All at TN would like to welcome Nick LaLone and Bill Bainbridge on board.
I for one did not want to see TerraNova fade away (after all they named a TV programe after us, right?), and I've got three blog posts on the exciting world of eSports in notpad that I'm trying to get finished. Ted has been kind enought to hand me the keys, so Arise TerraNova you live again.
Social Value is the amount of behavior that one person generates among their friends. An anology might be the ripple on the social pond. Let's say this person goes to see a movie, listens to a song, or plays a game. Now let's say that this person is influential. How much more likely are their friends to go see the movie, hear the song, or play the game?
Each person has a unique amount of influence in their social network, and on each friend. Maybe you are highly influential on Bob, but Steve doesn't care what you do. What the Social Value algorithm does is to add up all of your influence and put it in units we care about--like sessions, time, or dollars.
Clearly demarcated as blatant self-promotion: I'm happy to announce that an effort I've been working on for about 3 years in semi-stealth mode is now live. After doing big data work for the spooks in the government and running a team of social and computer scientists, a few of us spun out a commercial venture I dubbed Ninja Metrics (www.ninjametrics.com).* Much of this comes from constantly asking game companies for data, then getting smart people to do cool things with it. Our team has now published 80 papers on game data, which is kind of ridiculous. It was time to put that power into an engine so we don't have to work quite so hard.
Among other things, we've figured out how to automate predictive analytics. WTH is that, you ask?
The latest Social Change Technology podcast is out. Burcu Bakioglu interviews long time friend of the show Hector Postigo about his latest book: The Digital Rights Movement. Those that have been around a while with know Hector's foundational work on modding.
You can listen to the show here: http://www.virtualpolicy.net/sct013.html
Ultima Online was launched 15 years ago! Happy Birthday. How old is that exactly in MMO years?
Anyhoo, what are you all still doing here, go to Raph Koster's site and read some of the untold history: http://www.raphkoster.com/2012/09/25/ultima-online-is-fifteen/
In other news - Pandas.
In the latest Social Change Technology podcast Dr Burcu Bakioglu talks to Andrea Phillips about Alternate Reality games, their design and some of the interesting legal and ethical issues that come up.
Those in the TN community that have been watching / making / playing ARGs for the last few years will be familiar with some of the issues - such as what if someone gets hurt, how far can a 'fiction' go before it is deception?
While some of the issues raised in the podcast are specific to games that have a very physical element and a fictional layer that sits over the everyday - still raise interesting questions about the ethics of game design and what responsibility the designer has for the players' actions.
You can listen to the podcast and see the full show notes on the Virtual Policy Network site.
Just to let TN readers know - I changed the name of the Virtual Policy Network's podcast to: Social Change Technology. That seemed to best sum up what it's about.
We've done a few shows recently that TN'ers might like - they are also a bit of a TN All Star cast:
We've also had a preview of this year's Federal Consortum for Virtual Worlds conference; Burcu Bakioglu talkiing to Michael Andersen about transmedia story telling and me talking to Rita J, King about Science House, robots and stuff. For all of 'em you can grab the iTunes feed or RSS.
With life satisfaction expert Gert G. Wagner of Berlin I've co-authored a study that's just come out in the economics journal Kyklos (Edit: Free version). We find that people have higher life satisfaction in Second Life than in real life. That's not such a big deal by itself, but the effect size is large and leads to some startling comparisons. Such as: For an unemployed person, the happiness boost for going to Second Life is bigger than that for getting a job. An East German gets more of a life satisfaction increase by being in Second Life than by moving to West Germany. Generally, Second Life provides as large a happiness boost as a number of major life changes. Choosing Second Life is a lot easier to do as well. The data thus suggest that choosing Second Life over major life change would be "rational" because VR provides more of a happiness boost at less cost.
These are all regression results with other relevant factors such as age, sex, and income accounted for. We are not finding any causal effects here, just correlations. What's noteworthy is the magnitude of the correlations. Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the "biggies," like health, employment, and family relationships. (By the way, in case you didn't know, money does not make you happy.)
This evidence is consistent with the concept of a "toxic immersion dilemma" that I brought up in my first book. When someone freely chooses VR but then is leading a "bad" life (according to our standards), what do we do?
For the last year or so the Virtual Policy Network (that I founded) has been working with a group of good people (the Virtual Environment CoLab) and the IEEE on the slow march to establishing a set of Virtual Environment practices and standards.
