Jokes. They can go wrong. Very wrong.
Developers tend to favor one of these two viewpoints because they either make the culture of play in a particular game something that they can design towards or they make it a fixed property that they have no power over, something they can imagine either completely controlling or being completely helpless to control, and in any event, something easy to summarize in a reductive, mechanical way. They'd rather either than what the culture of play in a particular game really is, an emergent and contingent result of interactions between particular design features, the general cultural history of digital games and their genres, the particular sociological habitus of the players, and the interpretation of visual and textual elements within the game by different players (individually and in groups).
When Aris Bakhtanians said that sexual harassment was "part of the fighting-game community" he was, in a way, perfectly correct in an empirical sense. This is not to say that all or even most players of fighting games, even in competitive gaming, practice harassment of the kind Bakhtanians infamously displayed, but that sexual harassment and harassing attitudes are commonly witnessed or overheard in a great deal of online gaming, as are the harsh and infantile abusive responses flung at people who complain about such behavior or expression. The one truth sometimes spoken in such responses is that outsiders don't really understand how such things get said or what they mean. Outside critics and designers alike would often prefer for "culture" of this kind to be easily traced to the nature of the game itself, either its semantic content or the structure of play, or for the culture of the game to be nothing more than a microcosm of some larger, generalized culture or cognitive orientation, an eyedrop of sexism or racism or masculine misbehavior in an ocean of the same. If that's the case, either there's something quite simple to do (ban, suppress or avoid the offending game or game genre) or the game is only one more evidentiary exhibit in a vastly larger sociopolitical struggle and not an issue in its own right.
Understanding any given game or even a singular instance of a game as "culture" in the same sense that we understand any other bounded instance of practice and meaning-making by a particular group of people, with all the unpredictable, slippery and indeterminate questions that approach entails, means that if you care about the game as an issue, you have to spend time reading and understanding the history and action of play around a particular game. The stakes are very much not just academic (are they ever?): certainly the viability of a particular game as a product in the marketplace hangs in the balance, sometimes an entire genre of game or an entire domain of convergent culture is at financial risk. But also at stake are the real human feelings and subjectivities of the players themselves, both within the game culture and in the ways that those identities and attitudes unpack or express in everyday life as a whole. If we're going to argue that game cultures teach all sorts of interesting and useful social lessons, or lessons about systems and procedures (as we should) then we have to accept that some of the social lessons can be destructive or corrosive. Not in the simple-minded, witless way that the typical public complaint about violent or sexist media insists on arguing, sure, but we still have to ask what the consequences might be.
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.
Interesting things happening on the interactive social media front. IPO darlings Facebook and Zynga have seen their stock prices falling quite a bit lately. There's more analysis than information, but one thread stuck out at me: The idea that the attention garnered by Zynga and Facebook is not sustainable. For example, Leigh Alexander at Gamasutra carefully unpacks the dyanamics of attention when the portfolio consists of shiny empty games. It works for awhile, but eventually the users become bored at what is after all a very shallow experience. Over at CNN Money, Ben Rooney reports one analyst's conjecture that Facebook is sinking now because parents are using it. If there's any law of modern families, it is, Into the Tents of the Elders go no Teens. Advertisers are not at all desperate to get the rheumy, bloodshot eyeballs of the aged, which are still fixed on TV ("Figure skating is SO beautiful!") but they've lost the young people and can't find them. They thought the kids were on Facebok, but now, eh, where'd they go? In both cases the markets seem to be worried that there isn't nearly as much to this phenomenon as they thought.
OK, so what is the phenomenon all about really?
Our friend Marcus Carter (PhD Student at the University of Melbourne) sends in this report about DayZ. Back in the day, we pushed CounterStrike and friends out of the virtual world category because the multi-user environments were not persistent. Now of course all the lines blur; console-based achievement systems create a persistent community at the hub of every FPS. DayZ takes it a step further, adding a massive spatial environment. When an FPS gets a huge persistent map, we are back to Trammel.
Here is Marcus' report.
Have you heard about DayZ yet? If you’re willing to do battle with the installation process, the runaway successful Arma II mod is definitely worth the time. It is a hyper-realistic, ruthless, multiplayer zombie survival game that strings together a series of interesting and unique features that feels like the MMO/FPS experience I didn’t know I was missing.
