Academic Instincts and Virtual World Studies

GarberMarjorie Garber's Academic Instincts (Princeton 2001) is the kind of book that ought to be read in a warm and bustling university coffee shop furnished with comfy chairs, preferably during a single cold and overcast rainy (maybe snowy) afternoon.  It is a niche book for a niche market: academics who are interested in a collection of anecdotes and thoughtful insights about their role in society and relative to each other.  Those looking for something else, e.g. a wealth of rigorous data and empiricism, a tell-all about academic intrigue, a manifesto, or even a coherently defended thesis will probably be disappointed.  (You'll see this disappointment on some of the Amazon reviews.)  But if Garber's other published titles, like Dog Love and Sex and Real Estate, pique your interest, you might enjoy this book.  It is partially a defense of such idiosyncratic investigations.

Which is why I mention it here.  Garber is a professor of English at Harvard.  The closest her book comes to having anything to do with virtual worlds is the few swipes it takes at "jargon" derived from cyberculture.  And yet, in many ways, this book could serve as an important roadmap for Virtual World Studies, and perhaps even for this blog.

Garber's book is divided into three chapters.  The first deals with amateurs and professionals, and is available here for free.  The second chapter deals with the topic of "interdisciplinarity."  The last is about jargon.  All three, I think, have some bearing on Game Studies today.

The first chapster about amateurs and professionals is topical in that we are in the midst of an attempt to professionalize the study of games in various corners of the academy.  "Ludology," says Wired and the Associated Press, is a new term of art for a new type of professional academic.  With Games and Culture and Game Studies, we've got two academic journals devoted to the new medium of games.  I don't want to risk running down a list of leading figures, but academic professionalism w/r/t the study of computer games is certainly percolating at ITU, Georgia, MIT and other places.  We're seeing Ph.D. programs crop up that are more or less about the study of games and elsewhere we're seeing dissertations that dwell on aspects of virtual worlds.  (NB: I'm talking about "game studies" and "virtual world studies" more or less interchangeably here--I realize I'm ignoring the different paths taken in the academic study of video games vs. virtual worlds.)

In general, this budding professionalization of game studies seems like great news to me.  It probably ought to seem that way to anyone passionate about the medium of electronic games.  And yet, reading Garber's discussion of amateurs and professionals has made me wonder, if only a bit, about the implications of a professional class of scholars who do virtual worlds and video games.  Tim, a while back, described himself as "an outsider looking in" at "academic game criticism."  Tim, however, professed that this wasn't a big deal for him:

My position on this whole question is a by-product of my own institutional situation. I have standard-issue academic respectability (probably fading fast the more I blog) as a historian of modern Africa. I don’t need to protect myself as a games researcher—but others do, and to do that, they need the apparatus of a discipline. If we’re not going to break down disciplines as a whole, then anyone who wants to move into a completely new line of inquiry needs parity with established researchers. So the argument for “normal” disciplinarity makes a certain kind of sense, and I oppose it only because I have the professional luxury to do so.

There were some great comments on that post, but mostly they were about the ludology/narratology debate, something that I'd rather not revisit.  The thing that relates to Garber's thoughts is Tim's strategy of casting of himself as an underinvested academic outsider, to which Jesper Juul has a nice reply:

As for the question of having game studies as a separate discipline, it's only recently I've begun to understand that many people feel that a discipline is something that excludes other fields - I always thought it meant having a forum for the exchange of ideas!

Understanding what Juul's surprise entails is where the anecdotes of Garber pay off.  In her chapter (again, you can read it here for free), she takes us on a quick and merry tour of the amateur/professional divide.  She finds it in sports, in the academy, and elsewhere, introducing us to amateur professionals who may have some significant credentials in another field, but who are drawn to significant practice in an area where they lack credentials (Garber holds out Miss Marple as an example).  She also shows us the professional amateur, such as the "outside the beltway" politician or the sponsored Olympian athelete, who glory and prosper due to their professed lack of professionalism.  At times, Garber seems to confuse her two coined terms, but I suppose that is the whole point.  She takes the example of sports, and the Olympics in particular, in order to demonstrate how the line is blurry and reflects, historically, concerns over class and status.  Today, her conclusion seems to be, the label of amateur and professional are often rhetorical strategies as much as coherent descriptions.

Applying this to Game Studies, it seems, we're at an interesting point of disciplinary formation.  While Tim might feel like Garber's "amateur professional" in a way -- dabbling outside his depth in academic game studies -- the fact is that I think he does, at this moment, lend something to the field even by situating himself in some sense outside it.  It recognizes, at the very least, that there is an "it" there that one can be outside.  Perhaps more importantly, though, the lack of an established tradition of "academic games criticism" means that there is, at least currently, a n important dividing line in Game Studies that Garber misses: the line between practice and theory. 

