Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Virtual Worlds, New Worlds?

(N.Y. Times article, you know what to do). This article deals with the making of Tho Fan, a new language created specifically for the computer game Jade Empire. The language joins Klingon and Elvish (sorry, Quenya, Sindarin and Telarin) as one of the growing number of invented languages created to give fiction more depth. It is interesting that language is so important to lend credit and depth to a story; possibly because language often shapes how we think and how we explain the world around us.

To me this is just another example of the cultural significance that computer games are acquiring in modern society. There can be little doubt now that games are now an art form, as worthy of scholarly interest as movies, theatre and dance. Games are increaingly displaying sophisticated storylines, character design, interactivity and complexity. I would even say that games have a greater potential than many other art forms. For example, in film and theatre you are presented with sealed stories that you must accept as given. With games, you are often the protagonist, and you may actually write your own story as you go along. Better AI and more complex gaming options allow gamers can choose how a story or a character develops. Then, there are huge virtual worlds in the shape of MMORPGs where users can interact with people from around the world (or from the closest server).

Does this have anything to do with the law? It could. To me, the most interesting thing about games, and particularly about MMORPGs, is that they are a large experiment on regulation and law-making. How do people deal with a vast new online world where they can do what they please? Do players revert to the basest human impulses and descend into anarchy? Does altruism exist in virtual worlds? How do players regulate their actions? Do they rely merely on the game makers to act as law-makers? Are there different social norms that affect virtual players? Does the architecture of the game determine the behaviour of the world?

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