Is the future in smaller muds?

For the record, I think the future is in truly enormous muds that have lots of smaller embedded experiences in them.

I’ve seen this argument a lot lately, disenchantment with scale, essentially. The argument that online worlds aren’t meant to be massive, because they just don’t work when they’re big. That’s basically what you’re arguing.

Recently I posted on mud-dev saying that the implicit promise of online worlds, as you say, is fantasy: being someone else somewhere else with other people. It’s the wish-fulfillment.

I’d argue that the reason why online games keep getting bigger, in map size and in population, is simply because bigger holds out more promise to that essential wish. In that sense, it’s almost a losing battle to fight it. The “dream” of online spaces, the one we’ve been collectively daydreaming about since Vernor Vinge wrote TRUE NAMES, is one that’s bigger than the real world in size, that has more people in it than the real world does.

I do understand the nichification desires. Everyone prefers being with people like them, who are doing things that they enjoy too. And many communities form like that. I’d argue they are all poorer for not knowing more of others, but I do understand that they certainly don’t want to get overwhelmed or destroyed by those others. I myself would even be happy to see an online world where there were just those others that I enjoy playing with. But I must say that something in that also doesn’t feel right. The scratch ‘n’ sniff of it is elitist, it’s exclusionary, separatist. And I am still idealistic enough to think that it’s good for different sorts of people to mingle because it makes things richer for all of them.

Managing that in a game, well, that’s a tall order. Let me know if you figure it out. 🙂

This is where I am silly and idealistic and all that jazz. And I am sure someone somewhere is going to take offense at what I am about to say.

The pre-Trammel UO player towns decided to do something difficult. So difficult that most of them failed. They collaborated against the odds and built communities and established social standards by dealing with the world and the way it worked.

The post-Trammel UO cities are bunches of friends hanging out together.

I see a qualitative difference. As I said, I know the current player towns thrive and are loads of fun. But I also see them as very “casual” communities in some ways, and I don’t see them as being empowered in any way. They have zero struggle to exist, and are fundamentally just cliques.

The thing that freaks me out about that is that, well, I don’t like cliques. They are a phase we grow out of, as people. Online gaming today is full of cliques, and we encourage their formation.

Remember in grade school when your teachers told you it wasn’t nice to leave Jimmy Four Eyes sitting at the other side of the cafeteria? When you first discovered that maybe those geeks in Chess Club had their uses? When you first realized that cheerleaders weren’t all vapid hairspray heads? When you maybe first talked with a football player who was in Remedial English and realized the role that he was having to live out, for whatever reason?

I vividly remember all of those things, and to me, becoming an adult and being a good person is about learning to understand difference, about bridging gaps, about bringing people together. That’s why I hammer so much on the point that you can’t just label each other “jerks” or “RP nazis” with abandon, because all you’re showing is how easy it is to label and how hard it is to actually relate to other people.

The line I’ve gotten in this newsgroup before is, “dude, they’re just games.” To which I say, there is no field of human endeavor in which the above is irrelevant.

I like player cities more than I like guilds because you can’t quite control who ends up in a player city. I like player cities where people take stands for what they believe in and yes, struggle some for their beliefs, precisely because they learn something about themselves while doing so. And I’m hopelessly naive, idealistic, and stupid for thinking that these are the sorts of things that entertainment of all sorts teaches us, I suppose. Oh well. It’s too fundamental to my sense of self to change that opinion, I’m afraid.

Taken from Usenet posts in early 2002. Honest, I like the Trammel towns just fine, and I don’t mean to take away from what the people behind them have accomplished.