In Games Studies, this is an important thing to note: there is an R&D and craft study of game development (and virtual world development) that is about as large, if not larger, than the study that takes place in the Ivory tower.  We've explored the difficulties created by two co-existing camps here and here a bit.  Yet generally, I think, there is a lot more attention paid across these lines than you find in other fields. In other words, I think we're lucky in a way, that, for the moment, the lack of a mature discipline of criticism keeps the designers at the table.  People who study games don't just read the work of game designers, they actually listen to and think about what they say about what they do.  In fact, some of the theorists are the artists that are studied.  Will this change?  Does it have to?

Garber's second chapter is entitled "Discipline Envy" and is about the allure of crossing disciplinary lines.  She spends a great deal of time on the line between the sciences and the humanities, arguing that the sciences usually stand above the humanities in any ranking of worth.  This certainly has some bearing on the path of any formative discipline of Game Studies--some of us here do "hard" work and some do "soft."  But more generally, Garber is interested in those who try to cross the lines between hard and soft, investigating the roots of the drive toward interdisciplinarity.  The essay is neither a clear condemnation of the practice nor a clear endorsement--again Garber casts interdisciplinarity as a rhetorical trick.  Ultimately she ends the esssay in praise of "genius," which she identifies as being that which is beyond the discipline--or perhaps at the root of all disciplines and that which disciplines envy most.

Garber's last chapter is about jargon, and is probably the weakest.  Her conclusion, much in the same vein as the previous essays, is that there is no such thing as jargon (or, at least, that calling something "jargon" is primarily a rhetorical move).  The ramble in getting there is a good one (this is her strength--the enjoyable ramble), but is noticeably looser than in the other essays.  The best parts for me were probably her summaries of arguments made previously by Theodor Adorno in defense of academic jargon. 

This last chapter too speaks to Game Studies.  Reading the literature in what I'd call "academic game studies," and taking Alex Galloway's recent Gaming as one example, I am always struck by the urge toward coining neologisms as a first step in creating a practice of Game Studies.   As Garber points out, there is a double-edged sword here: the language creates a profession at the same time it distances those not willing to grapple with being taught a foreign language.  Like Garber, I'm largely sympathetic to the endeavor of forming a new critical language of Game Studies, though I'm also sympathetic to the claims that such a practice can become a means of excluding outsiders (a shibboleth) and a means of making potentially clear statements needlessly complicated.

Moving closer to home, our language must in some ways distinguish us here at Terra Nova.  We have a reputation (a strange reputation for many of us) for being a "beardy" blog that studies what is understood to be a "non-beardy" subject.  We don't disclaim the many hyperlinks pointing to us as "the academic blog" that talks about MMORPGs.  In fact, I think we kind of like it.  And of course, it is a true description.  All the authors here (that are members of some corner of the academy) have found ways to talk about virtual worlds that fit more or less squarely within the discourse of our professional discipline.  (Well, maybe Tim hasn't, but as he says, he doesn't care about this.)

But, in my opinion, the excitement of this blog and our conversations here has always been the excitement of the amateur.  We've thrown various disciplines together in our masthead in a hodge-podge.  And this is a good thing.  It is where the authors here reach past what they know and are comfortable being "authoritative" about that we have conversations that get interesting.  In a way, I think Scott Jennings was right to put us on notice.  We call ourselves professionals, but we're enjoying learning here probably more than we're engaged in expert dialogue.  We are getting away with something sneaky.  In short, we're trespassing on a field of study that none of us really owns or has a right to, and perhaps doesn't even exist--but that all of us would like to see created.

One question that springs to mind: when the longed-for discipline of Virtual World Studies is created on the ground we are mapping out, who among us will be qualified to reside there and to join in the conversation?


Comments on Academic Instincts and Virtual World Studies:

nate_combs says:

Hmmm. Ludology finally got pegged (in its transition to the mainstream) with this definition:

LUDOLOGY
n. The academic study of videogames. Taking its name from the Latin word for game, and deriving techniques from literary and film theory, ludology analyzes EverQuest as art and Grand Theft Auto as cultural artifact.

I imagined it -albeit perhaps naively- a little more broadly than media studies. But I think this is your point, Greg. Once the edges of any geography becomes drawn, someone will always find a landmark on the other side of a border from where they imagined.

It is good that Scott Jennings put TN on notice. It is good because it means that at least a few others not like 'us' (whatever that means) are engaged in this dialog and care enough to point that finger!


