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Can I bring my flame thrower into Second Life?

October 10, 2007

You know that antsy feeling you get when your World of Warcraft avatar has attained Level 237 (or whatever the top level is these days) and you start yearning for new worlds to conquer? Well, good news may be on the way. IBM is teaming up with Second Life-creator Linden Lab to, as Steve Lohr reports, "develop open standards that will allow avatars to roam from one virtual community to the next. The goal is [to] let a person create a digital alter-ego that can travel to many virtual worlds, keeping the same name, look and even digital currency." And weaponry, I assume.

I'm not sure that IBM and Linden have fully thought through the consequences of bringing the globalization ethic to the virtual realm. About five minutes after the gates come down, all the residents of Second Life will have been made the slaves of powerful Warcraft clans. Peace-loving cyber-utopias will see their unnatural resources strip-mined by invading tribes. Economies will collapse, currencies turn to dust. Corporate headquarters - like the one IBM has in Second Life - will be looted and burned. Vast, globe-spanning empires will rise and then, as decadence sets in, fall. Man's entire bloody history will play out at Internet speed.

It's going to be a lot of fun.


Having survived seven years of EverQuest (1 and 2), a year of World of Warcraft and a very brief couple of months in Second Life, I am all in favor of The Horde from WoW (as well as other MMORPG avatars) invading the fey and poorly programmed world of Second Life and laying waste to it and its virtual citizens.

All virtual worlds are ultimately a time sink, but the over hyped Second Life is a dark spot on the mental X-ray of the Internet.

Posted by: Mike Drips [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2007 12:55 PM

Nick: your flamethrower will be mapped to some other tool appropriate for the new environment.

Of course, the mapping will be described using a pedantic W3C specification (always incomplete, hammered out over three to five years) which will be implemented three different ways by five different vendors, all buggy. Of the five vendors, only three will be responsive to fixing different subsets of their bugs, and two vendors will claim their bugs are actually correct interpretations of the W3C spec.

Then a different group of vendors will hammer out an abstraction layer to normalize these bugs across the five vendor platforms. They will then cut the supported "A-grade" vendor list to three, with "graceful degredation" if you use one of the other two.

Of course each abstraction layer will have bugs too, but you will be able to hire consultants from IBM who are well-versed in any one of the abstractions (but will claim to be well-versed in all of them).

Then four of the authors of the original W3C spec will write/blog how the vendors all "got it wrong" and how the users "don't get" the power and versatility of their spec. They will give utterly trivial isolated examples of how powerful the spec is, and make some money on consulting/conference fees. One of the spec's authors will resign from W3C in disgust.

So it will probably work out fine ;)

Posted by: dubdub [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2007 02:21 PM

Party pooper.

Posted by: Nick Carr [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2007 02:27 PM

My fey, poorly programmed Second Life avatar feels a premonitory chill, and begins to think about building a giant fort and raising an army of peons wearing free T-shirts from various businesses.

Unfortunately, since I don't know enough about programming to make my fort defensible, I may just have to retreat and regroup with pencil and paper roleplaying.

Posted by: aettien [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2007 03:07 PM

The mind boggles at the thought of errant avatar’s sowing seeds of destruction through new conquerable worlds.
The time rich and creative souls who will bend virtual reality into shapes and forms not yet imaginable will not leave us wanting!

I will sit in my avatar free zone and watch with great glee as worlds crumble whilst keeping the corner of my eye upon the real world, these shores. It appears ready to implode under the weight of staggering debts and loss of so much constitutional history . . . . . . . . . . must stop . . . . . . . . palpitations!


Posted by: alan [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 10, 2007 05:52 PM

Option 1: You flame thrower will be interpreted as a dance move in Second Life — something slick like slide and stop, swoosh, clap and go! — perfect match for the environment.

Option 2: Bouncers will find you flame thrower annoying and will store you in an instantly built cell with 30-foot thick marble walls, rather insensitive to you flames, whether verbal, virtual or thrown.

Being inventive is the best of all weaponry: haven't you seen Matrix?

Posted by: Bertil [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 11, 2007 05:08 AM

Actually, your comment, while being funny and sarcastic, perfectly "hit the nail":

As someone actively involved in this industry, I think the announcement is great and will be seen by many as a kind of accolade for virtual worlds technology. I would not hold my breath for any quick results, though. Interoperability is NOT achieved by technical standards alone (they are an important foundation, though). Virtual worlds will be much more diverse in many ways, than some business people (who sometimes tend to forget that these platforms are used for entertainment purposes first) envision.

I would like it to cross more easily between different virtual worlds (and the web), of course. I am not sure, how much of my avatar (besides the name) and of my virtual posessions I will be able to take with me. :)

Some reasoning behind these doubts here:

@dubdub: mappings are a great concept ... in theory. Thats, why I find your vision of an overengineered, though imperfect connection network of worlds, domineered by a set of two or three strong players, not too implausible at all.

All the other aspects of the IBM/Linden agreement (besides just "universal avatar) are interesting, too - and might be more easily achieved because they can be tackled "under the hood" of the virtual worlds machines.

