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Aug 26, 2004

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» I'd go back to school for this from SFSignal
Edward Castronova is a professor at Indiana University and a contributor to the Terra Nove blog. He has created a syllabus for an upcoming upperclass undergraduate course called Virtual Worlds 101. Its more of a discussion course than a course... [Read More]

» Academics Experimenting With Virtual Worlds from Unintended Consequences
"Virtual Worlds" started out as bare-bones text-based fantasy environments or MUDs ("Multi-User Dungeons") populated by a few geekish techies, but have come a long way. As they have developed in complexity and support from entrepreneurs and commercial ... [Read More]

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Comments

1.

Excellent list; you prompted me to reread the Borges story, I'd never made the connection to virtual worlds before. Thank you! But you have so many "classics", I was surprised not to see The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat.

2.

i wish my school had had this course! it sounds challenging and fun.

i always thought the amount of time i spent playing everquest when i was in college should have earned me a few credits.

3.

I'd second Nelson's comment. Oh, and I'll have an update of "Living on the Edge" by then -- nothing like writing a fresh 30 page chapter to make all previous writings seem like they need improvement :-).

4.

This is really cool, Ted. Another thought would be True Names by Vernor Vinge. It's a short story and is at least as influential as Snow Crash.

5.

Neato.

Here's some other suggestions:

1) Either George Martin's "Sandkings" (the original short story) or Sturgeon's "Microcosmic God"--both classic SF stories on the theme of wanting to run or control a minature world.

2) Short selection from Epstein's Growing Artificial Societies. I'm working on an essay about this now, but I'm really struck at how little the virtual worlds/game crowd cross-pollinates with the artificial societies/social simulation/emergence & complexity crowd.


What's the logic of Hamlet under social reality?

6.


I'm really struck at how little the virtual worlds/game crowd cross-pollinates with the artificial societies/social simulation/emergence & complexity crowd.

absolutely!

7.

I have True Names as recommended reading for my Intro class ("Living in the Information Age"). Might put it here too.

Didn't know about Sandkings or Microcosmic God - will track those down. I've thought about the Epstein stuff in the past, in connection to some poli. sci. work I was doing; didn't think of it here. Good tip.

Hamlet: he's living in a society whose reality is different from his own. Both in terms of fact - the dead king was murdered or died in his sleep - and in terms of normatives - the new king is legitimate or not. He then constructs a fantasy world - the play within the play - that depicts his reality explicitly. Is Hamlet's Real actually real? Only the ghost told him it was. Are ghosts real? This cosmic uncertainty causes a lot of the delay and also generates the wierdness in his relationships, termed by others as 'madness.'

With Shakespeare, it's not whether there are any examples between individual and social constructions of truth, it's which one. Macbeth, Othello, Lear, Winter's Tale, As You Like It, maybe a few others.

8.

Absolutely will weigh in to support True Names. Snowcrash is fun, but True Names isn't just great sci-fi --- its really raises important issues about the way being virtual allows you to become more yourself than you ever were before. Put it right up front, since this issue of the way selfhood is released from the confines of materiality is, as I understand it, central to these discussions of virtual reality.

I think for questions of loosing track of normative/ontological judgements you could do a lot better than Hamlet. Midsummer's is the classic 'world within a world' play be Shakespeare in that it tracks between /four/ layers of reality: What the lovers do while ensorcelled, what they remember of it when they awake (the 'official' story of what happened), the mechanicals' play, and Puck's own final injunction that the play the audience watches 'is no more yielding than a dream.' "Dream," right -- that's the central idea of being unable to tell 'reality' from 'fantasy', and what Midsummer moots.

This popping between levels of reality happens a lot in fiction (mad shouts out to Jasper Fforde here). In sociology, too, the 'social construction of reality' has got a great deal of discussion someday want to explore and integrate into the syllabus.

