"Platforms", aka MMORPGs

September 24, 2023 by Lucian Mogosanu

Well, dear reader, don't the two notions strike you as eerily similar?

You recall, I expect Iu Da, or The Profiling Machine: both pieces deal with such platforms, from their respective concrete and abstract perspectives. More generally, platforms are the go-to place on the "internet" for the average man, a bunch of global scale services aiming primarily to eat up the web space. You may even recall Facebook from the time everyone called it "social media", so what, technically speaking wasn't it a platform at the time?

If you go back in time two to three decades or so1, you'll find out that the original platforms served either as site aggregators, which is how Google also became fashionable at the beginning, or primarily as games, since those required "scaling" -- first of all in terms of bandwidth -- before that was even possible. Ultima Online, launched in 1997, had about two hundred and fifty thousand subscribers by 2001, two years and a half before Facebook launched. World of Warcraft, probably the closest-to-hand example, got about one and a half million users by 2006, while I don't know if I can trust the twelve million figure reported by Facebook, mainly because I can't relate it to any experience. Facebook might have been big by 2006, but I knew a whole lot of people, from Romania all across the ocean, who were playing World of Warcraft. And sure, I was in high school at the time, but by 2011 I had known sixty-year old Americans who played World of Warcraft while not using Facebook, so... I don't know.

In any case, if we were to relegate MMORPGs -- Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games; I suppose this doesn't resonate quite as well as Platforms does -- to the place of "platforms", then they were the very first platforms to walk these fields of bits. I'd say that on the contrary, platforms are particular implementations of MMORPGs, so much so that it doesn't even make any sense to call them "platforms".

Take Facebook for example: while you supposedly need to use your real name -- although I've met plenty of exceptions who weren't any sort of friends with Zuck -- the so-called user experience once you start using it is precisely that of a multiplayer game. I think they even give you a tutorial at the beginning and then you immediately hop into the role of an attention whore who posts for likes. Surely, things have gotten a whole deal more complicated since the early Facebook days, but otherwise the overall experience, from the interface knobs to the suspension of disbelief, clearly resembles that of a MMO. You even get hit points and wait times and anyway, I shan't press the point with further examples, as they can be provided without too much of a stretch.

So then we can understand why platforms as viewed from the gaming perspective can serve as quite a benefit to the pragmatist, even with their confusingly ever-changing rules. Some use them for pure escapism, or whatever it is that you can call scrolling through pics of cats, while others use them to make money, while yet a bunch of others use them to keep in touch with particular social circles. Facebook is a "let's be social" simulator, while YouTube is a "let's do TV on the web" game, while TikTok and Instragam are marketing data collection monsters and monstrous meme machines. What remains is, say, Fortnite or Roblox, which, although orders of magnitude smaller than their elder counterparts, work mainly through the accretion of young users, whose lifes at the point are still centred around playing. And like they say, you can't step into the same river twice, so we'll see what time has in store for us.

Of course, the observation hanging over this pragmatist view would be that just like the betting shops over in ye olde Rahova, this crop of platformists don't have your best interest in mind. The more honest among them will ask for a subscription upfront -- which is fine and dandy, because then you'll just be paying to use some infrastructure -- while dirtier actors will use you to collect all sorts of marketing data, from the time spent in front of a certain web element to your posts, comments and whatnot. This may constitute a very small price to pay for some, this being the argument that I get most often from most users. This is fair enough, but let's understand each other: once someone else controls the stuff that your mind consumes, you are very much at the will of others2, and in the purest American tradition, anything you say or do...

Anyways, far be it from me to tell others where or how to live their lives.

Post Scriptum: Remember that time when Zuck wanted to make a Second Life clone and failed spectacularly?

  1. If you go back a bit more, then you'll find out that the original platforms were... what, casinos?

    I suppose that going even deeper into this, the state was the original platform, while all the shiny tech thingamajiggs nowadays are mere simulacra. 

  2. Sure, they can be great tools for exploration, to the degree that the controls you have on the platform are compatible with what you wish to find. There's surely a place on TikTok where someone discusses Aristotle's Politics, but I suppose that still won't be much help if you haven't actually read the thing in question. 

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