November 04, 2003

surprise! it's your digital life!

Michael Malone thinks he knows Why Those Young Men Aren’t Watching TV Anymore: they're online, playing MMOGs like CounterStrike. (Update: fixed the broken link 11/09/03 23:09)

The months following the introduction of Counter-Strike saw an explosion of teams, or "clans" from around the world forming to compete in the game. These clans, with tags like Ecolithic and SK, typically began as groups of friends, like Andrew's buddies at Homestead High School. But as competition and contact grew, increasingly other players from geographically diverse locations were recruited (these days the most powerful clans are Scandinavian).

Tournaments also began to appear, and with them, a group of players so expert that they went professional (the Cyberathlete Professional League), complete with sponsors. Today, some of these pros can make as much as $100,000 per year. This being tech, it wasn't long before various "mods" of Counter-Strike also appeared, as did specialized software to produce unique weapons, "skins" and skills. So did cheat software — followed, of course, by a small army of volunteer administrators to try to keep the process relatively honest.


[W]e are seeing (or more accurately, failing to notice) the rise of a new sub-culture, formed online but increasingly encompassing everyday life. If you look closely it's everywhere — not just in Counter-Strike and its counterparts, or in the Sims Universe, but also in the vast encyclopedia sites like Everything2.

In Korea, a game called Lineage attracts 150,000 players each night. And new technology is being introduced to allow an unlimited number of players to compete simultaneously without the constraints of individual servers. Something big is emerging here. And it is ready to erupt through the surface of society. Technological changes like this always arrive with a bang — one day you've never heard of it, the next you, and millions of others like you, are immersed in it. It is only in retrospect that you see that there were some warnings, some omens, you never noticed. I think this recent collapse of young male television viewers is one of them.

It's really quite fascinating to me that these other-worlds exist on such a large scale, and yet even as an aware and interested technologist I rarely encounter direct evidence of them. Yes, of course I know about Lineage, Everquest, and the Sims Online, and Julian Dibbell's quest to make a living wage in the Ultima Online economy, and Bruce Sterling Woodcock's ongoing monitor of MMOG subscription data . But as far as I know, I don't personally know anyone who actually lives in these alternate universes. Well, since I quit active MOO-ing a few years ago, that is ;-)

Maybe this will change. The statement "Technological changes like this always arrive with a bang — one day you've never heard of it, the next you, and millions of others like you, are immersed in it" reminds me of how the Internet arrived with a bang, some 20+ years after the first four BBN IMPs went live and ARPANET was born. If you happened to be paying attention, the signs of what was to come were fairly obvious. But if you weren't, then the Net and the Web felt like a tremendously fun surprise party that started in 1993. Similarly, the signposts pointing to the rise of online worlds have been out there for a long time for those paying attention. When I first discovered Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer's paper "The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat" in 1991, it was a revelation (other excellent Habitat-related writings archived here). Now these systems are common, and they are starting to spill over into real life. They are starting to be less like games, and more like communities, economies, and societies. Maybe the surprise party really is about to start.

I hope there will be cake.

Posted by Gene at November 4, 2003 04:49 PM | TrackBack
Post a comment

Remember personal info?