the_croupier: (Default)

April 21, 2006

A Night in Milliways (final version - first part)

            On June 30, 2004, a small group of role-players placed their first posts on a new LiveJournal role-playing game named Milliways Bar. Each mun had a character drawn from a popular-culture "canon" (a novel, play, movie, or television show) which the mun hoped to give new life.[1]  In the game, heroes and villains (and some characters who were both or neither) found themselves pulled out of their worlds and brought to a mysterious bar run by an enigmatic Landlord. In reality, their new home was moderated by two (soon to be four) women who first met among the pages of LiveJournal.  Milliways, the setting for this “pan-fandom LiveJournal role-playing game,” first appeared in the 1982 science-fiction novel by Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. Credit for recreating Milliways as a role-playing community belongs to  'Nny ("Yeah, I nicked the name. I was drunk.") of Cardiff, Wales, and Sophie, of Dublin, Ireland.  Two early players--Meg, of Indianapolis, Indiana, and Josie, a recent arrival to Ann Arbor, Michigan--also became moderators a few months later. Though the online community describes Milliways as a bar, not a restaurant, its identity remains otherwise intact as the ultimate tourist attraction, offering visitors a spectacular view of the universe in its final hours.[2]

            Two years later, Milliways Bar is a thriving community with over 150 contributing members from the United States, Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia and South America.[3]  The establishment is populated by a colorful mob of characters from  throughout time and space. Nearly all of them first came to the bar by accident, walking through a normal-looking door only to find themselves guests of the Landlord.  No one has ever seen, much less met, the bar's owner, but day-to-day management of the place is in the hands of Head Barman Bernard Mickey Wrangle (from Tom Robbins’ Still Life with Woodpecker).[4]   Most of the denizens of Milliways spend their time drinking, eating, carousing and feuding with their fellow barmates. Some travel the universe (or rather, the "multiverse"), others are ‘Bound’ to the bar. Many will eventually leave to meet their final Destiny, but until then, their journeys eventually bring them back to Milliways, where each character has, more or less, carved out a space for him-, her-, or itself. [5]

            This initial paper is intended to be an introduction to Milliways Bar. It begins with an overview of the many elements that make up the community, then goes on to consider various topics such as how members learn to play the game, how the community regulates behavior, and how identities evolve within the context of the game. Many of the concepts used here to explore Milliways come from the book Communities of Practice, by Etienne Wenger, which has been very helpful for explaining much of what happens inside and outside the game.[6]

 
Technical aspects of the game

            The main ‘stage’ of the community is the LiveJournal "Milliways Bar."  When a player (known as a ‘mun’) posts a thread to this LiveJournal he is announcing to other players that his character (known as a ‘pup’) has just entered the bar. Muns who want to have their pups interact with the new arrival can ‘tag’ this new thread with posts of their own, and the muns then trade posts back-and-forth. The thread thus becomes a process of collaborative storytelling, and also a record of that interaction for other players in the game. These threads occupy the main column of the Milliways Bar LiveJournal, flanked on the left by icons of the pups contributing to the thread. On the right hand side of the page is a long column of links. At the top are basic reference and introductory pages. Below them are links to several LiveJournal pages which are used in various ways to support the events taking place on the main page. Below these links are a long list of tags, a recent addition to the page, which allows muns to tag a thread with the names of the pups who appear in it and, if the thread is part of a larger story, with the name of the 'plot' as well.[7]


Figure 1: The Milliways Bar LiveJournal

 

            The supporting LiveJournal pages on the right hand side of the page fulfill a number of functions. The most important of these LiveJournals is “Ways Back Room,” which acts as a bulletin board for the entire community. Here muns can post messages to explain their absence (usually the fault of that annoying thing, Real Life), announce new plots or developments for their pups, or coordinate real-life gatherings known as “Millicons.”  In addition to the Back Room, there are also several "Role-Playing


Figure 2: Ways Back Room

 

Communities,” which are supplementary storytelling journals for specific groups in the bar, such as doctors (“ways_infirmary”) or the bar staff (“ways_office”).[8]  Threads posted in these sub-communities are given links to the main page once they are finished so other members of the community can keep up with what is happening in them if they wish.  There are also “Plotting Communities,” which are meta-spaces for coordinating elaborate story lines. Each of these communities is based around pups from a specific canon, including the television series “24” (“24_ways”) and “Lost” (“casta_ways”); the Harry Potter books (“potter_ways”); the musical “Rent” (“ways_for_rent”); and movies such as “Dead Poets Society” (“welton_ways”) and the Star Wars series (“far_far_aways”).  In addition to all of these, each pup has a LiveJournal of his or her own, which is created by the mun during the application process. Every post in Milliways includes a link (found on the left, directly under the icon) to the pup's LiveJournal page, which allows other muns to refer to it and glean basic information about that pup and his or her canon. Finally,


Figure 3: A typical LiveJournal pup information page

 

there are several miscellaneous support pages. These include attempts to document the Milliways community, including a “milliWiki” and a “millipedia,” which, unfortunately, have all proven too time-consuming for their creators to maintain for very long.  There is, however, a very good “milliDictionary” of community terms; pages used for adopting or requesting pups ("millidoption" and "milli_wanted"); and two pages for posting memorable threads ("milliquotes") and quotes from the chatroom ("milli_crack").[9]

            In addition to LiveJournal, most muns use AOL chat rooms to interact with other muns, and nearly all of them use Instant Messaging as well. The largest of the chat rooms is “crackchat” (or “crackways”), described in the FAQ as “the affectionate name we have for our AIM chats.” [10]  Chat and IM give muns a more immediate kind of contact than the LiveJournal pages alone would allow, and make it easier for two or more muns to coordinate the conversation or plot they are constructing in a thread.  They also allow a mun to clarify what he meant if another mun does not understand his most recent post.  Some muns use chat to signal to a collaborating mun that they have just responded to their post. (This is usually done by typing, “Tag <X>,” where <X> is the name of the other mun’s pup.)  But chat is probably most important for providing a virtual space where muns are free to talk about the game, various canons, or anything else that comes to mind. In that respect, they have helped to sustain a sense of community that LiveJournal alone might not have achieved (though chat rooms can also be a source of conflict as well).[11]


Milliways Bar as a ‘community of practice’

            The primary activity of the muns in Milliways Bar is collaborative storytelling, and the means by which they perform this activity, creating LiveJournal threads, is a perfect illustration of Etienne Wenger’s ‘negotiation of meaning.’ [12]  Wenger uses this phrase to refer to the kinds of interactions that take place among members of the community. It includes two processes. The first is participation, which Wenger defines as, "a process of taking part [in an activity], and also to the relations with others that reflect this process. It suggests both action and connection." (This definition is basically the same as the common understanding of the word.)  The second process is reification, in which members "[give] form to [their] experience by producing objects that congeal this experience into 'thingness.'"  In other words, when people take an abstract concept and make it concrete, that concept becomes easier to talk about. "When a newscast reports that 'democracy took a blow during a military coup,' or that 'the economy reacted slowly to the government's action,' the process of reification provides a shortcut to communication." [13]

            When muns create threads in Milliways, they are sharing in an activity, and at the same time, they are establishing or furthering their relations with other members of the Milliways community. Yet this act of participation is also an act of reification, because the thread that constitutes that participation is also a record of it. The thread, as a reified object, is available to the participating muns and all the other muns as well, and that means they are able to negotiate with one another about what that thread should "mean" for the pups (and muns) who took part in it. If the events recorded by the thread are important, the thread might also have meaning for other pups (and muns) in the bar as well. Because different members of the community will probably have different opinions about what that meaning should be, Wenger calls their interaction a "negotiation of meaning." The repercussions of a meaning could play out in other threads.[14]  In fact, any thread could demand a renegotiation of the meaning of a preceding thread, even if an entirely different set of pups and muns are involved. The pups in that later thread may, after all, be reacting to events that took place in the preceding thread, either because they saw what happened (the virtual space of the bar is open enough to allow people to see what others are doing) or because they heard about it from other pups.