Overall, the syllabus looks rawking, but it seems to be a very close reading of the new literature on virtual worlds that isn't very closely integrated with preexisting work in other disciplines (personhood, identity, communal construal of meaning, etc). It doesn't have to be, of course. But I think an intro week that raises the issues of virtual reality in the context of other courses the students may have taken (soc, anthro *cough*, lit crit) and lays the issues out on the table at a general level would make it even more rawking. Of course, it's very easy for me to say that -- I don't have to teach it!

All in all, though -- looks great. Good enough for me to plagiarize. And that, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

9.

Tell me more about this "Growing Artificial Societies".

BTW, a few years ago emergent systems were a really hot topic with designers. The problem is that the first rule of emergent systems is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Since "unexpected emergent gameplay" is very hard to separate from "unforseen balance nightmare of the first order", most people gave up on it, and quite a few started looking for ways to minimize emergent phenomena in their games.

--Dave

10.


Tell me more about this "Growing Artificial Societies".

The challenge as I see it is that the level of discussion, of say, Sugarscape (e.g. featured in Epstein's book), of Schelling's work (another canonical example), of where the Netlogo and Repast communities are at in developing models... there is a gap in the fidelity of these models, worlds, and say, that of an MMORPG - a monstrously more complicated thing simply but for the kinds of things the MMORPG crowd cares about (e.g. fine-grained playbalancing etc..) folk haven't developed the right sorts of abstractions for 'em (btw some of this discussion hinted at here.

Yet, personally, I believe that to build large-scale and "complete" (larger-scale, self-sustaining, emergent, yack yack) sorts of worlds, folk are going to need to be able to think at those levels, eventually.

IMO Good news, is that this gap between communities over the years ahead may shrink - both as the models on the society simulationist side become more sophisticated (gratis tools and tech improvements that facilitate) and as those on the MMORPG side (e.g. John Arras) push in that direction.

East and West will meet.

11.

erica: i always thought the amount of time i spent playing everquest when i was in college should have earned me a few credits.

Which for me sounds like the big danger of a course like this. You will get some students actually interested in what you are teaching. But there will be others which see the course as a great opportunity to receive credits for playing Everquest. Good luck in sorting them out.

12.

I have to agree that True Names and the Habitat paper are the first two items that would be on MY list. And should be on yours, too.

Bruce

13.

sniff....I wish school was like that back in the day.

14.

Nathan>

and Repast communities are at in developing models

Repast link (above) is broken, should be:

http://repast.sourceforge.net/

15.

Any consideration for topics concerning making a living in virtual worlds? Possibly highlighting Julian's blog and maybe a few other success stories such as MySuperSales and IGE. I'm sure you probably will touch on this throughout the course.

What about ethical considerations concerning the MMORPG sweat shops in Russia and other places? IGE denounces the use of macros, but admits that some of their supply comes from sweat shops. Even though the rules are broken using macro programs, is it better to use human labor instead of computer labor? Not often do we find ourselves going backwards, using humans to do a job that computers perform more efficiently. This topic may be outside the scope of your course though.

16.

Any consideration for topics concerning making a living in virtual worlds? Possibly highlighting Julian's blog and maybe a few other success stories such as MySuperSales and IGE. I'm sure you probably will touch on this throughout the course.

What about ethical considerations concerning the MMORPG sweat shops in Russia and other places? IGE denounces the use of macros, but admits that some of their supply comes from sweat shops. Even though the rules are broken using macro programs, is it better to use human labor instead of computer labor? Not often do we find ourselves going backwards, using humans to do a job that computers perform more efficiently. This topic may be outside the scope of your course though.

17.

Any consideration for topics concerning making a living in virtual worlds? Possibly highlighting Julian's blog and maybe a few other success stories such as MySuperSales and IGE. I'm sure you probably will touch on these throughout the course.

What about ethical considerations concerning the MMORPG sweat shops in Russia and other places? IGE denounces the use of macros, but admits that some of their supply comes from these sweat shops. Even though the rules are broken using macro programs, is it better to have human labor instead? These questions may be outside the bounds of your course, though.

18.

Well, all these suggestions are going to go in. Can't believe I skipped Habitat. Ouch! Sorry Randy.

