Thursday, December 06, 2007

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The Storytellers of Midian: How Collaborative Fiction Strengthen Roleplaying Communities


When you enter the city of Midian, you're surrounded by stories.  Not just the stories suggested by the setting, and everything a dangerous metropolis of the future implies; not just the plot line written by Jade Steel, chief proprietress of the mini-MMORPG.  I mean stories in the chat lines you read all around you, related by the players of Midian, who rarely break character.  When I visited the popular community a few weeks ago, for instance, I first came across a blond assassin and a bounty hunter with a 12 gauge, deep in conversation against a soda machine.  This is an excerpt from their actual conversation, taken directly from my chat log:

Kron_ray_speaks Kron Ray:  Kron Ray closes his eyes and tried to will away the images of his "past life" that he so desperately wanted to leave behind so he could finally move on...

What started as a dull throb turns into a sharp blinding pain as the Watch Dog program struggles for control. He leans heavily on the drink machine, eyes clenched tightly shut. He quickly reaches into his jeans pocket and pulls out a handful of pain killers, muscle relaxers, and tranquilizers.

Then they stood there silently, and some timeAngie_albatros_replies passed-- after all, it takes awhile to type out what's basically an impromptu pargraph in a cyberpunk short story being written on the fly-- and then Angie Albatros replied:

Angie Albatros: Angie Albatros steps back a little at this reaction, she isn't so much offended as she is surprised.  She grinned to try to put him at ease. "Well, not the response I was looking for but... OK." She moves her hand up to his face tilting her head slightly. "I guess now isn't a good time huh?" She tries to look understanding.

With over 3000 members, half of whom are regular players (by Jade's estimate), Midian is one of Second Life's most popular communities.  She credits that success to the community that's sprung up around Midian-- and in large part, to the stories the players tell each other, to keep it thriving:  "[T]he dialog in the roleplay is very important to our growth," she tells me. "We constantly strive to keep the interaction between our citizens in depth and immersive, where a picture is painted in words, much like the text based roleplay MUD/MUCKs of old."  It's not just Midian where the improvisational narrative chat is so key to the community-- offhand, it seems to be central to nearly all Second Life's roleplaying communities.

But how does it work, and what makes it possible?  A day or two after Angie had her fateful chat with the hurting cowboy.  As it happens, it started for her after she created a third life.


Angie joined Second Life last December, as another Resident entirely, and only discovered Midian some months ago. She created the "Angie Albatros" alt with Midian in mind. "My first roleplay experience," she says. "It's fun to play out a character, someone who has different values and history."  So when you look at Angie's profile, you'll find nothing about her first life (or for that matter, her first Second Life) but an entire  Midian-esque backstory that she's created in her picks:  "[M]ostly polite and cheery, prone to extreme violence if threatened always carried out calmly and without mercy or remorse. Lacks most basic morals," her biography flatly notes at one point. 

[All of this, says Kron Ray, is "Making things up as we go along. I recently became a high ranking member of the gang we're both in. Angie is getting ready to be cloned to get ready for a killswitch that was implanted in her years ago. And we're both trying to help out gangs' leader, who Angie has fallen in love with, with a heroin [addiction]. During all this we've had to deal with family problems, love triangle, alcoholism, and letting go of the past and moving on. Just a sample of some of the real life social issues that take place here."]

"We basically have our own characters who we define ourselves within the rules of the sim," says Angie. "The sim itself has a history which is in the notecard you get when you enter.  This defines the basic world we live in.  From there on it's just a case of creating a history for your character and a personality and just talking to others with that in mind and seeing what happens."  That includes joining the Phoenix Rising faction, and befriending people with dark pasts like Kron Ray, in a story that they improvise together.  While in play, rarely do people pause to discuss Second Life issues outside of Midian, let alone the material world outside; when that happens, the talk is designated "OOC":

"Out Of Character talk is needed sometimes to clarify an In Character issue, or sometimes we just have to have a joke about [something]... but obviously, IC is more important and it's important to keep public OOC chat to a minimum."

As Jade Steel describes it, this commitment to keep unfolding the story is the strength to Midian, not the RPG aspect of the game itself.  "[W]hile we do have a basic no frills combat system," she says, "our meter is designed to be used sparingly. It is not relied upon to influence the outcome of the roleplay with any sort of leveling, nor does a citizen gain experience points by loitering in the sim."  This is totally unlike most other MMORPGs, where individual improvement goals are all.  Here, says Jade, "[T]he emphasis and fun is on creating an immersive environment through interaction, much like a giant ongoing novel where everyone contributes."

Among them, the suffering cowboy and Angie Albatros, both co-authors and characters in this larger shared narrative.  As for who Angie was in the Second Life she left behind for Midian, she declines to say.

Update, 12/11: Added quote from Kron Ray for more context.


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Gary Hayes

More insight on Midian and much referred to above in my post on the same topic from 14 months ago! When Midian had just been conceived by Baal.


Bettina Tizzy

I'm incapable of RP, but if ever there was an argument on its behalf, this is it. Intelligent, engaging, and highly literate dialogue and scenarios.... Thanks for bringing this to our attention, Hamlet, and kudos to Angie and Kron. They should just record their convos and later publish them in a book :) Reads better than most books on the market today, too!

Eric Rice / Spin Martin

I have to chime in and say I've got huge respect for Midian City. This rich, rich environment is always a hotbed of activity, and has been a fantastic source of inspiration.


Wasn't aware of this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Will definitely have to make time to explore what they're doing.

