(for my own reference) :p
In my studies I’ve been reading a lot of literature concerning Massive Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and they’re generally about EverQuest, World of Warcraft, Ultima Online and so forth. Other texts are about textbased MUDs; things like LambdaMOO. These games typically have the player control a character. You always start out alone, and then find your way in the world, and eventually you may CHOOSE to join a guild/clan/whatever. Utopia is unique in the way that it injects you into a “guild” from the outset; it’s not a player’s choice. You’re forced to cooperate, and yet I think the concept of ‘free cooperation‘ is still applicable, since one can always choose to defect (or indeed, not to play at all).
A major peculiarity is Swirve’s rule that you don’t get to choose whom you play with. In other online games, players choose their guilds (family guilds, elite guilds) and/or choose to play with real life friends, family or workmates. One of the points I will try to make in my thesis is that this social function (of playing games with people close to you in order to maintain ties) is so strong that people who’d ordinarily not break rules in a game will resort to trading in Utopia.
There’s also this weird relationship between player-province-kingdom-alliance. I’ve read nothing in other MMOGs about true self-sacrifice, players ‘taking one for the team’. In Utopia, the province you’ve created over the space of several months can get decimated in less than two days in certain fierce wars, regardless of your skill. However (especially in the more skilled Kingdoms) players rarely mind seeing their creation destroyed like that as long as the Kingdom comes out on top. In public, people boast about their Kingdoms more than they boast about their province (or so it seems to me, maybe I don’t spend enough time with different types of players). I have this idea floating in my head about the Kingdom becoming the ‘character’ of some 20-25 players, the entity that they identify with. Then this Kingdom often sets out to join actual ‘guilds’, i.e. alliances.