Monday, November 14, 2011

« New SL Viewer Comes With Mouseover Help Text, Point-and-Click Movement, Twitter & Facebook Update Integration | Main | How to Create an Awesome SL Avatar for 2 Bucks Plus Change (i.e. L$550) »

Is Skyrim More of a Virtual World Than Second Life?

Skyrim versus Second Life

Last Friday when I asked readers if they were fascinated by the virtual world of Skyrim, in the new Elder Scrolls game of the same name, it raised a lot of objections that Skyrim shouldn't be called a virtual world at all.

But the thing is, there's no one agreed upon definition of "virtual world", which you can see by the Wikipedia entry, which says "A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects" (i.e. like Second Life), while also noting that "Some single-player games contain virtual worlds populated by non-player characters (NPC)" (i.e. like Skyrim.) So I think it's more useful to say Skyrim and Second Life are different kinds of virtual worlds, especially if we're to define the category as broadly as possible: "A computer-simulated persistent world". I also think it's useful to think about all the ways Skyrim is more or at least as much of a virtual world than Second Life. Here's at least seven:

  • Skyrim is geographically contiguous - Second Life is not. Long ago, it was possible to walk from one end of Second Life to another. Now, SL is dominated by thousands of private islands, many of which are artificially inaccessible. By contrast, you can walk from one end of Skyrim to the other.
  • Skyrim has an internally consistent, universal physics -- Second Life does not. In some areas of SL you can fly; in others, you cannot. You can even change the position of the sun, and soon, the very way light is filtered. And so on.
  • Skyrim has a pre-existing ecosystem of flora and fauna -- Second Life does not. Wildlife and people (NPCs) thrive in Skyrim. Outside of virtual pets and the rare virtual ecosystem, SL is mainly bereft of animal species, and has none that exist independent of their human creators and owners.
  • Skyrim is self-contained and relatively separate from the the wider Internet -- Second Life is much more integrated with the web, and therefore, arguably less "worldly".
  • Skyrim doesn't have much dynamic user-generated content -- but Second Life doesn't have "natural" dynamic user-generated content either. In Second Life, user-created objects artificially instantiate out of thin air. The user-created content of Minecraft, by contrast, is formed from wood, stone, and other natural materials harvested from the simulated world, which feels more world-like to me. In that regard, Minecraft is more "worldly" than either SL or Skyrim.
  • Skyrim is a single unified experience of a world -- Second Life contains multitudes of very different world-like experiences. A "world" that contains, for example, space marine shooters, fantasy MMOs, urban roleplay, furries, Goreans, real life educators, metaverse artists, and so on and on, seems less like a world, than a platform for multiple worlds.

Finally, many have raised the objection that Skyrim is a single-player game, whereas Second Life allows multiple users to interact with each other synchronously. That's true, but then, that means Second Life is more of a virtual community than Skyrim, but I'm not convinced that makes SL more of a world. Especially when most SLers have very different, very separate experiences of SL from each other. What's more, Skyrim does have an online community, with hundreds of thousands if not millions of users sharing their experiences of the world together. It just happens to be asynchronous, playing out on Reddit and many more online communities and users forums. Then again, that's how the majority of interaction and sharing happens with Second Life-related content -- not in the world itself, but on Facebook, Plurk, YouTube, Twitter, SL Universe, etc. etc.

Of course, none of this suggests Skyrim is superior to SL, or vice versa, just that they have their own strengths and weaknesses as virtual worlds. But I will say this: If you're interested in widening the market for virtual worlds (and I am), it's a good idea to widen the definition of the category, than narrow it.

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341bf74053ef0162fc63fbd1970d

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Is Skyrim More of a Virtual World Than Second Life?:

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Max Graf

Skyrim feels like a world to me. It has a much more planetary or unified, world-like environment. It's what I have tried to create and wish I could create better in SL, which just isnt possible. I was able to come much closer from a natural perspective with the cryengine than I have with SL, which seems more adequately described as a collection of environments rather than a unified whole. The grid is our world in SL, though is much more esoteric and implied. Skyrim is more visceral and present as a whole. It is more singular a presentation of a planetary or global experience.

catnapkitty

These observations hole true when comparing any MUD against any MUSH.

