The Second Life Herald

As soon as this book came in, I put down the book I was reading and started on this one. I couldn’t wait to write a review on “The Second Life Herald” by Peter Ludlow and Mark Wallace that I wrote a little something a few days ago as a teaser of sorts (it was that last post, behavior in MMOs, which should be below this post).

I thought this book was extremely well written, though one problem I had with it isn’t the author’s fault. The problem is that the only people who know about social interactions in online spaces are those people who not only regularly venture online, but also choose to inhabit various virtual spaces, whether they be message boards or Massively Multiplayer Online games (sometimes you see the RPG suffix attached, which means Role Playing Game).

Another problem I had with the book was the lack of an index. Several times through the book, Ludlow or Wallace (one cannot know when which author is writing which words in a multi author book, unless it specifically says so) mention a person or a game or an avatar that was mentioned previously. When that happens, I like to glance back and see what was mentioned about them earlier in the book, especially if it was a one off mention.

As has been mentioned before, I have played Final Fantasy XI for several years. In this game, I not only managed to level my Paladin to a moderately high level (level 69, at the time 75 was the highest level, also, in RPGs, “level” means “how powerful your character is”). But I was also the #2 or #3 guy in a linkshell, a group of players who routinely play together and help each other, etc. This shell was one of the more respected in the game, so I often had people asking me for help of one kind or another. I was a high level crafter and could easily make High Quality armor, weapons, and accessories. I would also make anyone, up to level 21, armor or weapons for free. After that, they had to pay up.

But I digress.

Ludlow talks about his time spent in The Sims Online and Second Life. In TSO, he decided to make a newspaper, called “The Alphaville Herald” after the name of the server he played on.

Both game’s dynamics of being an active community made the newspaper idea a big hit. Well, a hit with the people who played the game, but a monstrous problem for the companies that own them.

Ludlow started the Herald while he played TSO. Several weeks after starting it, EA terminated his account, ostensibly for asking the wrong questions.

This started the idea of governance in MMOs. Who governs players actions? Obviously, the Terms of Service should, and to a further extent, the game world owners. They typically state that you must “always be excellent to each other.”

Of course, some games, such as EVEOnline, allow you to be totally evil to each other as that’s part of the gameplay.

The problem Ludlow (as his online counterpart, Urizenus Sklar) found was that EA (the company behind TSO) and Linden Lab (the company behind Second Life) were typically either lax or choosy in determining which player scuffles to intercede and mediate on.

In SL, the term “Feted Inner Core” or FIC was used to signify which players typically received special attention from Linden.

I believe the idea of the Herald could really only exist in a game like TSO, TL, or EVEOnline as those games tend to really exhibit the community aspect of gaming. Though, each game has its differences.

In TSO, there are different servers, yet each is a community to itself. TL uses multiple servers, yet players can freely travel between them. And in EVE it’s one large server farm as well.

A game like Final Fantasy XI or World of Warcraft would be a bit different as there’s at least 20 persistent worlds that you can play on. For FFXI, you’d need a newspaper for each server, such as a Valefor paper, a Bahamut paper, a Tonberry paper, etc.

And even then, you cannot make everyone read the paper or contribute. When server merges happen, you’d have to merge the newspapers as well. It seems a bit hard, but can be done.

This book, along with Edward Castronova’s book on the economies of online games, “Synthetic Worlds” should be required reading upon deciding to spend time in a virtual world. I have had Castronova’s book since it came out but have not reviewed it as its publication predates the start of this site. I need to remedy that in the future.

MIT Press page for the book.
The Alphaville Herald site (The site used to be called the Second Life Herald, but was originally called the Alphaville Herald to begin with).

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