~~~I regularly read Prokofy Neva's blog Second Thoughts (in fact, far more often than I ever look at the official Linden stuff). Many people frequently find Prokofy's long-winded commentaries to be infuriating or impenetrable (I will freely confess that about 54% of the time I don't even understand what the conversation is about), but Prokofy's writing almost invariably sparks intense debate and discussion, and by golly it sure as hell makes you think, even if your conclusion is to violently disagree with the blog's author. If Prokofy didn't exist, I suspect the SL blogosphere would have had to create him in some form. And periodically, I think what Prokofy puts out there can carry a certain degree of profundity, such as his most recent post "Second Life is a Crystal Ball" in which he expresses the idea that SL can be seen as an "emergent behavior panopticon." Prokofy observes:
"There are a thousand things you could be studying in Second Life, whether it is how disputes are resolved, how protest emerges and dissipates, how corporations manage people online, how people communicate and adjust their goals and compromise -- and lots of other separate tributaries of things like prototyping a car engine or a medical procedure, and they're all happening in SL -- yet largely unstudied."
This got me to thinking about what I have been observing and reflecting upon in recent months: the various different directions that the various SL roleplaying communities have been taking while playing out as experiments in creative cooperative recreation. Each rp environment is an experimental playground of the imagination, and as the people who are utilizing them experience problems and see new potential, they either make that environment evolve in response to the difficulties and perceived possibilities, or some of them move on and and create new communities and environments that try out new guidelines and forms of organization.
And right now, let me say, there is no perfect, one-size-fits-all rp environment. One style or system is not better than another. I am not a social Darwinist who thinks that rp communities are steadily evolving towards a single ultimate and ideal form, while the other versions are left behind to die off as some kind of inferior evolutionary dead-end dinosaur kind of thing. I firmly believe that the development of different forms of rp communities with different social structures is a good and healthy process, which accommodates the wide variety of people who are taking up this form of virtual recreation.
We are all different in terms of experience, how we learn, how we play, how we interact with other humans, and what we need to get out of that interaction. Consequently, it makes sense for a wide variety of roleplaying experiments to develop in-world, building upon and growing out of one another, and just because a new type of organization comes along, or an existing community develops in a different direction from what it had taken before, does not mean any of the various experiments are less legitimate, less fun for certain people, or deserve to go extinct.
Mind you I am very happy in Deadwood and am intrigued with how it has evolved since its inception (which is to a good extent different from how it functioned in its early months). But I am also intrigued with how other communities are evolving and what kinds of systems and structures they are establishing. For example, I recently decided to look into a community that is based upon the world of Harry Potter, not only because it sounded like a fun and interesting rp environment, but because its community leadership has set up a highly structured system for bringing in new players and fostering an enjoyable rp experience.
This is very different from so many rp communities which have a relatively loose induction system, that bascially comes down to "hey, read these rules, join this group, put on the right stuff, and please don't act like too big of dick." So I was very very curious about this "Hogwarts United" group. They start with not only giving you rules and guidelines to read, they also ask you to fill out an application (compete with well-thought out backstory), attend orientation class, and go through an interview. And THEN, if you are intent upon playing an adult and want to go to work for the Ministry of Magic or the Hogwarts School, you have to fill out another application to the folks who are in charge of those entities.
So far I have filled out the application (a process I really enjoyed being as so much of it was about developing a backstory, a process that I find to be really fun). I attended the class, which was a pleasant and efficiently-run (and not overly long) review of rules and guidelines with an opportunity to ask questions. And I had my interview with a charming and friendly admissions rep. This was more like a conversation than an interview, and again I found it to not be particularly onerous or intimidating, and the interviewer, Katerina, was very nice about listening to me ramble and answering my questions about this and that. I felt pretty good about it, not only because she approved on my ideas for what I wanted to do with my character, but because it felt like this process will ultimately be helpful in my transitioning into the community.
I'm still waiting to hear about my application to the school (to work as a special archivist dealing with the "restricted" collections), but hopefully, the Headmaster won't decide that it's too out-of-the-box or that I am too huge of a goober to pull it off. I'll keep you guys posted on how it turns out.
Anyhow, the whole thing has me curious to see what the community will be like and how it functions. I have never been a part of quite such a highly structured rp environment,and while I am sure it is not ideal for everyone, I could see how it could produce some interesting results, both in severely limiting access by potential griefers and in facilitating the introduction of new players into the environment. I suspect the next step in the evolution of rp communities may be something that combines elements of this highly structured approach with elements of the some of the looser systems.
Like Aldo says, "SL is a big social pressure cooker and you never know how the soup is going turn out, but at least it gets done pretty quick."
So what do you all think about what kinds of rp communities and environments best suit who you are, and what kinds of experiments might develop next?