If you want to look at the 101 syllabus too, it is here:
http://mypage.iu.edu/~castro/TEL101SyllabusF04.doc

19.

Tobold> You will get some students actually interested in what you are teaching. But there will be others which see the course as a great opportunity to receive credits for playing Everquest. Good luck in sorting them out.

:) That's what long reading lists and paper assignments are for. But you know, it is like game design. I have to prototype, and then do some balancing based on who the gamers are. Takes a couple of years.

20.

Damn.... I've been going nuts trying to build my own advanced Sugarscape modelling environment, here's two all ready to roll. But looking at them, I may want to continue with my own anyway, there are different imperatives in using Sugarscape as a world-building tool with an eye towards use in a game, and using it as an exploratory environment. But I still could have saved a lot of time with these to look at.

--Dave

21.

Sorry about the post in triplicate. New to the blog...

22.

Ted - sounds great! We've had several classes spend time in Second Life -- last semester we had classes from 5 different schools who were studying everything from urban planning to game design. One group from Vassar even put on a play! We have a program whereby we'll give free SL accounts to each student for the duration of the semester. If you're interested let me know.

23.

Snow Crash is a must. Let them drink of the metaverse kool-aid.

For the Sociology and Community section I would also recommend T.L.'s "Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds" in R. Schroeder (ed.), The Social Life of Avatars: Presence and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. London: Springer-Verlag, 2002. This is a thorough yet relatively brief and accessible overview of avatar/identity/virtual body issues in social virtual worlds. It's online here.

I was also going to suggest Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulations but perhaps forcing pomo french theory on undergrads is not a great idea. Save it for when you get to teach a graduate course. Boy would I love to see that syllabus too.


24.

Wow, wished I'd read this post a couple of weeks ago when I was doing something very similar! It turns out that I'm teaching a course on Virtual Communities as well. Less on MMRPGs and avatar space, but lots of overlap here. I'll post my readings and themes below in case they are of use.

And now I'm going to go and read that Vinge story . . .

Texts:
Negroponte, being digital
AJ Kim, Community Building on the Web
Lessig, Code

Theme 1: Foundations of communities
Readings
1) Tonnies, F. On Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
2) Oldenburg, R. The Great, Good Place. Ch. 1: The Problem of Place in America.

Topics
1) What is a community?
2) Types of community: differences, classifications, etc.
3) The question of proximity
4) Functions of communities
5) Things that shape community.
6) State of American community
7) If time: Wenger’s Communities of Practice


Theme 2: Histories of media and social networks.
Readings
1) McLuhan, M. Understanding Media. Ch. 1: The Medium is the Message.
2) Czitrom, D. Media and the American Mind. Ch. 1: Lightning Lines
3) Picture “Terrors of the Telephone” from Neuman

Topics
1) Transportation vs. communication
2) Diffusion of technologies
3) Utopian/Dystopian frameworks.
4) Case studies of media and social networks:
a) Writing
b) Telegraph
c) Telephone (Fischer)
5) The Medium is the Message/The Global Village


Theme 3: Theories of Social Impact
Readings
1) Putnam, R. Bowling Alone. Ch. 13: Technology and Mass Media
2) Meyrowitz, J. No Sense of Place. Ch. 3 & 4: Media, Situations and Behavior & Why Roles Change When Media Change
3) “Wheels of Change” article

Topics
1) Social Capital
2) SocioTechnical Capital
3) Social Capital and displacement
4) Crossing barriers, place & space roles,
5) The changing, empowered audience


Theme 4: Becoming Digital
Readings
1) Negroponte, N. Being Digital. Ch. 1, 6, 7, 9-14 (Grad students, whole book)

Topics
1) VR/Cyberspace.
2) Bits are bits (Ch. 1)
3) Delivering bits (Ch. 6)
4) Interfaces, usability (Ch. 7, 10, 11)
5) VR (Ch. 9)
6) The Daily Me, customization (Ch. 12-14)
7) The dot.com boom and euphoria


Theme 5: Utopian: The Internet is the Best Thing Ever
Readings
1) Wellman, B. Computer Networks as Social Networks (short article in Science)
2) Rheingold, H. Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Introduction.

