This book is shiny. I mean physically shiny, not shiny as in Firefly-universe slang. This is not a good thing in a book, as the makers of ebook readers know. When I read it, I have to be careful how I hold it, otherwise the shiny ink on the shiny paper reflects the overhead light straight into my eyes making it impossible to read.

Although she has clearly done some very good research and talked to many, there are a few strange howlers in here. In chapter 1 she introduces Second Life and briefly refers to MUDs (Multi-User Dungeons) as their precursor, as played by people in the 1990s. Strange, that, as I remember being introduced to the local official MUD (many MUDs and similar systems ran unofficially, sometimes on cracked machines and sometimes just by a superuser running it overnight without authorisation) run on the VAX at the University of Leeds School of Computer Studies (as it was then) by the Computer Society. MUDs were already well advanced by 1988, so while they may have increased in user numbers as networking came to more people in the 1990s they were already out and about in the 1980s. Later she talks about MUDs more and goes into their history, but it’s almost like she wrote the first chapter early on before her foray into the history of multiplayer online games and never went back and corrected the first chapter. There’s also something of a categorisation difficulty here. SL is more reminiscent, to me anyway, of MUSHes than MUDs, while WoW and similar are the MUDs of today. The difference is an ethos of platform-driven definition of space and capability versus a user-driven one. As Coleman’s thesis is about user-driven network life enhancements, MUSHes are the place to start, not MUDs, just as she focusses on SL rather than WoW.

This is sympomatic of the entire book, actually. The author is a literary theorist and it shows. She neither really understands the technology, nor the psychology, sociology of online worlds. There are some flashes of insight and the interviews with some of the major figures in the field (Doctorow, Lanier etc) are worth reading, though more for their in-depth responses than the quality of her questions. I bought and read this primarily because a review in the THE mentioned that she had the thesis that the digital and physical worlds are not really separate any more, but that cross-reality (or x-reality as she insists on calling it) is now the norm. This fits with my own thinking on issues of identity and reputation (that often one now has a joint identity not two separate ones). She has a somewhat interesting take on the ideas and I don’t regret spending the time to read this mercifully short book, but in the end it’s quite disappointing. I think she needed collaborators on the project, from technology, sociology, psychology or similar.