When I started out playing my first Massive Multiplayer Online Game, Asheron's Call, my immediate family bought three copies: I was in high school at the time, and my parents and I decided to move from Diablo-esque games to the big time. We weren't alone: my cousin, uncle, and aunt all joined up too. We occasionally teamed up with other players, people who weren't members of the Salter clan, but mostly these games became our family past-time. They live far away in Florida, so actually seeing them often would have been quite a feat while a weekly (or more) night of Asheron's Call--and later Asheron's Call 2, Anarchy Online, and now World of Warcraft--is much easier to arrange. We’d started as single-player gamers exploring dungeons alone, and now, with the rise of virtual worlds, we could suddenly be heroes together. The Salter clan could be a team ala The Incredibles.
Watching the media discovering the virtual worlds of Warcraft and Second Life, it’s easy to think there’s something very new going on in this world of massively multiplayer gaming. Actually, these ideas are as old as the Internet itself (which is to say, not very old at all). The predecessors to these fully three-dimensional environments opened the door to more unassuming worlds, first constructed only from text and ideas. These games, Multi-User Dungeons or “MUDs”, still exist today: you can log in and join a social world building stories of fantasy and conquest. But these worlds, and the object-oriented dungeons—MOOs—that followed them never gained popularity outside of small niche markets. Those were games for geeks and nerds, the sort of person who builds his own computer and goes to sci-fi and fantasy conventions. It wasn’t until the descendents of those games, now with flashy graphics and fully realized elf-babes, that the idea of playing in a virtual world became “cool.”
My Virtual Worlds article continues here on CinCity2000. We just wrapped up our video gaming week on CinCity. Current virtual world speculation includes some concern about the bottom line: following on the trend of Web 2.0 the Financial Times proposes "Economics 2.0. Of course, sex and gambling are the foundation of this new economics--which emphasizes if anything how far we haven't come. However, Noam follows the common trend of looking at Second Life first and foremost just when many investors are starting to come to terms with Second Life's flaws as the forerunner of a digital age--The Boston Globe writes about the rats jumping the virtual world ship in the article "Second Life's allure fading". This comes at a time when even narrative media is attacking the dark side of virtual space, as with Law & Order taking on real world crimes stemming from a Second-Life style universe