            This "negotiation of meaning" brings coherence to what Wenger calls a "community of practice," a community characterized by "mutual engagement," "a joint enterprise," and "a shared repertoire."

            There is mutual engagement when many people come together to perform a "shared practice." For Milliways, this means creating threads as acts of collaborative storytelling.  To participate in this way, a mun must first “app (submit an application for) a pup to the moderators, receive approval for that pup, and then introduce her newly created pup into the bar by means of an introductory thread. Then the mun "enables engagement" by announcing the presence of her pup in the bar, and making herself available to other muns so the process of negotiation can begin.[15]

            The joint enterprise of Milliways is the collective goal of creating plots and other interactions among the pups that make Milliways Bar a rich environment for storytelling. Different muns may have varying methods for achieving this. Some may resort to humor, others to pathos, still others to some combination of these or to other literary modes and genres. Yet the freedom to improvise in this way contributes to the diversity of the storytelling environment.  Muns are also "mutually accountable" to one another because the more they strive to become better role-players (and to help other muns do the same), the more successful and enjoyable Milliways will be as a game. Unfortunately, like any joint enterprise, Milliways is also subject to "external influences." The most important of these is "Real Life," which always puts demands on muns' limited time. Another is inconsistent service provided by internet service providers, LiveJournal and AIM, which regularly disrupts the creation of threads and participation in chat or instant messaging.  But, as Wenger suggests, because every mun must deal with these challenges, they also contribute to the muns’ shared sense of community.[16]

             A shared repertoire consists of "routines, words, tools, ways of doing things, stories, gestures, symbols, genres, actions, or concepts that the community has produced or adopted in the course of its existence, and which have become part of its practice." [17] Milliways' shared repertoire is quite rich, with phrases, concepts, and  memorable threads. A short review of some of the terms used in Milliways suggests how complex  mun' interaction can be, and how conscious they are that they are engaged in collaborative storytelling:

 

  • Canon: Defined by the milliDictionary as the “source material” for a pup. The game accepts a wide range of sources--books, films, television series, graphic novels, online comic strips, and so on—but every Milliways pup must have one. Original pups are not allowed.
  • Crack: An amusingly flexible term for anything considered crazy, usually in a (mostly) positive sense.  The chat room is often called ‘crackchat’ to reflect the fast-paced and frequently silly exchanges that take place there during its best (worst?) moments.
  • Godding: The attempt by one mun to control the actions of another mun’s pup. If this attempt is uninvited, it is considered very rude behavior in the community and will probably result in a reprimand from the moderators. However, if one mun gives another permission to "god her pup," then it can also be a sign of the trust the two have in one another as good muns.[18]  
  • IC and OOC: (“In character” and “Out of character”) Refers to acts, and sometimes thoughts, attributed to a pup by his or another mun. An act ‘in character’ is considered true to that pup as she appeared in the original canon, and/or as that pup has naturally evolved during her time in Milliways.  In some cases--when a pup and a canon is known to several muns--deciding whether a given act is ‘in’ or ‘out’ can be a social process, a true ‘negotiation of meaning.’  That debate can become sharp if an action by one pup has a negative impact on another pup whose mun believes the act was "out of character."

                  Note: The term "OOC" is also used in threads to indicate comments made

      directly by one mun to another mun. There are many reasons why a mun might

      make such a comment, but one of the most common is to clarify intention.  For

      example, if a pup is insulting another pup, the mun may end his post with "[ooc:

      sorry, he's really cranky today.]" to show that the insult is intended as an "in

      character" act by the pup, and not meant to be taken personally by the mun

      herself. [19]

  • Millitime: Placing a given thread out of the chronological order it would otherwise have in the main LiveJournal. This is accomplished by an announcement made at the beginning of the thread and is usually done to fill in a perceivable gap in a given plotline. While ‘Millitime’ is technically a noun, it is usually used as a verb (“[This thread is] Millitimed to three days ago…”)
  • OOM: (“Out of Milliways”) Any Milliways scene that does not take place within the confines of the bar itself.  Threads posted in one of the supporting "Role-playing Communities" are OOMs, as are scenes taking place in pups’ private rooms (located on floors above the bar).  OOMs may also be used to give a pup more depth, usually by showing the pup responding to established events in her canon which would not be of immediate interest to other pups or which would be difficult or impossible to portray within the bar itself.[20]
  • Slowtime: A frequent occurrence when one or another mun must leave the game before they both agree a given thread is complete.  The muns continue to add to the thread as opportunity permits during the following days, or in rare cases, weeks. Ideally, ‘slowtime’ continues until the conversation or scene described in the thread reaches a satisfying conclusion. If a period of slowtiming lasts for some time, it may overlap later interactions, putting a special demand on the muns to keep the timeline of events in proper order.[21]
  • Whitetext: Using an html element to render text in white, effectively making it invisible against the typical white background of Milliways threads. This might be done for various reasons, but the most common one is to reflect the deepest feelings and thoughts of a pup, including some of which the pup himself might not be entirely aware.  Whitetext might also conceal ill-will harbored ‘in character’ by one pup against another.[22]

             Even the virtual space of the bar itself is part of the community's shared repertoire. As the moderators note in their FAQ, “The physical space of the bar is highly fluid. All that we seem to agree on is that there are tables, booths, a Bar, and occasionally a pool table.”  This flexibility also extends to the area ‘behind’ Milliways, which the moderators describe as ‘nebulous’: 

            There are gardens and lawn furniture, thanks to Asar-Suti. There are stables on

            one side. There is a greenhouse. And there is a forest. Seasons follow current

            earth seasons. It’s just easiest that way, and we tend to sort-of follow Scotland’s

            weather patterns, but not precisely by any means….

 
            How much leeway do I really have?

 
            Loads. Some have said the lake is huge; others have said it’s not that big. There

            are rocks here and there along its edge, but they haven’t been all that closely

            described. If you have a worry about a description, do ping Josie, who is the mod

            who tends to handle physical aspects of the bar.[23]

Everything, therefore, is available for negotiation and renegotiation of meaning: the bar, its immediate surroundings, and every event that has taken place there (in the sense that all threads posted in the game become part of the LiveJournal archive). The only constants are the existence of the bar itself, and the simple “Rules” that are always in force:[24]   “No violence in the bar. No business in the bar. No sex in the bar.”[25]  Muns who decide a given plot or interaction demands their pup resort to one of these must either find a way to ‘take it out of the bar’ (and, therefore, into an OOM), or must risk the possibility of temporary imprisonment by the Security staff.  Even in this case, however, the community is sufficiently large that an honor system is in force, with a mun usually contacting another mun (one whose pup is a member of the Security staff) and reporting the illegal act committed by his own pup.



