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红楼&游戏

一位红楼爱好者&游戏策划的blog

 
 
 

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我们身处在一个悲哀的国家, 我们同胞的血脉中流动着短视的劣根性, 我所从事的行业正处于黑暗的时代, 我没有热血,但一息尚存。

网易考拉推荐

《Only A Game》书摘  

2006-02-07 18:21:09|  分类: 默认分类 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Introduction

When virtual journalist Peter Ludlow was banned from the digital world of The Sims
Online for being a bit too good at his job, it wasn't the end of the story but the
beginning of the headlines that would capture readers around the world. Only A Game
follows Ludlow's career as a virtual journalist as he and colleague Mark Wallace take
us behind the scenes into not just The Sims Online but a fascinating universe of worlds
that are far more colorful–and, at times, more disturbing–than their creators would
have you believe.

When Ludlow, a professor of linguistics and philosophy at the University of Michigan,
began reporting in his virtual newspaper on the cyber-brothels, real-life crimes and
strong-arm tactics that had become rife in The Sims Online, the game's creators,
Electronic Arts and Maxis Software, found an excuse to ban him from the game. Their
tactics backfired, however, as publications from The New York Times to the BBC to
CNN covered the story and the cry of "censorship!" was raised all over the Internet.
Only A Game tells Ludlow's tale and follows him as he takes his newspaper to the
powerful digital universe of Second Life, where he and Wallace continue to delve into
the nature of virtual worlds.

from Chapter One: The Death of Urizenus

It was a quiet night at the Alphaville Herald. The newspaper had been put to bed and a
man known as Urizenus, its publisher, was as usual the last one in the office. He
busied himself closing up shop, tending to fireplaces and cleaning up the messes that
had accumulated over the course of the day. It took a few minutes to get Uri's cats,
Cheddar Cheese Cheetah and a tabby named Black, back into their cages. Then he
turned out the lights, locked up for the night, and headed home.

Alphaville never saw him again.

Late that night in December 2003, Urizenus was snuffed out, his life terminated by a
powerful unseen foe. His cats remained in their cages at the Herald offices, never to see
their master again. His killers robbed him of his money, emptied his bank account,
made off with much of his equipment and supplies. The Herald's legal editor managed
to have ownership of the newspaper's offices transferred to her, but in effect that game
was over, the brave little newspaper that had only just begun to make waves had been
put to bed for the last time.

And make waves the Herald had. It had been launched only six weeks before, but in
that short span of time the newspaper had become a force to be reckoned with. Once
the first edition hit Alphaville's streets, things got busy fast. Almost before he could
venture out in search of stories, the news started coming to Uri, as his friends called
him. Alphaville residents showed up at his office door unannounced, with stories,
scoops and complaints about local politicians, hoodlums and scam artists. Uri listened,
investigated, wrote up what he found. Though he never expected his little publication
would become so influential, the Herald fast became the voice of the people, and gained
a loyal following as a result. Of course, it had made not a few enemies since that first
edition had appeared. The voice of the people was a muckraking yellow tabloid, as far
as some were concerned. Around Alphaville, you either loved it or you hated it–but you
could not escape its roving eye.

But now Urizenus was dead. Whoever it was that had hoped to smooth the ripples the
Herald had caused had prevailed. At least for the moment.

Other publications picked up the story. The widely read online magazine Salon.com
raised the question of censorship through murder. A few weeks later, Uri's death made
the front page of The New York Times, which used the case to explore issues of free
expression and of responsibility and governance in small towns like Alphaville. CNN,
the BBC and newspapers from London to Moscow to Madrid all sent reporters to
Alphaville to cover the story.

But the police were never quoted. There was no mention of a trial. No bereaved
relatives surfaced to deplore the killing. There was not even a murder weapon that
could easily be brought to hand.