Theme 6: Dystopian: The Internet is the Worst Thing Ever
Readings
1) Glassner, B. The Culture of Fear. 23-35, 58-61
2) Viega, A. (AP story) “California Cities Tackle Violence at Internet Gaming Parlors”
3) Lessig, L. Code. Ch. 3


Theme 7: Back to reality—Code is law
Readings
1) Lessig, L. Code and other laws of cyberspace. How much? Ch. 1, 2,

Topics
1) Code as law (Ch. 1)
2) Four puzzles and themes (Ch. 2)
3) Privacy (Ch. 11)
4) Regulating code (Ch. 5)


Theme 8: Evaluating Online Communities
Readings
1) Galston, W. Does the Internet Strengthen Community?
2) Kim, A. Community Building on the Web. Ch. 1, p. 27-50, 233-242, 299-308
(Grad students read Chs. 1, 2, 7 & 8)

Topics
1) Entry and Exit Costs
2) Purpose
3) Activities: Places (Kim, p. 27-50), events (233-242) and rituals (299-308)
4) Tie strength, bridging and bonding online vs. offline


Theme 9: Identifiers/Identity, Reputation Systems, Roles
Readings
1) Kim, p. 115-199 (Grad students read Ch. 4)
2) Dog cartoon
3) Lessig, Ch. 4
4) Resnick et al, Reputation Systems

Topics
1) Reputational systems/trust. eBay, MySimon & e-commerce
2) Identity/deception
3) Kim on roles
4) Identity and Authentication


Theme 10: Control, Norms and Etiquette: Managing the Commons
Readings
1) Lessig, Ch. 6
2) Kollock, P. & Smith, M. Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities

Topics
1) Governance. Use Lessig, Ch. 6 on architectures of control. It covers Dibbell essay.
2) Conflicts, Tragedy of the commons (Kollock & Smith)


Theme 11: Recap: Building a better sandbox/Design principles
Readings
1) Kollock, P. Design Principles for Online Communities
2) Godwin, M. Nine Principles for Making Virtual Communities Work
3) Optional: Kim’s Introduction, i-xvii.



Course pack contents

1. Tonnies, F. On Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft.
2. Oldenburg, R. The Great, Good Place. Ch. 1: The Problem of Place in America.
3. McLuhan, M. Understanding Media. Ch. 1: The Medium is the Message.
4. Czitrom, D. Media and the American Mind. Ch. 1: Lightning Lines
5. Picture: “Terrors of the Telephone” from Neuman, R. The Future of the Mass Audience
6. Putnam, R. Bowling Alone. Ch. 13: Technology and Mass Media
7. Meyrowitz, J. No Sense of Place. Ch. 3 & 4: Media, Situations and Behavior & Why Roles Change When Media Change
8. Srinivasan, S. (AP Story) “Wheels of Change”
9. Wellman, B. “Computer Networks as Social Networks” (short article in Science)
10. Rheingold, H. Virtual Communities: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Introduction.
11. Glassner, B. The Culture of Fear. 23-35, 58-61
12. Viega, A. (AP story) “California Cities Tackle Violence at Internet Gaming Parlors”
13. Galston, W. Does the Internet Strengthen Community?
14. Dog cartoon
15. Resnick, P. et al. “Reputation Systems.” Communications of the ACM.
16. Kollock, P. & Smith, M. Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities
17. Kollock, P. Design Principles for Online Communities

25.

For the "learning in virtual worlds" section, you might want to check out some work done in Scotland by Paul Maharg among others. He is at the University of Strathclyde. They've experimented with several different types of virtual learning environments, inculding something close to a virtual world. He gave a presentation at this summer's CALI conference (www.cali.org) and I believe a webcast stream of the presentation is available on the 2004 Conference page at the CALI website.

From what I remember, they essentially created a small town, mostly through websites, and then interacted through email with the professors playing the role of many different members of the virtual community.