We are having an event in LA in September – you can come, in fact if you read TerraNova you probably should come as you probably care about Virtual Environments as much as us.
The event is NOT focused on tech standards. What we are doing is setting out a set of social challenges and getting a bunch of experts to come up with solutions that harness Virtual Environments.
The event is titled vPEARL (Virtual Play Exchange Advise Renew Learn), it’s going to be on 20-21 September 2011, Los Angeles, CA in the USA. Registration is $150 and spaces are limited to 100.
The official event page and regisration is here: http://standards.ieee.org/news/vpearl/index.html
I will be intense and fun. You will get to see my shoes. Come.
Producers and users of virtual spaces are heading toward difficult times. These could be made worse through increased regulatory intervention by various countries. I suggest that it is in the best interest of users, produces and nation states alike that those online service providers that use virtual items and currency form self-regulatory body. I suggest further that sport provides a ready-made governance model that the online industry should adapt and adopt.
I thus propose the formation of an: Online Dispute Arbitration Board (ODAB)*
*An academic treatment of this was first presented at The Game Behind the Game by myself and Dr Melissa deZwart.
Ted tells me it's not shameless self-promotion if it's also interesting, so here goes nothing. After working on the EQII data set for the past 4 years and generating a lot of research, a few of us on the effort decided to think about commericalizing what we'd learned and thought about along the way. Our effort, Ninja Metrics, debuted at GDC last week and is now working with several companies.
We've developed a series of tools, dashboards and analysis engines to automate the study of large volumes of data. Our coolest tool by far is one that measures social influence and places a dollar value on it. I think it's a big deal. Links, descriptions, gizmos and more below the fold.
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.”
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?)
[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.
I have just posted a (rough) draft of my latest paper, entitled Avatar Experimentation: Human Subjects Research in Virtual Worlds to SSRN. Virtual worlds make such great research testbeds precisely because people act in a lot of ways (especially economic ways) as if the virtual world were real. But that complicates ethical research design: you can't engage in activities that threaten the subject's digital property or community, for example. This raises human subjects research issues that a lot of Institutional Review Boards may not immediately take into consideration. Here's the abstract -- but the important part is that this is still a work-in-progress (it's coming out in a symposium issue of the U.C. Irvine Law Review next year), and I would love comments or suggestions. Abstract after the leap.
The School of Communication and Information at Rutgers is planning a major conference to be held April 8-9, 2011. The conference will cover the cultural, business, legal, and artistic aspects of the videogame and virtual worlds industries -- pretty much everything practical and academic about gaming. If you'd like to spend a couple of days conversing with other folks who think seriously about gamers and the video game industry, please consider submitting to the Call for Papers, which can be found here: http://bit.ly/gbgcall (Deadline for 500-word abstract = Dec. 15th.)
For more information about the conference see this link: http://bit.ly/gamebehindgame
More details about the sorts of topics we're looking to explore below the fold:
So as promised, here's the book: http://bit.ly/virtualjustice
That link points to a 2.5 MB PDF that is licensed as Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial. I'm hoping to get a cleaner copy at some point soon--if I do, it will be posted at the same location. I got a MUCH better copy as of noon on 11/3/10 and it is now posted at the above link.
If you prefer wood pulp, this is the Amazon link: http://amzn.to/virtual-justice
Hello, and thank you for the opportunity to share my research with you. Hopefully, this post isn’t a tl;dr moment for you.
I recently defended my dissertation at the University of Washington College of Education, and, as you can guess from this post on Terra Nova, it was on learning in MMOGs. Specifically, I looked at the change in raiding practice of a group of World of Warcraft players as I played alongside them for 10 months. Of particular note, my data is from the early days of WoW, spanning the life and death of a Molten Core (and later BWL and AQ40) group that came together out of a multi-guild alliance. We were on a role-play server, which I think is important to note, given the group’s shared values and goals of hanging out and having fun over and beyond itemization and progression. That said, eventually, some players did become more loot focused over time, and the fragmentation of individual motivations and group values definitely contributed to its eventual dissolution. Also of particular note, when my raid group started, theorycrafting was still a budding practice, and we did not have access to threat meters and other popular third-party add-ons that today’s WoW raiding relies on. In fact, a major section of my dissertation chronicles the change in the various material and other resources that were assembled for raiding once the first threat meter came out in Spring 2006.