[1]I wish to thank moderators Josie, Meg, Sophie, and 'Nny for their generosity and patience in allowing me to interview them for this study. The starting date for the community was confirmed in that interview on April 8, 2006. The earliest posts are stored in the Milliways Bar LiveJournal archive, as of February 9, 2006, available at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/2004/      

[2]Interview with moderators on April 8, 2006; Thomas L. Strickland, "Herding Cats (and Demons and Witches) Managing Milliways Bar," Jive Magazine, March 30, 2005. Retrieved April 8, 2006, from http://www.jivemagazine.com/article.php?pid=3176; Thanks to the LiveJournal archives feature, the original posts (including three pups who are still active in the game) are available for viewing at: http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/2004/06/30/

[3]An estimated number based on the Milliways Bar contact list as of February 9, 2006. See http://contact.crackbar.com/cgi-bin/addrbook.cgi

[4]The moderators noted that Wrangle was not the first Head Barman. That honor went to the Harry Potter character Sirius Black, who departed the bar on August 30, 2004. For an amusing example of Milliways' reach into Real Life, see:  http://irinaauthor.livejournal.com/288319.html

[5]Milliways Bar LiveJournal, FAQ, at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750 ; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, Community Information, as of February 9, 2006, available at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/profile

[6]A note on the use of pronouns: this paper will typically use feminine pronouns to acknowledge the fact that most Milliways players ("muns") are female. (Thanks to muns Kd, Vivien, Michelle (perfectblue), and Weaves for offering their thoughts about pronoun use in this paper.) In the survey conducted as part of this study, 75 of 83 respondents were female. For survey results, see: http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566

[7]Milliways Bar LiveJournal, Main page, as of February 12, 2006, available at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/

[8]According to the moderators, the first RP Community was "The House of Arch," which was created for characters from the Neil Gaiman novel and BBC television miniseries, Neverwhere. Unlike the Plotting Communities (which are also devoted to specific canons but which tend to host only meta-discussions of character and plot), the Role-Playing Communities include actual plots and pup interactions.

[9]Thanks to mun Cati for clarifying the distinction between milliquotes and milli_crack. All of these supplemental LiveJournals can be found on the right-hand column of the Milliways Bar main page at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/

[11]There are differences of opinion among muns regarding chat, and these will be addressed below in the section on regulating behavior.

[12]Wenger's schema is powerful and helpful for understanding Milliways, but it is also, unfortunately, rather dense and not easy to explain. My hope is that this section succeeds as an explanation of his basic concepts and as an interpretation of what is happening when muns take part in the game. 

[13]Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 55, 58.

[14]Wenger, Communities,55, 59-61.

[15]Wenger, Communities, 72-77; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, Community Information,
http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/profile

[16]Wenger, Communities, 77-82.

[17]Wenger, Communities, 83.

[18]Thanks to moderator Meg for pointing out this distinction.

[19]Thanks to mun Cati for clarifying the double meaning of "OOC."

[20]In the survey conducted for this study, when presented with the statement, "OOMs are just as important for some of my pups' plots as their threads in the bar," 33 of the 83 respondents agreed, and another 27 agreed strongly. (Eight disagreed, and one disagreed strongly.)  Although many OOMs are collaborated threads like those in the bar, some muns use OOMs as an opportunity to write scenes or short stories about their pups, often as a way to foster character development. Events taking place in these OOMs can then be used to influence the pups' later actions in the bar.

For survey results, see: http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566

[21]In the survey conducted for this study, when asked why they typically chose to slowtime a thread, 72 of 82 respondents chose "Time for bed or nap" (many muns participate late in the day or are students with unusual schedules); 49 chose "Real Life" obligations; and 29 chose "Leaving for class or work." (The question allowed respondents to give more than one answer.)  For survey results, see: http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566

[22]See the milliDictionary, created by mun Shati, for the ‘official’ definitions for these terms, as of February 9, 2006, available at http://anthy-rosebride.livejournal.com/23882.html 

[23]Wenger, Communities, 82-83; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, FAQ, http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

[24]Actually, even the existence of the bar is not constant. While the first memorable event in the bar was the "Lake Party" of July 12, 2004, the first coordinated "Plot" was the theft of the entire bar by Carmen Sandiego ("Where in the World?", indeed). Taking place at the end of that summer, it was, as moderator Josie put it, "something that affected everyone. You couldn't ignore it."

[25]Of course, though the rules are always "in force," they are also reifications subject to a certain degree of negotiation. Each mun has her own way of explaining these rules to new pups (and to their muns). Some, for example, present the third rule as "No naked in the bar."  In practice, however, muns seem to agree generally about what the rules mean, and in any case, their ultimate enforcement is maintained by the moderators.

the_croupier: (Default)
April 21, 2006

A Night in Milliways (final version - second part)


Learning in Milliways Bar
           As noted above, joining the Milliways community is a formal process of ‘apping’ a pup and then introducing her into the bar. Playing the game can be somewhat "intimidating" for a new mun because the existing community is large and diverse, and interactions among experienced muns are often filled with short-hand references to the game's rich and complex shared repertoire. The FAQ offers some helpful hints for new muns, including a recommendation that they add as much content as they can to their pup’s personal LiveJournal so other muns can get a sense of what this new pup will be like. But the moderators also warn new muns that:

            Don't be too worried if your first few posts don't garner a large number of

            responses. Many players in Milliways are used to interacting with a core group of

            characters, and we're all of us a bit shy, sometimes, even those of us who've been

            here since the beginning. Don't delete your entrance post if it doesn't get any

            responses; it still lets other people know your character is in the bar.

They further recommend that a new mun have his pup approach others in the bar (by making a post on the other pups' threads). Most experienced muns will welcome the approach of a new mun, and the threads that result from their interactions will, ideally, show the new mun, by example, how the game works as well as begin the process of integrating the new pup (and her mun) into the Milliways community.  These interactions between new and experienced muns are a clear example of Wenger’s "legitimate peripheral participation," teaching beginners the basics of proper threading through practice. Newcomers who brave the chat room may learn the game more quickly because the chat allows a swift exchange of role-playing tips and suggestions.[1]  It should be said, however, that peripheral participation in Milliways is no guarantee that a new mun will become an accomplished member. Role-playing is an art which every mun struggles with at one time or another, but a new mun who finds it especially frustrating may decide not to stay with the game.

            Pups and muns do come and go in Milliways (every bar has its discontinuities), and some muns may find that a given pup has effectively ‘told his story’ and should be retired. In some cases, they may put their pup up for ‘adoption,’ in the hope that another mun might better express the pup’s voice and give him a better chance in the bar.  There is a LiveJournal called “Millidoption” devoted to making these quasi-discontinuities as smooth as possible. [2]

            Interestingly, the politics of participation and reification are not necessarily dependent on the length of time one has belonged to the bar.  To be sure, those who have been a consistent presence for the past two years tend to have greater influence in the community, but ‘younger’ muns have also established a significant presence thanks to their regular appearances, and in particular, their talent and generosity as role-players.  The structure of the game does not inherently encourage a mun to acquire as many contacts as possible—as the moderators note, many muns stay within smaller, established relationships—but there are informal rewards for becoming a widely known member of the Milliways community. In particular, the mun of a well-known and respected pup will be contacted more often by other muns, asking if the mun would be willing to include his popular pup in a new threads and plots. [3]

             The similarities between Milliways Bar and the classic pub described in Ray Oldenburg’s The Great Good Place are obvious.  Milliways is a classic ‘third place,’ where conversation is the most frequent activity, business is not a welcome option, and newcomers must sometimes bide their time before they are welcomed among the ranks of the regulars.[4]  If the Bar at the End of the Universe is sometimes cliquish, it is also a community that welcomes most and whose denizens have learned to tolerate the wildest eccentricities. Oldenburg, one suspects, might well approve.


