Thursday, April 01, 2004

The Sims Online
(or a Community of Cooperative Pizza-Makers)

I'm exploring yet another online virtual community called The Sims Online (or TSO). My There gf is actually a TSO refugee, but since neither of us have been going to There much lately (you run out of things to do without spending too much money), she encouraged me to try TSO (she's an addict!)

It's a bit different than There -- your vantage point is limited to a 3/4 view of the interiors of houses in the world, which are like disconnected islands you can hop to. So it's not one contiguous space. Also, this limits how far you can zoom in. Your closest angle would be a Long Shot in cinematography terms.

Whereas There has beautiful breathing and posture nuances to its 3-D Avatars yet lacks many actions, Sims has a bazillion action sequences you can invoke. TSO, like its non-online cousin The Sims, is all about daily maintenance like cleaning up, going to the bathroom, sleeping, bathing, eating, with some bizarre activities like making preserves and baking pizza. There, in contrast, is all about riding around in vehicles across a varied 3-D landscape, and fashion. Both places are geared toward socializing rather than one specific game.

One thing I preferred in There -- when I was chatting with people, it really felt like I was... well, There. You can zoom in, out, and around with a disembodied camera, or look out through your Avatar's eyes. For someone who can be a bit shy in groups, this made me very anxious at first, but I found myself getting used to it and oddly enough, it helped me deal with real groups of strangers a bit better. Sims lets you do way more with your avatar, but you are never in close enough to where it feels like more than a nicely-designed, somewhat old-school videogame.

One thing I preferred in TSO -- they do not shy away from adult, or even semi-lewd behaviors. One can download a nude patch (although this is not "official") and truly experience what it is like to use a community bathroom. (Not too surprisingly, it becomes "no big deal" after a while, something that overly conservative people could learn a thing or two about.) There are plenty of kissing, dancing, and bed behaviors (although they are "under the covers"). There seems a bit hesitant to add intimacy options. You can't even kiss without sitting! My There gf and I had to improvise by dragging a portable hot tub around with us just so that we could smooch.

The Sims 2 is coming out -- and it's supposedly all 3-D, so I'm curious to see whether TSO will become 3-D like There. They will encounter some of the same very tricky challenges, like how do you animate hugging, kissing, dancing and other contact activities when Avatars are of different shapes and sizes? (TSO gets around this by having one size).

I have to say though, as expected, I don't find either as addictive as the old online text worlds like MOOs and MUDs, because, like language they are capable of infinite, instantaneous possibility. 3-D worlds are starting to let you create the objects (and sometimes behaviors of those objects), but each have to be elaborately constructed before use. I'm constantly finding limitations as to what you cand DO in these worlds with people.

If I want restrictions, there's always Real Life, full of Laws, social norms, expectations, taboos.

The best thing about Virtual Worlds is when people stop doing what the creators and employees want or expect you to do, and start playing around. In There, people push the boundaries of what and where they can build, or where they are allowed to be, or where they can ride vehicles. In TSO, people have discovered that if a bunch of people go away from keyboard (which is represented by levitation), in the same spot, they can create a "Love Balloon". Others have figured out if they leave their Avatars in a pool long enough to where they are too sleepy to stay awake, their Avatars drown and become ghosts. Once ghosts, they found out that if another ghost friend scares them, they pee instantly.

Now back to Real Life...


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posted by Brian at 8:00 PM

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