A lot of work has gone into creating virtual worlds. Examples would be The Oz Project [Bat88] as mentioned earlier, The Palace [Mea95] and Alpha Worlds [Wor96]. The graphics or text descriptions for these worlds sets the tone under which people then create avatars, characters which represent a certain aspect of their players' inner life. Only some worlds give their participants the freedom to build their own characters or build onto the world. Avatars in simulated worlds have no reason for being other than to explore, possibly build onto the world and interact with other avatars or intelligent agents. Sometimes a timeline of events are developed for these worlds with which people may or may not choose to have their avatars involved. Nevertheless, usually no intrinsic reason for their involvement is set in place.
These are without a doubt fictional worlds, yet stories tend to be serendipitous happenstances. That is not to say these are not enjoyable experiences, and usually provide excellent opportunities for creativity and socialising. But about as much storytelling goes on here as when someone takes a ride on the Mad Hatter's Teacups at Disneyland. Characters, both avatars and intelligent agents, need to be given goals, which generate or draw them into events, which come to some sort of resolution, thus forming a plot. In this way the audience is better able to draw meaning from their experience and so experience a story. This requires more organisation and cooperation amongst interactors. Therefore creating stories in these worlds is managed with the ongoing presence of human story creators and facilitators known as "wizards". Such a simulated world then crosses over into becoming a roleplaying game.
Copyright © 1997 Katherine Phelps