Policy by the Numbers
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Life and death in subspace
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Matthew Butcher’s hockey teammates started a
for him a week after he was murdered. Some of these friends had known him for as many as twelve years. Few had ever met him in person.
These friends all played an online video game called
. The game came out in 1997—making it one of the earliest massively multiplayer online games—and it has a simple premise: fly around in 2D spaceships shooting at each other. Even though the game was commercially abandoned shortly after its release, devoted users reverse engineered it and released an
open source version
so they could keep playing and add security improvements.
genius is that users can reinvent it—they can set up their own gaming servers with a unique map and altered settings. One of
these user-generated versions attempts to emulate hockey: users “check” each other by shooting their guns and control a fiery ball inside a hockey rink.
Realistic Subspace Hockey League (RSHL)
where players form teams and try to win a
just wrapped up its 18th season. They keep stats, and even make their own
editions of Sportscenter
More importantly, they chat. The last time I checked in on the RSHL was about seven years ago. I found familiar names from my playing days like Matthew (or white_0men, as he was known in-game), as well as many, many new players. In fact, most of the current players only picked up the game relatively recently, well after it was commercially abandoned.
When I asked them why they still played, they all said roughly the same thing—they liked talking to each other, meeting people who were older and younger, who had different jobs, lived in different places. Some players come to the Zone just to watch others play and catch up with friends. (In fact, when I played, my dial-up connection was so bad that sometimes all I could do was chat.)
Nearly two years ago, I got an email that brought me back to
, the website hub where the hockey players congregate. white_0men
during a robbery at his business in Los Angeles, and his friends were alerting all players, past and present, about the donation fund for his family and a memorial message thread (now hundreds of messages long).
Center Ice may be an anomaly, though that seems unlikely today, when hundreds of millions of people participate in online games like World of Warcraft and virtual worlds like Second Life.
Certainly, many are casual gamers or only form loose connections with most of the people they meet each day, just as you don’t necessarily invite the clerk at your corner store over to dinner at your home. But, given the mass scale of gaming today, even if only a small percentage participate in communities like Center Ice, that is still significant in absolute numbers.
The composition of these communities likely looks quite different than the stereotype of the pimply faced male gamer.
of all video game players in the U.S. are women, and 40 year-old moms are the most frequent players of
There are multi-billion dollar
economies in virtual goods
that are bought and sold for use within such games.
Just like in the physical world, public policy is only one way to shape behavior in these online communities—
, markets and norms can be much more important. If you’re interested in learning more about how this particular
is composed, shaped and regulated, you can read more about about life in Subspace based on interviews with its
posted by Derek Slater, Policy Manager at Google
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The authors of these posts include Googlers and guest bloggers. Opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent Google’s views. We hope the numbers presented will inspire meaningful conversations and inform policy debates.
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