Because, in fact, there was no body. The "newspaper" that had given rise to a small
international sensation had never actually appeared in print. Coverage of Urizenus's
murder did indeed appear in major news outlets around the world, but most of that
coverage focused less on the details of his death and more on the uncertain boundaries
that separate the real from the imagined, and on the grey area that divides the
concrete world around us from the virtual world that exists only thanks to modern
technology–a world whose mere existence is a question of some debate.

For Alphaville, you see, was not a physical place at all but rather a kind of collective
digital fantasy, a place that existed somewhere between the data stored on a network
server in Silicon Valley and the thousands of people who logged onto that server each
day. Urizenus was not a person, at least not in the conventional sense, but only a
digital representation of a person, an entity known as an avatar, in an online world
with tens of thousands of participants who hailed from all over the real, offline globe.
Uri's cats were really virtual cats, mere pixels on a screen, controlled by software
subroutines running somewhere in California. And Uri's money, though convertible

into hard cash, was not denominated in U.S. dollars but in a currency called simoleans
that could be spent only within the confines of the online game world known as The
Sims Online.

The Alphaville Herald, however, was a very real publication. While it never took the
form of ink on paper, it existed as a Weblog outside The Sims Online (or TSO, as it is
commonly known), and ran stories three to five times each week, covering events that
took place in Alphaville–or, depending on how you preferred to see it, events that took
place on the computer network server known as Alphaville, one of the dozen or so
servers that collectively made up the world of TSO. And it pulled no punches, a fact
that presumably caused much chagrin in the corporate offices of those who owned
TSO's servers and ruled them with god-like powers.

For the mystery of Urizenus's death was never a whodunnit; the culprits were clear
from the start: Uri's killers were agents of Electronic Arts Inc., the multi-billion-dollar
game company that owns and operates The Sims Online. More intriguing than who did
it was why. What was it that Urizenus said or did or knew about the goings-on in
Alphaville–or was on the verge of discovering–that inspired EA to terminate his avatar
with such extreme prejudice? Was there something about EA itself that the company
was eager to quash? Were there really such explosive stories to be found within the
realm of a world like TSO, stories that blurred the boundaries between reality and
virtual reality? The Alphaville Herald was an online newspaper covering imaginary
events in an imaginary world. And yet it had inspired EA, the company behind that
world–the Oz-like men behind the curtain, if you will–to step out for a moment to
exercise their power, and to violate the fiction on which the world's existence largely
depended. What could have mattered so much to them if The Sims Online was only a
game?

The answer lay as much in what kind of game TSO was as it did in what kinds of
stories the Herald was printing.

###

from Chapter Four: A Day in the Life of a Techno-Pagan Newsroom

It wasn't all headlines and heresy around the offices of the Herald. Uri made sure his
staff had their fair share of fun as well–particularly in the drowning parties he held
periodically around the Church of Mephistopheles's moat-cum-swimming pool.

Although the worst that can happen to an avatar whose attribute bars go all the way
into the red is that he or she passes out, "death" is possible in the world of The Sims
Online. An old lamp may electrocute your Sim, an industrial accident may kill you
while you're at work–or you might tire yourself out while swimming, and drown. The
consequences aren't dire, but they are inconvenient. A headstone shows up near your

place of departure and your avatar becomes a "ghost" for a period of hours or days,
unable to take part in most of the activities of the world, save for haunting other Sims
or examining your own ghostly entrails.

In keeping with his role as a dark priest, Urizenus had trained in certain skills that
gave him a talent for resurrection, and among the services he offered at the Church
was a revival ritual that would sharply reduce the amount of time a "dead" avatar
would need to spend in limbo. At his drowning parties, Uri advertised cash prizes for
the last Sim swimming, and dozens of avatars would show up at the church to jump in
the moat and chat and carry on until they got tired enough to drown. The edge of the
moat became littered with gravestones over the course of the night and at the end of it
all someone walked away with a one-million simolean prize–about $40 at prevailing
exchange rates on eBay at the time.

