Excellent if dated,
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This review is from: My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World (Paperback)
When this book was written, soon after the Internet was "born", I, like most people in my part of the world, was limited by finances - not all of us had the advantages of our American friends, not all of us could log in from work. Huge telephone bills and horrible little low-baud modems meant online time was strictly limited. I was then and am now, jealous!
In this book Julian, a journalist, describes his experiences with living in (for several hours a day) what was basically the very first Multiplayer Virtual World (at least the first to use computers as a medium) - he was able to justify this by calling it research for this book.
It's a fascinating read. The world he describes is a real, whole world, constructed purely by words. The "world" program describes to the player what is around him, a room, a garden - and she then describes what she does. Compared to today's Multiplayer Online Worlds or MMOs this sounds limiting but it is actually limitless! And the pure focus on words rather than the visual, or on the game or puzzle as in today's environments, (examples are A Tale in the Desert, EVE Online, Second Life, or There) means social interaction becomes the ONLY gameplay. In most modern MMOs the official gameplay, in my experience, is about killing more beasties to get money so that you can buy better gear and kill harder beasties. While there is some social interaction the "game" element limits and controls it. Money drives the virtual worlds as well as the "real" one.
Of course a world constructed by words is not new. A good book does that! But this is a world in which there are OTHER LIVE HUMANS.
The numbers are much lower in the LambdaMOO than in most of today's virtual worlds, there being a population of hundreds rather than many many thousands or even millions, if all players are counted. But there are enough individuals to make the world into a community, a polity.
Julian describes the development of a "community" within this world and even a kind of "democracy", during a period when the community had to develop laws to take it out of the Wild West Pioneering phase of development. There is much drama, persecution of folk who may have been innocent of evil intent, at least one player (or citizen, or member of the society) who had clearly evil intent, and several mischief-makers. He describes how the "wizards" or programmers who originally made and continued to maintain the basis of the world reluctantly dealt with all this turmoil and how ultimately, triumphantly, a sort of order was restored.
Julian works hard to show that he DID have "a real life" as well as the online, but somehow it feels far less convincing, or vivid, than his virtual or "tiny" life.
A fascinating read if you are interested in people, politics or online environments.