Skyrim, like World of Warcraft, is a MUD with pictures, much like SL is a MUSh with pictures.

The dynamic here has been at play and something we've all been seeing since the late 1980s when the medium of these virtual worlds first began to show up online.

MUDS will always present more natural seeming worlds if for no other reason than there are less conflicting hands in the pie. There may be more actual hands for some MUDS, but they tend to be of a unified 'managed' nature; Blizzard might have an army of developers, but they can only put into their MUD what their managers approve.

User generated content by its very nature means there will be one unique vision for every user that makes something. And that user is often less inspired to stick to her original vision, or even a branch off of it, through the years.

Max Graf

Additionally, I have to say that the single defining point which separates SL is the people. A population of constantly varying humans and the environments they create makes it vastly different. Skyrim, while globally more unified, is static. SL is alive.

Ezra

The very fact that you had to drilldown into all those distinctive differences is probably why "virtual world" shouldn't be used so generally. May as well say "software with graphical landmasses" if both Second Life and Skyrim count.

To a lot of folks, "virtual world" is a promise even Second Life hasn't completely fulfilled yet, but fulfills best of what's out there.

I agree the market for virtual worlds needs to widen, but not by changing the definition to be inclusive of everything from Second Life to Farmville to WoW to now Skyrim. I'm fine with labeling FarmVille a social game, WoW an MMO, Skyrim a single player RPG and Second Life a virtual world.

The definition of definition:

def·i·ni·tion   [def-uh-nish-uhn] Show IPA
noun
1.
the act of defining or making definite, distinct, or clear.

Let's not clutter what "virtual world" means.

Ciaran Laval

Surely Second Life is a collection of virtual worlds, we need to get away with seeing Second Life as one space and see it more as a collection of differing spaces.

Skyrim looks bloody awesome though.

Ann Otoole InSL

SL could have been made contiguous. But the tier for private estates would be $100 less per month and they would not enjoy the privacy they have nor the reduced lag because visitors to islands do not have to deal with the surrounding regions.

So what we have here is a need to better delineate true UGC worlds where you can build your environment from prepared canned content worlds where your content choices are defined for you. That is the real deal going on here.

Rocket

I think you have completely misinformed yourself. Linden Lab has never, ever, in any way promoted or defined Second life as anything other than a virtual community. not a virtual world. Second Life is not a game it is a platform of virtual reality. It is and never was meant to be constrained into a single world or environment and in fact was intended to be limited ONLY by the imagination and therefor was developed with the idea of no limitations.

However you have nicely compared apples to oranges and overstated the obvious for us in that skyrim and Second Life are nothing like each other for a reason:)

Ezra

Google "virtual world", see what bubbles to the top and why. The term is the very first keyword Linden Lab has had in secondlife.com's title, and appears all over the meta tags.

Linden Lab describes itself as a "virtual world company" and describes Second Life as a "virtual world" all over lindenlab.com.

I believe Linden Lab considers Second Life a "virtual world" WITH a "virtual community". The two terms aren't at conflict, one contains the other, that's all.

Hamlet Au

"Linden Lab has never, ever, in any way promoted or defined Second life as anything other than a virtual community."

Secondlife.com itself now says it's "the Internet's largest user-created 3D virtual world community". And before that, bore the slogan, "Your world, your imagination". And Linden staff frequently described it as a virtual world from its inception, both during public presentations and on its marketing copy.

Tateru Nino

The answer is either yes or no depending on how you define "world". Since nobody seems to be able to agree on that definition (what qualities enhance or detract from 'worldiness') and the dictionary is no help either - the question is essentially just meaningless noise, alas.

