You can access the archive of last week's symposium, "Protecting Virtual Playgrounds: Children, Law, and Play Online," here. Plus, you can see Robert Bloomfield and yours truly do a little postmortem of the conference on Metanomics, here. Additional must-see-videofeed: Ted Castronova showed how virtual worlds could cause the end of the human race, because virtual sex could get so good that we stop having children. In short, much fun was had by all--more below the fold.
A few things struck me about the conference. First, we should speak across disciplinary, even industry lines, more often. At the conference, psychology, law, economics, and the gaming industry were represented. This mix is less common than it should be. Game designers too often dismiss social science; social scientists in turn don't take industry seriously; and what both social scientists and game designers think about lawyers like me is not safe for work. But here's the deal. Social scientists are testifying in courts of law about the effects of games on kids right now, and the resulting rulings will significantly affect game design, which in turn affects what kind of society we are permitted to have. This is not a conversation that any one of the constituent groups can safely ignore.
We had a lot of good cross-fertilization at the symposium. I myself am a pretty anti-censorship, pro-game kind of guy, and want industry to self-regulate so as to avoid the coming regulatory storm. But when faced with research showing that children who play violent videogames show an increased willingness to physically harm their real-world opponents (by blasting them with white noise that could cause hearing damage), I felt my position shift. And, I hope that the same thing happened for social psychologists and lawyers who may be coming to realize that overregulation could kill virtual worlds faster than you could say "barrens chat could land you in jail." (For those interested in more on that, see Professor Robin F. Wilson's presentation on Panel 1.)
Second, there is more consensus than one might think. Everyone wants to protect kids, and everyone wants to do so with the least impact on free speech possible. And there was a lot of heartening discussion about the value of play itself (see Greg Lastowka and Dorothy Singer's presentations). It seems to me there's always been a disconnect on both sides of the aisle. Either we can say that games have a big impact on kids (either positive or negative) or that they don't matter enough to regulate; we also hear "de minimis" arguments in favor of regulation ("videogames don't have the artistic depth of other media, so regulate away") just as often. But at this symposium, there was broad consensus that games could have a lot of positive impact, and that play in video games had the same (or similar) values as play elsewhere. That alone--linking the settled value of play on sidewalks to the unsettled value of play on virtual sidewalks--feels like a major step to me.