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1/52 Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story IT University of Copenhagen, June 20 th, 2003 Lisbeth Klastrup.

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Presentation on theme: "1/52 Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story IT University of Copenhagen, June 20 th, 2003 Lisbeth Klastrup."— Presentation transcript:

1 1/52 Towards a Poetics of Virtual Worlds Multi-User Textuality and the Emergence of Story IT University of Copenhagen, June 20 th, 2003 Lisbeth Klastrup Ph.D. defense

2 2/52 Agenda Why this project? A new approach Objectives What is a Poetics? The Research Findings Further Research

3 3/52 I. Why this project?

4 4/52 We all build worlds of fiction

5 Understanding Interactive Fictions General interest: How do we experience and ”read” new media fictions such as interactive narratives or games? My previous research: Single-user interactive works of fiction

6 6/52 Cyberspace can be seen as an extension, some might say an inevitable extension, of our age old capacity and need to dwell in fiction Benedikt (1991): Cyberspace – First Steps

7 Interactive Fictions Online – a mindboggling experience Interactive fictional universes in a networked version Which allows you to move around inside the fictional world And are inhabited by several users at the same time

8 8/52 What is a virtual world exactly ? Computer-mediated Networked Multi-user environment Spatially navigable Inhabitable Persistent Large enough to encourage exploration & feed imagination

9 9/52 What does a virtual world look like?

10 10/52 An example of an early virtual world MozartMUD, estab. 1990

11 11/52 Habitat/WorldsAway, 198? Early graphical world

12 12/52 An example of a newer virtual world Cybertown, estab. 1999

13 13/52 EverQuest Planes of Power trailer

14 14/52 EverQuest: - from my point of view

15 15/52 EverQuest: - from my point of view II

16 16/52 II. A New Approach

17 17/52 Previous research in the field  Lack of literature which surveys the entire field  Existing literature consist mostly of articles or anthologies  The monographies known presents mainly one theoretical perspective or examine only one or very few worlds  Either from the designer’s, system developer or the researcher’s perspective

18 18/52 My research intended to… n Present a (first) overview of the field in monographic form n Present different perspectives on the field in order to capture its complexity n Develop the ”textual” perspective on the field (expanding Aarseth, Ryan etc) n Allow for comparative studies of worlds n Ground itself in actual empirical studies

19 19/52 Concrete objectives 1. To outline a precise and exclusive description of what a virtual world is and following, to relate the properties of the virtual worlds to the properties of the internet as a medium of presentation

20 20/52 Concrete objectives 2. To trace and describe the history of virtual worlds and the emergence of various genres of worlds

21 21/52 Concrete objectives 3. To identify the specific theoretical perspectives needed to provide a full understanding of the phenomenon

22 22/52 4. To outline a basic analytical framework with which to approach the study of worlds in existence Concrete objectives

23 23/52 5. To refine the analytical framework through empirical studies of a number of worlds - from both the player’s and designer’s perspective Concrete objectives

24 24/52 The End Goal Outlining a Poetics ”Poetics” however not as prescriptive dramaturgical guidelines (such as those put forward by Aristoteles), but reflected description and analysis of some of the ”nature, forms and laws” of virtual worlds in general, following f.i. Todorov:

25 25/52 …poetics: what it studies is not poetry or literature but ”poeticity” or ”literariness”. The individul work is not an ultimate goal for poetics; if it pauses over one work rather than another, it is because such a work reveals more distincly the properties of literary discourse. Poetics will have to study not the already existing literary forms but, starting from them, a sum of possible forms: what literature can be rather than what it is. (Tzvetan Todorov: The Poetics of Prose, 1971) Poetics

26 26/52 The End Goal Introducing a poetics which explains the relation between the virtual world as a discoursive system and the experience of it pinpointing what exactly makes virtual worlds ”worldlike”, i.e. attempts to define what creates the experience of ”worldness”.

27 27/52 III.The Research

28 Research methodology n outlining an interdisciplinary framework n …applied in attempt to describe - structural properties of world systems - phenomenological experience n focusing on the elements which create events and produce “meaning” n as such influenced by literary theory tradition of “analysing texts”, however with shift from studying a concrete text to the study of a system which produces text.

