World Enough

Game theorist Tom Chatfield and Second Life creator Rob Humble discuss how to engage players within virtual worlds.

Humble believes the secret to sustainable virtual worlds is meaningful user-created content and interaction “so that [users] are not waiting for developers to be making all the content.” World of Warcraft would disagree, and seems to have succeeded through precisely the model Humble denounces. What both models share is a system that fosters interpersonal relationships and constructs social models and hierarchies within that system. Both feature currency to reward invested time, but currency also translates into in-game goods that pander to our desire for social status and the admiration of our peers.

The discussion reminds us of social facets of virtual worlds, but does little to address engagement beyond mirroring real life and making it more rewarding. Is it possible to create engaging, personalized narratives for each player, all interweaving and coming together to form a larger story with different points of view? How do we do this while preserving a sense of agency for the player?