Nexii Malthus

Wow, I agree with Bettina, this should be written down, this is like spontaneous masterpieces pieced together dynamically by literature artists.

David Valentino

The thing about Midian, that I think seperates it from other roleplaying sims, is that it doesn't depend on click and shoot combat systems. It is more of a real, breathing city, with drama, storylines, history and in-depth characters Love it, hate's the dark city and the gritty streets...
I never wear a combat meter there, yet have been in my share of scrapes, all done through roleplay and descriptive text. And the city itself is beautiful...

Kron Ray

The wonderful thing about Midian is it keeps you on your toes. You can have a loose idea of where you want to go with your character, and the next day through the interactions of others your character can end up going a completely different way. Midian without a doubt has THE best RPers I've ever met. And there's so many out there that I find myself RPing there on 4 different AVs just so I can RP with all that I can.

Angie Albatros

Midian is more fun than I can begin to describe, the conversation noted here is NOTHING compered to some of the wonderful scenes I've been lucky enough to be a part of.
Am very proud to have kind of acted as ambassador to Midian in the two pieces on here though, was lucky that Hamlet found us at such a good time.

David Valentino

The thing about Midian, that I think seperates it from other roleplaying sims, is that it doesn't depend on click and shoot combat systems. It is more of a real, breathing city, with drama, storylines, history and in-depth characters Love it, hate's the dark city and the gritty streets...
I never wear a combat meter there, yet have been in my share of scrapes, all done through roleplay and descriptive text. And the city itself is beautiful...


There are so many nice things about Midian, but of course what drives it is the people. The depth of characters here is fascinating, as are the places to visit.

We have it all, from dive bars, peep shows and mean streets,BUT it is not all bad. We do have a lovely community center, which always has fresh cookies, warm beds and friendly conversation (not to mention a beautiful park next door to look at)

Our characters are always well dressed and willing to help anyone at a minutes notice.

Hopefully everyone will stop by soon and visit us. Don't forget to stop in and get a cookie also.

Jay Skall


As a long time Midian roleplayer, this is a great artical and for once doesn't spend all its time on the build...Which is fricken amazing, but doent 'make' Midian.

It's, as the artical rightly says, the players...

And just an incentive to newcomers, the chat you saw, Kron and Angie...Thats good roleplay, but its average - It's what happens, there are hundreds more plots unfolding with equal detail

I'm not taking anything away from the skill they display, I am just pointing out it isn't 'special'... There's so much on offer, and we don't often keep chatlogs, and certainly don't publish them...The art and fun is the story and characaters, and the individual words dont matter so much, they can be rewritten at any time by a skilled roleplayer. Its like real life...Noone walks round constantly scribbling in a diary and recording on a camcorder ... They just 'live' it.

Hopefully they and ate articale author have enticed you to join us in our fair city. Maybe I'll be there to greet you.

Jay Skall

Griffin Tomsen

I have "lived" for a short while in Midian City. It is a close communitie, but the fun part, the people who "live" there do not care if you are new or an older account. They dont click togehter like in other SIM's, but you have to stick to your character. Its amazing how some stories devellope and even your storie will change as your life goes on in Midian. Just plan a little and let the rest be controlled by your fantasie and/or storielines as they continue.
I too am an alt and I create alt's for every SIM of role play, so I have a lot. The advantage is that your character does not get involved into other stories of other SIM's.
The roleplay in Midian is way far the best and intence I have ever seen in SL

Thats my five cents, cheers

October Hush

I've been a longtime roleplayer in Midian with the Catwalker faction, as I'm a neko. To give you an idea of the kind of character arc someone might go through, I (my character) arrived on Midian island purely by chance. She was a maid on a cruise ship which ran aground, and made it to Midian's shores by lifeboat. She was then homeless and mostly had to fend for herself for a couple of months before being taken under the wing of the Catwalkers. However, in order to prove her worth, she had to join another faction, The Pack, as a spy. After her mission was completed, only then was she allowed in the Catwalkers as a full member.

We go into Midian with a set of basic facts about our characters and then go from there. You absolutely have to be spontaneous, because you never know who you'll interact with on a given day. As I've written elsewhere, this is one of the things that makes Midian so interesting: you never realy quite know what's going to happen next. It's like making up a movie as you go along, or as I like to describe it, it's Blade Runner crossed with Escape from New York and a soap opera.

Thank you for writing about one of my favorite places in SL. =)

ginseng kyong

Hmm I never knew Tober was a made on a cruise ship.

Hmm yeah come to Midian, Gin can always use some more mice to play with.

When I first came to Midian, I was really new to RP, so I just kind of hung around a while, slowly working up courage to RP here and there. Now, I have to admit it is quite exciting, as Tober said, you never know what you will come across.

Role Play is a bit like playing a chess game. You each take turns making your move verbally and you are trying to put your opponent in verbal check...that is give them a challenge that makes them have to think. Or you may be trying to get out of check. Hmm there is so much to learn still when it comes to Role Play.. and you can RP anything.


I've been hanging there a few times in the past week. Mostly I'm quiet. It's difficult to role-play when one isn't involved in the story. It's a beautiful sim, a bit laggy for the rich content, but definitely worth visiting.

Aegyptia Elvehjem

I found Midian a few months ago and it has slowly encompassed my entire SecondLife, I then proceeded to try and drag all my friends there. The build is gorgeous, the characters rich and the people behind them full of intelligence and imagination, plus it's just great fun to be a part of the whole thing.

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