Mark and I have collaborated on a number of things these last few years, and now that he has finished his doctoral work (woot!), I invited him to guest author and summarize his work for us. Mark is another virtual worlds researcher who relies on traditional anthropological methods to understand social dynamics and learning. He's a great researcher and an extremely passionate gamer.
Using ethnographic methods, Mark Chen focuses on teamwork, communication, and expertise development in situated gaming cultures. Currently, Mark is a post-doctoral scholar at the UW Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, working with computer science folks to study player learning through science and math games that take advantage of massive amounts of computational and human power. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington, College of Education, looking at the practices of a group of gamers in the online game World of Warcraft. Prior to doctoral work, Mark was the webmaster and a web game developer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland, OR. He holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Reed College and grew up in the Bay Area as a child of the 80s. You can read more about Mark on his blog...
I have recently taken over shipwright duties (with greglas' help), re-skinned TN, and added some social media bling. You should expect to see some more changes in the next day or two. Perhaps more widgets (like a library, links to papers, conference calendar, etc. etc. etc.)
As TN lives on Typepad, this is really only a superficial change of template and layout. If you have any comments/suggestions/feedback, please post below!
Flipping the switch to the new design now!
(image is a Wordle of our RSS feed)
Disclaimer: I confess to being a fangirl of NCSoft, publishers of City of Heroes, which I studied for about 5 years. They have also published the Lineages, the original Guild Wars and Aion.
- accessible to the 'casual', newbie MMO gamer.
- highly instanced combat (Sir Richard cringed).
- grouping that includes NPC mercenaries.
- very beautiful emotes like the Monk's dance. Amazing landscapes, architecture, everything.
- alternative play modes allowing high-level play for the low-level n00b.
- observer mode: enjoy the gank gladiator-style, you emerge un-scathed.
- 'no loot stealing, spawn camping, and endless travel'.
- guild capes (I confess to leaving guilds if they had ugly designs that didn't match my outfits. How shallow of me!)
I have more than a few opinions about what an exciting, 21st century MMO might encompass. Happy to say it appears that true evolution is in the works. Deviations/expansions of established MMO conventions in Guild Wars 2:
- Doing away with the grind. Not all will agree this is a good thing, but as my kid says, there is nothing worse than a videogame that is both 'hard and BORING'.
- New character classes (professions) like the Ranger.
- Personalized story-lines. NPCs remember you. You are not on the exact same quest path as everyone else, with the same goals, outfits, spells, items, etc. at the same levels.
- Cause and effect prevail, personal agency is paramount. Changes you effect on the environment persist.
- Dynamic events, a mechanic that has worked very well for CoX.
- PvP in non-zoned, non-instanced areas. Huge-scale world vs world combat events.
- Variations on healing and death rituals.
And for the techno-geeky among you, it's all being built on a new physics engine, Havok, that allows the designers and developers to more fully realize their conceptual vision:
We're creating a world, and what's the point of exploring a world if
there isn't the awe and wonder, you know? We try to create those moments
of awe and wonder. - Jeff Grubb, ArenaNet
For those of you who don't readily embrace change, Guild Wars servers will continue running, and an ongoing free trial is on offer.
Any predictions on the effect on social dynamics, innovations that are likely to stick, etc? Other games trying new things? My kid, for instance, is obsessed with Wizards 101, a pay-for-stuff-the-kid-MUST-have MMO that creates accessibility and safety for the semi-literate aspiring gamer.
I think things are about to get very exciting in Videogame Land. To over-use an over-used term, epic!
More on GW2:
It is my great pleasure to announce that, after a self-imposed hiatus in our data collection and analysis, the PlayOn project at PARC is back thanks to renewed funding. While we are still focused on large-scale, quantitative data collection in World of Warcraft, this second phase of the project introduces a few interesting changes.
The first phase of the project relied on automated robots to log into the game world and collect a census of the entire population of five game servers. We used this data to analyze, among other things, general play patterns in the game, social interactions between the players, and finally the structure, performance, and social life of guilds. This time however, we are moving away from server-wide analysis to tracking the activities of volunteer participants. Roughly 1,000 players have signed up to participate in our study and provided socio-demographic data about themselves (age, gender, education, etc.) that would have been impossible to collect from the game alone. They also provided us with a list of their current characters, which we track in-game using updated version of our robots coupled with daily scrapping of the characters' data from the Armory.
The simultaneous collection of in-game and out-of-game data will let us explore the connection between a player's profile and his/her online behaviors. As an added twist, we recruited half of our participants in the US and the other half in Asia (Taiwan and Hong-Kong), which opens up the possibility of analyzing cultural differences between the two player populations.