Uri's resurrection service occasionally attracted Sims who had died at home or work
and simply needed to be brought back to life. One of the avatars who availed herself of
Uri's shamanistic skills was the infamous scammer Evangeline–at the time known as
Voleur, the French word for "thief." Evangeline's ghost arrived at the church one day in
a sequined gown, modestly announcing she was "Queen of Alphaville." So notorious
was she by the time the Herald started publication that a visit from her constituted
nothing less than the patronage of a "cyberlebrity"–a virtual celebrity overdue for
coverage from the Herald, in Uri's view.

While Uri's initial feints at information-gathering drew nothing but coy responses from
Evangeline, it was clear there was more to the story. While her property, the Free
Money for Newbies house, occupied the most popular slot in the game's Welcome
category, Evangeline also had more than sixty red links on her avatar's profile, making
her one of the most widely hated Sims in Alphaville.

The charges against Evangeline–that she scammed newbies out of all their cash before
they'd even had a chance to get started in the game–were fairly serious in the context
of TSO and something Uri felt the Herald should be covering. But short of Evangeline's
confirming the allegations, which she was clearly not going to do, Urizenus had few
hard facts out of which to craft a story. So rather than rely on hearsay and allegations
about what went on at the Free Money for Newbies house, Uri hired an undercover
reporter named Sheryl Hanson, a newbie herself, equipped her with 30,000 simoleans
and sent her out with the assignment to go get herself scammed at Evangeline's.

That proved easy enough to accomplish. Though Sheryl got nothing but a slap in the
face when she first tried to talk to Evangeline about how she could get some of the free
money that was ostensibly on offer, one of Evangeline's roommates, a female Sim
named Cari, offered to help her out. Cari instructed Sheryl to open her trade window–
an interface that lets Sims swap items and money back and forth, or simply give
something to someone else–and type 99,999 into the simoleans field. When Sheryl

clicked the "approve trade" box, Cari told her, the interface would automatically adjust
to the actual amount of simoleans in Sheryl's possession. As Cari put it, this would
safeguard against the Free Money house getting scammed itself by Sims who actually
had more money than they needed. If Sheryl's account really did have less than
100,000 simoleans in it, Cari said, the Free Money house would happily match her
funds and she could double her money.

The TSO interface for swapping items between players is similar to that found in many
MMOs. One side of the trade window displays the items you are offering for trade,
while the other side displays those being offered by the avatar you're trading with. To
use these interfaces properly, it's best to wait until both sides of the window are filled
to your satisfaction before you press the "approve trade" button. Even then, it's best to
hover your cursor over the "cancel" button in case the other party suddenly withdraws
some items before completing the trade. The only time you'd want to approve a trade
while one side of the window is empty would be if you were simply giving something to
another player.

What the Free Money house counted on, however, was that most TSO newbies would
be unfamiliar with the trade interface, and would simply follow directions, approving
the trade while there was nothing in the other side of the window for them to receive.
Sheryl played along, and sure enough, Cari clicked her "approve trade" button while
her own window was still empty, thus receiving the 30,000 simoleans Sheryl had
offered as evidence of her need. As predicted, Sheryl had been scammed.

Like a good cub reporter, Sheryl pressed Cari for an explanation, but she was simply
ignored. Wondering how Evangeline felt about the incident, Sheryl turned to her for
help, but was told to "go jump in a pool and drown to receive one million simoleans."
With little evidence that this sum might be forthcoming were she to do so, Sheryl
returned to the Herald and filed her report.

As a result of the story, Uri got his interview with Evangeline a week later, and
followed it up with a second interview soon after that. In them, Evangeline admits to
scamming newbies and oldbies both, with the help of a few friends, out of something on
the order of $200, or about 8 million simoleans, every month. "I don't pay $10 a month
[in subscription fees] to care about others," Evangeline said. "In real life there will
always be a villain, and I'm glad I can fulfill that in TSO. Without me in the game, I
think it would grow old. Now players can feel like they have a mission rather than just
to skill." On the other hand, Evangeline added, "There's a sucker born every minute."

