Recommended Readings on Virtual Worlds,
Here are five books I recommend that retell history, discuss games and development, and go into some design successes and failures.
Designing Virtual Worlds
Richard Bartle is heavily cited in virtual worlds due to his creation of the MUD (multi-user dungeon). This textbook details the history of many different MUDs and all the variants of virtual worlds. It outlines mistakes designers have made, the successes, and good practices. This is the book where Bartle talks about player types, what they enjoy and why, and how they react to different incentives in gameplay. Kind of a heavy read, but good for research and flipping through every now and then, or citing.
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels: The Triumphant, Turbulent Stories Behind How Video Games Are Made
A series of chapters detailing the development journey of multiple games and game studios. It talks about the pains the developers went through, the successes, and the iterations the game endured. I related most to the Destiny chapter, where Bungie was trying to develop a new game that wasn’t just a copy of Call of Duty (where the developers had come from), but they were stuck in their old ways. At High Fidelity, conventions trickled over from Second Life without assessing whether or not it was the best way to convey information to the user, like the word “rez.” But many users and some developers had come from that platform, so it felt right to them. For people who haven’t worked in games or AAA games, this is a quick way to see a glimpse of the trials and tribulations those teams endured, and see how they might have solved their issues, or at least be aware of the issues.
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World
A decent read on gamification and alternate reality games. There is some filler, largely due to the age of the book (explanations on popular applications like Four Square), but skipping through those will allow you to learn more about social interactions in alternate reality games, either based on mobile, PC, or even using the real world as a canvas. She talks a lot about gamifying interactions that are not technically “games” to keep even the most mundane housekeeping tasks fun and something you want to keep going back to. It’s good to keep in mind how, while we’re not developing a “game” per se, there’s a lot we can do to gamify things. On the top of my mind is Tinder. It’s not a game, but there’s a whole lot of design put into the game flow to keep people coming back.
Second Life: The Official Guide
This book is full of anecdotes on users from Second Life at the height of its popularity. It retells some information as to the current state (when the book was published) of SL’s design and architecture with some technical blurbs. I hope to one day see a book written by Philip Rosedale on the design iterations Linden Lab went through for SL’s many features and what impacts they made on the community. I recall a story Philip told me about the adjustment of last names. At first, users were called “Alexia Linden”. When the devs made a change so users could choose their own last name, a social status emerged of the haves and have-nots based on naming conventions. We can learn a lot from Second Life as a platform because it has UGC, a virtual currency that can be exchanged for real money, real estate, and people running actual businesses out of the virtual world. There are a ton of proficient creators who are very invested in virtual worlds, whatever modality they can enter it by.
If you’re interested in learning more about Second Life, you might just take a look at New World Notes by Wagner James Au.
My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World
A story retold from the perspective of a user about cyber rape in a virtual world. In a text-based application called LambdaMOO, an event happens that causes people to think about the communities of virtual worlds in a different light, and the repercussions of virtual actions. It details some of the iterations that were made on the platform to assist the community. A passage I read reminded me of a design review I was in at High Fidelity:
“You might want to argue that what those victims didn’t directly experience didn’t hurt them, but consider how that wisdom would sound to a woman who’d been, say, fondled by strangers while passed out drunk in the middle of a party, and you have a rough idea how it might go over with a crowd of hard-core MOOers.”
The conversation we were having was about a full screen user interface. I’m against having a user interface completely obscure the virtual world, especially in VR. If a user can’t see their avatar but it’s still present in the world, people can do obscene things to it without them knowing, but the community still knows.
We can learn about presence from this book, and even though the virtual world at hand is text-based, the interactions users endured seeped into their real lives. There’s also some to learn about how the admins handled integrity issues like blocking, anon users, and trolling/harassment.
What other books would you recommend?
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Recommended Readings on Virtual Worlds was originally published in AR/VR Journey: Augmented & Virtual Reality Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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Author: Alexia Mandeville