The Communities Under Your Nose

I was reminded this week that one of the main reasons I enjoy playing computer games so much, especially online massively multiplayer games, is the community aspect. I just love being part of a community and helping others out. However, I quickly realized that it wasn’t just being a part of community that did it for me, it was being a part of a community that shared the same values and culture that I believed in. This is why I’ve been going in frustrating circles lately because while the game itself may be fun to a degree, the people and community around it just left me frustrated because they often didn’t share the same values that I believed in (i.e. Team Fortress 2).

I’m not going to give up though. I mean you can’t go the rest of your life ignoring people and thinking them all the same because of a few bad relationships. You need to have hope that out there is a place with people that are like you. You will find it. It just takes time and a little bit of determination. And even more so, if you can’t find it, don’t be afraid to step up to the plate and build it yourself. Now while I’ve got some ideas in my head for communities I’d like to build (some even unrelated to games), I also realized something very very important this week as well. Don’t ignore the communities that you are already in.

Before I elaborate on what I mean by this, let me clarify something. Communities to me are not isolated environments that we interact with independently. Instead communities are layered one with another, with each one influencing and affecting the other (similar to how cultures influence us and we in turn influence the cultures around us). For example, your home is like a little community in itself. The relationships with your husband/wife, kids, and even pets are all part of this. Even more so, you yourself are a community within yourself. The different aspects of you (mind, body, spirit) all work together to comprise the culture that is you. Thus if you haven’t been eating right, aren’t physically active, and thus feel emotionaly strained because of it, this lack of attention to the community that is you can in turn negatively affect and influence the other communities you are a part of (i.e. home, work, friends, family, etc).

Thus I realized that instead of being so focused on trying to find a new community to be a part of, why not spend more time on the existing communities already under my nose. For example, these past two weeks, my wife has been extremely busy at work, to the point of being exhausted when she gets home. Now normally I make her tea and breakfast in the morning when she heads off to work and I also have dinner ready for her when she gets home but I realized that this wasn’t enough during this difficult time for her. Knowing that there were little things all around the house that needed to be done (which probably stressed her out even more), I spent the entire day cleaning the house so that she could get those nagging things out of her head and just be able to relax.

And you know what, it worked. Not only did she feel a whole lot better, but I felt a whole lot better as well because I gave of myself to a community that I valued which made me feel more valued in turn. Therefore, here’s wishing you a very happy and giving Christmas within the communities of your life. And remember, it’s not so much what you give but the simple act of giving itself.

Merry Christmas!

Homogenized Holidays

This news story is unbelievable.

The Christmas carol controversy began earlier this week when teachers who lead the school choir decided to drop the word Christmas from Silver Bells and replaced it with "festive" to eliminate a reference to the Christian holiday. The move caused a national furore, and school officials and the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board scrambled to control the situation.

Instead of continually trying to homogenize the holidays, why don’t we start celebrating the diversity of it instead. If I wish someone a Merry Christmas and they inform me they’re Jewish, I have no problem wishing them a Happy Hanukkah. To me it’s no different than respecting someone’s choice to not drink alcohol or not to eat meat. I respect their choices as an individual and accommodate them as best I can, so that everyone can enjoy themselves as they are.

38 Studios New Vision of MMO’s

Just read on Massively that a new privately funded game developer called 38 Studios will have both Todd McFarlane and R.A. Salvatore as artistic directors in the company. Even more so, it looks like their MMO fantasy world will have quite a different gameplay approach to it compared to the typical MMO games of today (like World of Warcraft) as noted in this Gamasutra interview.

This all seems very character focused both from your side, and with Todd McFarlane creating things for the universe as well, it sounds at least very character driven. Is that true?

RS: No, I wouldn’t say that. I would say that it’s going to be character focused in the manner that it’s going to be focused on the character you create, but you want to have iconic characters. You want to have people in the world that you know, or you get to know, and can say “hey cool, I just read about this guy”, or whatever, “and here he is!”

I’ve been playing MMO’s for years, I love them, and the one thing I know as a player is that I don’t want anyone to hold my hand and walk me through something. I want to write my own books with my character. I would never – as a dungeon master and as now a game designer – I would never want to take that away from the player.