Behavior in Milliways: Some Initial Comments

           Behavior in the community of Milliways Bar is not strictly regulated, either for muns or for their pups. While there are certain mechanisms available to the moderators and muns for regulating behavior, they are not immediately apparent when one plays the game. Muns typically regulate their own behavior with other muns, and have great autonomy in determining the actions of their pups and even the consequences of those actions. This result seems intended by the moderators, who are, after all, overseeing an entertainment, but the policies and informal practices associated with regulating behavior present two challenges:

            First, a thorough discussion of these mechanisms is complicated by the fact that this study is being conducted according to a policy of full-disclosure to the Milliways community. Therefore, in the interest of not causing undue harm to any mun or moderator, this paper will err on the side of brevity in addressing certain elements, particularly those involving conflict resolution.

            Second, due to the literary nature of the game, there are no 'levels' or other easily quantifiable elements by which to compare pups or mun participation. Nor does Milliways have a system for determining reputations or social presence, much less clearly defined 'goals.'  Yet, although Milliways is short on numbers, one can still discuss reputation and presence in terms of mun interaction, and this paper tries to address how they manifest in the game and the community.   


Joining the Community and the Role of Chat

            Methods of regulating behavior must first ensure that muns are given some understanding of what is or is not expected. The Milliways community accomplishes this using several of the concepts described in Derek Powazek's book, Design for Community. While in general,  "anyone can join," a mun must first go through an approval process (described in part one), which signals to new muns that the community expects a higher level of commitment than would be suggested by a more streamlined and impersonal gateway. The process is also an opportunity for the moderators to make their presence known, even before applicants have joined the community. The moderators can confirm muns' basic contact information  (email), and direct them to the rules pages of the site.[5]

            Once a mun is through the approval process, the expectations of the community are further reinforced by elements of the game which promote 'meta-interactions' among muns, such as the "Back Room," the chat room, and instant messaging. Many of the postings in the Back Room are announcements by muns that they have been or will be called away from the game (for hours, days, or even weeks) by that most dreaded of obligations, "Real Life."  These public apologies can help new muns understand what standards of courtesy prevail in the community.[6]  The chat room offers an even more active environment which can quickly give muns a sense of acceptable behavior both in  chat and on the LiveJournal pages. Typically both virtual spaces "police themselves." [7]

            It should be said, however, that there are differences of opinion in the Milliways community regarding "crackchat" (the largest Milliways-related chat room) and its importance in the game. In the survey, 36 of 83 respondents agreed, and 14 strongly agreed, that A chat room was important for role-playing in Milliways. However, when presented with the statement, "I prefer smaller chat rooms, rather than crackchat, when I RP in Milliways," 29 of the respondents agreed and 21 strongly agreed. [8]  There are several possible reasons for this. Some muns, unfortunately, have had bad experiences in chat (like any community, Milliways has its share of personality conflicts).  However, to  some degree smaller chat rooms may only be a natural reaction to the growth of the community, which by the end of 2005 had become large enough to feel the effects of fragmentation.

            And it should be said that there is no rule to suggest that chat is required for active participation in Milliways. Madb, a mun who has been part of the game since  "Before Chat," prefers to contact other muns by instant messaging or by emailing them.[9]  She adds,   "Generally, however, I have RP'ed with someone for a while before I feel the need to contact them for anything plotty." [10]  Rather than chat, "If I see someone interesting I toss a character at them [in LiveJournal]. If they feel like RP'ing with my character all is good, if not I just shrug and move on. It seems more organic (in my mind) than going into a room and asking people to play with me."  Madb's comments suggest that, just as Milliways allows for many kinds of stories, the game is flexible enough to allow different styles of participation. [11]


Conflict

            Despite this flexibility, however, conflict remains an issue for Milliways. Muns in the game are not entirely anonymous, and the expectation of continued participation does provide an incentive for people to get along.[12]  But text-based online chat communication, deprived of important information such as body language, facial expression, and vocal inflection, cannot avoid occasional misunderstandings which may turn into arguments. Moreover, a community devoted to self-expression should be expected to attract members with strong opinions and feelings.[13]  Fortunately, most such disagreements in Milliways appear to be accidental and unintended, and the community seems largely free from the sort of conscious, malicious behavior noted by Anna DuVal Smith in her study of MicroMUSE.[14]  Nonetheless, there have been disagreements among muns, and while the moderators have expressed their willingness to act as mediators, some muns have found other means for expressing their discontent.[15]

            The most visible forum for conflict are LiveJournal pages devoted to "rants" or "wanks" by disgruntled muns. One of the most well-known (read: 'infamous') of these pages is "Bad Role Players Suck" [16]  "BRPS" receives complaints from players in many LiveJournal role-playing communities, including Milliways, though references to specific characters or players are usually (if not always) disguised. Such a site does provide a kind of release for disagreements in the community, but BRPS is a very public forum, accessible by anyone who knows its address. So while it may act as a pressure valve in some cases, it also can become a source for additional conflict. As an alternative, some Milliways muns have created 'wank communities' which are 'friends-locked,' accessible only by those whom the moderator adds to that LiveJournal's "Friends List." [17]  On the one hand such a community does keep complaints restricted to a smaller and more private group of readers, and this may prevent a conflict from escalating. On the other hand, such a community cannot be considered a resource for the entire community because it is not available to every member, and a given mun may not have access to any of them unless  she is admitted by one of their moderators. If the 'wank communities' do benefit Milliways, their effect across the community is probably uneven at best.  

            For muns who remain 'in the system,' however, the moderators have recently  established "an organized system of consequences for rule-breakage."  First infractions receive a warning, and second infractions a one-week suspension from the game. Each infraction after that results in a doubling of the suspension period. "Repeated disruption and rules-breakage" may result in a mun and his pups being banned from the community. The moderators note that the increasing size of the bar demanded a more formal policy, and that having it will allow them to be more consistent in enforcing the rules than would be possible were they handled on a "case-by-case basis."  Of course, as one moderator noted, "any increase in procedure means an increase in work." [18]


Milliways as a Public Good, and the Issue of Social Loafing
            A public good is "a resource from which all may benefit, regardless of whether they have helped create the good (e.g., public television or a community improvement project)."  A public good may prompt some members of the community to become "free riders" who "enjoy a public good without contributing to its production."  The problem this presents is that if everyone chooses to be a free rider, the resource will never be created.[19]  The collective "public good" of Milliways are the stories created by the muns and the threads by which those stories are told.

