Here's a great recent talk from MMO pioneer Raph Koster who gives a breezy history of virtual worlds, outlines their massive influence on tech culture and the mainstream*, then closes with an ominous warning to the new generation of virtual reality developers: "Heed the lessons of your forebears: From whence you came, so shall you be. The future is still MUD-dy." After watching, I got in touch with Raph, who explained more about that last point of advice:
"VR is just a rendering tool," Raph told me. "It's a window through which we see a virtual space. But virtual spaces, and especially virtual places, and especially the inhabitants and their behaviors, are OLD and well-studied and if you don't go look at that history, you're going to replicate some mistakes on a very large scale."
I'm biased, but I definitely agree. To take just one example, VR developers now are probably underestimating the problem of griefing and harassment, an ongoing challenge with MMOs for decades, which becomes even more problematic in immersive VR. However, most VR developers on the latest platforms seem to assume the key problems are technical, rather than cultural and social -- which only means they're setting themselves up for a rude awakening.
*I don't totally agree with Raph on all the influences of MMOs, by the way. He's right that Bitcoin would almost certainly not have happened without virtual currency/gold farming, but I think it's a stretch to say MMOs inspired Facebook. Early social networks like Orkut definitely did draw from MMOs, but I think BBSes and online forums were more generally influential for the rise of Facebook and the like.
Hat tip for the video: Gwenette Sinclair.
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