As before, we intend to report findings as they come out on our blog - we'd like to invite you to subscribe to our RSS feed and/or follow our updates on Twitter. While our blog will be focused mostly on short, data-centric posts, we also plan to start posting more frequently on Terra Nova with summaries of the higher-level trends we see in the data. We're looking forward to exchanging ideas with all of you again!
It's April 1! But this isn't an April Fool's post (though there are plenty around). It's April, so it's Spring! Literally and metaphorically we seem to have come through a long hard winter. At the end of 2007 here on TN I wrote about the possibility of a virtual world winter, and Bruce Damer wrote similarly in 2008. Since then there have been some hard times, as well as a huge amount of growth in online games -- just not so much in virtual worlds or traditional MMOGs. In that area World of Warcraft continues to dominate, while other major efforts struggle and dwindle.
Over on my blog I've been posting more frequently recently, including some thoughts on the end of this virtual world winter -- punctuated by the demise of three different and significant virtual world efforts. My conclusion is that yes, we've been through a tough winter, and now it's coming to an end -- but the new growth blooming all around us isn't perhaps quite what many of us, steeped in prior generations of virtual worlds, would have expected.
We're certainly seeing unprecedented growth in online games, though many of these remain fairly primitive (and early examples were sometimes ethically questionable). I don't believe we're going to return to the days of huge multi-tens-of-millions-of-dollar-budgets any time soon (though they aren't all gone yet), or to the all-inclusive all-immersive MMOGs and VWs that many here have come to know, love, research, and even defend vociferously.
I believe instead that this new generation brings with it new forms of growth, just as MMOGs and VWs were once new. These new games and proto-worlds are primitive just as many early MMOs were, but are also developing in fascinating ways, from both economic and psychological perspectives.
Welcome to Spring.
On Monday I am defending my dissertation via video conference to New Zealand, a semi-public review of a five year effort. I even got written up in a tome on Internet ethics, after being interviewed on my made up on the fly research methods. Awesome. But I am a little cross about something. The examiners have an opportunity to send me questions that arose for them while reading my dissertation. There is an insistence on positing that the digital world is scary and littered with bad intentions, faulty manners, some creep-o-rama here and there, and really nothing really good at all.
I am annoyed that this is a major question that appears in both examiners' reports, amidst all the possible questions and areas of possibility and exploration, I am criticised for not being negative enough. One examiner accuses me of 'techno-optimism' or 'techno-celebration'. Therefore I have developed this statement:
Why is it considered mandatory in media studies and related disciplines to explore the dystopian perspective (see page 33 of the thesis), and why is my work considered faulty because I believe in focusing (while explaining rather comprehensively, I think) on what’s positive and possible and hopeful and different about digital spaces and my experiences within them? I in fact did review and integrate all the major 'negative' or 'dystopian' literature, as well, because my committee wished that I appear ‘balanced’, however I am in rather violent disagreement about this necessity. In fact, I think the focus on negative aspects of media culture are a bit of an albatross around media studies’ neck. I think the Internet is the most amazing thing to have happened to humanity in several hundred years. Not perfect, but amazing. I find the constant nagging to explore and predict all of the horrible facets quite disconcerting, and rather a waste of time. These aspects exist, yes, but are typically the outliers, sometimes sensational, yes, but I believe it is my right as a scholar to choose to focus on the positive aspects without being taken to task for some lack of judgment or critical thinking.
Now, if it is mandatory that scholars of media studies take these stances: ‘the media are out to get us!’, then perhaps my ultimate disciplinary home will be a different one. I understand the legacy, of propaganda, radio, Nazis, mass media, effects and impacts, and other drivers of thinking in this area; media studies considers itself responsible for informing and protecting the unassuming media consumer. I suppose this is a useful task.
But I am an unabashed techno-optimist, and I think our populous is becoming much more capable and empowered and broadly literate via these technological vehicles and venues, and I think that should be allowed with some suggestion that my decision to focus on what I believe to be the truth is somehow lacking. My focus on the positive does not mean I am not rigourous; it just means that I have dismissed the writings of pundits such as Oppenheimer as I think they are a bit crusty, certainly dogmatic and prone to fear mongering, and often have no actual experience in the areas they choose to consider so critically. In a way, I do not even believe they deserve any attention at all, however we continue to demand that their insight be heard and integrated. I am not sure this is right.
