Adj. The belief that through games the world can become a better place.
From GamePolitics, we learn that a committee of the European Parliament wants a screen-closing red button on keyboards so parents can press it when something awful happens. Online content is user-generated, meaning that provider censorship schemes don't work. You can't punish Verizon for things people say on Verizon cell phones. But I guess you could require Verizon to put a red button on the phone, so that a father who felt his daughter was in an awful conversation could turn the phone off before too much damage was done. Yeah. I guess you could do that.
Yay, a super-scientist with all sorts of opinions about virtual worlds and their ill effects. I am SO tired of this silliness.
Here's the lead-in:
Britons' health at risk from time spent in virtual worlds, says Dr Aric Sigman
Britons could be jeopardising their health as they spend more time in virtual worlds than the real one, according to the psychologist Dr Aric Sigman.
And the conjecture:
He claims the amount of face-to-face contact people experience has fallen by two-thirds over the past two decades, from six hours a day in 1987 to just two in 2007.
At the same time, he believes the amount of time UK citizens spend sitting in front of the TV, playing video games or visiting websites has doubled to eight hours a day.
"One of the most pronounced changes in the daily habits of British citizens is a reduction in the number of minutes per day that they interact with another human being," he said.
Does he know anything at all about virtual worlds?
He goes on to cite loneliness as a major cause of ill health:
'In an article published in the journal Biologist, he cites research that claims lonely people are more likely to suffer a stroke, develop high blood pressure or dementia and even die earlier.'
Well, in my experience (and doctoral research) VWs are a massive panacea for loneliness, a lack of belonging and other societal ills. People do NOT have to have face-to-face meetings to have meaningful and lifechanging interactions with the millions of other occupants of virtual worlds.
Any other comments? We have had lots of discussions here about what's really happening in online spaces, and how play and various online interactions (thinking discussion boards, support groups, etc.. here) can transform people's lives. How do we connect the dots to other disciplines, research communities, etc? How do we make 20 hours of WoW mandatory before writing ANYTHING about VWs? Sheesh. I'm indignant.
This past weekend, I saw the film Coraline, which I found terrific in many respects. Among other things, I think it has a lot to say that applies very strongly to virtual worlds, about why though we may all complain about bad pick-up groups, griefers, loot farmers, Barrens chat, virtual worlds are not a demonstration that hell is other people. Quite the opposite: virtual worlds live (and sometimes die) on whether they infuse authentic sociality into everything we do within those worlds.
In Coraline (modest spoilers ahead), the title character is frustrated with her parents' quirks and lack of attentiveness to her. Drawn into a magical world that exists inside her new home, she is at first enchanted by her Other Parents, who have marvelous talents, live surrounded by wonder, and are utterly devoted to Coraline herself. I don't suppose I'm giving away much when I say that there's a big catch to all this, and the last portion of the film is about how wonder gives way to horror.
The only seeming clue that Coraline's Other Mother is anything but perfection is that her eyes (and the eyes of almost everything else in the magical world) are made from buttons. And yet there is another clue right from the outset, in some ways a much more unsettling sign of just how wrong this world is. Everyone and everything in it exists only for Coraline. They have no apparent interests of their own, no desires apart from hers, nothing to do but please and delight Coraline.
Virtual worlds occasionally toy with treating each player like Coraline. In World of Warcraft, my character is greeted with delight by guards and non-player characters who allude to his past adventures. This lasts only until I begin a new round of quests in a new zone, whereupon my famous achievements are forgotten and I am merely one more anonymous grunt. When my character seems to make momentous choices that should hang about him forever, those too disappear into the haze. I am torturer one moment, and the next a saint who seeks all across the world for a cure which will save the life of hero faced with enslavement to the Lich King. In my most important adventures, I exist inside wholly private instanced worlds with a small number of friends or allies. That world, too, exists only for me.
What keeps World of Warcraft or any other virtual world from being as ultimately empty and terrifying as Coraline's magical hideaway is that these worlds are full of people who do not exist for my own pleasure. They may be people I know and like, people I tolerate, people I find pathetic, people who infuriate or disgust me. But they mean that the world is not merely my mirror.
Now I think that virtual worlds themselves could function more that way: they could react to my actions (or the actions of many players together) in much more dynamic and autonomous ways. Reading Jim Rossignol describing the latest astonishing developments in the long-running war between BoB and Goonfleet in EVE Online makes that very clear. The underlying world in EVE does not exist in a one-to-one relationship to individual players, and its basic economic and politcial infrastructure transforms in relationship to collective action in some striking ways. A world which is itself a dynamic presence in play need not be as harsh or treacherous as EVE's world is, but the basic principle is an important one.
Until we have a fuller range of dynamic worlds, though, other people, acting in the most unmanaged and unfiltered ways possible, are the only thing that keep virtual worlds from total sterility. Sometimes we all feel like Coraline: we'd like a world which exists only to delight us, full of cheering throngs and valiant allies. But like Coraline, we'd be better off knowing from the first moment of that desire that we're really chasing something horrible rather than something pleasant.
Back by demand and now expanded to accommodate last year’s waiting list, the GLS conference this year will features substantive discussion and collaboration among academics, designers, and educators interested in how videogames –- commercial games and otherwise -– can enhance learning, culture, and education. This year’s theme of “Learning through Interaction” highlights the expansive nature of our definition of games & game culture to include research and design in areas including popular culture and fandom, interactive design more generally, and digital/visual cultures. This three-day conference will be held at the UW’s historic Memorial Union, overlooking downtown Madison's beautiful Lake Mendota.
Submissions deadline has been extended and all submissions are now due online by Monday March 2, 2009. Complete submission guidelines can be found on the submissions site, here.
Sean Michael Dargan
GLS Conference Coordinator
A main goal of the synthetic worlds initiative at Indiana University is to develop large games as research environments. To test some ideas, we have prepared a browser-based game of kingdoms, trade, diplomacy, and warfare in the stone age. The world is called Greenland and it enters open beta today. We invite those interested in such things to help us by testing the environment and contributing reactions and criticism to the forums.
To enter Greenland, go to http://greenlandgame.com/ and choose the Mercator server (the other two servers are closed for internal testing).You will need a code to register for the server; it is GLOPENACCESS.
If you have questions or problems, please contact our community manager Matt Falk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a recent post I raised the idea that, like religious experience for William James, play may best be thought of as a mode of experience. Less foregrounded in that discussion was a further lesson from James: that we should expect to find this disposition in as many varieties as there are times and places for human life, rather than in some universal form. I've recently posted a paper to ssrn that aims to get us thinking about how play may be distinctively configured in different times and places, specifically in Europe directly after WWII and in the United States through the present day. In it I consider "New Babylon," the fascinating project of Unitary Urbanism by Constant Nieuwenhuys (aka Constant), who through it sought to make a city for Homo ludens. I set Constant's vision against Linden Lab's Second Life, a world also deeply informed by ideas about games and play. In both, though in quite different ways, architecting for play held the promise of post-bureaucratic sovereignty.