fad for string
quartets and harpsichord recitals, and
regularly assists the Royal Society in
its scientific research on the tribes and
wildlife of the region.
It was with extreme incredulity that
Edmund heard there were Barbary pirates in the Caribbean; he thought they
were confined to the Old World but
soon learned the very concept of “
Barbary pirate” was slanderous European
propaganda against the North Africans,
who were behaving no differently from
the privateers commissioned by European governments, with their letters of
marque and reprisal. Pirates of the Burning Sea occasionally plays with the facts
of history, but always frankly, showing
great respect for the truth and admiring
the remarkable accomplishments of the
18th century. Yet this marvelous virtual
world has few visitors.
Another educationally valuable virtual world is A Tale in the Desert (http://
www.atitd.com), a set of nonviolent
social games with an ancient Egyptian
motif with perhaps only 1,000 subscribers today, one 10,000th the peak population of World of Warcraft (http://www.
Tens of thousands of people might
suddenly subscribe to both Pirates of
the Burning Sea and A Tale in the Desert,
though this is probably a vain hope.
More realistically, leaders of government, education, and computer science
in your world could establish a digital
library to host the best of the early virtual worlds, not as historical curiosities,
but as immortal masterworks of culture
and living laboratories with many uses
in teaching and research. Legislation
comparable to what was used to establish the U.S. Library of Congress (http://
www.loc.gov) might be needed to encourage cooperation by the owners of
the intellectual property.
It will also be necessary to create
some curriculum in and around the
worlds and tweak some of their parameters so users with different goals are
spared having to invest months of effort to gain full access, as they are today.
For example, Pirates of the Burning Sea
allows users who select rare nationali-ties to advance up the experience ladder
twice as fast as others. Both World of
Warcraft and Age of Conan (http://www.
ageofconan.com) allow advanced users
to create new characters who start their
[ContinUed FroM p. 128]
The best of
the early virtual
worlds are immortal
culture and living
many uses in
virtual lives already far advanced.
My avatar in your world (I call him
Bill) has held conferences in both
Second Life and World of Warcraft. It would
be a simple matter for him to create a
high school or college course in either
Pirates of the Burning Sea or A Tale in the
Desert. The former would be good not
only for courses in history but also for
political economy. Quite apart from its
Egyptian motif, A Tale in the Desert offers challenges in puzzle solving, logic,
and the engineering of industrial supply
chains. Urban studies could be taught
in The Matrix Online, and teaching modules incorporating experiments in many
social sciences could be added to any of
The library where I work in Rivendell
is 1,000 years old, and I have trouble
imagining all the difficulties you might
face if you were to try to build a Digital
Library of Virtual Worlds. Yet what a
shame it would be if the glorious creativity of the first generations of virtual
worlds were truly gone forever.
The first great grand opera, l’Orfeo,
composed by Claudio Monteverdi in
1607 is still performed today, and anyone may buy a recording for a few dollars. Four hundred years from now, I
hope your descendents will still be able
to visit me so I can introduce them to
Frodo, Bilbo, and Gandalf… and perhaps all go Orc hunting together.
*Rumilisoun and Edmund Bainbridge are both avatars
of William Sims Bainbridge; the real edmund was bill’s
edmund’s grandson, Commodore William bainbridge, was
held captive for two years by barbary pirates.
© 2010 aCm 0001-0782/10/1200 $10.00