Posted Sep 2, 2006 9:17:28 PM | link

Scott Jennings, who put you ON NOTICE! says:

The study of gaming ("Ludology" if your beard doth be long) is always going to be fun, because the subject itself is fun. Both literally (in figuring out what fun is) and figuratively (I still get a very guilty kick out of talking about hit points and magic resistance in my day job).

There will always be something a disconnect between folks who want to craft an academic discipline out of VW studies and those who actually have to make VWs. But that disconnect in and of itself is a healthy thing; it shows that there is more than one angle with which to shine light through the prism.

Really about the only thing that bothers me about TN is when it verges too far to the fanboy and someone uses the bully pulpit to complain about something in their favorite VW. There's a place for that, and I don't really think TN is it.

Posted Sep 2, 2006 9:43:55 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

I have this perspective that some people are discovering the wonderful world of ancient Egypt while some other people in the same timeline are building up the world of ancient Egypt.

As for the discoverers, there are some running around the Egypt shouting out with joy of their new finding and there are some back in England or other distant institutions thinking what the heck is all that about. Initital letters and B&W pictures sent don't quite make sense and the odd artifacts send make even less sense.

Meanwhile, the parallel-time builders of Ancient Egypt is looking through some of the correspondence thinking hey that's an interesting perspective/theory; I'm going to build a secret chambers or this and that because of this-and-that discovered through the process looking and thinking through the correspondence.

So, from this perspective it is the dialog and the meeting of minds that expand the creation and understanding of an area of interest. Garber do add an new perspective, which is good.

Frank

Posted Sep 2, 2006 10:26:48 PM | link

Digital Traveler says:

Thanks for the great selections from this author. He'll be next up on my reading list.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 2:30:08 AM | link

Jonathan Walton says:

I just linked to this post on Story Games (one of the major hubs of the indie roleplaying community), because I think we're in the midst of dealing with some similar issues in regards to "game studies."

Personally, I worry about trying to think of "ludology" or "games studies" as a new discipline, rather than trying to use the methodologies of existing disciplines (anthropology, sociology, aethetics, narratology, performance studies) to examine games. Games, to me, are better suited to be an object for study, rather than a way of studying. When you look at the "disciplines" of, say, Religion or East Asian Studies (two that I've historically been involved in), half the time people are approaching the same content from very different backgrounds and getting very different results. And that's awesome. But it makes me wonder if these are really disciplines at all and not just groups organized around studying particular subjects. After all, an anthropologist who studies games is likely to have much more in common with other socio-cultural anthropologists than with, say, an economist who studies games. Creating a new discipline also has the effect of creating a scholarly ghetto that people can feel okay ignoring if they don't want to be involved in it. So mark me down as being skeptical about a disciplinary approach to games studies.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 11:26:16 AM | link

Daniel Speed says:

Perhaps some the parallel-time builders are just watching the beardy white men run around getting excited about strange things, apparently missing that the point is to build magnificent pyramids for the glory of the Gods and pharoes. Some of the beardy white men make funny demands, forgetting that the builders are subject to the laws of physics, the time of death of the pharaoh and the guys with whips.

Generally, they seem to enjoy talking to each other in a strange language, although apparently occasionally one of them manages some intelligable egyptian, and occasionally will enthusiastically spurt out some idea that proves naive from a practical standpoint (or just pointless and expensive), or talks a bit about "skyscrapers", which are jolly interesting, but may have to put on hold for a few years until the development of some better material science by someone more practically minded who knows the limitations of stone and realises that they might require an elevator to be truly practical.

Some of the Egyptians find the beardy white men interesting, although they seem to be better at taking pyramids apart after they've been built than suggesting better ways of building them, and are occasionally quite insulted when asked about that, muttering that the builders only ever see anything in terms of building the pyramid, not the pharoahs or beardy white men... yet few of the white men have ever done anything to make the pharoahs happy, but have a strange sense of entitlement to stand around criticising anyway - perhaps suggesting that the last pharoah wasn't happy with a square pyramid, but not really hinting if a hexagonal one might please more and still be structurally sound.

In the meantime, most of the Egyptians just get on with things, building and designing the next great temples and pyramids, wondering if some day, they'll let some architects visit.

