The following course outline is for a upperclass undergraduate seminar on "Virtual Worlds" here at Indiana University. I'd be eager to get some commentary before inflicting this stuff on helpless students. Don't forget that they are college students, after all, and won't be enthusiastic about reading thousands of pages. Also, book purchases are to be kept to a minimum. The goal is to cover the basics without imposing too much burden. Plus I want lots of time to just discuss things. Suggestions for improvement / change of direction / more representative works are welcome.
Indiana University Telecommunications Department
TEL 451 Topical Seminar in Media and Society: Virtual Worlds
TR 4:00pm – 5:15pm Room TV 245
Instructor: Edward Castronova, Associate Professor of Telecommunications
Contact information: firstname.lastname@example.org or try Comolan at Yahoo! IM
Office (temporary): TV 337. Office hours: Mondays 9-10am, Wednesdays 3-4pm, and by appointment.
Course abstract. The seminar introduces students to massively multi-user spaces on the internet, especially those with a role-playing game component. We will go over the history of virtual worlds as a communication technology, and survey their current state. We will use theories from a wide range of disciplines to predict future growth trends. We will also discuss implications for human interaction and public policy in the near and long term. Students will have about 100 pages of reading weekly: some of it fun, none of it technical, all of it interesting. Grading based on in-class presentations, a final paper, and overall participation. If you’re interested in learning how much your grandchildren’s world will be different from ours, this is a good course for you. Less lofty objectives include: introducing students to the most rapidly growing sector of the game industry, making them familiar with the guts of avatar-mediated communication technology, and point out some of the more pressing policy issues being raised.
Format: The seminar will rely exclusively on round-table discussions of the readings and course material, jump-started each session by a specific student.
Grading. Grades will be based on 1) three kinds of in-class presentation work (worth 10% each, 30% total), 2) a research paper (50%), and 3) overall class participation (20%). The research paper should aim at 15 - 20 pages and can be a critique/analysis of an existing virtual world (example: explain how the combat system in Game X encourages grief play) or a piece of original research (example: discuss the implications of censorship as applied to a player-run news website). More information about the paper will be given in class. The paper will be the basis for a presentation to the class near the end of the semester (10% of the total grade). A second presentation will be a brief, 10-minute ‘first impressions’ report on a massively multi-user world of your choice; this is also 10% of the total grade. The final 10% of presentations grading comes from brief presentations / introductions of the readings for the class. Each student may have more than one of these; the total weight will add up to 10%. Class participation is based on your overall behavior in class: contributing in a friendly, respectful, sincere way. Highest grades in presentations and class participation go to those who can clearly summarize the essence of their ideas and then engage in friendly Q&A about them.
Materials. Most of the class readings are available on the web. There are some items that you are required to purchase:
Bartle, Richard, Designing Virtual Worlds, New Riders, 2003.
Kurzweil, Ray, The Age of Spiritual Machines, Penguin, 2000.
In addition, each student will have to spend some time in a virtual world and report about that experience in class.
Finally, it is recommended that students spend time at the Terra Nova blog site. Certain posts may be highlighted as required reading.
August 31. Social reality
Borges, The Lottery in Babylon
Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum
September 7. Technological change
Joy, Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us
September 14. Early history
Dibbell, A Rape in Cyberspace
Bartle, chapter 1, pp 1-32
Dibbell, My Tiny Life
September 21. Current state
Castronova, Chapter 3
Bartle, chapter 1, pp 32-80
September 28. Design features I, the front
Bartle, chapters 4 and 5
October 5. Design features II, the back end
Castronova, chapter 4
Bartle, chapter 2
October 12. Effects on the user.
Yee, The Daedalus Project
Bartle, chapter 3
Book, Traveling Through Cyberspace
Gerard Jones, Killing Monsters
Submit a one-paragraph description of your paper topic.
October 19. Sociology and Community
Jakobsson and Taylor, The Sopranos Meet EverQuest
Castronova, The Price of ‘Man’ and ‘Woman’
Koster, The Laws of Online World Design
October 26. Learning in virtual environments.
IU Center for Research on Learning and Technology, Quest Atlantis
Steinkuehler, Learning in Massively Multiplayer Games
November 2. Economic systems and commodification
Castronova, Virtual Worlds
Dibbell, The Unreal Estate Boom
Book, These bodies are free, so get one now!
Submit a one-page outline of your paper.
November 9. Legal implications
Hunter and Lastowka, The Laws of the Virtual Worlds
Bartle, Pitfalls of Virtual Property
Balkin, Virtual Liberty
November 16. Long-run implications
Castronova, On Virtual Economies
Jenkins, The Virtual World as a Company Town
Ondrejka, Living on the Edge
Reynolds, Playing a “Good” Game
Ward, The Dark Side of Digital Utopia
November 23. Workshop: how to make formal presentations
November 30. Student presentations
December 7. Student presentations
December 13. This is a Monday. Papers are due in the Turnitin.com dropbox by 2pm.