EstherMy So-called Second Life: Esther MacCallum-Stewart

Looking at MMORPGs in the way that normal players do. They've become really big business. Interest is predicted to outstrip film and video - presence in virtual worlds is a good way to reach a new audience.

Social groups can meet in themed areas: this is easier sometimes online than in the real world, for instance with religous groups. Researchers researching inside the world they're researching!

Lots of people in online games want sex. On a base level this means entertainment needs to recognise that these are communities: different people doing different things. Traditional gaming is about single-person narratives, nowadays it's about collective action.

MMORPGs and Virtual Worlds aren't the same thing. WoW is a game based on a genre with quests and tasks - stories are created by game designers. Second Life is a malleable world, with stories created by players. Second Life is "MSN with legs". It's about giving players the tools to make their own games.

There is no typical gamer any more. Games are being written for stereotypical gamers nonetheless. WoW is gripping partially because it's easy to play. "Deviant play needs to be encouraged".

Looking and being clever within a virtual world is becoming as important as owning stuff. Users don't want to be in a game, they want to be a part of society. Users want a degree of choice in what they do. Entertainment in these worlds is something players will choose to do, not be forced to do. Talks about Kurt Vonnegut giving a speech in Second Life.

Players want agency within these worlds (which I'd say is the same that people want in the real world): the ability to affect the contents of a world, to leave their mark. Characters can be played by different people and therefore get a continuity - cf Bert Fry from the Archers (cheers Est ;))

"Virtual Grandma": lots of grandmas want to speak to their families more than they can. They can meet in a virtual world, more than they can in real life. If you can make virtual communication easier and not patronising, they'll use it.

Humanity always seems to subvert games: we're all game players. Deviant play is finding cheats, overacting (e.g. troll player talking trollish). Players like coherency in their environment.

Film environments lend themselves to MMORPGS because they're fictional, and have narrative. e.g. Enter The Matrix. But no matter what players did in this virtual world, they couldn't have any effect on the world. Players knew that they weren't Lawrence Fishbourne and weren't that important. Interweaving the narrative of a film and the MMORPG is difficult.

WoW has relatively little agency: there are festivals, etc., but you end up doing the same quests over and over again. There's little individuality, players go off and do the same quests as each other and this doesn't help to give the feel of a coherent environment.

Conclusion: MMORPGs and virtual spaces are different and need to be recognised as such. Game players aren't a minority.

Question from Mike: do you think that involving people more prior to the film will work better?

Answer: Cameron's making an effort to integrate the media.

Question: Where do ARGs sit between the two?

Answer: Lines between the two are getting blurred. Mobile and laptop access will make a difference.

Question from Mike: what sort of creative things are coming out of WoW?

Answer: not everyone wants to play within the tightly constrained environment of WoW. They're making videos, they're role-playing, but this is all based around the game. They're struggling against WoW and trying to use it in all sorts of new and interesting ways. If >200 people meet together in the same place the server crashes. There's probably something midway between the two that we'll hear about in a few years.

Question: What's Deviant Play in Second Life?
Answer: It's not a game, so there is none. There are laws but no rules. E.g. someone decided to firebomb a muslim community within the game and were immediately removed.

Question: In the high street, big brands dominate. Will it all turn into Starbucks?

Answer: No, there's no shortage of land. It's not a zero-sum game. Second Life is about individuality, not conformity.