###

from Chapter Five: More Than Monopoly Money: The Economics of Virtual
Worlds

It's difficult to grasp where the value of virtual goods comes from–and what it may lead
to–in part because it's hard to see how something of value can be created by playing a
game. No automobiles, no cell phones, no widgets or gadgets or cogs or guns or butter
are being made, but value is created for all that. But how?

It only tells half the story (the economist's half) to say that game currencies are worth
real money because we've agreed it is so. The other half of the story (the gamer's half,
which is intimately tied in with how value is created in online worlds) can be discerned
in the fabric of the rich and intricately textured virtual worlds that players, by their
very presence there, help create.

One is tempted to think that life in an MMO consists of little more than performing a
pre-determined set of tasks like killing monsters and searching for treasures, and then
being rewarded by the game company with a few bits of information–the loot. But
much more goes on in virtual worlds than only that. The players who move through
these worlds help fill them with stories and relationships and characters that the
games and their developers could never create by themselves. The true heroes and
villains of virtual worlds are the players–the knights and rogues and guilds and clans
and virtual families, the scammers and griefers and anti-griefers, the DJs and
ladykillers and even the techno-pagan priests, all the players that compete with one
another, wage wars and hold grudges, hack, slash, steal and heal, start rumors,
nurture legends, tell tall tales and share just plain old good times.

To a certain extent, the software that comprises an MMO is only an empty shell, a
blank canvas on which the players paint their histories and together create a shared
culture that can be as rich and compelling as any in the real world. And therein lies the
value. Obviously, games are not blank slates. Developers spend thousands of hours
designing a game architecture that will attract users and enable them to create the
kinds of narratives mentioned above. But without either component, the value found in
these worlds does not appear.

When a World of Warcraft guild mounts a raid or takes on a rare end-game quest and
the tales of their heroics spread across the forums and from fan site to fan site it adds
to what each player receives in return for his or her subscription fee. The stories that
are told–stories that wouldn't be possible without players to have lived them first–raise
the value of the game and its virtual furnishings, and the value of "buying in."

Even a virtual newspaper like the Herald–which was so cheaply printed that it tended
to leave ink stains on your avatar's fingers–contributes to this process by helping to
identify virtual heroes and villains, by propagating lore within the worlds that it
covers, by celebrating the residents and narratives of those worlds and by providing a
window onto them for potential immigrants who simply hadn't found their way there
yet.

Most game companies, of course, don’t see it this way. In their view, the entirety of
content is provided by their artists and developers. The player is merely a consumer.
But massively multiplayer online games, by their very nature, aren't places people
come to simply kill monsters–they can do that just as easily (more easily, in fact) in a
single-player offline game.

Gamers come to virtual worlds because in them they find more than a game, they find
other gamers. They come to compete with each other, to collaborate with each other, to
learn from each other, to profit from each other, to talk to each other in the game, at
the coffee machine at work or in chat rooms on the Internet. Players come to MMOs to
interact with other players, and in that way, MMOs are a very special form of
interactive entertainment, in that they derive their value mainly from the fact that
there are other players there.

Game companies may provide the software and design infrastructure that make value
creation frictionless, but it is the players that ultimately contribute much of the value
both to the games and to the items that are used within them. The scarcity of a
powerful weapon is part of what determines its value in the market. But that weapon
is valuable to players because it is something that enables heroism, that gives them a
chance to build their narratives within the world.

The most important function MMO makers can fulfill is to establish conditions that let
players create robust, collaborative works of constantly evolving fiction, endless stories
that say as much about the players as about the game. This is done in part by
establishing quests that send players off to challenge themselves in various ways, and
by providing rewards like gold and loot. Difficult quests are rewarded with rare and
valuable items, but they are also more valuable in their contribution to the game's
overall narrative structure. Killing a rat on the platform while you're waiting for the
Deeprun Tram from Stormwind to Ironforge, for instance, doesn’t contribute as much
to the narrative as does a multi-guild attack on a supposedly unkillable monster. The
fact that items like powerful swords and rare pets are worth real money to the players
of these games–the fact that people play these games at all–is as much the result of the
shared narratives that happen in a multiplayer world as it is the result of any careful
economic planning on the game company's part.

