Maybe players really are the problem …

In 1971, an exhibition of modern art at the Tate Gallery in London had to be closed after four days. Visitors had been going berserk, hysterical, screaming. A reporter at the time noted:

Some of the 1,500 visitors became so intoxicated by [the] opportunities that they went around “jumping and screaming” to quote the exhibitions keeper, Mr Michael Compton. They went berserk on the giant see-saws, and they loosened the boards on other exhibits by trampling on them…”

It was the first time that the Tate had hosted a ‘fully interactive’ exhibit. They didn’t do another for awhile. The exhibition has been recreated in the Tate Modern (one of London’s best galleries; if you’re coming here and like art at all, it’s well worth a visit) and this time around, the reception was very different indeed.

When we went last weekend, people were having lots of well-behaved fun with the interactive exhibition (read: adventure playground). They were queuing politely, laughing, and enjoying the heck out of the whole thing. I saw people of different ages playing together, from the Japanese teenagers, to the family helping their tiny daughter onto the balance board, to my husband trying (fruitlessly) to climb up the interior of a bookcase –- no I don’t know why either.

Leaving aside the question of whether an adventure playground becomes art just because you put it in a gallery (to be honest, half the fun of going to a place like the Tate Modern is that you can try to answer that yourself), you have to wonder what changed.

The exhibition was almost identical.

But maybe people these days are more comfortable with the idea of play. It’s one of the ways we approach the world. If you look at a new computer UI you’ll very likely be encouraged to play with it to work out what it does.

And it makes me wonder whether in 30 years time we’ll look back at today’s MMOs and all the associated hijinks with exploiting, griefing, fake identities, elitism etc and think, “Man, they were fun games. But those poor people … they just didn’t know how to play nicely in virtual worlds back then.”

4 thoughts on “Maybe players really are the problem …

  1. Indeed, it’s just the people.

    Just compare the “crazy motorists” of the 30′-es with the modern car drivers. Or the pirates of Sir Drake with the container ships of today.

    The first explorers of a field are either visionary people or marginalized figures with extravagant features. When it get into the mainstream, it get both diluted by the ordinary (boring) people and also highly regulated by government.

    The next generation will be amazed (but definitely not missing that) grandma was not just leveling up on politically correct monsters but was dodging gankers in STV, tortured captured mage-hunters, massacred Nestingvary’s hunters, and PuGged with idiots who couldn’t find their buttons.

  2. I actually think the communities in MMORPGs are getting worse so it would suggest that maybe we reach a point where it all explodes before it settles down again 🙂

    Interestingly enough, my wife is studying childcare and learning about the importance of play in children’s development. This is a relatively new concept as before play was suppressed instead of encouraged. This possibly explains why in the 70s people went ape shit in the Tate (almost a very good movie title there) as it was a release from suppressed instincts.

  3. Everyone has great potential. David Zindell wrote that “every man and woman is a star” (ie a well of infinite possibilities).

    Unfortunately in these games we often see very little of this.

    The problem I think with end-game WoW is that people tap so little of that potential. Maybe something more testing is the answer. Raids where everyone works their butt off are just much more fun than raids where people aren’t stretched.

    WoW inherits a lot of baggage. It owes a lot to the social structures of Everquest which was about fanatical raid guild officers working their butts off to get mammoth raids co-ordinated. It may be that the reliance on producer types inherent in the system is flawed that somehow the playing field needs to be levelled.

    An MMO where you can’t rely on anyone might be interesting. I’m exploring EVE now which is a bit like that.

  4. Interesting thoughts. I wonder if in future, we’ll also be less wound up about twitch gameplay and less likely to judge someone as good/bad based purely on whether they can press the right buttons in the right order with a very low tolerance for error.

    Because although it can be fun, that’s not really a challenge that I find interesting. (But that’s why I like tanking and leading raids, I think). It is fun to work together with other people on a shared goal … I wonder what other ways games will find in future to promote that sense of teamwork.

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