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1:20pm on Friday, 30th September, 2005:

Chaotic Good


When I was a student, I took to programming because I could use computers to do amazing things. Yes, I did all my programming assignments, but in my spare time I played with them for fun. In my recent talk at WAAG (300M of .mov available at http://connectmedia.waag.org/media/cybsal/CYBSAL20050921B.mov), I posited that in those days, the best programmers had the same attitude because there weren't the tools available. This would explain the "hacker ethic", which seemed to arise independently in computer labs the world over. In D&D terms, I'd be described as having a Chaotic Good alignment for programming: I made my own rules, and I did it to make the world a better place. This is a little ironic, as I invariably played Lawful Good characters in D&D, but what the heck...

My wife is two years younger than me. She's also good at programming, but her interests ae in problem-solving rather than playing; for her, a program is a puzzle, not a toy. She'd be Neutral Good: she doesn't care where the progam comes from, but she wants there to be some point or benefit to her doing it.

Today's programmers are trained to be Lawful Neutral. In the olde days, we called these people code bunnies: they program whatever they're told to program, and don't care what the program is about; they program because they're paid to program. They're why outsourcing works.

There's an exception, though, and that's computer games programming. Programming computer games is still enough of a black art that quirky, creative people who enjoy the playing and the puzzles-solving of programming can find a niche. There isn't a game out there that has gone from specification to product without changing from having passed through the minds of its programmers. Games programming attracts the Chaotic and Neutral Good and is much the better for it.

So here I am at Ted Castranova's Ludium I, and Ted is bemoaning the fact that none of the big funding agencies deigned to turn up despite the fact that the attendance list reads like a peerage of virtual world experts. He asks how we can get a $50m project completed without being given the $50m necessary to do so, and his answer is: students. Students already program in their spare time for fun and as intellectual exercises, but in a disorganised way. If that enthusiasm could be harnessed and organised, we could have a commercial quality virtual world for practically nothing. The results of this Ludium will give them their focus.

This is a good idea, and Ted has the charisma to pull it off. ITU in Copenhagen is doing something similar, but that's come from the ground up (the students organised it, not the staff). It'll be interesting to compare the two when they're completed.


The ITU project is in the old tradition. Students get together and write what they want to write because they want to write it. It's how DikuMUD was written; it's how AberMUD was written. Come to that, it's how MUD1 was written. It might be rubbish when it's finished, if indeed it ever is finished, but it'll be different. These people are Chaotic and Neutral Good, not Lawful Good. Lawful Good is for coursework, not for fun.

So if this Ludium does produce some ideas that the student body can take and run with, it must leave them with some free time simply to play. The Neutral Good programmers won't mind working on it 100% of their time, but the Chaotic Good need room for their own ideas.

Otherwise, where are the new paradigms going to come from?

Referenced by Gamer.

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Copyright © 2005 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).