Inspired by Mark Chen's project summary and ensuing discussion, I have been thinking that we should collect on our collective experience and document some of the ways we achieve insight in an area as rapidly evolving as virtuality. In the associated comment thread, Richard and I discuss method, and I explain a lot more about participant observation and why it is sometimes ok to be subjective. We have also had more than a few discussions about method over the years.
That said, it's still a highly emergent and tricky area, with researchers and practioners inventing and reinventing methods on a constant basis. This, arguably, is a good thing.
In my MMO research I made a lot of methodological decisions based on technological parameters/ limitations (WoW, for instance, didn't have an easy way of collecting chats, yet City of Heroes did - critical to my method that I can collect qual data such as this, therefore it had to be CoH). What are the rules? Is it a spectrum inclusive of scholarly and commercial efforts accompanied by a range of expectations about what constitutes evidence, truth, and calls to action?
A lateral thought: I have also been pleasantly surprised to see more and more speculative ideas about virtual worlds, virtual life, the virtual sel(ves), etc. etc. etc. (even entire tv series). I appreciate the big picture perspective: what got us here, and where we might be going. I'm also involved in some projects that remind me how far we've come, and how much further we have to go.
Of course, history tells us that we tend to overestimate some of technology's impacts while simultaneously overlooking others (Alan Kay?). My role as an anthropologist encourages me to look around me and try to ascertain what aspects of our culture are likely to survive, to morph, what technologies are emerging, what sub-cultures will thrive, what people will care about, how they will play/work, how kinship and learning and philosophy change, or don't. Etc. Really not a lot of crystal ball gazing, just observation coupled with intuition and a deep embedding in the culture(s) in question. We even accept anecdotes in this 'verse.
My role as a futurist attempts to project what our world might look like within that context, or better yet, within some variations not even imagined, or imaginable. In a usability lab, I might take advantage of specfic data collection methods that prove a point in graphs and charts of what happened in that one session on that day. Extrapolation is, of course, possible, but not 100% accurate, once observer effects, natural vs artifical environments and longer term behaviors are evaluated. However, there are seeds of some possible future(s) in these observations. The question, ultimately, is what will stick, and what will fade. Or as an old friend called William Shakespeare said:
If you can look into the seeds of time and say, which grain will grow, and which will not, speak then to me.
Tricky business. 'If Union Pacific had realized they were in the transportation business, instead of the railroad business, we'd be flying on Union Pacific planes'. (someone said it). Decoupling technologies from cultural shifts is the first step in understanding. Or at least that's my opinion and my preferred approach, which is really only a variation in perspective, not better or worse than other approaches, but pieces of the puzzle.
Above I have commented on some of the methods I use in achieving a deeper understanding of virtuality. I know psychology, law, economics, education, cybernetics, cultural theory and communications have yet other perspectives, while commercial research's distance between, say, market research and observational player research, is often a cultural chasm that doesn't take advantage of those perspectives in symbiosis. Yet it achieves other things, so in combination with other approaches, it becomes a way of observing in details some facets of the overall possibility/problem space to be explored. Different types of data persuade different categories of stakeholders, eliciting the change(s) desired. A constellation of methods can better assure success (inspiring relevant change/innovation) in the distributed, interdisciplinary groups we work within.
Soon I will post a more thorough introduction to my preferred approaches, one of which is cyborg anthropology (if you just can't wait, you can buy the book or hear Amber Case explain it...). In the meantime, Marshall McLuhan:
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
Of course, we kind of knew that already, but Yahtzee at Zero Punctuation touches on WoW's number-centric play brilliantly.
I've been playing Cataclysm almost every day since it's release last month (minus some traveling days). At first, the abundance of "new" kept me going for a long while. Now that I've hit a little slump, waiting for the guild to get enough toons to start raiding, I'm in that part of the cyle where I reflect on the play a little and wonder why I was so sucked in. I think for me it was seeing everything there is to see, flying around in (new) Azeroth, leveling-up in the new zones, seeing the new dungeons, etc. I suppose I like exploring (though, I'm not an explorer, as I don't like typifying players; rather prefer typifying behavior).
But now that I've done that, what do I have to fall back on? Just numbers and the maximizing thereof? I sometimes think that every design decision in the last 5 years was purposefully done to narrow legitimate play, not just encouraging number play but normalizing it. I started on an RP server way back when, yet these days all I seem to be doing is theorycrafting (or, more precisely, consuming theorycraft). It makes me uncomfortable.
Even more uncomfortable is the thought that maybe the reason why no one seems to be able to compete with WoW is because they don't focus on number crunching as much... Is that true?
I've been playing the hell out of a gem of an online game called "League of Legends" for the past few months (description of the game and my connection to it below).
On Friday, the developers posted an announcement on their forums about a new community policing process. In short, reports of griefing will be automatically forwarded to review to other players, ostensibly randomly. Players will be given briefing materials on the case and then asked to vote for punishing or pardoning the player. Those who vote with the majority will be awarded game points.
My mind boggles at this on several levels.
It's that time again... the persistent rush at the beginning of each new cycle of time to reflect and predict. Well, we like that sort of thing around here. Sometimes we're right, sometimes wrong. But we're always trying to draw out our inner oracles...
