Fantasy roleplay is fun, but we need to stop calling it medieval

I was about to post this on Honor’s blog, but I realized that she was just doing a screenshot exploring of a beautiful sim, and my “rant” would seem off-topic and if said there, mean. Because I enjoy her blog a lot, and my rant is at ‘some other’. 🙂

This is a general point about how this genre gets named in Second Life, and among roleplay folks in general. Not aimed at anyone other than whoever is in charge of terminology around here. :p

Been thinking about Roleplay a lot lately myself – in a quest for the right theme for me.

I’ve always been annoyed at the term ‘medieval’ for these roleplay places. They are anything but.

An actual medieval setting would have guns and canons of varying ranges of advancement (starting at 800 AD in Asia, and hitting Europe by 1222 in massive amounts, but even seen earlier in Crusades. Heavy plate armors developed near the end of the period (1400s-1600s).

Peasants throughout the entire period had no freedom of movement or profession, and little to no rights. They were for all intents and purposes slaves.

Punishments were often brutal and inflicted on a clan basis rather than individual. You steal from me, I get the right to kill your daughters – that kind of thinking. But there was no -city guard-. Policing developed mostly in the 1800s. “Law” was enforced by noble clans/families attacking each other in vengeance until higher nobility stepped in to wipe one side out or broker a peace. If your serf did something, I went to you, and demanding compensation. If I killed one of your serfs, you might be able to exact a few coins payment out of me – if the ‘lord’ we both swore fealty to felt that needed.

Anyone off “adventuring” would have been a landless noble. They were the only people with such freedom. And they had it because they were not allowed to be gainfully employed. If they lacked land and serf to prey upon, they had to either be the butt-kisser of some other noble (Courtier / Concubine), or go off and kill people to take their things (Conquistador / Crusader / Knight).

People got married young. As in, get your period and off you go, drop some babies for us. Health was poor. Famine would wipe out many every year (the entire point of the spice trade and age of exploration was to improve food resources – preservatives), disease would get many more. For much of the period cities were much larger than fantasy claims them to be. Only during the black plague did it get cut down so far. They were smaller than during imperial Roman days, and smaller than during the age of exploration. But not tiny. And cities of over a million did exist elsewhere on the planet (Bagdad in 775 AD hit 1 million, Tenochtitlan was about 200,000 during the time of the black plague).

Printing was around. Yes… while Gutenberg’s press is 1436, other more primative ones were about earlier. The screw press was in Rome by the first century AD. Yet despite all of this, almost everyone was illiterate. This is the reason they call it the dark ages – small handfuls of people in Europe retained the technology of literacy, while elsewhere in the world the idea of reading was spreading. Libraries were being built in Mesoamerica, new alphabets were being designed in Asia, and math, philosophy, and theological debate were advancing in Africa and the Near East. The Europeans in this period were the savages of the world. They got lucky later on in mixing, as it is said, guns, germs, and steel – in one location.

This was a harsh world, with very few fun elements to it.

Fantasy adventure and roleplay is fun. But we need to stop calling it medieval.

Fantasy has too many things the Medieval European world lacked, and lacks some critical things it did have.

The fantasy concept is all about adventure and grand stories – so its fine that it is not medieval, because the actual medieval period is a less adventurous notion than even our modern world.

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Will Steam kill Zindra, and what age are gamers anyway?

I’m usually the blog that -DOESN’T- talk about the same hyped up stories as everyone else, but rather finds my own hype to get overworked about. 🙂

But here’s a second time I’m breaking that.

Been a while since I’ve blogged…

But some recent news is curious. Hamlet noted it here:
Second Life Coming Soon to Steam with Improved Graphics in Apparent Move to Position Virtual World as Gamer Platform
And:
Second Life on Steam as Expressed in a Single Screenshot
– Which is where I discovered this just today. A bit late to the party as I’ve been offline a lot of late.