29 Research methodology ! NOT text as world but world as “text”

30 Methodology/ Interdisciplinary framework ”Cybersociology” (studies of social spaces online, virtual communities) Computer Game Research (game systems, exploration of space, ”fun”) Cybertext theory & digital literature theory (cybertextuality & interactive narratives) these disciplines all address ”interaction” and ”world” from different perspectives

31 Cons Interdisciplinarity leads to superficial application of important concepts, disregarding their disciplinary history “Collage” approach disables in-depth studies and/or collapses clear-cut argument Methodological pros/cons

32 Methodological pros/cons II Pros Avoids appropriating virtual worlds as ”just one thing” (Games, Narratives etc) Focus on world experience emphasises the user’s perspective (”reading”, ”gaming”), avoiding too focused abstract theory not applicable to concrete experience and analysis Providing several entryways to the field

33 33/52 Some main points When studying virtual worlds, we need to look at two main forms of interaction: interaction between users (social interaction) interaction between user(s) and world (game or “text” world interaction)

34 34/52 More main points Operationalising the concept of interaction Who can interact? (Agents) How can they interact? (Interaction forms) What is the scope of interaction (Surface/Fabric) How does the he implementation of interaction-in- time (cause and effect of choices) work?

35 35/52 Event = agent + interaction form Players (the human users - dynamic objects) NPCs or "informative" objects (the non-human players, moving targets or information holders - these might be both static or dynamic objects depending on whether the world is one in which the player gets to program objects or not) Objects (objects which can be manipulated and moved, these might also be static or dynamic like the other form of objects above) World Rules (the "voice" of the programme which determines the limit of action of the human player, i.e. the game rules which deter-mines the consequences of a player's actions and potentially initiates events as reaction to these.) Manipulation, which is the form of interaction, which consists of moving and combining objects. Social interaction, which is the form of interaction, which consists of communication and play with non- verbal and verbal cues and languages, i.e. both linguistic and paralinguistic interaction Information retrieval, which is the form of interaction which consists of providing information, obtaining or storing it Navigation, which is the form of interaction that consists of moving through the world by moving your avatar (your "physical" representation in the world) from place to place in the world.

36 36/52 Collective Perspectives INSIDE THE WORLD Interpretative framework (genre etc) Playground (performers) Game System (players) Social world (humans, chars) OUTSIDE THE WORLD Software Legends (of this and other vws) Manuals & guides } Concrete events generated through combination of inter- action forms & agents World as phenomenological experience Emergence of ”lived stories”,the sum of interaction-in-time

37 37/52 Empirical studies Return to Krondor (single-player rpg) Modus Operandi (multi-player ”detective” game) Scherazade’s Daughters (interactive theatre piece) StoryMOO – House of Mystery (own design) EverQuest (massive multiplayer world)

38 38/52 Online Murder Mystery Game Cast Susan Nigel Ernest Julie John (Maggie) (Policeman) Players: Nigel Susan John Maggie Ernest/Michael Burnsey Detective II The StoryMOO House of Mystery

39 Goals of staging the mystery How can you motivate people to interact with each other in ”directed” way? How can you use the ”space of the world” in this kind of plot/setting? Will each play turn out differently? And will people be able to identify the murderer?

40 40/52 Julie says, "But Susan!" Julie looks terrified at the corpse! Ernest removes Scrap of paper from Corpse. Julie says, "he is rather corpulent, your father" Julie says, "or he was." Susan says, "My father is dead - it is horrible!!" John says, "examine corpse" Julie says, "what does the scrap say, ernest?" Ernest says, "he's got a draft for a will on him!" Julie says, "a will!" John says, "what does the will say" Julie [to Ernest]: can you read it to us? Ernest says, ""but only half - the real text is missing"" Julie thanks ernest Ernest says, ""Julie, what do you mean?"" Susan says, "The man is just dead, show some respect" Susan says, "He is still warm and you are already dividing his belongings" Julie reads from the scrap of paper: "Scrap of paperA piece of paper, with a phonenumber on it. It's apparently torn from a draft of a kind: on the other side of it you can just discern the words: Will of.... Julie says, "But I can't see the phonenumber properly" Julie drops Scrap of paper. Ernest says, ""calm down everybody". Are we sure he didn't die a natural death?"" The scene in the MOO, the participants are looking at 1. performance