---

In many respects, the day-to-day economies of virtual worlds resemble those of
countries on earth, with the main difference being that the markets within virtual
worlds are not as free as those of most earthbound countries. The prices of most goods
and their level of production (i.e., how much is available from NPCs and how often they
drop as loot) are set by the game's designers, not by the forces of supply and demand.
(This is less true in some worlds, including EVE Online and Ultima Online.) One
strategy designers may choose in the future is to participate in game markets in the

same way that the Fed does, by attempting to achieve a small number of economic
targets through market operations like buying up game currency or releasing
additional loot.

But design is not the same as power, and the current participants in virtual
economies–the players and residents of virtual worlds–often wield more power than
some designers give them credit for. In Second Life, for instance, a group of residents
banded together in 2003 to decry the taxation policies of Linden Lab, which the
protestors felt unfairly burdened those who created the largest, most impressive
builds–the builds they felt contributed most to Second Life society. A similar protest
took place in Ultima Online after a counterfeiting bug caused runaway inflation. In
both cases, the company behind the game was forced to respond.

These may seem at first glance like amusing cases of unusual types of role-playing, but
nothing could be further from the truth. For the truth is that virtual world economies
are extensions of the economy of the "real" world. Because real world currencies are
involved, there is nothing "fake" or "merely play" about them. As of September 2005,
one U.S. dollar bought about 282 Linden dollars, plus change, on
GamingOpenMarket.com, the main currency exchange for Lindens. In July 2005, one
U.S. dollar fetched 248 Lindens. If your Second Life business is pulling in a million
Lindens a month (as more than one SL business does, according to Rosedale), that's the
difference between $3,546.10 in gross revenues in September and $4,032.26 in July,
almost $500, or a difference of almost 14 percent. For any small business out there,
that's a meaningful impact on the bottom line. If your mortgage is $4,000 and you're
counting on your SL revenue to pay it, you're in the red this month. And we haven't yet
taken out operating costs, not to mention taxes.

At least ten million people around the globe subscribe to one or more virtual worlds (by
some estimates there are twice that many), and that number has been growing in leaps
and bounds in recent years. In Korea, which has widespread broadband access and an
enormous MMO population, more young people now play online games each night than
watch television. How many profit from these places in a financial as well as
recreational sense is impossible to know at the moment. But that number, too, is
clearly growing. And as virtual worlds increasingly move away from the pure "game"
paradigm of Ultima Online and World of Warcraft and begin to become synthetic
"worlds" with robust economies like Second Life and (to a lesser extent) The Sims
Online, the potential for real economic impact grows as well, and not just in the U.S.
and Europe. If a Chinese gold farmer can raise his standard of living through a
membership in Ultima Online or EverQuest II, the implications are staggering.

At that point, the question of who controls virtual worlds takes on startling
significance. Virtual worlds are currently an entertaining form of interactive art, for
the most part, the province of corporations who naturally wield a profit-driven control
over who has access to which features of their software. But what happens when

virtual worlds become the thriving online societies that are already starting to appear
in germinal form? What happens when making a living in an online environment
becomes a viable, not-at-all-outlandish alternative to holding an office job, building a
career or opening a business? Who will govern those societies? Who will say who can
come and go, and what they can do there?

###

from Chapter Ten: Murdered!

In the wake of Urizenus 's ban from The Sims Online, Ludlow found himself assaulted
on all sides by posters on blogs and message boards all over the Internet. As 2003 ended,
he reflected on his time in TSO, and what the future might hold for virtual worlds.

The shifting deadlines, the selective enforcement, the charge that Ludlow had
"cheated" in TSO while he couldn't possibly have been logged into the game–it had
gone beyond the Orwellian and was now beginning to feel positively Kafkaesque.

