Tuesday, December 08, 2009

You Use A Nail. You Rub The Amulet

Runescape. It's the largest free MMORPG -- an acronym for: Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. My older son gave it a whirl when he was in grammar school, but he got bored with it almost immediately. Not everyone does; according to Wikipedia, Runescape has ten million active accounts a month. I'm pretty sure New York City doesn't.

There are a lot of videos on YouTube like this one. It's the virtual equivalent of The New Yankee Workshop. Hmm. It's the virtual virtual equivalent of a construction tutorial. There is no person, and he's not making anything, to sell to other not-people, to get not-money.

These are strange and new concepts, and must be dealt with. It's not as easy as saying it's foolish and a waste of time, which is certainly the default position when you first see it.

My little son spent the most of his free time yesterday making structures out of Lincoln Logs. He populated them with little people, and put a plot to their interactions, then got his mother's cellphone, recorded a video of the proceedings on the cameraphone, which he narrated. Then he erased it and started over. When I was young I did much the same thing, just without any hope of digital video -- or even a phone that wasn't screwed to the wall, with a curlicue tether, and a bell like a four alarm fire instead of a little song that plays. There is some sort of common urge there, that is being fed.

I actually...

How do I put this? See, this is the sort of thing that must be confronted, and sorted out. I actually actually stand in a little room and Use A Nail to make furniture. I don't have an amulet, and the dungeon door market is a little slow just now, but still. I show others how to do the things I do now and again, too, sorta kinda like the video. I can't imagine everyone runs out and builds a deck after I post twenty pictures about doing it, so perhaps you looked at it solely for amusement. The shadow world and the "real" one can appear somewhat the same.

There is a possibility that it's me living in the shadow world, not the people making virtual tables for imaginary friends. I doubt it, but the concept must at least be considered. I could make real tables in my real workshop and if no one buys them, it would be me living in a fantasy world, while the Runescape authors are sleeping on a bed of Benjamins. And no one is making a thousand virtual tables on a screen for nothing, I imagine. You can buy virtual goods with real money, and people do.

But I spot the danger right away, and I wonder if others do. What are we training our children to do? How does the little man on the screen capitalize and run his little business? Watch the comment box.

You ring the bell.
The servant is on the way.
The servant goes to the bank.
The servant goes to the bank.
The servant goes to the bank
Butler: Your goods, sir...

A little later:

The servant has returned with logs.
You accept the logs.

There is a whole world being presented here. Something that has captivated many minds. We live in a world where many things are virtual and value is placed on them in ways that are not transparent. Expectations about the way life is -- or should be -- receive a kind of nebulous reinforcement, drilled by repetition. Opportunities to create a virtual system are considered the pinnacle of human achievement now. Opportunities to "game" those systems, as the author of the tutorial is demonstrating, are considered much more achievable than creating a system, and so are in the second tier of accomplishment. Simple participation in the system assures just enough status to keep people wandering around in it, and so there's a big bottom on our ecosystem food pyramid, though when all is said and done, it is all nothing.

I just described Runescape -- and the career trajectory of the Treasury Secretary, Subprime Mortgage finance, Credit Default Swaps, Carbon Trading Credits, Amway, 95% of all Venture Capital expenditures, the Stimulus Package, and the entire Blogosphere, -- this little virtual world I contribute pixels to.

There are no servants. People will tell you that there are, to make you one.


Retriever said...

Love this post. Am the only one in my family who is not addicted to RPGs. And glad you are raising your son to play with real toys. We did. Even tho we tripped and hurt ourselves all the time on the Legos, the logs, the building bricks, etc. How we think is a function of what we do. Not just move a muscle, change a thought as an adult. But a child learns to think in multiple dimensions when they build things. Quite apart from having fun, perhaps testing out useful skills, or finding they have ZERO aptitude for things mechanical and practical.

But my kids say I am a clod for not succumbing to the allure of the RPGS. Fallout 3 looks the most enticing, so far, on a 50 inch screen...

Jean said...

My head is spinning. That happens often when I visit here. Is it possible that you are too intelligent? I already know that I am closer to the other end of the spectrum. I don't play video/computer games.
I remember Pong, Pac-Man, Space Invaders. I'd rather read a book or write.

I do, however, like the last line very much.