Here’s a low-down of the interesting features in the DayZ alpha for TerraNovans who haven’t had a chance to play.
The UK is considering a set of laws that give consumers rights over the providers of digital stuff. These new consumer rights will blow a hole through EULAs and side step a whole mess of intellectual property law. All UK consumers of ‘digital content’ would have these rights irrespective of where it’s provided from, the rights cannot be contracted out of, and the remedies apply to content providers where ever they are.
In short, if you are a game company based anywhere selling to the UK - you need to pay attention.
I've got a short essay up over at Gamasutra about the right of publicity in video games. The fundamental question is this -- if you create a game (or virtual world) and you want to include in that setting an indentifiable individual, do you need to pay a licensing fee to that person or the heir of that person?
If games are like books, and not a second class medium, the answer should be "no." If I write a book, and a character in the book has a chance encounter with William Shatner or Harrison Ford, the artistic use of that celebrity's identity in a fictional content should be protected by the First Amendment. In other word, Shatner or Ford should not have a right to prohibit the creation of literature that makes reference to them. If the reference is misleading, or false, or defamatory, of course, there would be a legal problem -- but if not, the use of the identity in a work of art should be fine.
So why should there be a difference result for video games? In my opinion, games should have the same stature as other forms of artistic expression. But as William Ford and Raizel Liebler have explained recently, games have historially been of treated as a second-class medium when it comes to the right of publicity.
Now that we have EMA v. Brown, I think it's past time to change that rule. Hopefully the many courts considering this issue in the next few years will get this question right and protect the creative freedoms of game designers. The case I talk about in the Gamasutra post is Hart v. EA. The amicus brief in the case can be found here at Harvard's Berkman Center, with more commentary on the issues raised.
An interesting new MMOG is the Secret World. Much is being made of its class-free system, but for me the real innovation is in the spatial relationship of meaning to the geography. Thank heavens (or is it a plan by the Council of Rome) that we have finally gotten away from quest hubs. Instead, as you run through the zombie apocalypse, you see a smashed delivery truck and a package that is interactable. This leads you on a little mystery that is of independent narrative interest, and gains heft in the circumstances of the game. A package being delivered to - whom? Are they still alive? And why would someone here want a radiation detector? These symbols on the package - do they mean something? Is this a lost love situation, a consortium of devils, back-handed political shenanigans - or something else? OK, so you get to combine shotguns with lightning bolts if you want, but to me that's not the big draw. The big draw is running around in a varied and unpredictable signficance space, something that WoW had all but killed.
-.-- --- ..- / -- ..- ... - / -.. .. . / - --- / ... --- .-.. ...- . / ... --- -- . - .... .. -. --. / .-- .. -.-. -.- . -..
I don't normally go in for cultural studies. But every once in awhile, there's a piece that comes up with concepts that tightly and elegantly express thoughts that many are feeling but cannot put to words. Saler's As If is such a book. He addresses himself to "the literary prehistory of virtual reality," drawing connections between the works of Conan Doyle, Lovecraft, and Tolkien and our current exodus into computer-generated fantasy spaces. We have all known that there is a kinship between the 1930s dame obsessed with Holmes and the 2010 gamer obsessed with Onyxia, but it has never been delineated so clearly. Among the concepts Saler uses to make the connection is "animistic reason," a version of rationality that insists on the internal coherence of the fantastic. Animistic reason is the sensibility that delivers the feeling of confirmation and extra horror we feel when Lovecraft's demons turn out to be not spiritual beings but rather scientifically-confirmable alien species. It also produces the "aha" when we trace the Shire calendar to our own and discover that the Ring was destroyed on March 25. Animistic reason tells us that these worlds are fantastic, yet genuine; impossible, yet possible. It produces sensations similar to those of a mathematician who proves something outlandish, or the young theoretical physicist when he first grasps relativity. "Time does not flow the same for everyone? Impossible! Yet not only possible, but necessary!" Saler's book brings many other interesting insights to the table and, rather unusually for a cultural studies book, is a gentle read. I recommend it to you!