Here's the published description of that presentation:

Legal sims: from EverQuest to Ardcalloch (and back again)

Jack Balkin's recent piece on virtual worlds (http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/jbalkin/articles/virtual_liberty1.pdf) is yet one more example of the emergence of virtual worlds as legal, economic and cultural entities that deserve serious consideration by real world analysts. Legal education has been slow to discover that virtual simulation is a valuable method of learning about the law, the legal profession and its transactions. In this presentation I shall demonstrate how the Glasgow Graduate School of Law (GGSL) has used virtual simulation to enhance student learning in a postgraduate professional practice course. The tour will include some of the online tools that students and staff used within the simulated environment; learning theory that guided the Learning Technologies Development Unit within the GGSL, and feedback from the users.


26.

Excellent. Betsy, here's another one for your educational Virtual Worlds list.

27.

I'm so bummed. IU is massively under-enrolled this semester and one consequence is that many new courses are threatened with cancellation. Including mine! Oh bother. I thought the undergrads would 'get' this virtual world thing and come to the class in droves. Nope. Wierd. I guess it's one of those moments where you think, look, either your vision of the technological future is true but it's just too out-of-the-box for most people to get excited about right away...or...you are completely and totally insane and no one should pay any attention to your ravings. Leaning to the latter atm...

28.

Edward Castronova>either your vision of the technological future is true but it's just too out-of-the-box for most people to get excited about right away...or...you are completely and totally insane and no one should pay any attention to your ravings.

Or both!

Richard

29.

Don't let the potential low enrollment in your class get you down. I've found that there are often a lot of other factors, completely unrelated to the courses or the profs themselves, that can affect enrollment in particular classes.

Scott

30.

One of which is: Who the heck is this professor? I had half as many students as I thought I'd get as well, but the others here said that's standard with new names.

So I'll only worry if there are that few next term, i.e. they know who the prof. is and avoid him.

31.

Great to see the syllabus issue discussed here :)

I've done two broadly introductory courses on virtual worlds, one in 2000 and one in 2002 (2002 course titled Virtual Worlds and Spaces, with colleague Troels Degn Johansson, who introduced some interesting readings on the space perspective).
Unfortunately, the course plans are in Danish only, and they are written before Bartle's book came out, but I'd like to share them anyway, perhaps there are some unknown texts for some here - and hopefully, the readings suggested can be spotted in the midst of weird Danish words ;).
Personally, I've always been fond of Susan C. Warshauer's "Multi-User Environment Studies: Defining a Field of Study and Four Approaches to the Design of Multi-User Environments", one of the first papers I saw who tried to introduce a more theoreticallly-methodologically perspective on the study of virtual environments (with a humanities slant). In it, she also introduces some of her readings on the subject from her 1998 class...(abstract: http://www3.oup.co.uk/litlin/hdb/Volume_13/Issue_04/130199.sgm.abs.html - article itself has sadly been taken offline)

DK Virtual Worlds Course 2000: http://www.itu.dk/courses/VV/E2000/kursplan.htm
DK Virtaul Worlds & Spaces Course: http://www.it-c.dk/courses/VV/F2002/vvrprogram.html

:) Lisbeth

32.

I hope the course goes well, and I'd like to hear what comes of it.

There is a rich, very old discourse on virtuality in the Gnostic tradition, addressing questions about perception and radical doubt, and the ethics of the virtual (if this world is just a prison created by the demiurge, what responsibilities do we have to each other? What does accountability mean for a virtual subject? etc.) I think readings from late antiquity - Plotinus especially - could be compelling.

33.

The course has been cancelled, but I've been asked to re-fashion it for an introductory class (100-level). It iwll now be offered as an intensive 8-week class in the second half of this semester.

According to the very helpful sharing above, it seems that the immediate publicity and instant popularity of a course, for a new professor no one knows, depends primarily on the name of the course. So we should redirect this debate to a question of naming.

So: what name?

My first thought for an effective and popular title would be:

TEL 169: SEX AND THE VIDEO GAME: BEER AND SEX

I checked the university course catalog and there hasn't been a course with this name since 1994, when the Actuarial Science Faculty were dismissed. It's available; maybe I should take it.