Here’s the official announcement:
Second Life is Expanding to Steam

So this is some kind of gamer platform thingy I gather. As in “OMG, TEH GAMERZ, TEH IS INVADING! HIDE YOUR FURRIES!”

(Actually the only group of hardcore gamers I’ve ever found in SL -is- the furry community, a fact that drives me nuts as I go there and want to talk about ‘stuff’ and they’re all talking about ‘pwning’ each other in ‘mass result 47’ or something. 🙂

Annnnyyyywwwaaayyyy…

Average age of gamers is 37:
Study: The average gamer may be older than you think

Yeah, your kid has moved on to Facebook and wearing his jeans around his ankles…

Video games are for OLD PEOPLE…

Like Disco and mood rings…

By contrast average age of SL players is mid 30s from what people keep claiming.

Are we the same, or 2 years younger then them? 🙂

Probably the same. We’ve been telling ourselves SL is the older crowd, but this probably actually -IS- the gamer crowd already. We’re just the ones who were too slow to escape the zombies and orcs… So we’re in SL instead.

So what does this mean for the content we “love” in SL.

You know… the live music and philosophy and artisti… yeah right… who are we kidding?

The porn, bdsm, gor, furries, fashionistas, bloodlines, gothers, builders, and tinies… But mostly… the adult stuff…

I’m not in that scene, but we all know that’s the heart of this place. And I -do- SL-live on Zindra. It has the better neighbors these days…

By some odd twist of logic I’ve yet to wrap my head around, Zindra looks nicer than a lot of SL now… Somehow those adult builds that looked so amazingly garish I used to post about it all the time have gone. In 2009 it was all that ‘fugly WTF’ look. Now: something a lot better. They have the best looking land now, and often more pleasant or at least not -in your face- neighbors.

(I still won’t touch the groups over there, those folks went toxic from fighting each other, but the land is better.)

I kind of like how its evolved into a settled and mostly pleasant area over time.

Will all these Steam “gamers” they’re bringing in care about the ‘porntopia’ around SL… If they bother to show up?

Since they’re really just as old as us, maybe they’re already really past the ‘hormone age’ -not likely to do much harm- and possibly already here?

BUT… the public and game companies still think they’re selling to kids… so the real fear is… Will Steam force LLs to remove ‘A’ rated content and zones?

No idea…

I don’t think the people using Steam will care. But the public looking in and seeing a “porn game” listed on the Steam platform might force Steam’s hand to put a ‘damper’ on ‘that video game’ in some false belief that video games are still for kids.

WoW’s lead deveoper on how to manage community – lessons for LLs

A short one today.

We all know how bad its been around Second Life regarding Linden Lab’s non-communicative stance. There’s general agreement that this silence does a lot of harm to the viability of the platform, though disagreement on the specifics and degree.

So how about a very different stance’s POV.

Ghostcrawler of World of Warcraft – a developer who posts so much to his game’s forums that its easy to thing he’s just a guy in the community service / customer support section with no real authority… yet he is also the game’s lead designer. As in; the buck stops at his desk.

He’s just done an interview and given some of his thoughts. Its an article that everyone at Linden Labs ought to be required to read:

Q&A: Greg Street, ‘World of Warcraft’ Lead Systems Designer (Pt. 1)

Q&A: Greg Street, ‘World of Warcraft’ Lead Systems Designer (Pt. 2)

Biggest point:

“World of Warcraft” fans might know you as “Ghostcrawler” on the message boards. How did you get into engaging directly with players in that way?
That started back at Ensemble, just as a way to try and simply communicate directly with players. So often the players and the designers are separated by layers of PR people and community managers and everything gets diluted and filtered. Players want to give us feedback, and social media is a great way to have a conversation with normal people. Us being on there and interacting is how we get insight into our players. A single passionate user can steer the direction of the forums in a certain direction, but no one player can represent all 10 million. So it’s great for us to actually ask questions when someone posts something and find out why they feel how they do.