:P

I couldn't resist the urge to get a swipe back at Thomas for his GDC post after seeing it again.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 12:18:08 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Hehe. Well, I'm at least heartened by the apparent interest here on the industry side in indulging in and elaborating strange metaphors; that suggests that they intuit that talking about things in an unfamiliar way, even if it makes demands that take you out of what's familiar, could be enlightening in the end. :-P

Posted Sep 3, 2006 2:02:36 PM | link

Daniel Speed says:

I just irritated by the suggestion that it's all the enlightened academics waiting for those recalitrant developers to see eye to eye with them and be reasonable. Condescension doesn't really breed a spirit of cooperation.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 2:22:33 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

That's flippant and unfair (to the extent that it ignores that this issue was addressed in that thread). It's not condescension is the side pointing out the problem readily acknowledges its own foibles. What is more, this thread shouldn't be hijacked down that line. If you want to revisit it, resurrect it on that thread.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 2:43:03 PM | link

Daniel Speed says:

I always felt the original post was a little flippant and unfair, and was never truly retracted or amended, even in the thread (which, by virtue of being a blog, holds lesser status to the original post).

I'm going to claim to be on topic, because I always felt your original rant against developers was slanted from a perspective that there's no middle ground in the development of professional games research that allows for directed and 'useful' research, and that developers should have been prepared to meet at a point of compromise where they just hand out their data to the world for enlightenment.

Don't get me wrong, I'm utterly certain that there's worthwhile results that might have no direct utility to developers, but I don't think that's the only possiblity, and I get that opinion from looking at the fact that there's researchers at the NSA and biochemical companies who perform directed research as well.

My belief is that the field is going to develop with both, but a large amount of research is eventually going to directed towards a goal of building better virtual worlds, considering the amount of money involved.

So to answer one of the original questions from my own beliefs - there's probably going to be a divide between academics and game developers, but I expect that it's going to be bridged by researchers employed by the developers. I'm pretty sure there's plenty of companies out there who are looking into employing experts from various fields to do that, and that it's going to be the academics that are willing to work on a symbiotic, rather than parasitic basis that will start to provide an increasing amount of research into virtual worlds in the future.

However, I don't believe that there's a sufficient established body of research that would preclude the amateur professional from engaging, in a way that it does in law or medicine, nor do I think there will be in the near future.

...and that's why I think there's room for both architects, who study the construction of buildings, the use of light and space, colour and texture, to build grand new buildings, and archeologists, who might not provide many insights to builders, but do occasionally figure out some very interesting things.

Did that make any sense at all in the context of the blog?

Posted Sep 3, 2006 5:33:25 PM | link

greglas says:

@Nate: yep, I think that's right.

@Scott: I think we should be honored to be on your "ON NOTICE" list. :-)

@Frank: Thanks, interesting analogy.

@Jon: Garber makes that point about studies too -- how it is often a geographic or temporal locus and therefore lacks the claims to universiality that a "true" discipline would have. That said (as you know) there are plenty of ___ Studies departments out there. I hadn't thought of your point, though, which is good -- by creating a ____ Studies "discipline," you give other disciplines license to neglect your work. Thanks for the thoughts.

@Dan & Thomas: Feel free to use this thread or don't -- doesn't bother me.

I think the interplay of games research and games development is interesting, and I guess I added the link to Microsoft Games Research to highlight my point that there seems to be more university crossover now in games than you find in other areas of "artistic" production (e.g. film). Though, come to think of it, I'm not sure I'm right about that -- the relationship between MFA program in art and writing, for instance, and literary and artistic criticism and theory is certainly there. Many of my university instructors in art and writing were MFAs, probably trained by artists. (Sometimes I suppose I wish that feedback loop weren't there, honestly.)

My main point, though, in linking to the past discussion, was to point out that Garber (perhaps because she's generally interested in a canon of dead authors?) doesn't talk much about how the professional/amateur categories play out between author and academic/critic.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 8:53:36 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Well, there is always a class of navigators and adventurers who trailblazes. Conversely, there is a class of avant garde architects who build great momuments (as there's usually not much utility for the buildings other than being momuments).

Maybe in this parallel time of Egypt-building and Egypt-studying there is this Lakehouse-type interchange(fn1) between Indiana Jones and Imhoutep. And both advance the study and building of a great world.

People can rant on both sides, but as demonstrated in the commercial world there is a competitor advantage to have proprietary research.

Perhaps Imhoutep invites Indiana Jones to step across time to provide the perspective of someone from a different time and culture (and getting Indie to sign a NDA; no building Easter Eggs and such).

But ahh, this is strictly a transaction of commerical business and not of love. I would think that Imhoutep would be happy to share the technical aspects, but would know the value of being the only few who knows the full mystery and "magic".

The wizards at Blizzard may got that secret ritual of a great MMO and they may share some to the masses by the house merchant (PR) talking to other merchants (Wall Street analysts), but knowledge is power, right?

