Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Sci-Fi MMOs and Star Trek

There has been a lot of talk about what form the Star Trek MMO might take over the last few weeks. I noticed it as a topic on Elder Game, Ancient Gaming Noob and West Karana at least. I planned to discuss what form I would like to see a Star Trek MMO take and as a set up I wanted to expand on my earlier comments on sci-fi. Well my expanding got quite.....expansive so I'll leave the Star Trek specific discussion for a later post.

I'll be raising some questions about sci-fi and MMOs. I will not be attempting to answer them.

What kind of issues could sci-fi in an MMO be used to address:

  1. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank: The New Deal, the Marshall Plan, and the Keynesian economics they were based on were a product of the tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Large corporations and governments were forced to strike a compromise with labor because of the threat of radicalization. Without the Soviet counterweight, laissez-faire capitalism has reigned as envisioned by economists like Milton Friedman. This counter-revolution has been spearheaded by Chicago School insiders in the IMF and the World Bank with their refusal to grant debt relief and new loans unless countries lower perceived trade barriers. Take Star Trek as an example here, what has happened with the end of Klingon-Federation conflict? What social bargains forged in the light of that conflict have been eroded? Who has taken advantage? What is a good metaphor for this kind of situation?
  2. Group Think: Many people are concerned that things like Youtube, wikipedia, and Myspace will lead to group think instead of independently driven opinions. In a future setting the availability of this outlets and the number of people participating in them will have increased exponentially. Did these kinds of sites lead to group think? Was this a good or bad thing? If it was a good thing what were its benefits? If it was bad were controls placed on it? Is there an interesting metaphor for this in science fiction?
  3. Illegal Immigration: We are not the only country dealing with this issue. Right now there are thousands of Palestinians crossing the border into Egypt on TV. What kind of metaphor can a science fiction MMO draw up for this? This could easily tie into the first topic.
  4. Virtual Property: The very idea and nature of MMOs should be up for discussion in a science fiction MMO. Surely things like replicators can be used in a way to look into the issues surrounding ownership of virtual property. Is there a good metaphor for gold selling? Could we have a virtual economy existing inside the virtual economy of an MMO? What would the implications of a capitalist virtual economy existing inside of a socialist real economy be?
  5. Terrorism: What causes people to resort to terrorism? Is it anomie? Do expectations placed on the individual by society exceed their ability to accomplish them by legitimate means? Are they out of reach even by illegitimate means? What does a person do when faced with this? Or are some people just evil, a bad seed? Will it always be impossible to stop people from engaging in terrorism because there is some kind of spiritual or genetic flaw? Is it possible in an MMO to construct economies/situations in which players find themselves resorting to terrorism? Perhaps even suicidal terrorism in an MMO with permanent death? Will other players see them as a hero?
Another question is, can a participatory metaphor even work on an MMO scale? Can a participatory metaphor work well at all? If we cannot have a good meaningful interactive form of metaphor can games ever truly be art?
If we are going to have science fiction MMOs lets actually use them to explore issues the way that good written sci-fi has done. Fantasy works well for fulfilling hero/achievement myths, it is silly to re-skin them with spaceships and say we have something different. Science fiction is not just cool gadgets it is speculative fiction, it is asking "What if...?". It is also a special kind of mirror that allows us to examine our own flaws while pretending to examine our children's.
If you are not going to explore what could be, or reveal what is then pass the broadsword and give me another adolescent male power fantasy. It is OK they are fun...


brenda said...

Of course, "fun" is the real problem. As those researchers with their Shakespeare MMO found, you can make an MMO, but if it isn't fun, people won't play. Fun implies excitement, and that usually suggests action of some sort or some sort of novel interaction with other people -- and by the time we've added fun to a game (or, put the fun in first which is the best way), we've already strayed pretty far from the kinds of stories SF tells best.

Now, let's say we take a page from "A Tale in the Desert" and tell a story of sorts, with an ending. Since we no longer need to keep stringing people around forever, convincing them that obsessive-compulsive repetitive actions are somehow enriching, we could perhaps just tell a *story* -- and since the player doesn't have to commit several months of their lives to it, perhaps they would want to be a part of a world where something specific was happening, and they could change how things were going.

I like your plot suggestions... inventive :))

-- Tipa @ West Karana

rmckee78 said...

What you say is true. I will have to spend some time thinking about fun and the other questions I asked. Thank you for the comment.

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