Thursday, February 01, 2007

Are All 3D Worlds Games?

Clay Shirky again, is not a fan of VR but having been challenged in his opinions, he keeps mulling the problem over, and not being a dumb guy, he zeros in on the issues. This one is better reasoned. It supports what some have been saying: games are a category of real-time 3D, a genre, and the genre has special qualifications that make this category different from VR. Equating all 3D with ‘games technology’ as some do isn’t a very good categorization and the analyses resulting are flawed.

I concur. On the other hand, I think his magic circle analogy while correct misses the obvious unstated fact: the engine of immersion is positive and negative feedback, all that ANY human interface requires to achieve immersion, and it is the same engine driving search technology. Games simply narrow the rules and acceptance of the rules like the suspension of disbelief in dramatic presentation is the crucial buy in. Shirky is actually trying to diminish the status of real-time worlds such as Second Life, but he is stumbling around the right concepts at last, and that is progress.

3D, unlike the naive Wladavsky-Berger comparison with broadband, is not a push technology: it is a pull technology where the database is the human brain. Shirky is almost there in what he is saying but missing the critical distinction that any interface can be made to pull. 3D is quite a bit better than some alternatives and this isn’t limited to sexual expression. He is being male and somewhat childish there. A good looking avatar works for many applications and as fascinating as that is, it can be combined as sex has always been combined in marketing advertising with other stimuli for different tasks.

Still, he is making a good case that low-feedback VR worlds don’t compete well even where MU. Determining ahead of the design what the rules are and what the buy in has to be by the user to accept those rules is crucial to good design.

The SIMS inventor has some good points about GUI design in these worlds that ought to be reviewed by everyone, particularly, that the first tasks on entering a world should teach the rules for navigating it. I am surprised but humbled by the fact that most people I demo for don’t know to press the left mouse button, hold it down, then push it in a direction. Then when shown that, they are very bad at it for the first five minutes. Then they get proficient and if I try to correct anything they do, they resist me and keep whacking away. That is a good thing. They are getting hooked by the struggle and the need to prove themselves. Only after I show them how to follow Kamala and that she leads them to cool presentations do they start to notice the music and actually get hooked into the content the world is wrapping. Then they ask me if they can ‘fly’ and I show them the right-click menu. Then they ask me about having an avatar of their own, and I show them the choice on the right click menu. Then I sit back and watch.

Will they come back? Maybe, maybe not, but I built the world to sell the music, not the other way around. Once they buy it; I'm done. :-)

So there is an aspect of game in every world we build but how we emphasize it and how we get past it, those are the delicacies of our craft.

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