Frank


fn1: Referring to the recent movie starring Keanue Reeves & Sandra Bullock where the two lovers at the same place but in two different time build a relationship through the art of writing and sending letters.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 9:26:59 PM | link

magicback (Frank) says:

Oh, MBA programs are all about interdisciplinary "studies" with a focus on building profitable base of business knowledge. And there are a lot of different type of people involved in the study of making money.

Perhaps having Garber write about business studies would be interesting.

Posted Sep 3, 2006 9:34:16 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Daniel:
That's all well and good, but you have put words in my mouth that simply put were never there (either in the original post, or in my comments in the thread). So I'm calling you on it, because you are misrepresenting me. Let me count the ways:

was never truly retracted or amended, even in the thread

This is certainly true, since I saw nothing that needed retracting (I did clarify, of course, in the context of my replies, as did many on the other side of the issue). So this is an odd comment from you; not a misrepresentation, really, just a comment that assumes I should already know that I did something wrong. Instead, I am disagreeing with you, as is my right.

your original rant against developers was slanted from a perspective that there's no middle ground in the development of professional games research that allows for directed and 'useful' research

This is utterly wrong and I challenge you to find evidence otherwise. As you'll notice, when Raph late in the thread points to the work at a Friday session that the devs like, I lauded it for what it was: focused research drawing limited, though useful conclusions.

developers should have been prepared to meet at a point of compromise where they just hand out their data to the world for enlightenment.

This idea that I want no-questions-asked data-sharing is, quite simply, bizarre, and it was bizarre when a poster on that thread brought it up out of the blue. I've never asked for "data" -- that's not my thing -- but I come to understand that there's a history here. That's fine, just think clearly enough to know that I am not saying things you still hear echoes of from somewhere else. FWIW, I don't believe that researchers have a "right" to data, with no reciprocity.

I'm utterly certain that there's worthwhile results that might have no direct utility to developers, but I don't think that's the only possiblity

Again, neither do I. I challenge you to find a place where I say otherwise.

it's going to be the academics that are willing to work on a symbiotic, rather than parasitic basis that will start to provide an increasing amount of research into virtual worlds in the future.

This is a rather appalling choice of metaphor, but in any case I invite you to speak to the folks at Linden Lab as to whether our relationship was mutually engaging and productive. (Indeed, Cory attested to just that in the context of the thread.) Also, and again, the idea that the fault always lies elsewhere begins to ring quite hollow...

there's room for...archeologists, who might not provide many insights to builders, but do occasionally figure out some very interesting things.

Well, I'm certainly glad you've avoided the condescension of which you accused me [rolls eyes]. I haven't once seen an acknowledgment from your end that devs or designers might suffer from the culturally-located myopia to which everyone (academics included, as I mentioned) is prone, and which I was trying to point out. I am therefore left only to conclude that you're not interested in any shortcomings on the dev/designer side. That's a shame.

The fact is that some of the most significant artistic or creative work, throughout the whole of human history, has been inspired by thinking laterally. How does one begin to think laterally? By being exposed to other ways of looking at things, including cross-cultural encounters, catastrophic or singular events, and, yes, forms of knowledge from academic fields (and elsewhere). There is no substitute for inspiration, and I certainly wouldn't expect every game designer who reads the broader research to become inspired, but that which is inspirational is unlikely to be work that begins only from the questions that game designers find relevant.


Posted Sep 3, 2006 11:21:01 PM | link

Daniel Speed says:

I posted what I "felt" about your original comment, and in that, I'm not wrong. You just pulled my comment out of its context in order to make a point.

Despite your careful wording in your original post, you called developers in general (with specific exceptions!) myopic, arrogant, elitist, blind to creativity and mechanistic. You knew some of these things could be seen as a devestating slam, and so you absolved us of blame for being like that. It was beautifully couched, but it was a flame against any developer that might wonder why they'd support research lacking in relevancy to them.

None of your other quotes really disagree with my post in any significant way nor do most of them reference you, despite the fact that you're counting the ways I'm misrepresenting you. I never even hinted that your relationship with Linden Labs was anything other than engaging and productive - I fully expect that they worked with you because they expected utility from your work.

You're an associate professor of Anthropology, they're a virtual world with significant emphasis on social aspects, and I expect that they talked to you quite a lot about your insights on the developing society in their world, which gives them an advantage in further improving them. On the other hand, I can't see even Linden Labs employing or working with a professor of level grind (if such a thing were to exist), and why would they? it's not relevant to them.

One of Cory's posts in that thread described exactly the situation I described: developers bringing in outside people (especially academics) with expertise for areas and problems that they're not equiped for. Utility. Relevancy.

To go back to your original post, you implied that the question of relevancy from Raph and Eric was indicative of developers being unable to think outside of the box. Your implication was that looking for relevancy was entirely wrong, and illustrated developer hubris (since the issue of community developed content was related).