            While Milliways must contend with a certain degree of conflict, social loafing seems less of an issue. A mun could opt not to participate, but that would mean the complete absence of her pups from life in the bar. There are reasons why a given mun might not participate for a time (for example, loss of internet access or a "Real Life" obligation), but social loafing is unlikely given the effort a mun must make to apply for the community, and the tendency of Milliways to attract people who wish to participate in the game.[20]

            One could even argue that non-participation is costly. From time-to-time, the moderators go through the "cast list" and "purge" it of pups who have not been played regularly.[21]  Failure to maintain a presence in the bar might also mean losing an opportunity to participate in ongoing storylines that might be relevant to that mun's pups.  Moreover, as the Milliways FAQ notes, most muns are accustomed to interacting with a particular group of other muns, and becoming a member of such an informal circle requires regular participation over time.[22]



[1]Wenger, Communities, 99-102; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, FAQ, http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

[2]Milliways Bar LiveJournal, Millidoption, http://community.livejournal.com/millidoption/  There is a related LiveJournal called Milli_wanted, where muns may post a request that someone app a pup, usually one from the same canon as a pup run by the mun who is posting the request: http://community.livejournal.com/milli_wanted/  In the survey, 19 of 52 respondents said they had retired at least one pup because "her story was told," and 33 said they "had the pup's voice" or run out of stories for her. (The question allowed more than one answer.)  For survey results, see: http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566

[3]Wenger, Communities, 91-93; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, FAQ, http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

[5]Derek M. Powazek, Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in Virtual Places (Indianapolis: New Riders, 2002), 90-99, 119; Milliways Bar LiveJournal, Information page, retrieved on Feb. 12, 2006, from http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/profile; Milliways Bar Livejournal, FAQ, retrieved on February 9, 2006, from            http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

[6]Milliways Bar LiveJournal, “Ways Back Room,” retrieved on February 9, 2006, from  http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/  No specific posting need be offered because even a quick pass through the page will turn up many examples.

[7]Powazek, Design, 120-121.

[9]In their interview, the moderators noted that several months passed before chat became a part of the game. Their best guess was December 2004 or January 2005, the point at which the community had grown just large enough to require more "structure" when its members tried to plan elaborate plots that involved most of their pups. 

[10]"Plotty" meaning a discussion with another mun about an idea for a plot involving their pups.

[11]See http://the-croupier.livejournal.com/3304.html?thread=6888#t6888 for this discussion. Madb has organized several successful plots which have gone on to become points of reference for the community, even among muns who did not participate in them.

[12]Powazek, Design, 119-120.

[13]Anna DuVal Smith, "Problems of conflict management in virtual communities," in Communities in Cyberspace, eds. Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollack (New York: Routledge, 1999), 136. See http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1314559.html from August 4, 2005, and http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1588683.html from October 15, 2005, both retrieved on March 10, 2006, for examples of posts which speak to the standards of behavior expected from members, as well as an acknowledgement of the challenges facing "a community of creative, dynamic people."

[14]Smith, "Problems," 141-142. One exception to this streak of good fortune was a person who tried to present himself in the chat room as one of the muns in the game. The moderators were able to confirm this person was an imposter because  they had no record of the person's name or his adoption of the pup he claimed belonged to him. The following announcement about this incident was posted in the Back Room on October 20, 2005, and retrieved on March 10, 2006: http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1588683.html

[15]See http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1510003.html from September 26, 2006, http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1804901.html from January 2, 2006, and http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1851457.html from January 17, 2006, all retrieved on March 10, 2006, for recent efforts by the moderators to make themselves available to the community. Note the emphasis they repeatedly place on ensuring the privacy of those who make a complaint, and their desire to keep the process of disciplinary actions private as well, "because we all make mistakes, and folks deserve the benefit of the doubt."

[16]BRPS can be found at the following URL: http://community.livejournal.com/bad_rpers_suck/

[17]There were at least two LiveJournals currently operating as 'wank communities' for Milliways Bar when the first draft of this paper was written in March. One of them has since closed down, apparently because the moderator decided the community was doing more harm than its intended good. Because they are technically private, I have decided against citing their URLs here. For the same reason, it is hard to know how rules are established in these communities or what criteria their moderators use to decide who belongs in them and who does not.

[18]Comments from the moderator interview conducted on April 8, 2006. For the announcement of the new policy, instituted on November 1, 2005, and announced in the Back Room, see:  http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1625076.html

[19]Peter Kollock and Marc Smith, "Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities," 109-128, in Computer-Mediated Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by Susan Herring (Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1996).

[20]It is true that by posting their stories in a public LiveJournal, the Milliways muns are making them available to any lurker who wishes to read them. I am not, however, aware of any data available that would suggest how many lurkers Milliways might have, and given the degree of activity in the community, there does not seem to be an immediate problem of incentives encouraging lurking over participation.  

[21]See http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1535028.html from October 4, 2006, and http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/1579559.html from October 17, 2005, both retrieved on March 10, 2006, for instructions given to muns during the purge. Muns could ask the moderators not to purge a pup, but the mun was asked to take the initiative. The muns have recently announced another purge for summer 2006, as will be seen below. For the 'cast list,' now with 449 'fandoms,' see http://www.silveraspen.net/milliways/members.php

[22]See the portion of the FAQ concerning the question "If I am new, how do I get started in a thread?" retrieved February 10, 2006, at http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

the_croupier: (Default)

April 21, 2006

A Night in Milliways (final version - third part)


Reputations and Social Comparisons
             As noted above, Milliways does not have specific levels of participation, a reputation feature (such as eBay), or clearly defined goals. Muns are free to decide for themselves how active they will be in the game, and even a particularly high level of participation in the community will not garner a mun an obvious advantage over other muns. There are benefits to active participation, of course, but they are more subtle and less concrete than those available in, for example, a more commercial online video game.  The more active a mun is, the more visible his pups will be in the game, and this will make other muns more inclined to seek her out for mutual storytelling, both because she is more available (a simple function of being in the bar and in chat more often) and because the more familiar other muns are with her, the more comfortable they are likely to feel about approaching her (and the more receptive they are likely to be if she approaches them).[1]

            Yet while the Milliways FAQ speaks to this benefit, it would be difficult to quantify it because whether announcements of a pups entering the bar receive several responses or none depends on a variety of factors beyond the 'reputation' of the mun. The mun may be introducing her pup into the bar on an unusual day or at an unusual time, when the muns accustomed to interacting with that pup are not present.[2]  Or those other muns might already be engaged in other threads by the time the mun introduces her pup. Or perhaps the introductory sentence or paragraph which the mun offers in her post is simply not interesting enough to attract the usual attention her pup receives.

            Determining the reputation of the mun may be further complicated by the fact that some of her pups may be more popular than others, thanks to the relative popularity of the source material from which she drew them.  This "halo effect" of a popular book, film, or television series may give a new pup a popularity in the game entirely separate from the standing of the mun who has applied for her. Over time the popularity of the mun, her good behavior toward other muns, and her talent for portraying her pup in a recognizable and interesting way, will likely have a greater impact on the pup's reputation in the bar, but the balance of these influences is not easily determined in a quantifiable manner.

            This indeterminacy must also affect the ability of muns to make social comparisons with other muns and their pups. A pup with a particularly high level of notoriety (for example, the Head Barman, Bernard Mickey Wrangle, who belongs to one of the moderators) may inspire upward comparisons by other muns.[3]   However, there are no indications that the high visibility of one pup has directly inspired other muns to make their pups equally recognized and respected in the community.

