The everyday blog of Richard Bartle.
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12:52pm on Friday, 31st July, 2009:
I was supposed to be in Leipzig today. By now, I should have met Ralph Baer and delivered a "brief commentary statement" to a room full of German politicians and journalists.
Well, I'm sure they all read QBlog anyway, so here's what I was going to say:
- I felt very honoured when the organisers of the Games Convention Online invited me to speak to you this afternoon, and it was with great pleasure that I accepted.
- It was also with some surprise.
- Not because I'm in any way humble.
- Rather, it was because the opportunity to talk to such a group of interesting and interested people existed at all.
- In the UK, the opening of an event like this simply would not attract this kind of audience.
- That may explain in part why we don't have events like this in England...
- In Germany, people who don't know about online games seem willing to make an effort to understand them.
- In Britain, they try very hard not to understand them.
- Because then it's so much easier to hold the right opinions about them...
- Germany is very much ahead of the UK — and most other European countries — in this regard.
- So, online games: they've not had great treatment in the past, on account of how they combine two things that scare people:
- 10 or 12 years ago, "online" was a frightening thing.
- I have books on my shelves back in my office warning that the Internet:
- Is addictive!
- Turns ordinary people into monsters!
- Is a danger to children!
- That's not just some part of the Internet, that's "the Internet" — email, the world wide web, search engines — all of it.
- They include case studies, in which distressed wives talk about their husband's unhealthy addiction to chat programs.
- Why does he spend so long on the computer when he should be watching television with me?
- Today, these concerns about "online" are no longer treated seriously.
- So many people use the Internet now, it's obvious that these earlier concerns were misplaced.
- Some individual web sites are harmful.
- There are groups of people that society does need to be concerned about.
- However, "online" is no more dangerous than "books" or "films".
- Which brings us to games.
- Germany is a world leader in games.
- Not computer games, games in general — board games.
- Well over half the games for sale in my local board games shop are translations of German games.
- The rest are collectible card games...
- If you said to people that board games were dangerous, they'd think you were mad.
- Some of the boxes are quite heavy, I guess you could do a bit of damage if you dropped one on somebody from a height.
- Computer games, though?
- Well here again, Germany is ahead of much of Europe in that you at least recognise that there are different kinds of computer game.
- Tetris might eat up hours and hours of your time, but it's no more a danger to society than are crossword puzzles or Su Doku.
- Yes, newspapers and politicians in some other countries do still lump them all together like they used to with "the Internet".
- Britain is one of those countries...
- However, this means that instead of criticising all computer, German newspapers and politicians can concentrate their fire on particular types of game.
- You seem to be particularly against first-person shooters, or "ego shooters" as they're known here.
- This just looks weird to players of these games.
- That whole thing about replacing blood with green gloop or robot parts? Like that would make a difference?
- Fortunately, it's dawning on people here just in time that actually, first-person shooters aren't all that harmful either.
- Doom, the game that kicked off the genre, appeared in 1993.
- All those 15-year-olds who played it when it came out are now 31.
- They aren't crazed murderers.
- Just like with books and movies, almost everyone can tell the difference between reality and fiction in games.
- Players can sometimes get extremely immersed in a role, yes, but so what?
- How many actors who have played murders on stage have been turned into murderers because they immersed themselves in the role?
- People always feel anxious about things that seem to affect their children's lives, but which they don't understand.
- They can't keep their family safe if they don't know what they're keeping them safe from.
- What they need is better information, so they can make an informed choice.
- There could indeed be games out there that people shouldn't play.
- Just as there are films they shouldn't see and books they shouldn't read.
- Not all of them, though!
- So, what about online games?
- There is a wide variety of these.
- Puzzle games, casual games, classic games like Chess, gambling games, ...
- Some of them look so little like "computer games" that people who are against computer games will happily play them.
- Very wide player demographics, too.
- More women play them than men.
- More older people play them than younger people.
- Other than being online, what do they have in common?
- They are inherently more social than off-line, single-player games.