I don't really feel the need to explicitly agree with you about developers recycling old ideas in MMOs and failing to develop more interesting models. That, I can happily call myopia, and is partly the fault of developers and partly the fault of people who invest millions of dollars and don't like taking chances. Spread the blame around a little on that one, because it's not simple to develop an innovative game, and that's widespread even outside of MMOs and research, and isn't just down to not being *able* to come up with the ideas.

If you want me to agree to a more general "developers could be myopic in undefined ways", I won't do it, since I feel the content of your posts on this subject has always been significantly biassed against developers.

You had two complaints against developers upon which your post was based, one was asking for relevancy in research, and the other was developer elitism over user created content (only by way of inclusion through a quote), which leads me to think (NB: "think") that your issue was mainly with any developer who might want results that are revelant and useful to them.

Did you watch EveTV? That was incredibly good user created content, supported and paid for by the developers. Have you seen Okami? are the developers there thinking just inside the box? I think you used a complaint about something entirely understandable, to level unjustified and overbroad criticism against developers in general. Pirates of the Burning Sea - user created content from sail graphics to ships...

Developers want results that are useful to them. DARPA wants weapons, the NSA wants to stay ahead of the rest of the world's cryptography. Enlightenment in the form of public academic research that has no relevancy to a developer is a non-rivalrous public good that is subject to market failures and the free rider problem.

As with other goods subject to the free rider problem, it's usually going to result in developers not working with academics on research that they don't see as directly applicable. If we allow that some games do not economically prosper from certain research that has no utility to them, we can see why I used the word parasitic - the effort of assisting that research would be an expense to the company with no corresponding benefit to it. Research like that may be supported charitably, or as a public good, but I can't see how you blame developers for a view like that on research that the academics noted up front might have no use to them.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 2:19:56 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I posted what I "felt" about your original comment, and in that, I'm not wrong. You just pulled my comment out of its context in order to make a point.

So your comments are just what you "feel" and therefore your misrepresentation of my views cannot be gainsaid? Because you felt it, it *must* be true? Is that your position? Unbelievable.

Despite your careful wording in your original post, you called developers in general (with specific exceptions!) myopic, arrogant, elitist, blind to creativity and mechanistic.

So, my wording doesn't count? It is only the meaning that *you* see in the post that is true? The post touched a nerve for you, apparently, to a great extent because you *thought* it said things I didn't say. You see no reason to own up to this?

You knew some of these things could be seen as a devestating slam, and so you absolved us of blame for being like that. It was beautifully couched, but it was a flame against any developer that might wonder why they'd support research lacking in relevancy to them.

I didn't ask researchers to "support" (if you mean with their company time and money) research that they don't see the relevance of. The post was a plea for them to realize that the relevance of some broader research might require more lateral thinking than their disposition would lead them to expect. This should only seem a devastating slam to those not ready to recognize their own (not unique!) human tendencies.

None of your other quotes really disagree with my post in any significant way...

I disagree, on many counts, as my post enumerated. These are not minor disagreements -- they relate directly to the core issues: what kind of research could be useful to designers/developers, and how that relationship could be productively furthered. You painted me as holding different views on those than I have. That's all there is to it.

I will say that, on the Linden Lab relationship, you have a point. You were not explicitly singling out my relationship with them. Fair enough; you have my apologies. But if you weren't by implication, than what exactly is a "parasitic" relationship between researcher and company, in your mind?

One of Cory's posts in that thread described exactly the situation I described: developers bringing in outside people (especially academics) with expertise for areas and problems that they're not equiped for. Utility. Relevancy. [emphasis added]

I don't understand this. Cory made one post on that thread, in which (if I may paraphrase) he expressed dismay at the idea that the value of learning laterally and broadly from academics (and private researchers, and others) could be denied. He was certainly not posting about bringing in people "with expertise for areas and problems that they're not equiped for."

Your implication was that looking for relevancy was entirely wrong.

No, rather that habitual ways of measuring relevance are often mistaken.

I don't really feel the need to explicitly agree with you...

Do you mean "disagree" here? Just asking because the subsequent sentences and the contrast with the next paragraph suggests it.

If you want me to agree to a more general "developers could be myopic in undefined ways", I won't do it, since I feel the content of your posts on this subject has always been significantly biassed against developers.

You don't have to agree with me on the general point, of course, but I'd hope you would disagree because you disagree about the facts (and productively engage in debate about them), rather than because of what is, apparently, a general suspicion about my attitudes.

I think you used a complaint about something entirely understandable, to level unjustified and overbroad criticism against developers in general.