From the gamer’s point of view they like to know that they’re being taken care of and that all the time and energy they invest is taken seriously and and not for granted. They’re happy to pay a monthly subscription to play the game as long as we’re going to continue polishing things, making new content, and recognizing the value of the customers.

Meh… Its just a video game. amiright? Second Life need to own what it is – a game

Meh… Its just a video game. amiright?
– Or isn’t that what they keep on trying to say with all of this stuff.

Second Life needs to own what it is; a video game.

Denying that puts it in a strange middle ground where it cannot get any traction.

It doesn’t help matters that SL, in trying to be seen as serious; flips the situation and tries to pretend that it is -not- a video game when its really not all that different from any other ‘massive multiplayer online world’.

SL actually hurts its popularity and potential by trying to pretend to not be a video game in world where half the people expect video games to be serious entertainment and social venues – all the things SL can provide, and the other half look at anything with animation or 3D and dismiss it out of hand no matter what it claims to be.

Its like folks in the ghetto who try to bleach their skin to be white or change their dialect to be WASP… you end up failing in both worlds. Own your roots (be they hood or redneck or reservation or whatever).

Some folks will not accept you no matter how much you try to change yourself to be like them. Its wasted energy to appeal to these folks. Focus instead on catching those who are already amenable to you and your ways. Being mixed maybe gives me a benefit here. There was one small set of the white side of my family that refused to accept my presence, and still remains cold towards me and mine to this day. Those relatives who would ask my step-father to only visit with his younger whiter-looking children…

Taught me the lesson that you’re better off not wasting time trying to be what some who will never accept you want…

(That is not saying you should be your RL self in SL – that’s a very different thing. Though I do think people should not be ‘fake’ about the ID they choose: don’t pick one to hide yourself. Pick one to be more yourself, even if that makes you a floating blue ball.)

(And mind you, one of the people who most helped me see that you should claim yourself as yourself was another of those white relatives from my step-father who was so into his roots and culture it drove him to be a traveling history buff and civil/class rights activist.)

Back to SL, games, and cross-over media…

– Video games are -THE- future of entertainment. TV, Radio, Movies,and all that other stuff is dated – it is very viable, but its not where the main focus should be anymore.

Now I’m responding a little to a blog of Hamlet’s, which got me thinking on my own, different, topic today.

You shouldn’t use a video game for added value for a TV show or movie. You should use the movie or TV show as an added bonus to the video game. The profit, the money, and the audience; will come to and from the game first and most. Hamlet sees this as a happy marriage either way – just happy to see the kids playing together – and I guess I’m looking at it from the ‘are we getting exploited here’ POV.

Denying that and be-littling things for being ‘games’, is like the decades Jamaica spent refusing to air Ska, Rocksteady, and Reggae on its radio shows because it was ‘black music’ or ‘ghetto music’… its denying the reality around you.

If SL were to own what it is more, it might be able to get better media than a couple of movies and shows about people portrayed as ‘weird sex freaks using it for escape‘…

SL’s deeper nature would make it -perfect- for a cross-media project like Hamlet mentions here. Where you can expand in near real time on both sides and have them influence each other more.

Again; some people will look at SL’s 3D cartoon graphics and online nature and see something they will dismiss out of hand no matter what you do with it. So stop wasting your potential by trying to appease them.

They don’t like you, live with it.

Focus on your own crowd; people for whom such graphics are not a stain. Gamers, and the game potential of what you have and are.

SL needs to stop trying to rub off the black.

Or at least its users need to stop. The company behind SL at least, in the last year, seems to ‘get it’ with who they can appeal to. Linden Lab is trying to move the ball – we need to help them move it, not resist it. Because all the folks who want to play ball are over there in the ‘game’ camp, not in the ‘this is srs bsns’ camp.

Karma / Point / Like / Popularity systems – flawed in the inception. An example of techies not getting it with social dynamics.

This began as a common on the ‘New World Notes’ blog:
Second Life Needs a User-to-User Karma System Like Reddit

Popularity points, karma, like buttons, etc…
– These are all techie solutions to a social issue: how much do we agree with or disagree with some bit of online content, or the person behind it?