            Would the addition of a quantifiable reputation feature (and by extension a more concrete means for social comparison) have a beneficial impact on the community and the level of mun participation?  This seems unlikely. The community already has an active roster of muns who regularly contribute fifty to seventy individual threads each day (and sometimes more). While a reputation feature might encourage some added participation, and also give the community a way to acknowledge those muns whose stories are considered 'best,' these benefits would probably be offset by the introduction of a competitive spirit into the game which might discourage new muns (who are often already insecure about their storytelling ability) and generate conflict and ill-will among established muns. The health of Milliways as a game is dependent on the quality of the stories told rather than their quantity, but a reputation system would most likely introduce more problems than benefits.

 
Growing Pains
            The diversity of the Milliways muns contributes to the richness of the game environment, and the globe-spanning reach of the membership holds promise that Milliways might eventually become a round-the-clock experience. (At times the chat room comes within four hours of that feat.)  But growth has not come without cost. Building on the previous section about "Conflict," this section considers some of the effects of that growth on the Milliways community. It must be said, however, that an analysis of network effects emerging due to growth are complicated by the specific relationships muns and their pups establish with one another and the considerable time required to make any one of those relationships meaningful.[4]

              As with many communities, the network effect of adding members to Milliways Bar is not a simple mathematical relationship. Even if one sets aside the difficult question of "talent" in playing the game, not all muns are created equal. The value of a new arrival to any given mun often depends on which pup they have chosen to play, and on what other pups the new mun is willing to adopt at the request of the established mun. To take a simplified example, a mun whose pup is Harry Potter is more likely to welcome the arrival of another pup from that "canon," such as Ron Weasley or Hagrid, than she is the arrival of Gimli the dwarf from The Lord of the Rings. On the other hand, Harry and Gimli, as pups from works of fantasy, are more likely to have something in common with each other than either of them would have with the forensic scientist Gil Grissom from C.S.I.  Despite the whimsy of this example (and its inaccuracy, given that imaginative muns can find surprising points of common interest between very different pups), it makes the point that the value of a mun to another mun depends on the potential of her pup to inspire new plots and interesting interactions for the other pup. Similarly, the loss of such a complementary pup can have a serious impact on the first mun, even to the extent of making her own pup unplayable. In the survey conducted for this study, one mun, when asked for the reason why she retired her pup, replied, "Played the character specifically to interact with another character at another mun's request, and the other mun chose to give up the other character." [5]

            As Wenger notes, members of a community will follow different trajectories of participation. New muns may be drawn into full involvement ("in-bound trajectories"), long-standing muns may continue their full participation ("insider trajectories"), while others involve themselves to only a limited degree ("peripheral trajectories") or even focus on spanning boundaries between communities ("boundary trajectories").[6]  As noted above, in Milliways the effect a mun's trajectory will have on the community will depend on how much other muns expect of her and of her pups. If there is a misunderstanding about the level of commitment a mun is willing to make, or if a competing real-life issue intervenes, the bar may lose a fruitful pup interaction or an interesting plot. But one need not assume that only mun on an in-bound or insider trajectory have something to contribute. A peripheral mun, whose pups only make occasional appearances in the bar, might nonetheless serve as a periodic novelty, or even a rare pleasure, for regular muns.

 
Sub-communities in Milliways
            As suggested above, the growing membership of the Milliways community has also presented certain challenges. As would be the case in any community, when the total number of participants grew, muns subdivided into smaller communities, many of which gained LiveJournals of their own. These "Role-Playing Communities" are accessible from a column on the main Milliways Bar LiveJournal page, and the muns who belong to these sub-communities regularly post links to their plots on the main journal page so the rest of the community can read them as well. So far as it goes, this has proven to be an effective and popular response to a growing community. 

            At the same time, however, the growth of the community since the summer of 2005 raised the possibility that sub-communities had become more significant for many muns than the community as a whole. While overall activity was quite high, there was a sense among the moderators that muns had settled into small cliques whose members interacted only with one another. Possibly as a result of this, events in the bar were becoming repetitive; interactions among the pups were becoming less interesting; and  muns were relying on the constant introduction of new pups to give the game a false sense of novelty. The latter phenomenon was a particular concern because many of the new pups were not being played often enough to allow them to grow into the rich and complex personalities for which Milliways had always been known. The parade of new pups also meant that many of the established regulars were being seen less frequently in the bar. By the spring of 2006, the moderators concluded that the long-term health of the game demanded extraordinary action on their part. In a long message to the community, posted on April 3, 2006, they wrote:

            You've all probably noticed, recently, that the game is... not what it used to be.

            Yes, we know, change is inevitable, natural process of evolution, and so on and so

            forth. But it's become increasingly apparent, over the last few months, that we

            haven't just lost the evolutionary dead-ends (so to speak) but some essential, core

            part of the game that made it such a thrill and such a delight to be a part of.

The solution they proposed was two-fold: first, a cap on new applications for that month, followed by a moratorium on new pups until the following fall, and a systematic purge of pups that had never been played with any regularity.  In addition, throughout the summer: 

            ....Us mods will be working hard to actively promote the kind of community spirit

            that we want to see return to Milliways. We'll introduce and organise things like

            regular car-keys threads.... The mods will also continue to introduce plots similar

            to last month's tab call-in; these won't necessarily be earth-shattering events, but

            they will help to cohere the bar so that, when big plots do go down, you are all

            more accustomed to playing and reacting together. We'll be taking suggestions for

            those across-the-board plots, so email them to the mod account if you've got a

            brainwave. All ideas are welcome. [7]

It remains to be seen whether this plan will be successful over the long run, but for the moment, the announcement has inspired the return of some once familiar faces and instilled new vigor in the community.

            Milliways is fortunate in that, while the community is subject to polarization, there is little indication of it happening along historic fault lines (such as race or nationality) or to the point of provoking extremes, like those described by Cass Sunstein in Republic.com.[8]  Instead, disagreements seem to occur primarily between individuals on the basis of incompatible personalities, or as the result of slights suffered within the game. This may be an indication of a certain cultural homogeneity among Milliways muns (even across national boundaries), but it is difficult to confirm this, due to a lack of reliable demographic information about the community. [9]

 

Community Attachment and the Formation of Identity in Milliways
            In a recent article, Ren, Kraut, and Kiesler place members of communities into two categories: those who feel an attachment that is identity-based (for the community as a whole and its common goal or task) and those who feel an attachment that is based on the bonds they have to individual members of that community.[10]  The distinction they make, as presented in their article, is somewhat overstated, but it provides a useful way to examine how muns first come to the game and also how the moderators' plan may affect the community. While Milliways Bar was the subject of a two-part online magazine article in March 2005, it is not a site which advertises its presence.[11]  Most newcomers seem to learn about the site from people they know who are already members themselves. This suggests their decision to join is driven, at least in part, by a bond-based attachment to the members who told them about the game. On the other hand, the level of commitment required to apply for a pup and then portray him in the bar, particularly over an extended period of time, suggests that there must also be some degree of commitment to the common goal of role-playing, and that suggests an identity-based attachment to Milliways Bar as a whole.

