Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Problem with Second Life as a Game

The announcement that a game-industry veteran was chosen as Linden Lab's new CEO rekindled a long-standing controversy in the Second Life community about games. It boils down to two main questions:
  • Is Second Life a game?
  • Should Second Life become a game?
Before I give you my answers, please take a moment and consider your own opinion . . . 


Please read no further until you check-in with your own thoughts on each question. You'll get a lot more out of this and have more fun if you follow the rules. Hmm. Maybe I should change the design of this post so you have to type in your own answers before proceeding. I could give you a nice badge as a reward. It would kind of like . . . let's see . . . a game.

Second Life is a game in the same way that Microsoft Word is a program for writing game articles. Yeah, it can be used that way, but Word is a document platform that supports anything one might want to write about. And Second Life is a 3D virtual environment platform that can and does support a multitude of uses. At this very moment people are using Second Life for a diverse variety of purposes such as business meetings, recreational shopping, concerts, digital sculpture, sensual encounters and of course, gaming.

So the problem with most discussions around Second Life and games is that they focus on a particular way the platform is used, rather than on the underlying platform itself. Its like the story of the blind men and the elephant.


Tinsel Silvera said...

When I used to work on Orientation Island and was asked this question by incoming newbies I always responded with "Second Life is a platform with many uses including games." The average person simply does not understand the concept of a platform. Perhaps that is why so many do not 'get' Second Life.

Cisop Sixpence said...

The questions to ponder were:

Is Second Life a game?


Should Second Life become a game?

The answer to the first one is no. Although you can play games in Second Life, Second Life is not a game, but Social Networking in 3D. An example would be that Facebook is Social Networking, and you can play games on Facebook, but that does not make Facebook a game.

As for the second question... NO! Let me rephrase that HELL NO!! I'd say a majority of the user base of Second Life does not see it as a game. Calling it just a game, would be placing a limit on its potential. Games have set goals, and there are winners and losers.

Second Life is a chance to connect with those far away, or near by with out having catch their cold. Meet new people, exchange ideas, learn, teach, grow. It's the potential to build, create, and expand your thoughts out side the box (prim) and have fun. If first life sucked for you, then do it differently in Second Life. Its time to forget the troubles of your first life for a moment. Time to escape to the virtual world, where a New World awaits you.

Shockwave Plasma said...

Second Life is a place to have games in. It's no more a game than Firefox.

Tinsel Silvera said...

@ Shockwave

Excellent analogy. /makes note for future useage

@ Cisop

"If first life sucked for you, then do it differently in Second Life. Its time to forget the troubles of your first life for a moment."

When I first read of Second Life I envisioned a place where people could leave all the ills of First Life behind and truly be who and want they want. Sadly, once I got into Second Life I realized that people drag all their ills right in with them. Many people simply cannot let go of First Life long enough to truly enjoy and appreciate Second Life. Fortunately many of them do not stay long. Unfortunately many of them stay way to long.

Call me fanboi, call me sentimental, call me whatever. For me Second Life is still "My World, My Imagination".

Botgirl Questi said...

I agree with Tinsel that many people (non-geeks) aren't familiar with the concept of a platform. I like Shockwave's analogy, in that it's easy for just about anyone to understand . . . you use Firefox to access news sites, videos, music, applications like Google docs, etc. You can use the Second Life client to access games, music, meeting spaces, etc.

I think for those who have strong feelings about this stuff like Cisop, I would say that the underlying questions you're probably responding strongly to are more like:

Is Second Life NO MORE THAN a game, or
Should Second Life be ONLY a game

I don't think many people care whether other people use Second Life in different ways than they choose to use it themselves, but only that changes aren't made that prevent them from continuing to use it themselves in the manner that they desire.

Cisop Sixpence said...

Looks like some of my boldness may have been taken stronger than I intended. If someone uses Second Life just for a game, that is fine. However, I wouldn't want Second Life to start promoting it's self as just 'a game', as it is so much more than that.

I agree with Tinsel, Second Life is still "My World, My Imagination". Shockwave's analogy is right on target and maybe easier to understand than my Facebook comparison. Botgirl, is correct in the way I read her questions. I think I was trying to predict where the question was going and head it off at the pass.

Miso Susanowa said...

I have to chime in as a heavy ex-gamer who fled to the gameworlds after VRML and the 3D Web initiative grounded itself around 1999-2000.

I've spoken at length on this topic with Pathfinder and we both agree that gameworlds have a lot to teach VWs if they'd only listen. There seems to be an artificial divide/superiority complex cultivated by VW citizens against gameworlds.

The gameworlds are an incredibly rich community which, despite surface differences of platform/game, recognize themselves as a community and have more cohesiveness than I see in SL in 2 1/2 years. Games are not "point and shoot" fraggers anymore, they are rich virtual worlds where more than half the activity in them is social, not treasure hunting/killing/grinding.

You can't tell me that the purchase of Club Neverdie in Entropia for $635,000USD was motivated by people who wanted a better place to frag demons. Gameworlds continued the development of 3D social spaces for years before M Linden ever got SL off the ground.