In our real lives this is simple: we form social bonds with people and ideologies that then influence us one way or another. These are complex interactions of trust based on our respective backgrounds and life experience.

They are called relationships, and this is an intentional word choice. Such notions of what we like or trust, where we stand, what we agree with – are developed over time, in a gradual process of building up ties. There’s a lot of give and take that goes into it. As we learn about and influence the world around us, we develop relationships with people, places, things, ideas, ideologies, religions, and so on.

Even when you seem to flip on a dime and choose to ally with a new stance, that choice is one influenced by a very long process of learning about something, and having it impact you. The sudden shift is still a reaction to something already ingrained.

The internet today is full of ‘Like’ buttons or ‘rate this post up or down’ thumb icons…

This is a technological solution to 6 million years of evolutionary socialization. It attempts to let us each leave our scent on a given tree and say “I’m with this” or “this is not me” – and then use that as a badge that other people, who might have very different life experiences; can rely on.

Three posters on the blog above made observations on the benefits or problems of such an idea:
Ezra: “Curbing misconduct on Reddit requires a staff of moderators to deal with troublemakers.”

Orca: “I personally refuse to have myself judged by people with much less frontal lobe activity or moral integrity.”

Metacam: “We just need some sort of respect or trust system so that you can be a bit smarter about who you are interacting and doing business with.”

I think these three illuminate some of the fundamental flaws in any system like this – and why I doubt it really works on Reddit.

Certainly topics there can easily get pushed up for no logical reason, or pushed down for even less logic.

The blog above suggests fixing it by hiding how they votes are tallied. Hiding the method just means you can pretend to work while still having deeply flawed results. It does not ensure it works. It just ensures nobody can see the mess.

Its like sweeping a dead cat under the sofa and then saying your house is clean. You’ve still got a dead cat in the living room… its just hidden.

What will moderators curb really? Just certain forms of obvious misconduct. Things posted in a terms policy. But that will do nothing to address bias or differing perspectives. And grossly unfair moderation based on where the moderator’s personal loyalties stand is very common (the core of why I no longer participate in some certain SL third-party forums).

Again they just work to hide the ball – and to make it appear as if the problem is under control.

Any such system becomes one about cliques, and if not in the in crowd, can get very harsh.

Orca’s comment triggered my thoughts because who has moral integrity is very dependent on who gets to answer that question. And I suspect we would have very strong disagreements over that. A system like this would end up being used to allow different camps of worldviews to just down-vote each other in never ending spirals of hostility; while propping up their own hate-mongers.

Metacam’s comment illustrates the real danger: that such a horribly flawed system becomes trusted – when in fact it is a lot more biased and abusive than simply no system.

This becomes one of those ‘techies not getting it’ things.

You can’t solve a social problem with 1s and 0s. A rating system is just throwing a ‘gamification mechanic’ at popularity and trust. Popularity and trust are best handled by having people build up reputations over time. Not with points and scores.

Its a flawed premise to ever assume you can trust a 97 more than a 73… meaningless numbers; applied to a social dynamic, produce wrongful and harmful results.

This is one of the core flaws of the entire web 2.0 social media era. Its not real socialization. Why do interactions on Facespam and Twithead feel so shallow and distant, why are they being so easily abused to hurt our privacy, why are they leading to so many -broken- relationships?

They’re all ‘techie’ 1s and 0s – gamified solutions – to social interaction. Biology has millions of years of doing this the slow and gradual, personal, built up way. You can’t hit that over the head with a binary chip answer and call it a day. It just don’t work.

Response to: Is Gamification Sexist? – and how SL is a game, but a social one.

This will be in my rambling style that might not make sense to many of you. Just lett’n ya’ll know that ahead of time. 🙂

Typing this one out to think it through more so than to argue it out.

And in reading it now, I realize I spent most of it talking about framing, meant to set up what ‘gamification’ is all about – while barely getting to how that relates to the question of sexism. Will have to rewrite / edit this at some point.