Vax Sirnah

Virtual reality is, as William Gibson put it, where you are when you are on the phone. That is, the virtual is a shared experience without physical proximity to determine co-existence. Before telecommunications you only shared an experience by being physically close to another. Telecommunication takes out that limitation (though we still use the same concepts to describe it - we are ON the phone, we are IN Second Life, etc).

A virtual world should be thought as a self-consistent environment. In that way SL more than qualifies. It has qualities that are ubiqutous no matter where we are in it - prims, avatars, sims, chat channels, etc. Differences like windlight settings or flight options aren't all that different than saying it is cold and wet in Seattle, but in San Diego, not so much. Still the same world, but variations within its bounds.

Now, skyrim does seem more familiar, because it is designed to approximate or suggest similarity to the physical. It is not more 'worldly' just more familiar. SL is, in many ways, an alien way of existing, when you look at it.

As for forums and such, those are just virtual worlds of a different type, or can be seen as extensions of the same worlds we are talking about, virtual or physical.

bongo

red is the new vanilla.

Mark C

"Skyrim, like World of Warcraft, is a MUD with pictures,"

No it's not. The MU in MUD stands for multi-user, and Skyrim is a single-user world.

Mark C

"I think you have completely misinformed yourself. Linden Lab has never, ever, in any way promoted or defined Second life as anything other than a virtual community. not a virtual world."

I guess that would explain this from secondlife.com: "Second Life official website. Second Life is a free 3D virtual world where users can..."

Linden Lab has been marketing SL as a virtual world from the very beginning.

Mark C

"Skyrim, like World of Warcraft, is a MUD with pictures,"

No, in fact it isn't. The MU in MUD stands for "multi-user." Skyrim isn't.

Arcadia Codesmith

"Skyrim is a single unified experience of a world -- Second Life contains multitudes of very different world-like experiences."

Herein lies an irony. A world with a strictly-enforced thematic setting SEEMS more like a world, because our storytelling brains like to have sensible, internally-consistant narratives (even if we have to fabricate them from scratch... or listen to somebody else who gets paid to fabricate narratives).

But the real world really isn't very sensible or consistant. It's chaotic, random, disorganized and would promptly be rejected by any sensible editor.

And that's one of the factors that makes Second Life more "worldly" and less "gamey"; it's not so much a collection of disparate worlds as a place where the worlds meet, mingle, clash and meld in interesting ways.

I hope that is always the case. Diversity is strength. If we were a roleplaying game, we'd be Callahan's Crosstime Saloon or the Floating Vagabond... a setting where the lack of uniformity and coherence between the narratives is integral to the stories set there.

Rin Tae

I guess it would tather come down to the definition of what a virtual world is. That has been already stated above so I would add to this and say that the difference between such a game and SL (besides the obvious of those two not having even the slightest thing in common) is, that while the game shows a world we can move in SL offers a actual world we can act in.

So in short, Skyrim shows us the representation of a consistent virtual world and SL is a (non consistent but still) virtual world. There is a big difference there.

Johnny alt

Skyrim is a wonderful but it is a one shot pony.

Secondlife is a platform, within which there is the potential for many varied worlds to exist.

Many continuous large scale game worlds like Skyrim could exist within the Secondlife platform if Secondlife sims were more affordable.

High tier costs are preventing developers from creating worlds like Skyrim within Secondlife.

Linden Lab currently gather approx. 80million USD per year in revenue. If they halved tier cost they would easily sell 4 times as many sims (and more) and gather 160million USD per year (and more).

The lower LL put the tier cost the more sims they will sell and the more Secondlife's potetial will be realised.

Worlds like Skyrim could easily be created in Secondlife if tier were lower.

Skyrim is but one world - Secondlife has the potetial to be the 'Mother of Many Wolrds'

Dizzy Banjo

"The MU in MUD stands for "multi-user." Skyrim isn't."

"A computer-simulated persistent world"

I think to me these two points are very important defining factors of virtual worlds.

ie - they are a place, a single simulation of a world which exists when you aren't there, and others can go to that same place with or without you at any time.