Maybe someone with deep gaming experience, which goes far beyond designing levels or plot outlines or weapons, might have something to offer Second Life far and above the Farmville experience. Someone who knows how to build and to hang on to a community through feedback and involvement with said community.

It is a shame, this prejudice against gamers in SL and other VWs, which seems to smack of separatism and narrowmindedness. I had hoped for better in the VWs of today.

SuezanneC Baskerville said...

"for years before M Linden ever got SL off the ground"

M Linden got SL off the ground?

Some might be more inclined to say that M Linden put SL into the ground, 6 feet under.

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso: I'm not sure what, if anything in the post or prior comments sparked your comment, but I appreciate it because I never considered the idea of prejudice against gamers in Second Life.

Now that you mention it, I can see that when Second Lifers get offended about SL being called a game, there can be a subtext around the idea that gamers and games are less worthy of respect than SL "residents". That said, to anyone outside of SL or MMORPGs, both classes are considered to be equally as lame. ;)

As I said in the post, Second LIfe is a relatively neutral platform with a full-blown scripting language that could be used to support the type of gaming experience you describe. And it doesn't require Linden Lab to do anything. There are plenty of RP communities and related technology there now. I think the controversy in that area is about adding such gaming aspects and making them a mandatory part of participation in Second Life.

Cisop Sixpence said...

@ SuezanneC

I'd have to agree that M Linden, gave more of the impression of putting SL in the ground. Seemed like every time he opened his mouth, speculation about SL's future would run crazy with rumors.

@ Miso

As for "prejudice against gamers in SL and other VWs", I've not seen any personally. I also haven't seen any "superiority complex" against gamers or gameworlds, but then again, it just might be the crowds I hang out with in RL and SL. Hopefully my comments did not make you think I am being prejudice, but I can see how it could be taken that way. I play games in Second Life in my free time so I'd be a hypocrite if were trying to look down on those who play games. So, my apologies if something I said sounded as if I was saying those who play games are less worthy. I feel gammers, SLers and other VWers, are all equal. We are all the people behind the avatars.

sororNishi said...

My only objection to SL being turned into a game, and this is all pure theory, is the notion of competition.

Altho there are nurturing games, like growing bunnies, and social games no doubt, many of the more 'successful' games have a strongly competitive element which I know NWN, for one, have called for.

I really enjoy the possibility of having a VW that doesn't necessitate me being 'better' than someone else in order to fully enjoy it. RL is competitive enough for me without my spare time being immeshed in survival strategy.

Botgirl Questi said...

soror: I agree with you on the competition, but would go further. I don't want to be compelled to do anything.

Cisop Sixpence said...

@ soror
@ Botgirl

Bingo! I agree totally.

Isadora Fiddlesticks said...

I very much agree with Tinsel.

The Lab has this burden of having to market themselves in a level that average people can understand.

I don't think SL should only be a's catastrophic to now think of SL as a game when you have actually embraced it already for its possibilities. Yet for marketing sake, and to get new money into the business, the Lab must.

I don't care much how the Lab markets itself, as long as it does not abandon us who "gets it". Balance is key. Nurture the oldbies, make them useful to achieving your loftier goals. Get the newbies to play SL as a game, if they must, then look into us residents to get these noobs evolved and involved.

Marie Ravencrow said...

No, SL is not a game nor should it "become" one. The same answers hold for ANY virtual world.

Recently, my ex tried to tell me "this is not real". It was real enough when her feelings were hurt or she fell in love - but then it became "conveniently" un-real when it came to other people participating.

Never ever mistake SL for merely a game. To do so discounts the humanity of the others using the virtual world.

Just my 0.02


Botgirl Questi said...

Isadora: I really liked your point about the value of separating the marketing messages from the reality of any impact on existing users.

Marie: I think the problem isn't about treating Second Life as a game, but rather objectifying those we meet as game characters.

Miso Susanowa said...

lol pls smack my typos at 4am; i meant Philip.

I agree with you, and with soror; I don't want to be compelled to do ANYthing.

An example of a fairly open platform in gaming is Star Wars Galaxies. Yes, there is a main storyline and quests, but for many people it is the equivalent of SL: they go to socialize, or set up shops making various sought-after items; some people "play" farmer or device maker/fixer or guides or many other sub-games and individual games.

My experience in the long-term gaming communities showed me a substrata that SL could use: the awareness of a larger community (gamers) within the universe of the more-expansive games (even nethack, which is internet-eons old).

I certainly don't want to see Everquest SL or WoW-SL or those kind of enforced environments. If I want that, I'll pop over to BarbieGirls and play with my pink corvette :D

Anonymous said...

I think that people who object to the description of Second Life as a game are adopting too narrow a definition of the term.

For example, if one thinks about Eric Berne's concept of game-playing one could argue that all the activity in SL is a game of one sort or another.

Anonymous said...

I think that people who object to the description of Second Life as a game are adopting too narrow a definition of the term.

For example, if one thinks about Eric Berne's concept of game-playing one could argue that all the activity in SL is a game of one sort or another.