Monday, October 08, 2007

social networks as multi player video games

One way to look at social networking sites is from a gamer's point of view. I'm not a gamer, so I cannot disclose the analogies and similes in effect. But I can lumber along the path and inspire the real pioneers to degrade my efforts and write the true story. Here goes...

Social networks are more like video games than communes. Everything is virtual, from avatars and profiles to gender and experiences shared. You can never be absolutely sure if the female avatar coincides with a lady in real life, nor what age or education level anybody is.

Nebulous personas floating, flirting, fidgeting around in a "social" space that is contrived and contrary to offline interactions. In a real social situation, you can't hide behind avatars and pseudonymity. Anonymous trolls meet stiff opposition in bars, at parties, or in political rallies.

Things are different in the offline world. You could get punched in the physical face, not merely "nudged" or "poked" in a non-existent part of a simulated you known as a profile page. It exists, sort of. But the only sense that registers it is sight, via looking at the web object through a browser.

Don't allow yourself to be hurt by hateful messages or comments. See it as text responding to text, not as your feelings being assaulted by a mean-spirited person. That "person" could be a chatbot programmed to debate keywords.

Social networks are like multi player games, where there are rules for interaction, but strangers can assume any disguise, diversion, or deception in their "identity", and thereby evade accountablity as a known individual.

Social networks are multi player games that have traditions, norms, and netiquette. There are consensus-seeming rules for how to reply to other members, how to participate in debates and discussions, how frequently to post or update, what topics have already been done to death, how to self-promote without seeming mercenary about it, how to package a client promotion so it seems less spammy, and many other behaviors.

If you play nice, you score more points. If you play badly, you are shunned, unFriended, Blocked, Deleted, or worse.

Interactive tools are like video game functionalities. You shoot the zombie in the head, it disintegrates. You DM (direct message, ie, private note) someone, they reply to you via DM.

It's a game, don't you see?

Some members feel hurt emotionally when some total stranger UnFriends them, quits Following their messages. Some members think you "win" by accumulating the most Friends or Followers.

Others are content to just bask in the warm glow of simulated community values and support. It's all a mental hoax, though, when you come right down to it. Only a tiny percentage of those you toss virtual hugs and ASCII smileys at you are of true friend caliber, perhaps those you least expect.

Often, a fan or ally you ignore can be your most devoted and aggressive champion.

Just remember it really is a game, a valuable practice arena for online group connections and participatory skills, but having no real substance, no center of gravity, no cohesive reality.

Enjoy the benevolent simulation and live in two dimensions simultaneously, for they're both "games" with multiple "players".

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