As far as I know, Skyrim is simulated entirely on each local machine with no multi user capability.

Of course many worlds are sharded, like WoW, but in this case the shards are genuinely persistent.

Maddy Gynoid

Two months ago I'd read in the Virtual World Blog a good definition of virtual worlds. This is more accurate than Wikipedia. Maybe a little help in the comparison between SL and Skyrim.

http://virtualworldblog.com/?p=102

Adeon Writer

If only SL had normalmaps and specular maps, it could look as pretty as Skyrim.

shockwave yareach

World of Warcraft is closer to the definition of a Virtual World than Skyrim. Never mind the issue of freedom to create your own things. In WOW, you can go anywhere and talk with others who are likewise there. There is real communication between real people. The only communication you have in Skyrim is with NPCs run by the computer. In Skyrim, it's just you and the computer; no chats with other players or ability to make your own stuff or anything.

If Skyrim meets the definition of a virtual world, then "Wolfenstien 3D" does also, and we had that back in 1992.

catnapkitty

""Skyrim, like World of Warcraft, is a MUD with pictures,"

No it's not. The MU in MUD stands for multi-user, and Skyrim is a single-user world.
"

Um...

In that case why does this article even exist?

If Skyrim is the new Pac-man; there is no valid analogy to map between it and SL.

The blog is comparing apples to Klingon eal pie.

And I'm left with no clue as to what the point of the article was.

Hamlet Au

"Two months ago I'd read in the Virtual World Blog a good definition of virtual worlds."

That definition is not bad, but it includes a 3D stipulation, which would disqualify many many 2.5D virtual worlds that are called virtual worlds and/or MMOs, and have tens of millions of users. Beware any definition where the subtext really is, "A virtual world is only the kind of the virtual world I'm interested in."

Anthony Fontana

"there's no one agreed upon definition of "virtual world".

Have you read Sarah Intellagirl Robbins dissertation on virtual worlds?

http://www.scribd.com/doc/51804009/Smith-Robbins-Dissertation-Final

It's a must read for anyone contemplating a definition of "virtual worlds".

Pussycat catnap

Did SL 'come into being' the moment the first server went live, the first avatar logged in, or the second avatar logged in?

I would say, and I think most schools of philosophy hold this view as well about 'RL' - it came into being the moment the -second- avatar logged in.

For a virtual world to be, it has to first be a world. Then you can start muddling about with whether or not it is virtual.

A world requires consciousness, and relativity for that consciousness. One mind is not enough; creation did not exist until God popped down Adam so he had someone to talk to. :)

Pussycat catnap

Curiously enough, I've been reading a book about the birth and growth of the Rastafarian religious movement that has the best definition of a virtual world in it...

In a section on Language Symbolism wrapped around why we use 'I and I':
Quote of Will Herberg, explaining Martin Buber's I-Thou relationships, on p.144 of "The Rastafarians" by Leonard E. Barrett:

"Primary words do not describe something that might exist independently of them, but being spoken they bring about existence.

The existence of I and the speaking of I are one and the same thing. When the primary word is spoken the speaker enters the world and takes his stand in it."

- This is why a world is not a world until it contains consciousness, and something for that consciousness to relate to. A mind has to stand up and identify itself as existing, and another mind has to be there to be other than the first, for that communication to have relevancy.

A virtual world is no different, and I'm fuzzy about where I recently heard this expressed, NPR, the book I'm reading, or some online article... but we've been making worlds ever since the telephone allowed us to frame a space that was not the physical (hope that's not from one of the posts right above me and I'm -that- forgetful. :) ).

- A world is about the consciousness within it. That's when it exists.

All worlds are virtual in a sense. But a virtual graphical presentation is not a world until it has minds within it communicating. Someone has to step up and become 'I', in a context where there are others around which to give that frame meaning.

Skyrim is just a prettier Pac-Man. A video game, from the sound of it here. Not at all a world.

Post a comment

If you have a TypeKey or TypePad account, please Sign In.