Книга: Code 2.0
These four places that I have just described were all described in the first edition of this book, each in just about the same terms. They’re old stories, and the lessons they teach are still precisely the lesson this chapter is meant to convey. But I don’t mean to suggest that there’s been no interesting progress in the cyberspaces that the Internet has inspired. The last five years have witnessed an explosion in cyberspaces, much more dramatic than anything I imagined when I first wrote this book.
In one sense, these spaces are nothing really new. They have fancy new technology that, because computers are faster and bandwidth is broader, functions much better than their earlier versions. But the MMOG space I described in Chapter 2 was inspired by real places.
What’s changed, however, is size. As Julian Dibbell described it to me, the question is
does size matter in these kinds of spaces? And I think it does. The text-based world is naturally limited in size. The limit is not so much text versus graphics as it is limited cultural accessibility versus a much broader accessibility. That makes for larger spaces.
The result is “something socially richer in a lot of ways”, “not so much the particular affordances of 3D graphic imagery, which will also someday look pretty crude. ”
Massively Multiple Online Role Playing Games (again, MMOGs, or MMORPGs) have become a whole industry. Literally millions spend hundreds, sometimes thousands of hours each year in these spaces along with literally billions of dollars to live these second lives. While living these second lives, of course, they are also living a life in real space. When they’re playing the MMOG World of Warcraft, they are at the same time playing father or wife in real space. They have thus not left the real world to go to these other places. But they integrate the other places into their real world life, and the last five years has seen an explosion in the percentage of real-world life that is lived virtually.
These “games” can be divided roughly into two types. In one type, people “play” a game that has been defined by others. These are “role-playing games.” Thus, World of Warcraft is a role-playing game in which people compete to gain wealth and status (making it not so different from real life). Grand Theft Auto is a game in which people engage in a kind of virtual crime. These games all have a structure to them, but they differ in the degree to which people can customize or create their own characters or environments. The vast majority of online games are role-playing games in this sense. One site that tracks these communities estimates 97 percent are role-playing games of some sort.
The second type involves much more construction. These spaces provide communities in which people at a minimum socialize. In addition to socializing, there is creative and commercial activity. Depending upon the game, the mix among these activities differs substantially. But they all aim to create a virtual world that inspires a real community within itself. These games are an extension of the MOOs I described above. But they extend the virtual community of a MOO beyond those who feel comfortable manipulating text. These worlds are graphically real, even if they are virtual.
Of course, within both of these types of MMOGs, there is creativity. The differences between them are simply a matter of degree. And within both, there is commerce. Second Life — described more below — generates over “$4,000,000 U.S. in interpersonal transactions” a month. Aggregated across games, as Edward Castronova describes, there is a great deal of commerce produced by these virtual worlds.
“The commerce flow generated by people buying and selling money and other virtual items (that is, magic wands, spaceships, armor) amounts to at least $30 million annually in the United States, and $100 million globally.”
And more interesting (and bizarre) is Castronova’s estimate of the gross national product per capita produced in various virtual worlds. EverQuest, for example, has a GDP which is about half that of “the Caribbean Island Nation of Dominica.” And the GDP per capita of Norrath “was about the same as Bulgaria’s and four times higher than China’s or India’s.”
For my purposes here, however, I want to focus on the second type of MMOG, and two of these in particular. The first was an early leader in this space — There. The second is a growing and extraordinary success — Second Life.
Second Life is, as its website describes, “a 3-D virtual world entirely built and owned by its residents.” 3-D in the sense that the experience seems three dimensional — the characters and the objects appear to be in three dimensions. A virtual world in the sense that the objects and people are rendered by computers. Built by its residents in the sense that Second Life merely provided a platform upon which its residents built the Second Life world. (And not just a few. On any given day, 15 percent of Second Life residents are editing the scripts that make Second Life run. That platform originally rendered beautiful green fields. Residents acquired land in that world, and began building structures.) And owned by its residents in the sense that the stuff that the residents of Second Life build is theirs — both the “physical” thing itself (the car, or the surfboard, or the house), and any intellectual property right which might be embedded in that thing that they have built.
It is this last feature that contrasts most interestingly (for me at least) with the other MMOG that I mentioned, There. There was also a community site. But it was a radically different (and less successful) world from Second Life. It was to be centered around corporate franchises — Sony or Nike, for example, were expected to set up shop in There. People would also be allowed to create things in There, and when they sold or gave them away, There would get a percentage. The space itself came much more pre-fab, but there was significant opportunity for customization.