I do make a point of reading them (know your enemies, right?), but I find their scholarship typically weak and their research projects built in order to vociferously and crossly prove particular (rather negative) points. The world used to be so much better before were all interconnected. Spam will destroy us. Kids spend a little too much time indoors. So do I. Yes.
Perhaps I am guilty of this coddling of my dogma, as well, but I believe that this area needs to be generally balanced, and that is why I took the approach I did. Also, the cultures and environments I study are typically extremely positive cultures and ecosystems that thrive happily, even with some occasional ganking and bad language and homophobia (that’s gonna take a couple thousand more years to resolve, or so it seems). I am taking an inside out approach, not the outside in observation and conjecture so typical of media effects research. And as a participant observer of gaming cultures, starting at age 12 or earlier, I know intimately what I am talking about. I also know several dozen gamers personally, in addition to the 10,000 surveyed in my study. Despite some insistence that these sorts of entertainment must be folly, and that which will take all real culture down, I believe their gaming experiences constitute the development of critical and fundamental literacies that are critical to life in digital spaces, and the exploration of which is the basis of my thesis.
I hope this clarifies why I have not taken one of the more expected positions. My focus is on habits, practices and opportunities, not a limited set of concerns or visceral reactions to our changing world. ‘I dwell in possibility’, not a mere assessment of digital spaces’ less perfect or less savoury aspects. I will leave that to others more concerned than I. Change is not disconcerting to me. People do some messed up things when cloaked in anonymity. We will live.
This August, Lee Sheldon and I are hosting VW2, a one-week workshop on the possibilities and pitfalls of using virtual worlds for business and research. Our aim is to help professionals who are new to the field from wasting several years and heaven knows how many millions of dollars re-learning the same old lessons. Our focus is practical, not academic: Here's what you do, and here's what you DO NOT do.
In designing the program, we've been fortunate to have the input of an illustrious advisory board. Rich Vogel and Ron Meiners are coming to give keynote lectures. Participants will learn by developing applications specific to their own environment. This includes pitching ideas, writing design documents, setting up hiring plans, choosing tools, and building their own virtual environments. On exit, participants will have created a shovel-ready virtual world project for their home organization.
Here is the dull version of the marketing release about SoP. For the interesting version (which discloses all manner of personal information, including my many vices) you'll have to sign up for the email channel.
The Sixth Annual State of Play conference returns to New York City this summer!
On June 19-20, 2009, New York Law School’s State of Play VI Conference will convene in New York to examine the past, present and future of virtual worlds. In conjunction with the University of Southern California Network Culture Project at the Annenberg School for Communication, and with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the conference will focus on the startling rise of virtual worlds and multiplayer online games, and ask whether these worlds have reached a plateau in their development. At the same time we will question whether we have reached a limit in our understanding of these worlds, and ask whether there are useful research questions still left to pursue.
Monday, March 30th at 11am Pacific Time, Tom Boellstorff, Celia Pearce, Thomas Malaby and I will be in Second Life on a panel discussing the following question:
What can qualitative and experimental methods tell us about virtual worlds and culture?
And read on for the dramatic backstory!
We invite your participation.
I've just posted a piece to SSRN about play. In the past I have focused on games as a culturally-shaped activity (what we anthropologists would call a "cultural form"), and in the course of that I have made explicit efforts to decouple games from the concept of play (see here, for example). I argued that it is not very useful to see play as an activity, with games as a subset of it, and suggested that play more usefully denotes a disposition, a way of approaching the world.
In doing that I wasn't trying to argue that games and play are not related to each other, but rather that we need to move beyond seeing them as intrinsically linked (where the question of, for example, whether something is a game boils down to whether it brings about a playful experience). The primary motivation was to make room for an approach to games on their own terms, but the issue of play has been simmering with me for a long time. The posted essay is the result – a long-planned attempt to articulate play as a disposition.
Many many years ago, four ne'er-do-wells became interested in a topic that was both arcane and pointless. One of the things which catalyzed their interest was an activity that was so ridiculous that it didn't seem possible. Yet this ridiculous activity formed the basis of the early work of all of the four ne'er-do-wells (and was the core of three tenure cases and one book deal).
When they looked at this ridiculous activity they noticed that there was this guy, who had this company. The guy had been a child actor in Hollywood, and had formed the company to make money doing the ridiculous activity. And this company seemed to be making a ridiculous amount of money. All of the four ne'er-do-wells met the ex-actor, and looked at his company, and simply couldn't believe their eyes.