See Is Gamification Sexist? to see what this began as a response to.

I often talk about framing – how the choice of language defines a debate to such a degree that it becomes impossible to ‘think outside the box’.

Language is very key to social change and revolutionary movements are often about such re-framing in order to speak ‘truth to power’. So as a Rastafarian (yes I’m claiming that word now) this is something I have a keen awareness of. The language of our movement is carefully constructed for how it peels back the layers of obfuscation used by the oppressor class to reveal the true nature of Babylon.

‘Game’ has been heavily framed in recent decades (ok yeah; how did we get from Rasta to game. Just go with it ok? 😉 ). When I grew up in the 1970s a game was any form of play. Barbies to Tea Party (no relation to any Palins, I mean sipping tea and pretending to be crazy rabbits- wait, maybe that does relate to a Palin…) to Hide and Seek to the racist Cowboys and Indians (there’s another blog for you – we all know who was the bad guy in that one, and even this RL-Amer-Indian kid didn’t want to be cast as the Indian too often, at least until I was a teen) to Sorry, Chutes and Ladders, Uno, and Clue. Some of these have goals and rewards, and some clearly do not. But I’ve always seen them all as games.

In the same decade we saw the rise of what has become the modern game platform. Dungeons and Dragons pioneered adding strict rule-sets into ‘play acting’. Where you would take on a persona, and have clear guidelines set out for objective-resolution. If I do X, there is a rule to get the entire group to a conclusion Y.

D&D re-framed what it meant to be a game. Before D&D, you could call ‘playing dolls’ a game, and nobody would object. Now they say that’s not a game, but ‘girl stuff’. I guess only the boys played games… I dunno… this is how reframing works…

It removed all of the ‘feminine’ forms of gaming out of the definition. We often no longer even remember these things as games.

D&D itself faded from the public light, but when the information age took over, and computer games kicked off, early developers looked to their D&D gaming tables and tried to recreate it digitally. Those early computer games have in turned shaped almost every computer game experience we’ve seen.

Second Life stands in stark contrast to this.

Where an MMO comes out of applying graphics to the MUD tradition, Second Life comes out of the MUSH tradition.

MUDs came about as the early efforts to get those D&D games into a multi-user format. If you ever happen upon one, it looks very much like a fantasy MMO, in text only.

MUSH came about in various attempts at connecting groups of people together in real time online. Very tied to MUD, but more social and builder. Look at a MUSH and it will feel very similar to Second Life, but again only in text. Many MUSHes even had most or all of their content made by the users, and not the ‘system operators’.

I could say, ‘what about that is not a game?’ – but everyone will be able to answer that, because we’ve reframed the concept of game to mean ‘something like D&D’… even when its a sport like baseball.

But the truth to speak to the power here is that the reframing is wrong.

The word realy has many meanings and applies properly in many contexts. ‘Social Games’ for example, are a very different creature than the ‘ruleset model’. And what is SL but a social game?

But ‘game’ is now way to claim space for certain things, but at the same time devaluing them in other contexts.

People who say SL is not a game say such because they are devaluing the term game and don’t want to see SL as trivial. World of Warcraft players have a great response to this: “Sl is srs bsns” – which is really a way of calling out ‘the other side’ and saying ‘you folks are taking yourselves and your stuff way too seriously, mellow out.’

There is a notion in the term ‘gamify’ things that seems to mean applying more concrete rule-sets to them, with defined rewards for valorious conduct. “Play to win,” beat the odds, achiev reward. Its the ‘lone man in the wilderness conquering adversity’ model. In other words, applying the reframed notion of game to things.

Linden Realms is a case of making tools for SL so that SL can be better “gamified” in this sense. SL done gone and got too girly…

The Is Gamification Sexist? blog notes that “studies have shown that the degree to which you are sensitive to reward is based heav­ily on how much testosterone you have in your system.”

