I recently learned that there is a small, but enthusiastic group of people who play Red Dead Redemption 2 online, but they don’t compete, they role play. The details are too much to get into here, but the gist is that thousands of people will sign into a multiplayer server for the game, and instead of trying to kill each other, they genuinely pretend to be the character they’ve created and live in this world.
It’s still the same game, so people could pull out a gun and mow down everyone else, but it sounds like that effectively does not happen, people doing this take it seriously.
On this week’s Patreon-only episode of DLC, Daanish Syed explained the application process he went through to get in, and it sounds intense. The rules document you need to read is 13,000 words long and you need to take a test with randomized short-answer questions where you try to show that you understand both the rules and the spirit of the experience you’re trying to join. He said it took several hours to complete, even with someone who had done it before helping him.
And his application was denied.
It did come back with notes from the people who graded it, he was able to update his answers, and get accepted. The process took hours over several days.
Friction as a feature
If gamers are known for doing anything online, it’s griefing each other, and a role playing server on Red Dead Redemption 2 Online sure sounds like a place trolls would love to go and mess things up. However, it sounds like this doesn’t really happen on this role playing RDR2 server, and this arduous application process is surely to credit for that.
Who is going to spend hours learning the rules for this, doing a test, and answering those questions so well that the human grading that test doesn’t see through your answers? No one! Boot up any other multiplayer game and you can be teabagging and calling other people horrible things in seconds.
The friction of signing up for this Red Dead Redemption server is fundamental to keeping it a place that is enjoyable for the people who want that sort of thing.
Ever since I got active again on Mastodon in October 2022, I’ve been of the opinion that Mastodon needs to improve its sign up process (or at the very least how Mastodon enthusiasts explained it to people) because many people find getting started with Mastodon confusing. You can say, “it’s not actually confusing” all you want, but the fact is many people feel this way, and it’s a poor product designer who blames thousands (millions) of users with the same feeling.
I’ve also spoken, as others have as well, about the sometimes offputting "Mastodon vibe". If you click with it, then great! If you don't, well then it can be weird at best and unwelcoming at worst.
I still do think that Mastodon should be easier to join, and that enthusiasts like myself need to rethink our pitches to those who are interested to not scare them away.
As I’ve thought about before, I’m learning that I’m personally more excited about ActivityPub than I am about Mastodon specifically. I’m excited about the idea of being able to use Ivory to log into my Mastodon account and talk to people using Micro.blog, Tumblr, or Threads (one day). RSS currently lets me follow many disparate sites all in one place, and email lets me communicate with people using a millions difference clients and services. I love that if I get frustrated with my RSS or email app, I can easily migrate to another and not really lose much data or inconvenience anyone else. This is what I want for social media.
So maybe there is value in Mastodon being a place that’s a little trickier to get your head around than centralized services with dedicated UX teams optimizing around frictionless experiences. Maybe that friction leads to a crowd that is more like-minded and can interact more cordially. I certainly get into debates on Mastodon, and sometimes you roll your eyes at people there, but I was once told I should kill myself because someone didn’t like the Pixel vs iPhone photo comparison I did on Twitter, so it’s not that bad 😬
What I hope for today
I really want to see the ActivityPub promise continue to advance. There are a handful of meaningful services that use ActivityPub today, but I want to see that grow. Threads, if and when it federates, would be huge here, and I’d hope to see other social networks down the road adopt this as well.
I want to use the software I love and talk to the people I want to, but I don’t want to be isolated from the rest of the social web I also don’t want to live in an exclusive club where only the “smartest” and nerdiest can jump through the hoops to join. People my age often talk about the early web with fondness because people were nicer and the online community was more alike than they were different. That was wonderful if you were in the in-crowd, but the vast majority of people weren’t there because they didn’t have the knowledge or the money to get a computer, go online, and figure out where to go to find these pockets of “the old web.” Others had the means ro get online, but didn't feel welcome in those homogenious groups, and didn't participate.
What I want are pockets of the internet that have their own identity and that can feel welcoming to likeminded people, but I also want to make sure that these pockets aren’t closed off to the rest of the world, and I guess that’s why I am softening on my “Mastodon must make sign up easier” feelings, but hardening on my “ActivityPub all the thing” opinion.