Posted by: Markus Breuer [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2007 02:48 AM

Anyone remember the movie Westworld? I'm with Nick, it certainly will be fun... so long as you're watching from the outside...

Posted by: Timh [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2007 04:28 AM

My knowledge of World of Warcraft is based solely on the extensive spoof done by South Park. I have taken a look at Second Life and was not very impressed (but I expect that Nick's estimates about how much electricity is used is about right, once you appreciate that nobody plays WoW or Second Life 24 hours a day except for the guy in South Park "with no life" - look it up on YouTube). I will make a few more aside jokes, but I am quote serious about my ideas.

The interchange format is the key, but having interchangeable avatars for games is an unworthy application to drive the process. How a flamethrower maps from one game to another is entertaining but not very important or informative. A worthy application would be Knowing the Truth, in the style of Robert McHenry's book "How to Know". David Weinberger in his March 2006 talk "Authority of Wikipedia" at the Berkman center also talks about "how to know" but, unfortunately, David is a lightweight in the technical details of the matter.

I added some comments to a previous RoughtType (RT) post, "The mind-reading computer", about what is a worthy application: determining the Truth. As an amateur futurist who knows a bit about why the Internet works well, I envision a group of disparate servers all attempting to be something like Wikipedia. China's fairly reliable (if somewhat censored) Baidu Baike is a good example. "The Truth" would not come as a simple single answer, it would come more like "Family Feud"'s audience survey as a spectrum of possibilities from an aggregation of information/truth servers on a spectrum of possibilities with some kind of "probability" value for specific possibilities. It would not be a matter of RT's "Neurotic bots rule" article where computers took over and ordered us to initiate a nuclear Armageddon with the Sword of a Thousand Truths (oops... South Park slips in again), but akin to serious applications such as the way we ask a network of bank telling us how much money we have. In that same style, we might seek the known truth from this distributed system of knowledge/truth servers. In order for these systems to work together, they would need an interchange format designed to facilitate the exchange of assertions of fact. (There might be "wisdom" servers based on first order predicate calculus as well, but that is quite a different domain). Perhaps it could even transcend different languages. You could have servers that specialize in only some portion of the Dewey Decimal system. The terrain of a worthy video game that might us that network of truth servers to present an "augmented reality" (virtual reality or VR). I mention in RT's "Your life is an open mine", where it is not your marketing data, it is your current GPS info, you CAT scans and your genotypes and floorplans of your work and home, a car with maybe the correct license plate number (or good guesses - with appropriate disclaimers straight from Monty Python "It's only a model.").

That interchange format might look more like BGP (an Internet "routing" protocol) rather than what DNS and domain names are based on (which require a central registry - and how DNS really works these days is too complicated to get into here. One more DNS aside: DNS has a carefully engineered concept of "authority" vaguely like what Weinberger means when he uses that term). The network as a whole would converge on stable results for "The Truth" and feed games based on a thick substrate of reality but allow, of course, for a fun, thin and ephemeral layer of fantasy. (With, of course, some that are "themed" with World of Warcraft, with flamethrowers, et. al., to blow away your boss or Osama or Adolph with) When starting, you might choose an "augmented reality" server you like, just like you do now in Quake-like games such as Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (which is mostly open-source already).

Such a network of VR servers would accelerate the dissolution of privacy in real space on the Earth's surface. It would be low-rez at first, but get steadily higher-rez. When you browse satellite maps, you would know quite a bit more about what you are looking at. Of course, if you look at where you really are in reality and then looked at this VR...(full stop) In cosmology, there is a theory that, in a closed universe, if you had a telescope of high enough resolution, you would see the back of your head. Oh, and do not ask if God is dead: the Internet knows the true answer but it does not map well between different VR implementations on version 1.0 of the interchange format.

That would be a worthy application for such an interchange format. Aaron Swartz helped write the RSS 1.0 Specification when he was 14 years old. Creating a fact-assertion interchange format cannot be that difficult a job (famous last words).

Posted by: SallyF [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2007 04:44 AM

Despite that fact that Japan often recognizes good ideas early, their record of creating new world-changing technology is spotty. Java 1.0 came out in 1996 and became popular because it allowed applets to run in different web browsers fairly well. IBM got on the bandwagon in about 1997 with The architecture of aglets to allow autonomous software agents to roam the Internet in search of a machine to consume its CPU time. Ten years later, they still maintain a page at IBM Japan research, last updated in 2002. I also mention Japan's open-source operating system TRON (not the movie), which got its start long before Linux.

Posted by: SallyF [TypeKey Profile Page] at October 12, 2007 05:47 PM

I've been in Second Life for a little over a year now. I honestly don't think we'd go down that easy to the hordes of WoW players. I don't think anyone has mentioned the Grid Armies of Second Life, which include everything from Tribes using Bows and Arrows, to Sci-Fi armies with blasters, ray guns, and massive space ships. Plus if any one sim, a parcel of land in Second Life. is starting to lose groud, we'd have a griefer come in and crash the sim before the enemy could take it for their own. Scorched Earth policy-style.

Posted by: Magunamu [TypeKey Profile Page] at December 27, 2010 08:01 PM

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