Online / offline portraits

June 20, 2007

They’ve been floating around for a while now, but it’s only just occurred to me to actually mention them in this blog…

The photographer Robbie Cooper has collected a series of portraits of meat-space computer users and juxtaposed them with images of their online avatars, publishing them in a book you can get yer mits on here. I first heard talk of these on BoingBoing which then, more recently, led me to a slideshow at New Scientist, accompanied by a brief audio explanation of a series of these lovely two-sided photographs.  You can view the slideshow here.

What first grabbed me was the wonderful quality of Cooper’s portrait photography, but it soon becomes apparent that the range of different people and avatars is the most intreaguing story on show here. Some use online worlds for escapism, some for real-world money-making. Some avatars are almost exact replicas of their meat-space counterparts, others give no hint as to the qualities or identities of their controllers. One particularly fascinating image shows a young boy with severe muscular dystrophy, only able to move his thumb in the physical world, and his rather classy robotic avatar in the online world – able to interact with people in a way never available to him in meatspace.

I haven’t ventured far into mmorpgs or the likes of Second Life, myself, but I’m increasingly of the opinion that I should have another look…


Online Games Are Dictatorships, possibly…

April 17, 2007

Probably one of the most famous cewebrities out there and person I agree with almost more than anyone else on earth, Cory Doctorow, has written a fascinating article in Information Week today – ‘Why Online Games Are Dictatorships’. Thankyou, Cory, for writing this at just the time I needed to research such things!

Can you be a citizen of a virtual world? That’s the question that I keep asking myself, whenever anyone tells me about the wonder of multiplayer online games, especially Second Life, the virtual world that is more creative playground than game.

These worlds invite us to take up residence in them, to invest time (and sometimes money) in them. Second Life encourages you to make stuff using their scripting engine and sell it in the game. You Own Your Own Mods — it’s the rallying cry of the new generation of virtual worlds, an updated version of the old BBS adage from the WELL: You Own Your Own Words.

No more physical sales of digital artefacts?

February 5, 2007

From the Observer

A ban has been imposed by eBay on auctions of virtual items from online games such as EverQuest. For years, players have sold virtual items that can give an edge. On eBay last week a pair of EverQuest game accounts had a first bid of $200 before they were removed.

‘Our standpoint is that everything in our games is the property of Sony Online Entertainment,’ said Greg Short, director of web development at Sony, which publishes EverQuest. ‘We can’t say definitely if it’s illegal,’ said eBay spokesman Hani Durzy. ‘It’s complex. And when something is complex like this, we have a history of disallowing the items.’

It’s interesting that ‘virtual’ items can be so highly valued in ‘real-world’ monetary terms, but of course this is nothing new. Work on RPG characters has been advertised in geek-mags between players for years and years, but with World Of Warcraft and Second Life growing so enormous, the practices are certainly more noticable.

…Particularly to the companies who own these worlds. Note that Ebay is not cancelling these auctions because they’re ridiculous (I don’t think they’re ridiculous, but admit it – you know lots of people who would) but because the owners of the world concerned regard all objects in those world as their own and not for sale. So, if you pay to use a workshop out here in the physical world, are the things you make there your belongings, or do they have to stay in the workshop when you leave? Tricky. I think most people’s initial reaction would be that they belong to you – you paid fairly for the time and the use of tools, and the workshop owners didn’t make the artefacts, did they?

On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of examples where just the opposite is true. All my design work for my university degrees, for instance, does not belong to me. The university retains intellectual property over all of my work, and it’s olnly through an understanding of fairness that I’m allowed to even put a portfolio together at the end of my years of blood, sweat, tears and poverty.

‘Ownership’ and ‘property’ are ideas which are much more complex than we realise, and I think most of us believe we own much more than we really do. I, like many, think IP law is in dire need of re-assessment. Expect to see more about this.