- Even when they're single-player themselves.
- They're more accessible.
- Easy to find people to play with.
- You can play them from anywhere with an Internet connection.
- They cover many more subject areas than single-player games.
- Because on the Internet, a minority is still a lot of people.
- Because they can be much less expensive to make — players don't expect high-end graphics.
- They make software piracy difficult.
- You'll see and hear more about them if you come to the rest of the conference.
- So many people have an understanding of this, that today no-one could credibly argue that "online games" in general should be banned.
- Whether as "online", as "games" or as "online games".
- What about specific kinds of online game, though?
- This is where I come in.
- The most expensive, most compelling and most unlike-anything-offline games are Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.
- I co-wrote the first of these back in 1978.
- This is why I get to speak to you today.
- Almost every MMO today is a direct descendant of that first virtual world, MUD.
- Now if you're worried about games and worried about the Internet, then MMOs are going to scare you witless.
- There is nothing in the real world that's like them.
- Except perhaps role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons, which also scare you.
- In MMOs, people visit an imaginary world that is presented to them as if it were real.
- They pretend to be a hero in this world.
- Most are Fantasy genre, so you might be an elf or a dwarf, and use magic.
- There are others — Science Fiction, Superheroes, Pirates, Ancient Egypt, ...
- You can see the world through your character's eyes, as in an ego-shooter.
- People play them in a way that can look obsessive to non-players.
- They spend 2 to 4 hours sitting alone at the computer.
- Every night, week after week, month after month, year after year.
- Over 20 years in the case of some of my players.
- Some of the biggest of these worlds are specifically targeted at children.
- They run constant automatic behaviour checks to spot paedophiles.
- Now already, this is looking quite alarming!
- Ego-shooter, addiction, antisocial, child protection, ...
- Yet MMOs are incredibly emancipating!
- They're not so much games as places.
- They also turn some of the common assumptions on their head.
- For example, you can see through your character's eyes, but you can instead choose to see from a camera position some distance behind if you prefer.
- 2/3 of men prefer the third-person view
- 2/3 of women prefer the first-person, ego-shooter view.
- They have uses beyond games - in education, training, research, therapy, business, retail, architecture, ...
- There are also effects that MMOs, through their players, have on the real world.
- Some to do with rights and freedoms.
- Awkward things for some politicians to hear.
- Others to do with sharing culture.
- All to do with becoming better people.
- I'll be talking about this in my own presentation on Saturday.
- Don't worry, I won't be cross if you're not there...
- Online games in general, and MMOs in particular, have a real chance to change society for the better.
- Yes, we really are talking about something with the potential to have that big an impact.
- That's one reason why the Games Convention Online is so important.
- These next few days give an insight into what the next many years will turn out to be like.
- Imagine a conference 15 years ago about mobile telephones.
- Who could have imagined back then how much they would change society?
- If anyone had said that you'd have one, your children would have several, and they'd use them mainly to type messages to each other, would you have believed them?
- This conference is the same thing for online games.
- It's like a crystal ball through which you can glimpse pieces of the future.
- I said at the beginning of this statement that I felt very honoured to have been invited to speak to you.
- I wasn't making this up just so you'd like me, I really am very honoured.
- I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to explain, even if I haven't done so very well, why you can all feel pleased and proud that Leipzig is hosting this conference at such an important time.
- For historical and linguistic reasons, Germany doesn't have a very large computer games industry.
- If it continues in its forward thinking, though, it will deserve — and will get — a very large and influential online games industry.
- I for one will be very happy to see this happen.
- All I want is better online games.
- Thank you.
I should note that I am quite aware that German politicians have already taken steps to try and kill off their nascent games industry. I chose not to tackle this head on, though; after all, I was a guest in their country (well, I would have been if I'd been able to go). Instead, I took the approach of explaining what the German game industry has going for it, in the hope that the politicians and journalists would realise they have already lost. A German couldn't have used this tactic, because they couldn't have pretended not to know that there were moves afoot to ban violent
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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (firstname.lastname@example.org).