When trying to hold up for inspection cultural habits and trends, there is always a danger of overdrawing the presentation. I took pains to avoid that. But of course I'd hope you wouldn't deny that a number of interesting exceptions do not falsify the observation in their own right. I stand by my read of the situation at GDC, and of the general tendency that I identified.

Developers want results that are useful to them.

Of course they do, but all of these (creative) processes are open-ended and complex, which means that an open mind is called for by anyone looking to act as they move forward. This is true for all sides, by the way, which is why I find this debate somewhat ironic. It is through close-to-the-ground research methodologies (both qualitiative, like ethnography, interviews, etc, and quantitative), that the often just as close-minded academy is forced to acknowledge the realities of how messy (and high-stakes) things like MMOGs can be. This is why I have learned such an incredible amount at Linden Lab; facts about how things unfold for virtual worlds that I could never have predicted ahead of time. We all have to be prepared to be surprised.

This is why, when you say, "Enlightenment in the form of public academic research that has no relevancy to a developer is a non-rivalrous public good," that there is something missing. How are we to know that a given piece of research is not relevant, now and forever? To believe that any group sits in a position of sufficient understanding to make this call (in a final sense) is to subscribe to a view of them that places them above the others involved. It is to that tendency that I object.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 5:11:37 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Hold the phone on the Cory quote. I understand that the antecedent for you "they're" is Linden, not the experts. Then it makes sense. But it supports my view as much as anything, because the points of relevance for the experts' knowledge are never perfectly anticipated ahead of time. They are emergent out of the (productive) encounter with Linden, which starts with an open mind on their part (and on the researchers' and others').

Posted Sep 5, 2006 6:01:32 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Thomas said: "How are we to know that a given piece of research is not relevant, now and forever? To believe that any group sits in a position of sufficient understanding to make this call (in a final sense) is to subscribe to a view of them that places them above the others involved. It is to that tendency that I object."

This is true. And I think that doing more interesting, cross-genre, out-of-the-box research would benefit all game developers. It's worked that way in every discipline in history. The problem with your statement is that there doesn't need to be a *belief* that "any group sits in a position of sufficient understanding," when there is a *reality* that almost every group of commercial game developers sits in a position of sufficient responsibility to managers, directors, owners, shareholders, quarterly results, etc.

There's an old joke about a school football coach who told his team in the 1st quarter to "Get out there and play for your school's honor!" They got creamed. In the 2nd quarter they were behind, and the coach said, "Get out there and play for your mamas' love!" They got even more beaten. Before the 3rd quarter he railed, "Get out there and do it for Jesus!" More of the same... they got whipped. Finally, right before the last quarter, the assistant coach told the coach to wait outside. He spoke to the team quietly, and the boys all ran outside, yelling like fiends, and made up all the lost points from the first three quarters and then went on to win the game.

"What did you tell them?" the coach asked his second-in-command?

"I told them if they won I'd buy them all a beer."

Honor. Mother. Jesus. Beer. What's in it for me?

I have often found (though I would not claim to know the individuals in this case) that folks in academics are quite unaccomplished at making their case for the real and substantial benefits that can be accrued from their research; connecting the dots, as it were. Whereas the benefits of a dollar are easy to quantify. It's a dollar.

A beer is a beer. Pour me a glass of honor and I'll get back to you...

Posted Sep 5, 2006 6:11:46 PM | link

Daniel Speed says:

I'm not about to disect your post, since I feel it's generally indicative of an argumentative style of writing on the internet, but it's pretty hard not to address bullet pointed comments with the same. I think you're avoiding a lot of my arguments by simply picking out stuff which you feel you can disagree with in it's own context.

I still think you went beyond measured criticism in your post, so your wording counts a great deal. I also think it's entirely pertinent that I, as a developer, felt wronged by your post about developers. I would be very much happier if you'd stop making comments about the dispositions of developers in general from your personal experience of them, which I continue to find objectionable and questionable.

Cory said, to quote:
"No single person or community can possibly internalize sufficient knowledge, experience, and data to solve the range of problems that exist in virtual worlds."

This is precisely the statement that no developer is equipped to deal with all of the issues, and from there comes the *utility* in bringing in outside experts to help solve those problems, which is exactly what I said.

I'm going to agree that any sigificantly large userbase and significantly complicated game or world leads to chaotic behavior that is impossible to totally predict. Every time that we, as developers, get suprised by something our users do, we have to decide if and what to do about it, so this is not an unfamiliar issue.

Game development companies are (thus far, as far as I know) private entities with limited funds, and interactions with researchers cost time and money - developers generally do not receive funding for providing access for research, and therefore of their limited funds and time, they must choose if and who they're going to provide access to. They're going to pick the people most likely to give them results that allow them to improve their games, and that's not myopic, it's the only responsible choice for them.

