes and levels come to us from Dungeons and Dragons, but D&D evolved from Chainmail rules for medieval wargaming.

    The units in wargames have ‘classes’ based on role and specialty (infantry, cavalry, artillery, etc), and sometimes a ‘leveling’ system in the form of promoting individual units or leaders (for example, from ‘green’ to ‘average’ to ‘seasoned’ to ‘elite’).

    And wargames, of course, are a simulation of the military, with its systems of specialties and ranks and medals.

    We could cut out the middleman and just declare all civilians to be C-0, with a formal system of time-in-grade and promotion requirements to work up the ranks, along with badges and medals for completing training, displaying competence, participating in ‘campaigns’, and service above and beyond.

    But if you’ve got money and connections, you get to skip straight to the Civilian Officer ranks, where you can command the milling thongs of Civilian Enlisted.

    Doesn’t that sound like a fun game?

  9. On the subject of Foursquare, I think this is pretty much obligatory:

    http://www.theonion.com/articles/new-social-networking-site-changing-the-way-oh-chr,17465/

  10. Also, can’t respond much from work, but “a meatspace userplayer who is actually fully virtual and using a meatspace identity as a sort of avatar into meatspace” is essentially what a CEO is, or becomes: Reggie Fils-Amie is Nintendo of America’s meatspace avatar, a userplayer giving a virtual entity proxy rights to their RL account (in a certain cockeyed sense).

    It’s not that these relationships are necessarily new, but perhaps more that we’re finaly evolving the means* to perceive them.

    *kind of meaning things like the linguistic and ontological constructs needed in order to describe, think about, and talk about these things, slowly evolved as a response to the new non-spacial social landscape(s).

  11. Peter, yeah, except that I meant an actual Nintendo meatspace avatar, not just one with partial access to Reggie Fils-Aime’s account. 🙂

  12. Ahh, on re-reading I see what you mean. And indeed, I suppose it is already commonly the case, as are several if not all of your thoughts above (your dishwasher’s warranty was voided, sorry).

    So, to get really out there (and perhaps a little tangential), do you think that corporate personhood will ultimately be the basis of the test case for emancipation of cognizant AIs, if we ever get there? Do you think it might even be settled well ahead of when we create sci-fi robot people?

  13. I suppose it is already commonly the case, as are several if not all of your thoughts above (your dishwasher’s warranty was voided, sorry).

    Shhh… the secret of the post is that most of that stuff is already partially true or exists!

    do you think that corporate personhood will ultimately be the basis of the test case for emancipation of cognizant AIs, if we ever get there? Do you think it might even be settled well ahead of when we create sci-fi robot people?

    Possibly, yeah. Corporations have now acquired so many overlapping characteristics with humans that it seems likely. If anything, the likeliest applications of AIs are actually as actors for corporations, in a manner similar to how neural nets are actually what does the trading for most Wall Street firms. Not hard to see that sort of analysis extending out to say, corporate brand management via statistical analysis of sentiment…

  14. Great post Raph. I haven’t written my reviews yet, but two books that both are relevant to material in this post:

    1. Super Sad True Love Story. Short review is that it’s ‘Little Brother’ + ‘Down n Out’ + later Adrian Mole. Distopian sci-fi about whuffie & American decline, in a romantic tragedy. Is to Facebook and Amazon what Halting State was to MMOs

    2. We, Robot: A look at how robots have evolved vs their sci-fi counterparts, with the definition of robot to include the virtual ones as well. (disclosure: Author is a friend of mine, so maybe I’m biased).

  15. If the real world really is starting to imitate the virtual world, when can we expect the next big patch? I’ve been complaining about this “getting old” debuff for years but does anyone listen?

    Richard

  16. They never listen Richard. Damn kids and their “yeah yeah yeah” software…

  17. software machines dont get old. they just get deleted. 0/1

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