Simply. Could. Not. Believe. Their. Eyes.
So they created a blog. They called it Terranova, and they started to look at the weird topic of virtual worlds, and the ridiculous activity of gold farming, and the ex-actor called Brock Pierce, and the company called IGE. But they never got very far, because investigating this stuff is hard, and calls for fact-checking, and is slightly dangerous. So they didn't do much with it.
And the others read it.
And. Simply. Could. Not. Believe. Their. Eyes.
First, the disclaimer: I work for Village Voice Media. Village Voice Media runs the Westword. The Westword ran this story on science museums in Second Life. Yes, I'm practicing both partiality and blatant (semi)self-promotion. Now that that's out of the way...
As I reported over on Heartless Doll, we have here another feature piece on Second Life that gets derailed by the decadence factor. It can't seem to focus on the story at hand: namely, that science is finding a home in a world where the welcome lack of safety concerns leaves room for education. Specifically, the article highlights the creation of science museums, like the in-world branch of San Francisco's Exploratorium, that let visitors approach learning in the form of rides that would be too dangerous or costly to build in real life. In addition, there's talk of a replica nuclear reactor, which could serve as a practice tool for those preparing to work with the real thing.
That's all downright fascinating -- especially the part about the people who'll hold the key to our future nuclear safety looking for virtual analogs -- but this piece looses its focus from the beginning, spending its first eight paragraphs ogling a Second Life escort who happens to walk through one science center. Yes, she's "hot." Yes, she's wearing knee-high boots. But wasn't there a story being told here? Not to put down the Westword for their valiant effort, but it's about time that the hook behind virtual world coverage is no longer addiction, or crazy avatars, or sex. Not that I don't like sex, because you all know I do, but because there's more to talk about here than favors being exchanged for Linden dollars...
Not to bring down the general caliber of academic discussion currently going on here at Terra Nova, but :).
I recently wrote a feature for a new Village Voice Media pop culture blog I co-anchor called "Top 10 Emoticons for Flirting Online with Minimal Effort." Silly though the piece may be, it brings up some hopefully interesting points about the shifted meanings of what appear to the untrained eye as simple ASCI faces. Much like the socially normalizing LOL, which can supposedly save the dignity of even Second Life players sitting naked in their lawn chairs, emoticons take on new, adapted meanings in online, multiuser environments.
Any additional meanings to add?
As many TN readers know I’ve recently formed a think tank to look at public policy issues and virtual worlds, it’s called the Virtual Policy Network (tVPN). The point of it is to bring together academics, industry and policy makers in local, regional and global dialog.
As part of the usual thinky tanky things tVPN is creating and supporting a range of conferences and is kicking of a number of research projects.
And so to the point of this post: I wanted to make TN readers aware of a possibly the first UK based conference focused purely on public policy and virtual worlds. Snappily titled Virtual Policy the event is on the 22nd & 23rd of July in London at the Department of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform’s (BERR) conference center. BERR are co-sponsors of the event and it’s quite inspiring to have a central government department so involved in debates over virtual worlds.
Here is the event sign up page: virtualpolicy08.eventbrite.com
The event features some of your TN favorites such as Richard Bartle, Bryan Camp oh and me; as well as a number of Europeans that might not be so familiar such as lawyers David Naylor of Field Fisher Waterhouse in the UK and Dr. Andreas Lober of Schulte Riesenkampff in Germany.
I can’t bring myself to do a pure promo post though. What interests me about this event is that much of the debate about virtual worlds that one sees in academia, at least, has been driven by the US. This means that North American issues, rhetoric and sensibilities have been given primacy. Hosting an event in the UK should help to flush out those areas where Europeans either don’t think an issue is important or have a very different framing of it.
What do TN readers think the main points of departure are going to be?
Last Monday capped off the first season of interview series, Metanomics: Business and Policy in the Metaverse. Over the course of the season (35 shows in 35 weeks), we refined our focus to the following four target audiences:
One industry we haven't delved into yet is entertainment. The fit is natural, as the reports on Virtual Worlds News shows us just about every day. But how do we get movers and shakers in entertainment to appear on Metanomics? Well, one way is to be a little more entertaining. So take a gander at our Metanomics Colbert Challenge.
No one is going to suggest I quit my day job to do comedy, but SLCN does an excellent job of packaging. Feel free to pass it on to your friends--and to Jon Stewart, Rob Riggle and Stephen Colbert, if you know them.
