The temptation to yell "GET A LIFE" throughout this book is almost overwhelming, yet I had to finish it. It was weirdly compelling. I kept expecting it to turn out to be a novel rather than a true account, and even now I can hardly believe that anybody would choose to spend large parts of their lives in the 'virtual' world described in the book. Ultimately Dibbell did not convince me to come to a conclusion other than that people who spend a minimum of 30 hours, and sometimes up to 60 hours a week, logged on to their computers playing this game are seriously wacky. Still, it is at least thought-provoking.
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.
This book is superbly written. I can't remember what drew me to getting hold of and reading this book but I am glad I did. It may have been a vague interest in the concept of virtual worlds that is sure to become more and more important to with the advance of technology. I concede that not everyone would get into this, but it worked for me.
Virtual worlds must be of great interest to sociologists and psychologists. It is astonishing how the virtual world takes on many of the attributes of a real world, including politics.
I even created my own account in this virtual world and was amazed to find it there, just as the author had described it. I didn't stay long, but I did get chatting to someone who had known the author (by his virtual name) and didn't think much of the book; I suspect he hadn't read it or didn't appreciate good literature.
This is the story of the author's travels in a text-based landscape. What I didn't expect was how intoxicating a vision it would be - you can make your home in the roof-space of an opera house entirely contained in the jewelled eye of the trout on the cover of 'Little, Big', and the body you wear can be seven-foot and freckled, or small, plump and with tawny fur - or either on alternate days. I followed the events with interest, and ended the book much more tempted by LambdaMoo than when I began, and also more wary - and respectful. I have friends who have online relationships which I never quite understood - I guess now I'm closer.