Good Grief Its Nearly Gone
by Jessica Mulligan
So, we come up on the end of another year. I had hoped to be able to do a round-up of a number of recently launched MMOGs, but only Turbine's Asheron's Call 2 has launched this year so far, and I haven't had time to really dig into it yet; as soon as I do, I'll give some impressions on it. As for the rest, Funcom launched their booster pack to Anarchy Online, called The Notum Wars, on November 29 and Electronic Art's highly-anticipated The Sims Online is scheduled to launch on December 17.
And that's pretty much it for this year. Sony's Star Wars: Galaxies, the other major, anticipated title, has slipped to January or February, and UbiSoft's Shadowbane, scheduled to ship before Christmas, 2002, has slipped again, this time out to May, 2003. Codemasters' Dragon Empires has also been pushed out to the Spring of 2003. That's too bad; if every persistent world that was scheduled top ship had, in fact, done so, it would have been a real smorgasbord for people like me. It would have required a clone or two to play them all in a timely manner. That's what we in the industry call a 'high-class problem,' and it is OK with the likes of inveterate online gamers like, well, me.
Without lots of persistent worlds and MMOGs to talk about, I'm at something of a loss for a compelling single subject for this week's column (Translation: she got busy during the holidays and forgot a column deadline was approaching), so we'll just skip around a bunch of subjects instead of like, you know, actual creative writing like they pay me to do.
More on Story and Path
Somewhat to my surprise, columns 37 and 38, Don't Tell Me a Story, Mommy and Show Me the Path, continue to elicit comment in the message forums here on Skotos. After a month, I'd have expected interest in column 37 to have expired by now, but the posts just keep coming. Not only that, the quality of thought put into them remains high, which is exciting, if a bit humbling. The same goes for the more recent Path column; the issues of the how, when and when to work with storylines in persistent worlds is obviously something in which the community at large is putting quite a bit of thought. Readers interested in the discussion of those two columns should also check out Richard Bartle's Notes From the Dawn of Time, also found here on Skotos. The Good Doctor is still one of our best when it comes to melding the issues of design, business and technical issues. I was first introduced to Richard by Bridgette Patrovsky, my co-author on the book Developing Online Games: An Insider's Guide, in the early 1990s and have discovered that wise folk carefully consider his words; nuff said.
And speaking of Developing Online Games: An Insider's Guide, we've been moved from the Prentice-Hall imprint to New Riders and a new publisher, Stephanie Wall. She tells us to expect the book to hit the shelves sometime between the end of January and mid-to-late February. Bridgette and I are happy with the change and can hardly wait to see the book out on the shelves. More on that as it happens.
Art Imitates Gayness, or Something Like That
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, I was party to a very interesting and spirited discussion regarding the homophobia that sometimes seems endemic with the young crowd that makes up the trench troops in the videogame industry. Well, it started as a discussion on homophobia, then turned into the question of whether this was just young men being young men and somehow ended up in a hotly divisive debate on whether or not it was homophobia in games and other media creating an atmosphere that made using such remarks as That's so gay!" to denote disapproval an acceptable thing.
Being a transsexual and having had such comments used to my face, this is not a subject I'm likely to remain passive on, but I think my friends were surprised by my stance. It is not what you might think.
If you have any life experience at all, you know that life rarely imitates art and, when it does, it is usually by mental defectives that the human gene pool would be better off without or by the occasional enthusiastic young kid who hasn't yet discovered the true meaning of the phrase common sense." The so-called television show Jackass is a good example of the former and the three or four kids who tried to imitate the TV show MacGyver back in the ancient 1980s by making a hang-gilder out of a tent shell and bubblegum and launch it from the roof of a house is a good example of the latter. In a world population of six billion-plus, there are always going to be a few yahoos who can't tell the difference between special effects and reality. In a very cruel but real sense, it is evolution in action.
No, art almost always imitates life and the baser the art, the more base the imitation. If it is common among young men ages 15 to 30 to be homophobic, then it is going to show up in the base art that is representative of our media today. Except in very rare cases, art doesn't dictate to society what the attitudes will be; it is exactly the opposite that is happening. Most art is done to make money and those who want to make money tend to cater to attitudes, not seek to change them. I happen to believe that the best art does seek to illuminate both our good and bad points and seek change for the better, but like everything else, the 'best' represents a small fraction of the overall whole.
So my point is what, you ask? Homophobia isn't caused by games, or TV or movies or books, nor is violence or pretty much any other attitude you can name. When it shows up in them, it is merely an expression of a phenomenon present in society. You may not like it (and believe me, most times I don't), but that's just the way it is. In my personal opinion and experience, such things aren't influencing change in anyone; they are simply catering to the crowd. The thing to understand is this: Attitudes change over time. What is not accepted today will almost certainly be accepted tomorrow or vice-versa. A year or two years or a hundred years after that, the attitude may change again. You can't just think in terms of the immediate, however much it might be personally painful today.
And you certainly do not want to get into the position of trying to mandate change by trying to make some phrases or acts forbidden to be shown in any media. Not only is it futile, as the attitudes exist at the societal level, not the visual, artistic level, it is self-defeating. Trying to forbid anything provokes a reaction. Sometimes the reaction is small; not very many people commit murder just because it is forbidden, for example. Sometimes the reaction large; Prohibition in the US in the 1920s didn't slow alcohol consumption one whit, because the attitude at the time was that the law was boneheaded. When it comes to peoples attitudes, most times you just have to do the best you can with persuasion and let the chips fall where they may, knowing that all things change over time. Patience is indeed a virtue.
This attitude of mine surprised some of my friends in the discussion we were having; they expected me to come down on the side of mandating change of this kind of thing through legislation and law, I think. I laughed and told them with all the bad press the gaming industry is getting these days, in five years parents are probably going to prefer their kids be gay rather than be gamers.
At which point, we'll no doubt see the release of Grand Theft Auto 8: Dude, Nice Butt. Attitudes may change, but bad taste seems to be a universal constant.
There is one more column due before the end of the year (I'm taking December 31 off with all the rest of you, thank you very much), and I'm hoping to put enough time into both Asheron's Call 2 and The Sims Online to talk about them coherently. And that column about whether persistent worlds need fewer or more moving parts is still gnawing away at the back of my mind, trying to eat its way out and onto paper. And there are still about a dozen games I want to play, including MechWarrior 4: Mercenaries, which I haven't even had the time to install yet, and there is all those persistent worlds shipping between now and May, and a second book to finish and more relatives to visit...
Looks like it is going to be a full new year.