Thursday, July 22, 2010

Feep and The Purple Pants

This is the current opening to my book proposal, trying to ground the higher-level ideas in an understandable and positive story. Granted, it's a story about pants, but a little bit of humor is good too.

One evening, when I was playing Sony’s massively multiplayer online game EverQuest II, one of my guildmates, whose character’s name is Feep, dropped a link for a pair of pants into the guild chat channel. He had just killed some evil creature, and the pants were part of the treasure he had received. Specifically these pants were torn purple pantaloons, which I had never heard of before. The name was unusual. I clicked on the link in the chat window to learn more about these purple pants. Up came the item description and statistics for the pants. They had a spell on them, called rage, that gave the wearer increased strength and stamina but took away intelligence and wisdom. These were not your typical pants or armor from the mythical world of EverQuest II, these were something quite different that really had no place in the game. They didn’t belong to any creature in the game, and they were from another company’s intellectual property altogether. These purple pants belonged to The Hulk from Marvel Comics.

Feep’s purple pants are just one example of the many ways connection and play are experienced on the Internet. People are playful, so Feep and I, and many others, were playing EverQuest II (often called EQII) at that moment. People like to connect, so the creators of EQII at Sony designed the game so that players would do better if they joined forces. People can form long-term guilds, and Feep and I were members of the same guild (although we had never met in real life). The programmers at Sony also made a guild chat channel, so all guild members could text chat with one another, because we like to connect, and communication builds and strengthens a community like a guild. Sharing can strengthen communities as well, and Feep was sharing information.

The homage to The Hulk was playful. The pants had to be made and placed in the game. People can make in-game items—from the mundane, like arrows, to the more spectacular, like fish tanks, and to the completely unnecessary, like toilets. People are driven to create things and are not just passive consumers. Players also make a lot of things about the game that are not in the game, such as guild websites and wikis.

But the pants were not created by players. EQII does not allow players that level of creativity. The Hulk’s purple pants were instead playfully made by the programmers at Sony. All people are driven to play, and play itself is a behavior that builds community.

To play EverQuest II, you need a computer that is connected to the Internet. Although EQII is in some ways tightly controlled (such as with what players can make), in other ways it is not (such as with the text and voice chat channels). The Internet is controlled much less than EQII, which was why Sony could go ahead and make the game run over the Internet without asking anyone’s permission to do so. EQII works, in part, because it runs over the open Internet, and players can make websites, wikis, and have real-life meet-ups. EQII as a whole takes place in many more places than just the EQII game world. EQII works because the designers knew that people like to play and, more importantly, like to connect.

The story of Feep and the purple pants highlights two fundamental human drives: the drive to connect and the drive to play.