A few weeks ago in one of the massively podcasts a readers question popped up about whether or not an mmo without conflict could even work, Second life was given as an example during this time but for some reason it was automatically rejected. I read a lot of people dismissing second life out of hand for no real reason other than that gamers always seem to need a game, platform, program or whatever to make fun of.
Now I can’t say I like Second Life at all as it just isn’t my style of game, I enjoy the conflict that comes in the games I play but even I can’t help but applaud the varying mechanics in Second Life that have made it fundamentally different then just about everything else available. Conflict is nowhere near the focus of Second Life, I would say it is more akin to a virtual Facebook then the conflict based mmo’s that it is compared to. But it is more than that as well, while there is a large social component to the game it is mostly built around the idea of creation.
There are multiple types of creation ranging from creating relationships, communities, items, landscape and more but what having such creation types as a focus does is change the focus away from short-term gain into long-term goals. My husband has been playing Second Life near exclusively going on for 5 years now.. yes 5 years, a very long time for any game really. At first he was just aimlessly wandering around the landscape but as he has gotten comfortable he has branched out into many different areas. He has been building houses and surrounding areas for years now and enjoys the act of creation immensely as it gives him a lot of purpose at times. I have seen him spend weeks just getting one house absolutely perfect not because there was anything to gain from it but solely that the act of creation is its own reward.
It reminds me very much of what I see at work all the time and the way children develop a capacity for creation. At first play revolves around destruction.. breaking sandcastles, toppling towers and all that. This is how a child learns more about the world and the properties of different materials, by deconstruction but then this slowly develops into something resembling construction.
The way mmo gameplay is now I would say the focus on conflict is very much like this urge for destruction, destruction is fun, it helps us learn and creates a staging point to learn about mechanics but destruction has a definitive shelf life of interest. It is immensely fun too but that fun lasts for very little. The fun is defined by a single or limited act as it is for the child as well. Creation on the other is only constrained by the imagination and tools of the individual. It is boundless in many ways and as children develop into this play we begin to see more defined and focused play that can sustain them over much longer times ranging from hours, to days, and even weeks in the form of creating their own rules for games.
The way I see mmo design now is that the 3 monther revolves around this limited act of destruction, it has a defined end that is unavoidable. This type of game really only plays into the basic forms of play we learn in infancy.. it is raw, undeveloped and primarily based on certain base feelings. Games like Second life however have a foundation that is far more evolved than these basic play types and revolves around creation as a community. I want to see more mmo’s tap into these feeling once more, they were there in games of old but for some reason they were no longer developed in favour of a more narrow and structured approach towards destruction It is just very limiting to the experiences we can have and the sustainability of the payers attention, yet it can be so much more.
Adding the social experience into this becomes another element entirely.