BC: If anything I’d say it’s maybe event-focused. In terms of the larger world what’s important to the –

RS: I’ll just cut you right off here, he’s getting into areas we really don’t want to discuss. [laughs]

This sounds really really intriguing. When he slipped "event-focused", I immediately thought of an open storyline similar to Privateer versus a linear storyline that most MMO use to day (as you progress through your character levels). However for this to work, you need a game that doesn’t limit your movement based upon your character level (similar to how quests in WoW only show to those of appropriate level). Will this new MMO fantasy game be without levels? Not sure but the following almost hints at it.

There’s nothing out there that really has this story overlay that keeps sucking you further and further through the experience, that presents this larger entertainment experience that keeps you engaged. You still have the other two: you still go wanna hook up with your friends, you’re still going to grind a little bit – although, there won’t be grinding in ours – but the larger pieces present an entertainment experience, with the story that unfolds as you interact with it. You’re going to see changes that impact the story, you’re going to see the story in a larger scope of what’s going on in the world, so you have context to get what you’re doing. Nobody’s doing that. It’s sort of the difference between basic 3D shooters, and say, Half-Life 2.

"Although, there won’t be grinding in ours…" Interesting indeed. Without a doubt though, it seems like they will create this world as a dynamic ever changing one. Even more so, it appears they will cross market a variety of things to coincide with the ongoing changing storyline within the game (i.e. new fantasy novels that provide detailed stories and backgrounds on major personas within the game). Pretty cool indeed!

Tumblr & Small Streams Loosely Joined

Just discovered Tumblr last week and I have to say I’m pretty impressed.

So what is Tumblr?

Blogs are great, but they can be a lot of work. And they’re really built to handle longer-form text posts. Tumblelogs, on the other hand, let you easily and quickly post and share anything you find or create.

To make a simple analogy: If blogs are journals, tumblelogs are scrapbooks.

So is Tumblr something I’d use instead of Squarespace? Probably not. However, Tumblr’s simplistic features and design are something I’d definitely like to see emulated within Squarespace though.

Funnily enough, when I used to work for Squarespace, I actually had a discussion with Anthony about something very close to this. In effect, the idea was to have different content types for posting. So if you were going to post about a book in your journal, you’d select "book" as the content type, and a very simplified entry form specifically for books would appear. If you were going to post about a photo, you’d select "photo" as the content type and so on. If you look at Tumblr’s content types below, you’ll see how this idea comes quite close to what I envisioned.


Of course the biggest problem with this approach, as Anthony relayed at the time, is that it would basically destroy the module approach to Squarespace which is it’s foundation. I fully understand why he couldn’t do it because it would probably confuse a lot of people. I guess I was just looking at ways of rethinking how blogging works and instead of thinking of different content types on your site as being static (i.e. Squarespace gallery or Amazon book list), I saw them as more like "streams" of information, always updating (i.e. similar to how Flickr works which still allows you to create galleries from your stream of photos).

Therefore, for me it was more about creating multiple streams of information and then figuring out ways of dynamically displaying this information on the fly. For example, viewing my specific book stream would show you all of the books I’ve ever read. You could even view the books by time period (i.e. books read this month or year) or by rating or both (i.e. show me the best rated book from each month of this year). The power of this approach is that the information no longer is static but becomes flexible and usable by the person viewing the content, so that they can manipulate it and view it in different ways depending upon what they are interested in. I think the closest thing that compares to this would be something like a pivot table in a spreadsheet program.

Anyways, the simplified content entry types I think are one of the gems of Tumblr. It’s something I’d like to see in other blogging platforms. For example, you could emulate something like this in WordPress but you’d be doing it in a cludgy way by using custom fields. The beauty of Tumblr is that the entry interface itself becomes part of the simplicity and design of the application which in turn draws people to it.

Oh, almost forgot. The other important thing about Tumblr is that it shows us the need for content in different sizes. For example, when someone is researching a book, they’ll often jot down small notes here and there in a notebook. Then these notes are aggregated into structured thoughts and ideas, eventually becoming longer articles and then eventually a book. This is how blogs should work in my opinion. There should be variety of input types and sizes to meet your demands. If I only have a second, I can post a bookmark about a new site I found. Then tomorrow, I can follow it up with a small note or two about the site (observations in using it). And then finally I may write a detailed entry or article on the site that gives a full run down of it. The beauty of this approach is that it allows me to continue my thought flow and write how much I want, when I want.