EXILE FROM CYBERVILLE [Author: wirehead]

Sometimes I enjoy the basic duality of maintaining this site. I mean, where else do you get in-depth analysis of the theory of community building in ORPGs, and links to Russian amputee women on the same page? Well, OK, so most sites are like that. But I digress.

Here’s some recommended reading for those of you working on ORPGs of your own (I know you’re out there, I can hear the heavy breathing)

Cyberville – Clicks, Culture and the Creation of an Online Town
Stacy Horn
Amazon link

I love this book. You might not think it has much relevance to online gaming, but bear in mind that all games like UO are are online communities with the option of brutally decapitating people with whom you disagree. Here’s an excerpt from the Sysgoddess of the Ur-BBS:

I started Echo to meet guys. It’s at the bottom of everything I do. The promise of sex. Whether I’m reading, writing, watching tv, at the movies, or dancing, it all has a sensual element and if it doesn’t, on to the next thing. Without it, what’s the point? Boys, boys, boys.

I didn’t plan on the bad people.

I wasn’t thinking about psychopaths. Why wasn’t I thinking about psychopaths? Did I think they would hear about us and very considerately decide to leave us alone? Oh, let’s not bother those nice people. What a numbskull. Some made a beeline straight for us. And when they did, I didn’t know what to do. The first couple of times I was left wondering, ‘What the Hell just happened?’

Some people say the relationships in virtual communities aren’t real. Usually some disappointed Utopian who wasn’t looking for real, but better. They are unhappy with how dismally real it can be. No, cyberspace is not filled with just the people you like. You’re also going to run into people who give you The Fear. If you’re an ass out there you’re going to be an ass in here. You just can’t help yourself. Alas.

What do communities do when someone’s behavior becomes intolerable? If part of the measure of a community is how it deals with conflict, what about when the conflict cannot be resolved? When someone does something the community can’t live with? When someone is being abusive or harassing and will not stop? We’re not a government. We don’t have jails or fines. We can’t wish them into the cornfield. What’s an online society to do?

… the wack-jobs forced us to examine what we had and what we could live with. This is how communities are formed. Not by creating a place and putting out a welcome sign. They are formed and strengthened through the resolution of conflict. You could say the heart of a community can be found in these conflicts — the struggle, the outcome, what is created, is the community.”

My Tiny Life – Crime and Passion in a Virtual World
Julian Dibbell
Amazon link

If you haven’t heard of LambdaMOO you probably are on the wrong website. LamdaMOO was one of the first MUDs, and many of the problems and joys of ORPGs were mirrored in its development.

Dibbell starts by chronicling his initial reporting (a player virtually “raped” another player by creating bots to act out sexual scenes involving her without her consent; he was tried, convicted and exiled) but the book focuses more on the addictive nature of MUDs and how they ensnared him personally. You can read this as a cautionary tale; or if you’re actually trying to make an addictive MUD/ORPG you can take notes.

War and Peace in the Global Village
Marshall McLuhan
Amazon link

This work was actually written in 1968, and we still haven’t quite figured out the lessons within. McLuhan foresaw the information overload that we are still working through. If you are studying virtual community, you need to memorize this. There will be a test later.

The Art of Computer Game Design
Chris Crawford
Out of print. Mirrored on this site.

If you design games, or pretend to, print this book out and keep it by your bed. Chris Crawford is an expert at writing computer game AI – his Eastern Front 1941 for the Atari 400 is a better treatment of the subject then most games published 20 years later on the same theme, and Balance of Power taught me that geopolitics wasn’t a game that could be won. (Thankfully Reagan and Gorbachev eventually got the hint as well.) The book has lots of nuts-and-bolts on how to actually get your game from your head out the door. Sadly, Crawford’s more recent efforts haven’t met with much success. However, you can load his old games on your trusty Mac emulator. “Guns and Butter” holds up rather well.
Conversation and Community: Discourse in a Social MUD
Lynn Cherny
Amazon link

One of LadyMOI’s favorite quotes is “There’s something very pure about text”. This book dissects in brutal detail exactly how that text develops – how online communities develop their own language and shorthand, and how the inevitable cliques form around that and use language as an exclusionary/inclusionary tool, depending on how the community itself develops. Interesting stuff, especially if you have aspirations towards wordsmithy.

The Virtual Community : Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier
Howard Rheingold
Amazon link (note: out of print. The whole thing’s online at the author’s website now.)

Rheingold focuses mainly on the WELL (another groundbreaking BBS that predated/helped invent the Net) but there’s some relating of community building as it relates to MUDs here as well. However the main value of this book is its central thesis – that virtual communities are in fact real communities; merely ones that happen to congregate online. A paradigm lost on most.

I would compile a list of papers and such available on the web, but Raph “Listen To My Songs Dammit” Koster already did. He does this for a living, and it shows.