Its founders crafted the rhetoric of There at least around (at least their understanding of) the ideals of the United States. The exchange rate for There-bucks was 1787 to 1 — 1787 being the year the United States Constitution was written. And as the then-CEO of There explained to a class I was teaching, the values of the American republic informed the values of There.
My students were skeptical. And one fantastically bright student, Catherine Crump, gave the CEO a bit of a rough ride. She asked whether There would respect the principles of the First Amendment. “Of course”, responded the CEO. “Would a citizen of There be allowed to put a sign on his land?” “Of course.” “Would she be allowed to buy land next to, say, Nike?” “Of course.” “Would she be allowed to put a sign up on her land next to Nike that says ‘Nike uses sweatshop labor’?” “Umm. I’m not sure about that.” So much for the First Amendment.
Or more relevantly to Second Life, Crump asked, “Who owns the IP intellectual property in the designs a citizen creates?” “There does.” “Who owns the IP in the designs Nike creates?” “Of course, Nike does. How could it be any other way?” Well, it could be another way if you followed the principles of the American Constitution, Crump suggested, which said IP rights get vested in “authors or inventors”, not in corporations.
There’s real problem, however, was structural. It is the same problem of any planned or centralized economy. There was to be built by There, Inc. And therein was its problem. The structures of these virtual worlds are extraordinarily complex. The cost of building them is immense, and thus There, Inc. faced a huge capital cost in making There run.
Second Life (like all new nations) outsourced that cost of construction to its citizens. When you buy land in Second Life, you get an empty field or deserted island. You then have to buy, barter, or build to make it habitable. There’s an economy to building it, and it can be hard work. But the things you build you can sell. And again, the designs you make are yours. More than 100,000 people now inhabit, and construct, Second Life. For them, the game is what it says.
These current rules, however, are the product of an evolution in Second Life. In the first public Alpha testing of the site that would become Second Life, there was no concept of land ownership. Everything was public. The ownership of land began with Beta testing, when all users could claim the public land at a price. When the land was claimed, the user could select whether others could create objects, scripts, or landmarks for the land. Later the options were extended.
In version 1.1, there was a fairly major change to the physics of land. Whereas before users were free to teleport anywhere, now, to avoid harassment, owners of land could decide whether others could “trespass” or not — either by setting a default to grant or deny access, or by adding a list of people who were free to visit. These restrictions, however, applied only to the first 15 meters above the property. Beyond that, anyone was free to fly, even if the owner didn’t want them on the property.
Now this last restriction has an interesting parallel to the history of American law. As I describe in Free Culture, property law in the American tradition considered the owner of land the owner of the space from the ground “an indefinite extent, upwards.” This created an obvious conflict when airplanes appeared. Did the pilot of an airplane trespass when he flew over your land?
The accommodation the law eventually drew was between flying very low and flying very high. It was not trespassing to fly very high over someone’s land; it was a nuisance to fly very low over someone’s land. So something like the solution that Second Life achieved was also achieved by the law.
But notice the important difference. In real space, the law means you can be penalized for violating the “high/low” rule. In Second Life, you simply can’t violate the 15-meter rule. The rule is part of the code. The code controls how you are in Second Life. There isn’t a choice about obeying the rule or not, any more than there’s a choice about obeying gravity.
So code is law here. That code/law enforces its control directly. But obviously, this code (like law) changes. The key is to recognize that this change in the code is (unlike the laws of nature) crafted to reflect choices and values of the coders.
Consider another illustration of the same point. As I said, Second Life gives the creators of Intellectual Property in Second Life ownership of that property — both inside and outside Second Life. (As one of the founders described, “Our lawyers shook their heads, but we decided the future of our company isn’t tied up in our owning what our users create.”) That’s the same with IP in real space: Unless you’ve signed your rights away to a corporation (don’t!), when you create in real space, the law automatically gives you a copyright in your creativity. In both spaces, too, you have the right to give those rights away. I run a nonprofit called Creative Commons that makes it simple for creators to signal the freedoms they want to run with their creativity. In real space, when you use a Creative Commons license, you mark your content with the license you want. Users then know the freedoms they have. If a right is violated, it gets remedied through the law.
Second Life has taken this idea one step further. Creators in Second Life can mark their content with the license they want. But the wizards of this world are exploring the idea that the license they’ve selected could affect directly what others can do with that creativity. If content is marked with a Creative Commons license, then someone can take a picture of it without express permission. But if it is not marked with a license, then if you try to take a picture of it, the object will be invisible. Here again, the code expresses the law more effectively than the law in real space ever could.
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