            When asked why they joined, several players emphasized the premise of the game (identity-based), but also acknowledged the friendships that drew them to the game or that they made once they were a part of its community (bond-based).[12]  The muns Ven, Camwyn, and Diana were introduced to the game by friends (two from online communities, one from real life). According to Camwyn, "there were some people I knew playing there, and occasionally some of them... would talk about it, and I wanted in, too."  As for why she stayed with the game:

            The premise is a lot of it, but I'm attached to the characters now--not just mine,

            but other people's. I like exploring how they react to one another, the possibility

            of seeing character in wholly different situations, seeing how people world-build,

            things like that. And the socialising, both in-game and in the chats; it's a common

            point of conversation and an exchange of ideas, and I love that.

Ironically, mun Michelle first heard about Milliways at the LiveJournal "Bad Role-Players Suck": "People were talking about this RP where you could play anyone from any canon.... I'd seen the multi-canon thing before and it usually just looked like an utter mess, but I checked it out, and saw that the writers in Milliways had a lot of talent."  She suspects she was not the only mun Milliways gained from that negative comment at BRPS: "I think a few people came over from that entry because a ton of Milliwaysers came over to defend their RP and were really eloquent about their defense of the place."

            Once they had decided to join Milliways, each of the four muns had to choose which character they would apply for as their pup. All of the muns had been fans of the canons from which their pups were drawn, but when asked whether they made their choice based on canon or character, they all agreed it had been the characters themselves that had inspired their decision, not just the book, movie, and television series in which they first appeared. For example, Camwyn says,

            I've pretty well apped the pups because of the characters. If I'm more interested in

            a canon in general than a pup in particular, I can usually take it to fanfic and write

            what I like there... without stepping on characters' toes. Gimli was apped because

            I wanted a Tolkien pup, but mostly because I really like Gimli; Jah-lila, who's

            relatively minor for me, was a case of loving the canon more. The humans,

            however, are all cases of being very, very fond of the characters in question, with

            the canon a bit behind.

            However, there were other factors involved in their selections as well. Ven's choice was made easier by the fact that she had played her pup, Gorlim (a character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion), in another community, the "Middle-Earth Sock Puppet Theater," for two-and-a-half years before bringing him to Milliways. As for how she picked him in the first place: "I wanted a male, and I wanted to play one fairly angsty (always have done). The reason I took Gorlim was because his NAME was angsty ("the Unhappy")."  Gorlim also offered Ven the advantage of being an obscure figure in his canon. This was helpful because it would give her more freedom while developing his character.  When Camwyn's first pup proved an unsatisfying fit for Milliways, she decided to find "a pup that could interact with a wider spectrum of people without me feeling awkward or them having to know the character already."  At a friend's suggestion, she chose Ray Stanz, the character played by Dan Ackroyd in the movie Ghostbusters.  That turned out to be a good thing for Diana as well because it inspired her to apply for Peter Venkman, the Ghostbuster played by Bill Murray. "I liked the movies, and the cartoon, and the character. I saw there was a Ray, and asked about other characters, was pointed to Milliwanted, and decided to app him. Can relate to the character some."  She notes there is an advantage in having other muns playing pups from the same canon, "because it helps having other canon pups for them [her own pups] to talk to. And also some characters just work better that way, especially such close-knit ones." Michelle chose Illyria, from the Joss Whedon television series Angel, because, "her story's largely untold. There's room for me to do a lot with her that was never done in her own canon, and she has a unique enough voice that I don't feel like I'm playing just anybody.... And because she fit into the setting fairly easily--it wouldn't freak her out to suddenly be in the bar at the end of the universe, but she would have plenty to be curious about." [13]

            The four pups discussed here suggest there is an interesting balance their muns must strike, between having a pup with a large canon or a small one. A large canon will probably mean the pup will be more recognizable to other muns (and, therefore, may make them more interested in interacting right away), but it might also mean the pup's character is more defined and set. A small canon puts more of a burden on a mun to capture the attention of other muns, but has the advantage of giving them more flexibility in allowing their pup's personality to develop in different ways. Ven comments:

            It's up to the mun's discretion how much the character is eventually influenced by

            other worlds and other ways while in the bar. I've heard people say they feel

            obligated out of love the canon's author to remain as close to the original as

            possible, but I don't believe it's necessary to limit character development to the

            extent they seem to have done. I think a character can change and develop to be

            ultimately quite different on the outside, yet can retain his or her essence and still

            do honor to both the canon and creator--can even do that BETTER if you allow

            change, sometimes.

The issue of the pup's relationship to his or her canon is an important one for all the muns, and one that definitely requires its own form of negotiation. Michelle writes,

            I think it's important to find a balance. Personally, I've been told that my take on

            Illyria is very distinct, not really *different* from canon, but a different voice than

            a lot of people use for her. It's the difference between just parroting back lines

            from canon and actually finding something that resonates with you personally. It's

            helpful to stick close to canon, to keep reminding yourself by rewatching or

            rereading if you feel that the character's starting to change fundamentally in a way

            that you're not sure works, but I also think you really have to find something

            about the voice that comes naturally to you.

Diana's approach to the topic almost suggests a kind of journey that pups take when they are apped into Milliways. She writes,

            ....I try to keep the character true to the canon, or at least true to the character

            itself. They start out with their canon voice. But, of course, being in different

            situations, and meeting different people is going to change that some. The

            character won't be in canon anymore, and they're gonna be more their own voice

            as they move along. You take what you experienced, and adapt it to your mind-set

            and perceptions.... So it's really more of the pup's voice itself, the crux of the

            character. I mean it's going to be my pup, since I play them differently, and take

            them through different circumstances than other muns. But the heart of the

            character remains constant....


Conclusion

            Online communities in general are encouraging new thought about the meaning of community, the challenge of regulating behavior in virtual space, and the potential to craft alternate identities in electronic environments. What better place to explore these challenging topics than an interactive game in which an active community of players, in a loosely regulated setting, engage in an ongoing negotiation about the identity of their characters in the context of other characters and the original sources from which they were drawn?  One may concede that the premise of Milliways Bar is whimsical, and still make a case for it as an intriguing and complex example of many of the concepts and theories being addressed in the current, scholarly literature about online communities.  If anything, this paper has only begun to address the Milliways community in this respect. My hope is that, with luck, the creativity and perseverance of its moderators and muns--and a liberal dose of "crack"--Milliways will continue to grow and evolve to become an even better example of a thriving "community of practice" in the future.

 
Selected Bibliography

LiveJournal profile page for spooky_shrink. Retrieved on February 9, 2006, from

            http://spooky-shrink.livejournal.com/profile

Bad RPers Suck LiveJournal. Main page. Retrieved on March 10, 2006, from

            http://community.livejournal.com/bad_rpers_suck/

Kollock, Peter, and Marc Smith. "Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and

            Conflict in Computer Communities," 109-128. In Computer-Mediated

            Communication: Linguistic, Social and Cross-Cultural Perspectives, edited by

            Susan Herring. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1996.