34.

Well, I'm new as well and "Virtual Communities" gave me only about 60% of my max enrollment (19 for 30 slots). My department head said that "eCommunities" was too esoteric, and now I understand why she made me change the name. No doubt the beer approach would add 25% more students at a -30% reduction in quality, but would land you instant icon status here. Other non-PC suggestions: Get it On(line): Virtual Sex; Why Napster Rules; Play EverQuest--No Really, Play EverQuest

or perhaps the more playful:
Take the Red Pill: Virtual Worlds
Strangers, Friends and Enemies: Cybersociety

-Dmitri

35.

Whatever the new title is, try to implicate gaming. Video games are huge with your target demographic. Throw some of the more popular game titles into the title of your course. Then maybe you can link that part of the course title to a more esoteric portion (for the non-gamers).

Everquest and Far Cry: Living and (Inter)Acting in Virtual Worlds

Refashioning it as a lower level course could be a blessing in the long run. I've noticed that my enrollment in upper level seminars varies dramatically depending on whether I've taught larger basic courses to that particular year of students. For example, last year my cyberlaw seminar was oversubscribed with 28 students (max should be 18 or so). This year I only have 10 students. The main differnce is that I had not taught this year's seminar elegible students previously whereas I had tuaght at least half of those eligible the year before. In other words, you can build a bit of a following, and that can help make some of the more interesting upper-level courses a success in terms of enrollment.

-Scott

36.

I wish it was offered as an online course...I'd sign up!

Very interesting topic though, I'll be checking out many of the reading materials you've listed here.

37.

Ted, I am sorry it was canceled in its original form. I think this course would rock and it certainly is cutting edge. Unfortunately I am fighting the same type of mentality at my college. I have to learn how to play the game of semantics better. I just am not a fan of doing that but I guess I will have to get over it. :)

Not that you need another book suggestion but I have fallen in love with Online Game Interactivity Theory by Markus Friedl. Thorough but brief history on MUDS and MMOs. Wonderful discussion on the psychology, sociology, and community aspects of game design. Gets into implementation elements that very much parallel elearning best practices and good teaching principles in online teaching (important to me given my role in Distance Learning at Fullerton). And it has a host of interviews with people in the game industry, some of whom post on here. :)

I also have been spending a good deal of time reading Understanding the Psychology of Internet Behaviour: Virtual Worlds, Real Lives by Adam Joinson. This one is vying for the #1 MVB (Most Valuable Book) spot on my list.

And, btw, I am jealous!! This is EXACTLY the type of course I have been dying to teach. You are definitely in a good place!

Dmitri, while I would have been hard pressed to recommend this 18 months ago, I have finally been convinced by one of my Pepperdine profs that Etienne Wenger has indeed contributed some very important and significant work in the field of virtual communities and communities of practice. While Situated Learning would be way too dense for an undergrad class (Heck! I couldn't grasp or integrate all the concepts in my doctoral class when we had to read it. Finally, two years later I am not only getting it but (gasp!) applying it! /smile), Wenger does have Cultivating Communities of Practice that is geared for the more practical and every day needs most of us have. If you already have this one on your list and are a communities guru, forgive my ignorance. :)

Ok, this is too long for a first post...and I am supposed to be printing off boarding passes for Austin! See you there, Ted. And hopefully many of those posting here!

38.

Thanks, Angela.

I had Wenger as a Ph.D. student and I think he does have a lot to contribute, but I don't know if my undergrads could hang with him. Like you said, he's pretty intense. This term I'm going to use the ideas in class (as much as I grok them myself, anyway) and see if it takes.

39.

Angela,

thanks for your kind words!
I'm glad you like the book and hope it is also useful in some way...

Has anybody else on here read it (and maybe even experience in using it in a course)?
Any kind of feedback/suggestions is always highly appreciated...

40.

what the heck r u talking about??!!! u make no sense! this is the most boring site in the world! what a waste of money!

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