Designing Virtual Worlds, by Richard Bartle.
This is a guest review by Kit Devine. Kit works as a Computer Animation Lecturer at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS).
If you read only one book on designing virtual worlds read this one. Bartle co-wrote the first MUD in 1978 and since then has worked with most of the on-line gaming companies in the UK. In this extremely readable book he covers all aspects of virtual worlds in an erudite, witty and comprehensive way. Bartle has read most, if not all, of the literature on virtual worlds and he clearly summarises the various positions and ideas. For this reason alone, the book is worth reading.
The opening chapters cover the history and implementation of virtual worlds before examining in great depth the players and their motivations. He identifies player types and player evolution and then moves on to what, for most people, will be the critical chapters – the design of virtual worlds, life within them and the hero’s journey undertaken by players. He sums up virtual worlds as places, not games, and proposes a critical aesthetic for virtual worlds.
He concludes by saying ‘The virtual world is your [the designer’s] exploration of yourself. It’s your hero’s journey.’ In a final coda he addresses the important and often forgotten ethical considerations that designers of virtual worlds ought to be aware of.
The rapid developments in virtual worlds mean that books can quickly date. I hope that a second edition is in the pipeline to cover developments since 2004 such as Second Life.