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. "Archives, June 30, 2004." Retrieved on April 8, 2006, from,

            http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/2004/06/30/

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. Cast list. Retrieved on February 12, 2006, from

            http://www.silveraspen.net/milliways/members.php

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. FAQ. Retrieved on February 9, 2006, from

   http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/data/customview?styleid=626750

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. Information page. Retrieved on Feb. 12, 2006, from

            http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/profile

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. Main page. Retrieved on February 12, 2006, from

            http://community.livejournal.com/milliways_bar/

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. “milliDictionary.”  Retrieved on February 9, 2006, from

            http://anthy-rosebride.livejournal.com/23882.html

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. “Millidoption.” Retrieved on February 9, 2006, from

            http://community.livejournal.com/millidoption/

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. "Mod Post."  Retrieved on April 3, 2006, from,

            http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/2083572.html

Milliways Bar LiveJournal. “Ways Back Room.”  Retrieved on February 9, 2006,

            from http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/

Oldenburg, Ray. The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company, 1989.

Powazek, Derek M. Design for Community: The Art of Connecting Real People in

            Virtual Places. Indianapolis: New Riders, 2002.

Reed, David P. "That Sneaky Exponential--Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of

            Community Building." Retrieved April 8, 2006, from:

            http://www.reed.com/dprframeweb/dprframe.asp?section=gfn

Ren, Yuqing, Robert E. Kraut, and Sara Kiesler. "Bond and Identity Theories to

            Understand Design Decisions for Online Communities."  Unpublished manuscript

            (2005): 1-53.

Smith Anna DuVal. "Problems of conflict management in virtual communities." In

            Communities in Cyberspace, eds. Marc A. Smith and Peter Kollack, 134-163.

            New York: Routledge, 1999.

Strickland, Thomas L. "A Different Kind of Game: The Phenomena of Milliways Bar."

            Jive Magazine, March 22, 2005. Retrieved on April 8, 2006, from

            http://www.jivemagazine.com/article.php?pid=3151

Strickland, Thomas L. "Herding Cats (and Demons and Witches) Managing Milliways

            Bar." Jive Magazine, March 30, 2005. Retrieved on April 8, 2006, from

            http://www.jivemagazine.com/article.php?pid=3176

Suls, Jerry et al. "Social Comparison: Why, With Whom, and With What Effect?"

            Current Directions in Psychological Science 11 (2002), 159-163.

Sunstein, Cass. Republic.com. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. New York:

            Cambridge University Press, 1998.



[1]See the portion of the FAQ cited above in footnote #13. It should be said that, while the more often a person makes his pups available in the bar, the more likely it is that other muns will interact with him, there is no guarantee of a strict linear relationship between the time a pup spends in the bar and the time the mun will spend interacting with other muns.

[2]One could argue that a mun with a particularly high reputation in the community would be able to overcome this effect, but even if this was true, a mun with an average reputation would still be indistinguishable from a mun with a very low reputation.

[3]For example, as part of the 'Proxy Model' described by Jerry Suls et al, "Social Comparison: Why, With Whom, and With What Effect?" Current Directions in Psychological Science 11, 2002), 159-160.

[4]In this sense, I believe Milliways confirms Paul Resnick's suspicion that David Reed failed to consider that after a certain number (and in Milliway's case, not a high one) the value of each additional member to any given mun is subject to a declining marginal return. David P. Reed, "That Sneaky Exponential--Beyond Metcalfe's Law to the Power of Community Building." Retrieved April 8, 2006, from http://www.reed.com/dprframeweb/dprframe.asp?section=gfn

[5]This vindicates Reed's notion of Group Forming Networks to some degree, though the problem of declining marginal returns remains. For survey results see: http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566

[6]Etienne Wenger, Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998, 153-158.

[7]Milliways LiveJournal, "Mod Post," April 3, 2006, available at:http://community.livejournal.com/ways_back_room/2083572.html ; In a 'car-key thread' muns submit names of their pups, who are then matched into pairs. The muns then promise to place those pups into the bar and have them interact. This has proven to be a very successful way for pups to meet for the first time. Needless to say, 'car-key' is a wry and very conscious nod to swinging 'key parties,' such as the one depicted in the novel and movie, The Ice Storm. The 'tab call-in' is a reference to an already notorious post from early March 2006, in which Head Barman (and Tom Robbins pup) Bernard Mickey Wrangle announced that all running tabs in the bar would have to be paid down by the end of the month. Given that the last such call had been made over a year-and-a-half before, this spurred a riot of activity in the bar as pups (and their muns) frantically devised inventive--and sometimes unscrupulous--ways to pay for their alarmingly large bills.

[8]Cass Sunstein, Republic.com (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), 65-69, 71-73.

[9]See http://www.surveymonkey.com/Report.asp?U=199959937566 for results of the survey, which does contain a limited amount of demographic information. However, a more comprehensive survey would probably be needed to make any conclusive statements about the relationship between member demographics and the lack of serious conflict (by comparison with case studies of other communities in the literature).

[10]Yuqing Ren, Robert E. Kraut, and Sara Kiesler, "Bond and Identity Theories to Understand Design Decisions for Online Communities," (unpublished manuscript, December 6, 2005), p. 10.

[11]Thomas L. Strickland, "A Different Kind of Game: The Phenomena of Milliways Bar," Jive Magazine, March 22, 2005. Retrieved on April 8, 2006, from http://www.jivemagazine.com/article.php?pid=3151 ; To some degree the moderators do not advertise the site because the use of license characters makes high visibility a not entirely desirable goal.

[12]I wish to think the muns Camwyn, Michelle, Ven, and Diana for being so generous with their time, their experience, and their thoughts during the interviews I conducted for this study.

[13]Both Camwyn and Diana take advantage of the fact that the Ghostbusters franchise has appeared in movies, animated cartoons, and comic books. Each of these media present the characters in different ways, which gives the two muns more opportunities to craft different plots and explore character development in various ways. A similar opportunity is emerging for Michelle, as her pup has started to appear in comics as well.

the_croupier: (Default)
Howdy,

So the survey is done, and you should be able to see the results by clicking here.

I'll be posting the "final" version of the paper in about a week or so.

*collapses*
the_croupier: (Default)
Hi everyone,

This semester I’m taking a class in online communities. The main assignment for the class is a case study of a community, and I’d like to make Milliways the subject of mine. This won’t be research for publishing—just a study to aid my learning about how online communities work. My term paper will be about what the purpose of Milliways is, what technologies it uses (AIM, LiveJournal), and what problems had to be solved to keep the community going. I’ll also be looking at the roles different people play in the community and the identities they create (their pups, basically), and what norms and rules are in place to help everyone get along together.

The course actually has a website, so if you would like to learn more about it, you can find it here: http://icd.si.umich.edu/684

I’m going to be posting notes about what I observe during my study here. Please feel free to visit it at any time, and any feedback you’d like to give about it will be very welcome.

My paper will be looking at the site in general, not at anyone in particular. I’ll be posting a survey for it in the Back Room in the next couple of weeks, and I hope to interview some muns and the mods to help supplement that. But if I plan to use a quote or story from one of you, I will be sure to ask your permission first, and you are completely free to ask me not to use it. Even if I do use a quote, I intend to keep all quotes anonymous for the sake of privacy.

If you have any concerns what I'm doing, you may contact me by email at the.croupier @ gmail.com or you can contact Professor Resnick at presnick @ umich.edu.

Thanks!
Rick

Profile

the_croupier: (Default)
The Croupier's Ramblings

November 2013

S M T W T F S
     12
3456789
10111213141516
171819202122 23
24252627282930

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 26th, 2017 04:42 pm
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios