Wednesday, 21 September 2011

All Work and No Play

There are many sources I could call upon to back-up and probably better explain what I want to write about today, but I am not going to use them. They are easy enough to find online if you are really, really interested.

Also, if you are interested: a cut-down version of the role-play scenario I mentioned in my post, "Make It Hurt",  has been uploaded by Sian Pearl to her blog, parthenoid - which you can read by clicking here.

I have been doing some reading related to my final year research topic today, and I came across several essays on the idea of "play". It's a pretty central concept in theatre, obviously, and something that I have been urged to look over in many a class. We perhaps use it a little heavy-handedly, and I personally have been known to daub many a rehearsal session or dramatised play-reading with the frame of "we're just playing". To watch, it can't seem much like playing. The most successful rehearsals I have been involved in have often ended with hot, sweaty, exhausted tears - but what we were doing is little more complicated than what happens when you place two children together in front of some building blocks. 

You know you needed to see it again.
 Often in my oh-so-few blog posts, I have suggested that the flaw, if that is the right word, with SL in the eyes of the general populace is its freedom - the unlimited space and resources it offers for people to play. Confronted with the possibility to do absolutely anything, we seem to cling to recreating and playing with ideas from real life, just like those children with the building blocks do. With those building blocks, you could build anything, things you could only dream of seeing out and about in the streets, but what do you build? Houses and towers and cars and police stations and, need I remind you, washing machines and toilets.

 When considering play, it is almost impossible to avoid the idea of games.

There appears to be quite a controversy surrounding the labelling of Second Life as a game. Some SL users don't seem to care, but others get very hot under the collar when the g-word is mentioned. When my brother has walked into my bedroom and found me logged into SL, it has not been uncommon for him to enquire "What game is that?", and I haven't quite had the patience to sit down with him yet and explain why called SL a game is a pretty bad idea. He's still quite new to the Internet, and he doesn't understand how dangerous being considered wrong upon it can be yet.
Now, obviously there is no way I can really argue the issue one way or another, cohesively and taking into account all of the material on the subject, in one blog post. I'm not intending to write a tomb, and if you want to discuss it with me, or voice your opinions, there is a comment button below this post and I encourage you to use it, as always. 

In my opinion, SL is not a game. If you take a look at other popular games on the market right now, such as World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, or even the new Deus Ex, they have very little in common with Second Life beyond the fact that they both use virtual plains and are made up of pixels. In each of the aforementioned games, bar SL, there are relatively clearly defined objectives which the player tries to hit. The success of such is measured in experience points, gaining bases, upgrading armour, unlocking cut scenes, and staying alive until you have reached the goal and it is game over. Admittedly, with World of Warcraft, there is no such "game over", but there is an "end" in terms of having worked through the storyline, the side quests, and earning the highest grade of armour in the game. I have no doubt that Blizzard-ActiVision will continue to invent new levels, new side quests, new patches, etc etc, but I have no interest in arguing that WoW is not a game today :P Games are full of work, disguised as play - a disguise made all the more convincing if you enjoy that work. But it has none of the freedom and need of imagination of play.

SL has none of these objectives. There is no real end goal, no game-over. You exist within the virtual world, and you do as you please, and your success, unless you enter into the commercial side of things, is marked only by your own understandings and desires of the world. The only work is the work you set yourself - designing, building, creating - and it is possible to get a job within SL, as a bouncer or a dancer or a model or whatever else you can imagine. But for people like me, even using the building tools to create something in-world is about play. I have no real idea how it works, no real idea how to make something look like anything, so I play - I press buttons, I double-click everything, and eventually my laptop has enough and the viewer crashes. 

I spent most of my time in SL playing. If I am not pretending to be somebody else in a role-play, I am exploring sims, pressing buttons, trying to sit on everything, and taking screenshots of things that intrigue or amuse me. Right now, I am logged into SL, and I am sitting on a bench on a sim called Alpha Point. The bench has several seating animations within it and, naturally, I have tried all of them.

Inherent to playing, however, is the idea of fun, and I cannot say that I always find my experiences within SL fun. If there are people to talk to and things to do, then yes, I suppose I could say that I find it fun. I have described in previous posts the kind of effort (and work?) involved in role-playing, and I'm not sure that I used the word "fun" there, though it is certainly enjoyable. But there is also a strange phenomena that takes place wherein you log out of SL after five hours and you find yourself thinking...where has my day gone? What have I done? Because the answer is nothing and that you didn't have fun at all - but you stayed logged in, anyway. That, I cannot explain, but I'm pretty sure other SL users have experienced that effect, too.

So...we reach my conclusion - and it's a weird one, isn't it? Second Life isn't a game because it is about playing, not working, unless you want it to, and since the work that can be taken up often involves real money, it's less of a game and more of a serious gamble...How am I meant to explain that to my brother?

And, just to make the whole thing more worthwhile, I am going to point out that I personally don't particularly care whether SL is considered a game or not. I will continue to play, and to sit on things, and to log out when it makes me unhappy.

Trying on hats....
...clicking "get murdered" pose balls on romantic sims...
and flying by dandelion seed.

All work and no play makes Kitti a very unhappy avatar.

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