The Socialness of Gaming: An Evolutionary Perspective of the MMO
The entirety of human existence has been a social experiment. It started with the development of language to help facilitate the exchange of ideas, grow communities and eventually, cities.
In the most recent chapter of this experiment, technology has brought it to further heights. Persistent online universes started to dot the surface as early as the 1980’s with Bulleting Board Systems (BBS’s) hosting text based games over telephone lines. These “universes” were hardly persistent as the technology for running them wasn’t as reliable as today’s modern MMO’s, but it was a start.
The earliest ones I can think of didn’t even have multiple users online at the same time, because most BBS’s operated off of one phone line, to be shared by a few dozen callers. There were only one or two boards boasting multiple connections in my area. Long distance telephone charges applied, so I barely called boards that required such extravagances.
The most popular of the bunch were games like Legend of the Red Dragon(LoRD) and TradeWars. Both games were text based and utilized ANSI graphics for visuals. Both games also relied heavily on the social interactions of their player base in order to succeed. A LoRD game with zero activity wasn’t a game at all. In the same vein, no two TradeWars universes were the same.
Then, the internet arrived. Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs) were born by the hundreds. These were also text based games. However, due to the internet, the number of users accessing these games at the same time was exponentially larger than it was for the BBS’s. This is where I would pinpoint the birth of the early MMO’s.
I personally played one for ten years. One decade. It’s unimaginable to me now, the amount of time I spent on this game staring at scrolling text. With line after line of colorful words rapidly moving across my screen, I made online friends, interacted with them, teamed with them and eventually lead them to devastating losses and glorious victories. The stories I’ve shared with people I’ve never met in meatspace are innumerable.
And of course, today, we have Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying games or MMORPGs/ MMOs for short. These societies’ online may as well be their own separate existences.
Games like World of Warcraft, Eve Online, Second Life, and Minecraft have millions of registered users. The next generations of these MMOs will utilize more efficient input devices and more realistic surroundings and bring in many more users.
The most surprising thing is that online gaming has benefited science.
A bug in World of Warcraft made an digital plague sweep across the world’s inhabitants, which provided researchers with a model of what might actually happen if a real uncontrollable epidemic would surface in the real world.
Cory Doctorow touches on the very real economies that are present in these worlds in his book, For The Win. Online communities can serve as economic simulations. Kind of like a dev box to run economic experiments with instead of using real life Wall Street.
It can actually save humanity. Check out the TED talk by Jane McGonigal. She expands on these ideas where she speaks about gamers actually being utilized as tools to help better our civilization.
Our human social experiment can now be simulated. We can try out solutions on our virtual communities before running them in the real world. All because we are gaming. We are all gaming for the good of mankind.