When Humans Go Online

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Friends gather for a few drinks after an event in Ultima Online.

What do you expect when you go into an online game? Do you expect to meet new people? Do you expect to participate in a Player vs. Player (PvP) battle? Do you want to fall in love? Have a party? Do you want to just go to a familiar place you call “home” and do a little crafting quietly after the kids have gone to bed?
Just 20 years ago this was a fantasy in someone’s head and we couldn’t do this at all. Something many of us hold dear and use daily to wind down after work or have a couple of “me” hours to play, is something that game creators like Richard Garriott, Will Wright, and companies like Electronic Arts, Blizzard, Ubisoft, and Turbine, amongst others, have given us over the last 16 years. They have, sometimes by accident and with a little rough going, created an entire social world within a computer – a virtual world that people around the globe use to create human society online.

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A group of friends meetup in Rusty Hearts. *Picture courtesy Luka Melehan*

I have always been fascinated with how humans translated their world into pixels and bits of stored computer code. I am so fascinated with human society and what we call “human culture” I got a Bachelor of Science degree in Anthropology – or the study of human culture – back in the 1980′s. Even just after 15 years of my own experiences online, I often take these worlds I enter for granted and yet my social group has been extended from family and people I knew in my immediate surroundings of the State of Wisconsin in the United States to include people from nearly every time zone on the planet, and I have had an active social life and a house to call home on Ultima Online amongst these people for all that time. When I entered college this was “Star Trek”-type fantasy that only ‘nerds’ like myself dreamt of!
Over the next month or so I will explore how human culture translates from a real world into a digital one and how this has been accomplished. In years past, massive multiplayer online worlds (MMOGs) would have been labelled a ‘fantasy world’ as in Final Fantasy or Dark Ages of Camelot or World of Warcraft or Ultima Online fantasy… but it isn’t fantasy at all. Its real people relating to other real people with money changing hands, property that we consider “ours,” and reputations on the line with every step we take.
We have achievements and failures that wind up being things in our real lives that we are proud of or sad about and it affects us as humans and it affects our lives. We mentor the young, support our friends, and discover aging together. I know of at least four couples who have fallen in love, gotten married, and had real lives together whose first order of business had to be moving to the same country, or across a continent, in order to do so! I have mourned friends who became ill and died, or who have experienced joys and sadness as we lived our lives, grew up, grew old, and had babies while we chatted and played online with each other. Our avatars have become a real world representation of who we are down to the very core, and this is no fantasy!

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Players gather for an EM event in Ultima Online.

Several people have chronicled the rise of our human culture online and I will try to highlight a few in my upcoming articles. The stories that Stratics has published and the work our intrepid reporters have done in following the events and development of the games we have reported on through Stratics.com have illuminated some of this human online culture and preserved it in our, sometimes saved, backup files. Some of those articles will be highlighted during our 16th Anniversary celebration here at Stratics.com. The cool thing to me is that it represents true human history in a completely new computerized world and it is precious for that reason, amongst others, including our own memories of fun time with friends.

I hope to bring some perspective on our online lives to light in the next few weeks. I hope you will want to read my stories of life online, and how our worlds have come to be what they are. I’d also like to hear from you about your experiences in the online human culture so here are a few questions for YOU!

• What do you think is the most important thing in a game that reflects human culture?
• What draws you into a game and tempts you to play it? What keeps you coming back?
• Looking back on your time in a MMOG, what stands out as the most rewarding part?
• Do you feel like you’ve developed a close circle of friends in a MMOG? What gave you the best opportunity to make this circle of friends and keep them?

Add your answers below, or visit any of our social media outlets and add your voice! We’d love to hear what you have to say!

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Two friends meet in a romantic location in Star Wars the Old Republic *Photo courtesy Luka Melehan*

 

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