Книга: Code 2.0

The Sovereign of the Space: Rules

The Sovereign of the Space: Rules

When you enter the world of MMOG Second Life as a new character, the rules of Second Life are explained to you. Some of these rules are the techniques you will need to get around in Second Life — how to move, or how to fly. Some of the rules are normative commands that tell you what you can and can’t do.

It is impossible when confronting this introduction not to notice that these constraints are constructed. God didn’t make Second Life. No one is confused about whether he or she did. Nor is it likely that one entering this space wouldn’t notice that one important dimension to that construction is construction through code. That you can fly is a choice of the coders. Where you can fly is a choice of the coders. That when you bump into someone, a warning box is displaced is a choice of the coders. That you can turn off IM conversations from people you don’t want to hear from is a choice of the coders. No one mistakes that there are choices made here. Everyone recognizes that a critical part of the cyberspace world is made through code. As Second Life’s CEO, Philip Rosedale, put it to me: “What is God in a virtual world? Your only God is the code[1]”.

Now, as I’ve said from the start, we should distinguish between richly controlling spaces and thinly controlling spaces. Spaces like Second Life richly control the life of people playing there. Indeed, the whole objective of playing there is create the impression that one is there. These, again, are the sorts of places I call cyberspace.

Cyberspace is very different from life on a bill-paying website, or on a site holding your e-mail. Code controls these, too. But the control, or sovereignty, of those sites is distinct from the control of Second Life. In Second Life, or in what I’ve defined to be cyberspace generally, the control is ubiquitous; on a bill-paying website, or on what I’ve called the Internet, the control is passing, transitory.

Interestingly, there is an important dynamic shift that we’ve already identified, more in thinly controlling spaces than thick. This is the preference for code controls where code controls are possible.

Think again about the bill-paying website. It is of course against the law to access someone’s bank account and transfer funds from that account without the authorization of the account owner. But no bank would ever simply rely upon the law to enforce that rule. Every bank adds a complex set of code to authenticate who you are when you enter a bill-paying website. Where a policy objective can be coded, then the only limit on that coding is the marginal cost of code versus the marginal benefit of the added control.

But in a thickly controlling environment such as Second Life, there’s a limit to the use of code to guide social behavior. Sometimes, in other words, better code can weaken community. As Second Life’s Rosedale put it,

In some ways the difficulty of Second Life is a benefit because you have to be taught. And that Act of being taught is such a huge win for both the teacher and the student. . . . We have this sort of mentoring going on that is such a psychologically appealing relationship — one which the real world doesn’t give us very much[2].

A second way in which better code can weaken community is even more important. As Second Life is, it doesn’t enable people easily to segregate. As Rosedale described,

In Second Life, there’s basically not any zoning. What this means is that neighbor disputes are frequent. But from the standpoint of learning, this is actually a real positive. I’ve gotten e-mail from people that says, “Well, I didn’t get along with my neighbors, and as a result, I learned very rapidly a great deal about how to resolve disputes. How to be a good neighbor. ” . . . In the real world . . . there so much law . . . that you don’t actually have to talk to your neighbors. Instead there’s simply a law that says you can or can’t do something. . . . There’s an opportunity to communicate and interact in the virtual world in a way that the real world offers only under very rare circumstances[3].

The code thus doesn’t simply make all problems go away. It doesn’t remove the need for neighbors to work stuff out. And in this way, the code helps build community. The practice of interaction builds bonds that would not be built if the code produced the same results, automatically. Optimal design leaves certain problems to the players to work out — not because the solution couldn’t be coded, but also because coding a solution would have collateral costs.

Nonetheless, it is still the sovereign in these virtual spaces that chooses one modality over another. The trade-off is complicated. Perfect efficiency of results is not always perfectly efficient. But still the choice of means remains.

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