They don’t all use the same physics

When I was a mere stripling I used to enjoy playing text-based adventure games; as I grew older, I watched them morph into graphic representations,  as games like Larry The Lounge Lizard came out.

But I never really made the cut into the later rounds of MMOG and virtual worlds. I did venture into Second Life, but realised quite soon that I just didn’t have enough passion for it, so I gave up. Nevertheless, there was something about virtual worlds that kept dragging me back; I kept on seeing possibilities open up, possibilities of using virtual worlds as means to a very specific end, that of empowering disenfranchised people.

I had to find a way of keeping my hand in, vicariously if possible. Which is why I dip into Terra Nova on a regular basis. If you are curious about virtual worlds, it’s a good place to go.

This evening, while idly flicking through Terra Nova,  I came across The Image of the Undercity by Greg L. A fascinating article, leading me to decide to re-read Kevin Lynch’s Image of the City. [Thank you Greg]. More importantly, it took me on to this article, and consequently on to these comments by Richard Bartle. I quote:

Overall, I suppose to an architect yes, it would seem odd that a virtual house would have a sloped roof if there’s no virtual weather, or a door at street level if people can fly. I can also see how they’d be grumpy about looking for innovation and seeing a lot of what are basically 3D paintings of imagined real-world structures.

However, virtual space is not like real space, and the users of both have different criteria by which they judge it a success. People want to feel they’re in the world, and that means the architecture has to be faithful to genre. Exciting new architecture is possible, but if it intrudes then it must do so for a reason. I expect it will be a long while before the architecture award goes to a building in a contextualised (ie. game-like) world, rather than a less themeful one such as SL.

Also, because each virtual world is physically different, architecture that is successful in one may not be successful in another. Does the virtual world need staircases? Does it require structures to self-support under gravity? Are there materials that you can see through from one side but not the other? How about materials that change what they look like depending on who’se looking at them? What’s possible in one virtual world may not be possible in another – unlike the real world, they don’t all use the same physics.

Important stuff, helps me keep my vicarious perspective right. They don’t all use the same physics. I have to keep on understanding things like this in order to be free in my thinking.

3 thoughts on “They don’t all use the same physics”

  1. I remember virtual words from the 80s – Habitat and Club Caribe on Q*Link (before it became AOL). One of the more amusing, but popular things one could do was take their head off and carry it around in their hands.

    In 2005, I bought World of Warcraft, and I’m convinced it’s a masterpiece. I don’t think people quite understand it yet, but I think it will take a long time before another MMOG figures out what they’ve done here, as there’s a “mint on the pillow” aspect to the world. Blizzard has an eye for detail that seems to keep people coming back. For example, the culture of certain areas lends itself to a particular type of architecture: elevators vs. staircases vs. ramps, depending on the race that runs the city, some areas that require flight, etc.

    Of course, the world is not as customizable as Second Life, but I think that’s part of why it works.

    Culturally it is very interesting to watch — it’s a social game [glorified chat room], but also an engrossing single player game, a player vs. player aspect, and even a 5 to 25-person co-operative effort (which I tend to enjoy the most).

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