(and we should note here that the author of that quote has fallen victim to a framing of ‘reward’ that does not consider getting friends a reward, whereas getting trophies and rank is – this is why framing works so well, you cannot communicate outside of some kind of frame, but your choice of frame defines what conclusion you will reach and prevents exceptions.)

If this is true, then ‘gamification’ of SL would be a detriment to SLs majority userbase… at the benefit of whom? those who feel SL is failing because it does not attract those within their ‘framing.’

The dilemma here might be that not doing so has the reverse consequence of mostly benefiting women.

I suspect that embracing any one single method is going to disenfranchise one gender or the other – and the struggle will be to find a dualistic approach.

Speaking of the rewards of social based games – this may be why SL has traditionally attracted such high numbers of women (or so the unscientific anecdote goes). SL’s reward is mostly social. You get things to improve your ability to interact with others, go and meet those others, and are ‘rewarded’ by growing your circle of social contacts.

In this sense it is very much a game, but a social one. That other framing of game:

  • Activity engaged in for diversion or amusement : play

Teh iz spam’n I and I
Ps: I wish some of you could read the spam comments I get to the blog. They are just too funny with the random text gibberish that tries so so very hard to make sense… Every few days I get tempted to make a blog post that is just a cut and paste job of some of that spam… but I suspect that if I did so, google and bing would smack my ranking downside the head so hard it’d land back in 2000 BC somewhere… 🙂

But, TY spammers for the lols. 🙂 As long as you stay filtered in my spam folder I’m fine with you. As for everyone else, ya’ll ought to get your own blogs so you too can have a spam filter too and read some of this stuff.

Second Life is a game – this is what makes it something worth taking seriously ;)

I posted this as a comment on another blog, but that person’s blog hasn’t been updated in seven months, so I’m making it a short article of my own:

“When people say Second Life is “just a game” and people shouldn’t take it so seriously, they are usually implying that it is ridiculous to experience real emotions (positive or negative) over something that happens to their avatar in-world.”

Second Life as a Permafaun blog, April 22, 2011

Be cautious of reading that intention into the statement of ‘SL is a game.’

I often state, and feel strongly, that it -IS- a game. SL is relaxation time, enjoyment time, fulfillment time, play time, social time.
– For me, that defines ‘game.’

If it was not a game, it would be work. 😉

The notion of ‘game’ has been getting narrowed of late by the video-game generation, inspired by the Dungeons and Dragons generation, who were shaped by the miniatures warfare simulation generation.

  • That’s a very male-centric view that a game has clear objectives, competition, defined rules, winners, and losers. To me, that is -not- a very inclusive definition, and leaves out almost any ‘non-patriarchy’ (to use an over-used buzzword…) form of ‘leisure / social engagement’. It basically trivializes feminine-centric ‘game play’ and any ‘non-aggressive’ forms of male-centric game-play.

I don’t think I’m alone here, I think a -LOT- of people who say SL is a game just didn’t grow up playing Dungeons and Dragons… 😉

We just don’t have the same narrow concept of what a game is. For us a game can be any number of forms of pleasure with challenge, or social pleasures, or play.

Ask yourself why the phrase ‘the game of life’ exists… its not a definition that comes from the narrow-scope concept of game.

Three definitions of game to challenge your assumptions:

      1. : activity engaged in for diversion or amusement : play
      2. : the equipment for a game
    1. : a procedure or strategy for gaining an end :
      1. : a field of gainful activity : line
      2. : any activity undertaken or regarded as a contest involving rivalry, strategy, or struggle ; also : the course or period of such an activity
      3. : area of expertise : specialty 3

And the one which is the narrow scope concept:

      1. : a physical or mental competition conducted according to rules with the participants in direct opposition to each other
      2. : a division of a larger contest
      3. : the number of points necessary to win
      4. : points scored in certain card games (as in all fours) by a player whose cards count up the highest
      5. : the manner of playing in a contest
      6. : the set of rules governing a game
      7. : a particular aspect or phase of play in a game or sport

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