Developers are beholden to companies, who are beholden to profits and shareholders, who are not beholden to the greater good of society in a pure capitalistic sense, outside of laws and taxes. Developers have the budgets, developers have the data, and developers have employees to pay and therefore as a private enterprise they have to be in the position to choose what they spend that time, money and effort on, even if they don't have the expertise in every possible area to make the best judgement for society. Choices like that are made all of the time in the provision of public goods, allocations of research budgets etc.

I see no reason to assume that developers have an onus above and beyond any other group to anyone to conduct any and all research that *may* advance common understanding, simply because currently, they hold the researchable resources.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 6:13:11 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Great comments, Andy. I would add that I think academics are not alone in finding it difficult to articulate the value of that which cannot be represented in cold, hard cash (or cold, hard [?] beer). But it's a tendency worth striving against continually, in my view.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 6:15:27 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

@Daniel:
Of course developers do not have an "onus above and beyond any other group..." Their decisions must be pragmatic, for all the reasons you enumerate. This is why it is all the *more* important that they strive to think laterally to find solutions, because there are times when their preconceptions, as they do for anyone, might lead them to be blind to new (and cheaper!) solutions that lie a little off the beaten path. In the specific case of software developers, I think that brand of myopia, when it occurs, follows an understandable pattern; you are of course welcome to disagree with that, but it would be a very differrent conversation than the one we're having.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 6:28:22 PM | link

Bart Stewart says:

Maybe "game developer" is too broad a term. I wonder if it might not be more useful to see three disciplines here, not just two.

Both the business of producing and selling games and the art and science of designing games are "game development," but each is a distinct way of thinking and feeling and acting that attracts very different kinds of people, just as the academic study of games attracts yet another kind of person.

Someone who comes to TN primarily from the design side of game development is, I think, justified in objecting to being criticized as though they were primarily concerned with cold, hard cash. For that matter, a biz person probably wouldn't appreciate being described as a geek by an academic who defines game development as the design of abstract systems.

(Sure, some developers wear both hats. But most developers? That doesn't seem likely.)

So how do most academics tend to think of game development As primarily a form of commerce? Or as primarily artistic/scientific?

If "both/neither," maybe refining the definition would help focus academic criticism to be more effective.

--Bart

Posted Sep 5, 2006 7:29:35 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Unless the various camps represented have truly opposed goals -- which I think they do not -- what we have here is, as the man said, a failure to communicate.

In many industries, the reasons to do "more pure" research are often posed in (ahem) terms of the long term, whereas the reasons to short it are short. Yes, yes, it would be nice to pursue various intellectual studies that would take years to yield fruit (or not), but we need fruit now.

What is less well understood when trying to bridge this gap -- again, because of failures to communicate -- is that much research is done by companies nearly automatically in almost daily pursuit of marketing, sales, CRM, IT, knowledge management, market, employee, financial, economic and other company data. And this data could be used to great advantage in many wonderful academic ways if the "streams" were simply made more available.

Some industries, in fact, do this very well. The medical and financial ones are quite open with much of their data, partly because transparency is deemed to be important to the trustworthiness of those systems, but also because open data structures are simply good for business. And while much of the personal data at patient and investor levels is kept private, the collated data is shared industry-wide (eventually, after publication) in order to benefit society as a whole, the institutions who do the publishing, and the companies that utilize the research.

Much of the data that I think would be most useful for the study of virtual worlds and MMOs is not going to be the stuff of trademarks and copyrights. It's not info that will make or break a particular game or rule-set or feature. It will help us understand how people like to play, what things they enjoy best, what types of groups they form, what price-points they aggregate to, etc.

If I were a game publisher, I would gladly join a group of similar publishers that would all share similar data into a common pool, both with the other companies and any academics who wanted to "fun around" with it. The data could be cleansed of personal and financially sensitive information, and, frankly, anything that even identified which company it came from. The conclusions would be "game and publisher agnostic" as much as possible. The same as when medical data finds that french fries are bad for your heart; not that Wendy's french fries are bad for your heart.

A rising tide lifts all boats, they say. If a group research effort shows us neat stuff about gamers -- what they like and don't, basically -- then all (or some, anyways) future games would avoid stupid mistakes and build upon common learning. Regardless of any individual corporate entitiy's proift or competitive motive, this cannot be a bad thing. I always want my company to do well and to do better. It doesn't matter if your company does well, too, as long as mine is at least as profitable in comparison.

Posted Sep 5, 2006 10:20:10 PM | link