41 41/52 Nigel [to John]: so what does the will say? Susan leaves for Kitchen John says, "Something that looks like a name and phonenumber" Nigel [to Ernest]: how should I know? Ernest leaves for the kitchen to find something for Susan Ernest leaves for Kitchen Nigel [to John]: the name of whom? John says, "On the other side it says 14 november Will of.."" John says, "I cant read the name" Nigel [to John]: and...? John says, "And neither the phonenumber" Nigel [to John]: can't or WON'T? John says, "CAN - by the way I have no advantages from a will of his" Nigel [to John]: and you think, I had? I was deleted from the will, you remember? s 2. performance

42 42/52 What a performance should not look like on screen (at least not all the time): Ernest leaves for Hallway Wizard Armilla snaps her fingers and disappears. John arrives from Dad's Office Susan arrives from Dad's Office Susan leaves for Bathroom John leaves for Dad's Office John arrives from Dad's Office John leaves for Hallway Nigel arrives from Kitchen Nigel leaves for OOC-room Nigel arrives from OOC-room Nigel leaves for Hallway Susan arrives from Bathroom Susan leaves for Hallway

43 43/52 The EverQuest study n what does ”life” in this kind of world feel like for a player? n how are different forms of interaction used in the world? n how is the experience of ”story” produced?

44 44/52 Milagros’ Quest for Trousers Before After

45 45/52 IV. Findings

46 46/52 What does ”world” imply? A virtual world is at one and the same time a text-producing system a ”physical” environment a social space a game system And as a player you engage with all these functions

47 47/52 Levels of experience 1.Getting to know the world 2.Interacting with the world 3.Experiencing the world being “revirtualised” 4.Living the world – producing stories Life in a virtual (game) world unfolds in several stages:

48 48/52 The experience of Worldness is related to the feelings of immersion (belief in its reality), presence (”being there”) and engagement (social commitment, ”addiction”) in the world. These feelings are produced through the process of interacting in time and influenced by all the forces at work in the world. – and they are the result of your experiences as both a character/characters and player in the world

49 49/52 The Emergence of Stories n Players Do Like Stories! n However you cannot expect to be able to implement or find “narratives” in a virtual world. Instead you have emerging stories. n As a designer you should strive to make an architecture of interaction which can generate interesting events n Which retrospectively to their enactment can be told (=have tellable value) and made into stories communicated from one player to other players n “Tellable” events are rare or unexpected happenings and/or you have to work hard to be allowed to be a part of them

50 50/52 Designing for virtual worlds 1. Find a balance between encouraging people to explore the world and making them socialise in the right places (!) or for instance by traveling together

51 51/52 Designing for virtual worlds 2. Try to find ways to make players keep ”in tune” with the world they are in (respecting the fictional framework, the current scene etc). But don’t be too discouraged if it does not happen because being able to ”break the frame” and stepping outside the fiction (together) is part of the fun of playing.

52 52/52 Designing for virtual worlds 3. Think in terms of ”object-oriented”story production, use the objects surrounding the players. And don’t be afraid to use the possibilities of the system or the properties of the computer to your advantage. Even if some unrealistic”intervention” is needed (by system or gamemaster), it is nevertheless accepted if it increases the fun!

53 53/52 Next steps More empirical studies Examining one function or significant recurring event across worlds (such as death) Following the success or failure of new genres of worlds (first person shooter worlds, entertainment worlds etc) Becoming member of a guild in EverQuest! Refining concepts

54 The End Abstract available at The entire thesis will be available on request in printable form ultimo july + slides available on request too

55 55/52 Some main points II Interactivity: general property Measure of a medium’s ability to let the user exert an influence on the content or form of the mediated environment in real tim Interaction: ”functions”, the use of which leads to action and events


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