Metanomics is running 'best of' shows on Mondays at 11am Pacific Time and Tuesdays at 3pm Pacific, until we start our second season in June. If you want to suggest guests, please do--self-nominations welcome.
This one definitely gets filed under "blatant self-promotion."
I recently started freelancing for Forbes.com, and the first article I've written for them is called "How to Spark Remote Learning." The piece covers the (surprisingly sizable) movement to use Second Life's immersive environment to teach residents foreign languages. Specifically, I talked to Kip Boahn--head of a German ESL school by day, and founder of a new island named Second Life English--who's dedicated himself to providing free resources for the game's estimated 5,000 language learners and 1,000 instructors. What's particularly interested is the way Second Life English and other programs make the most of the world itself. From the article:
For a couple of months, we've had the Arden I environment available for people to experience, but we have to take it down now. We need the server space to run a social science experiment in Arden II: London's Burning. More on that in a little while.
If you are interested in playing around with Arden I, please do. The module is available for free download at this URL. Go ahead and monkey around however you'd like. See what you can do with a Shakespeare fantasy module.
For the last two years I've been designing an experiment in play: PMOG, the Passively Multiplayer Online Game (said P-Mog). Justin Hall, Duncan Gough, and I founded a company called GameLayers with investment from O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures, Joi Ito, and Richard Wolpert. We quit our day jobs last summer and got serious about bringing play to the world wide web.
The impetus of my design is my lifelong desire to play with the layers of information that, unseen but forceful, impact our real and online lives. I want to see the invisible world, or at least become more aware of it. Perhaps ironically, PMOG is not a visually intense game. I don’t know that we rank 2D, much less 3D. This is the game HUD that persists from page to page in the Firefox 2 and 3 browsers:
We're now in the beta of our second public version. Both versions were implemented as Firefox extensions that follow players as they surf the web. The players provide the game with access to their browsers; the game provides the players with weapons, writing instruments, a gifting system, and a self-generating RPG character.
We started out to make a casual, massively multiplayer online game that took place alongside the rest of a player's online life. To do that, we had to answer two questions. One: what kind of interaction that occurs alongside the Everyday can we provide to players that they'll accept? And two: how can the game provide players with a set of behavioral summations that they could reasonably attribute to their decision-making process?
Two announcements –
2. My second book, Exodus to the Virtual World, is also being released today.
More on both below the fold.
Innovations is a relatively new journal from MIT Press edited by Philip E. Auerswald and Iqbal Z. Quadir, and it focuses on technology and governance (two frequent topics here), with a specific focus on their policy implications. A regular component of the periodical is the presentation of cases by innovators themselves, accompanied by critical commentaries. The latest issue includes a case study of Second Life by our own Cory Ondrejka, with commentaries by Philip Evans of The Boston Consulting Group, Paul R. Verkuil of the Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and, well, me. A bit more below the fold; dig in and comment, if you like.
File this under: Blatant Self-Promotion.
We started a new blog based on the research our team (aka Pop.Cosmo) is doing at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the Games, Learning & Society Initiative . We study cognition & learning in the context of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) or virtual worlds. Constance Steinkuehler (that's me) is Principal Investigator. With the help of a generous grant from the MacArthur Foundation, we empirically investigate key literacy practices that constitute successful MMO gameplay (such as scientific literacy, computational literacy, and reciprocal apprenticeship) & how those literacy practices connect up with life and learning beyond the virtual worlds themselves. Then, based on this understanding, we develop after school instructional programs that leverage MMOs to get kids involved in what we see as core 21st century skills (that are often under-emphasized in classrooms).
This is our research website and blog: http://popcosmo.org/
My plan to teach a course here at the Johnson School has blossomed into a partnership with Metaversed to present a public speaker series and website called "Metanomics." Thie series is open to anyone who wants to hear from—and engage with—academics, industry leaders, regulators and influential virtual-world residents. So far, our speakers list includes legal scholars Joshua Fairfield and Bryan Camp, the unclassifiable Ted Castronova and Julian Dibbell, Congressional Staffer Dan Miller, Second Life tycoon Anshe Chung, and senior representatives from IBM and Intel—with many, many others yet to commit. Yours truly is kicking off the series with a session entitled "Metanomics 101."
This post defines metanomics, clarifies the scope and goals of the series, and asks Terra Novans for some help.