What was darkly comic about the whole thing was that it was taking place in a
realm that, to Ludlow at least, had such great potential. Cyberspace is arguably
humanity's last uncharted frontier. How it's governed will have much to do with
what becomes possible there and what benefits we can reap from it. Where most
people saw only a game, Ludlow saw true societies springing up, little colonies
where people had the opportunity to enhance their earthbound lives. What the rules
would be in these places was important. And the rulers seemed to be whimsical
despots set on entrenching themselves in power and profits, just as real-world
despots do. To the skeptics, virtual worlds were merely corporate applications, and
corporations could do as they liked. Was that how the rich metaverse that was
cyberspace would develop? It was saddening if so.

The end of December 2003 found Ludlow reflecting on the events of the previous three
months. Without ever intending to, the Herald had created quite a splash. What had
begun out of curiosity and what seemed like a natural role-playing choice had grown
into something bigger than that as Ludlow had learned more and more about the
nature of online worlds. Far from being "only a game," it seemed impossible to separate
what went on in a world like TSO from what was going on in the "real" world. There
was simply too much interplay between the two, too much that traveled back and forth
too easily. What he'd learned was that the virtual world wasn't virtual at all; it was
simply an extension of the physical world into a realm where the interactions took
pixelated form–and where those interactions could even echo back into physical ones
down the line.

Ludlow spent that New Year's Eve with his seven-year-old daughter. In the morning
they logged onto TSO on a borrowed account to see the old Herald headquarters, and

talked about why Urizenus had been terminated (along with his pets). His daughter
giggled at the thought they were doing something naughty by going back in the game,
and expressed her anger with EA for killing the cats Black and Cheddar Cheese
Cheetah.

After they logged off, Ludlow began to reflect on what kind of future was in store for
his daughter, and for the other children that would some day be living much of their
lives online. It was entirely possible that his daughter's generation, or perhaps the one
after that, might spend the majority of their careers working in online spaces. Their
social and family contacts might take place principally in a virtual environment like
The Sims Online or Second Life. Their political discussions might occupy a place like
the Stratics forums. The idea was not far-fetched at all.

But would the online worlds they inhabited enjoy the freedoms we so value in our
offline lives? Or would they be run by corporate tyrants who insisted that principles of
free speech and liberty did not apply to their realms? Would they be at the mercy of
capricious overlords who might evict them from their work spaces, play spaces and
educational spaces without explanation and without the possibility of appeal? Would
his daughter one day lose the privileges that Western democracies had secured only
through centuries of struggle? If so, would those privileges and rights be taken away
not by terrestrial governments but by the large corporations that "owned" the
bandwidth? Would government by the people become government by CEOs, software
designers and omnipotent (and un-elected) moderators and administrators?

His musings put him in mind of the battle on EverQuest's Rallos Zek server, in which
the leading guilds had put aside their differences and banded together to defeat the
supposedly unkillable monster, the Sleeper. That afternoon, he posted the Herald's
final story of 2003, expressing the wish that the word–not just the virtual world–take
heed of the brave guilds of Rallos Zek and unite against similar challenges wherever
they might be found. Of course, the real foe on Rallos Zek was not the Sleeper, but the
gods who controlled the server itself–the suits at Sony Online Entertainment who had
reset the game when it became clear that their monster was about to be destroyed.
TSO, likewise, had its own gods, gods that rarely appeared except to intervene when
they smelled danger in the form of legal exposure or bad publicity. That New Year's
Eve, Ludlow resolved that the next step for the Herald would be to find out more about
these gods–that he and the Herald staff would now dare to peer behind the pixel
curtain.

"We all have unkillable monsters in our lives, both online and off," Ludlow wrote. "My
New Year’s wish is that the citizens of Alphaville stop fighting each other, recognize
our true enemy, stand together, and fight the unkillable monster–The Sleeper–of our
world.

"How big is your game?"

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