My 2011 (and onward) predictions:
- our small people will continue to overrun our Facebook accounts as they fiend for more and more digital bling, especially since Facebook apparently doesn't let kids under 13 have their own accounts. I will continue to shell out the credit card for $10 of 'presents' for my kid's best gamer friends. Perhaps this economic boom will fuel the 'maybe we will survive this media change!' mentality.
- the fantasy MMO reaches saturation levels except for the truly committed. This is not a lore problem, but a pattern matching one. Expect regeneration in 5-10 years or when the new LOTR movie comes out. Oh wait. Guild Wars 2. Does war count as fantasy?
- more 'brand-affirming' virtual worlds. Some might be good.
- more alternative/augmented reality and transmedia MMOs (mobile plus tv plus Kinect plus books plus movies plus 3D-everything). More and more exodus.
- more sci fi, speculative fiction, near term possibility exploration (simulation, as predicted by Ted eons ago)
- Is the MMO inside out yet? More and more I find myself gaming with people like my ex mother-in-law (lovely woman, not a gamer of any description tho!)
- More worlds, fewer games? (does Facebook count as a world?)
- The phrase 'casual gaming' will die as everyone begins to game, casually and otherwise. Already so in South Korea (I find it useful to consider parts of Asia as possible reflections of our future(s)).
- The gaming industry will more fully begin to fund and rely on research.
There are far too many of my interests resurrected in this post. Please add your favorite memes and join me in documenting our predictions! (how will we otherwise remember?)
I don’t understand why Tron: Legacy has come in for so much critical abuse. I like it as much as my colleague Bob Rehak does. Just taken as an action film, it’s considerably more entertaining and skillful than your usual Michael Bay explosion fest, with set-pieces a good deal more exciting than its predecessor. However, like the original Tron, the film also has some interesting ways of imagining digital culture and digital spaces, and more potently, some subtle commentary about some of the imaginative failures of the first generation of digital designers.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the rampage killer Jared Loughner was a gamer. As usual? Recall Mr. Cho, whose killing of Hokies was followed immediately by angry denunciations of the game industry for programming him thusly. It turns out that the only game in his troubled mind was Sonic the Hedgehog. I guess Sonic only seems to be a cuddly rodent; he's actually the vehicle for a secret code that turns ordinary people into frenzied savages.
Loughner's preferred game was a MUD called Earth Empires. Aha! Now we get to the root of things! Richard Bartle, what insidious mind-altering snippet of code did you hide in MUD1 that has spread across the gaming industry and caused all these murders? Come clean, you rogue hacker!
On a serious note, it appears that Mr. Loughner's MUD community was more supportive and helpful to him than the world at large. He got kicked out of jobs and school, but one gets the impression from WSJ's report that EE forum readers never stopped trying to engage with him or give him advice. Certainly - and this is critical - none of the gamers encouraged him in his ravings.
Dear Terra Novans, Happy Novan Year 2011!
I have returned after a long hiaitus from this blog due to deep work on PhD research. I've arrived with my bags bulging with a some postings that might be of interest. Here is the first. A year ago I engaged in an email interview by Jeffrey Ventrella on the history and future of avatars for Jeffrey’s newly published book:
Virtual Body Language, The History and Future of Avatars: How Nonverbal Expression is Evolving on the Internet
Available now at: http://virtualbodylanguage.com/
... and here is that interview here...
While wandering through Mass Effect 2, I was struck with the vitality of the world. Circa 2004, the main attraction of a multiplayer environment relative to single player worlds was that single player worlds felt dead. Multiplayer, on the other hand, had vitality but also the annoyances of dealing with other people and their inevitable failure to be perfect friends, or perfect foils.That problem can be reduced by Social Engineering (SE): Designers use policy (sometimes enforced by code) to optimize an individual's experience when dealing with others. Judging from ME2, the problem of dead single-player worlds can be addressed successfully using a suite of tools involving digital storytelling, emotive animations, deep conversation scripts, and a strong responsiveness of the emotive/relational space of characters to the protagonist's actions. Altogether, let's call this bag of tricks "Artificial Emotion" or AE. It's not a new term, indeed Professor Turkle has paved the way here, as before.
As the market for fantasy evolves, these two approaches to improving happiness seem to be facing off.
[nepotism alert: I do work at Microsoft, but not currently in games. However I have been hearing about Kinect for a long time, under the codename Project Natal, whispered around the usability labs with a reverance usually limited to the more deserving nirvana or mecca.]
Moving your body instead of your controller(s) creates a range of viscera that surely denote a million possible magic circles. Sure Wii paved the way and some may continue to like that experience, but this is true evolution. The controller-less interface liberates developers to entertain any possibility for interaction. Select the best aspects, refine them, imagine what’s possible, and what people want that they don’t even know they want.
I have been watching my kid play since digital Santa delivered the magic device: dancing, delighted, shouting AWESOME!! repeatedly, enchanted by the physical experiences enabled by a small black bar, with wonder shouting ‘Mommy, I can fly!!’, nurturing pets and programming hamsters to compliment her in the way she loves. Always, always MOVING! ‘You can do two players and you don’t have to select anything, the second person can just jump right in!’, she crows. Techno-ambivalent auntie is even awed as they play dodgeball with one person controlling legs and another controls arms.
I'm enchanted in a somewhat uncustomary way: gamer-me, parent-me, vain-me (unboring exercise!), citizen-me and educator-me. We’re living in the future, people.
And now we have it, a Kinected WoW. Next time you see me: 30 pounds lighter.