Yesterday, Facebook killed its virtual currency. (Thanks Travis Ross for the heads up.) However, the payment systems behind the FB Credit remain in place, including the outrageous 30% redemption tax, which provided FB with 18 percent of its revenue last year. The difference seems to be one of branding. An FB app can have its own virtual currency and give users a link where they can pay cash to FB (in local currencies - Yen, Euros, whatever Greece decides on, etc.) in return for the virtual coin. The coin then flows through the app back to the devs. The devs then send the virtual money to FB and redeem it again in the local currency (less the 30% tax).This works just like the FB credit, except that the name "Facebook Credit" is not attached to the virtual money. The name is given by the App developer.
So you won't be seeing Facebook Credits, but in an age of seemless, costless translation from one currency to the next, the *name* of the currency no longer matters. The question is now, to what exchange system does a currency belong? What are the transaction fees between it and other currencies? What does it let you buy?
This just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.
Since 2007, by Game Industry Promotion Act and its implementing decree, S. Koreans should not do business for exchanging or mediating exchanges of, and repurchasing in-game money or data like in-game items that are produced or obtained by copying, adapting, and hacking the game program or by way of abnormal game-play.
The word of 'by way of abnormal game-play' has been generally understood as 'using Bots in game', and many sweatshop owners and RMT dealers who broke the law were punished.
On the other hand, Supreme Court of S. Korea ruled that RMT itself is not totally banned by this act in the sphere of MMORPGs where in-game items are basically obtained by sweat, not by luck. So, RMT dealers can buy and sell in-game items as far as those are produced and obtained by normal play.
In summary - human play : normal(OK) vs. Bot play : abnormal(banned).
But, practically, it's not that easy to tell Bot play from human play. Korean government have been worrying about the growth of the grey market of RMT and the crime related to this. Government agency assumes that 60% of RMT in korea were unhealthy one.
To cope with this matter, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism just now amended the implementing decree. Next july, the revised implementing decree will be effective. This time, Korean government enlarges the scope/depth of the word 'abnormal'.
Using the others personal information & Doing for a business also belong to the scope of 'abnormal'.
In summary - amateur play : normal vs. pro play : abnormal
(Probably the first 21th century law that is Johan Huizinga's Magic Circle graven on)
According to korean Value Added Tax act, anybody who supplies goods or services for business and earns more than 12,000,000 won in 6 months should register as "enterpreneur". Enterpreneur shall be liable to pay VAT. This new Implementing Decree do not permit game player be the enterpreneur of VAT act.
This is the end of my brief introduction to the new game law of S. Korea on RMT.
For me, it seems somewhat odd and interesting that Korea recently enacted another law called E-sports Promotion Act. The definition of E-sports is 'through the medium of games, human compete for the record, or win the game against human'. Of course, Main purpose of this act is to assist pro-gamer who play StarCraft, Dungeon & Fighter etc for a living.
Earning REAL money from the inferno be banned, while from the space is not.
Former relating posts.
We reported in 2006 that the National Assembly was considering something like this. However, later Korean Supreme Court decisions seemed to legalize some game-to-real market activity. Now however the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is pushing ahead a series of provisions that will criminalize virtual item sales and especially the use of automated programs to farm virtual items. This was first mentioned by Shander in our Diablo III comment thread, referencing this reliable source elsewhere (thanks Shander!). According to the source, maximum penalties are 5 years in prison and a 50m Won ($45,000) fine. Justifying the law, the government man said “The main purpose of the games is for entertainment and should be used for academic and other good purposes.”
One blogger thinks Diablo III is the cause. I would love to hear Mr. Yoon's thoughts. Judging from this site, Korea has been doing quite a bit legislatively to restrict game playing: Banning students from beta tests, prohibiting late-night play by teens, enforcing a cooling-off period.
One is forced to wonder, again, is Korea an odd case or a leading indicator? We have asked this for 10 years, but in that time it does not seem that the US and Europe have become as generally crazy about online games as Korean society seems to be. Here in Indiana USA, it does not appear that the intensity of online gaming has yet risen to the level it seemed to be in 2002 in Korea. Where once I was certain it would happen, lately I've begun to doubt. Something is happening, but not *that.*
Yesterday the Diablo III Real-Money Auction House opened for business. I'll call it the RMAH and it's interesting that the game company also calls it that. "Real money auction house." The company, Blizzard Entertainment, wants the players to think that the gold coins of the game are not real money while the dollar is real money. We'll see how long that lasts.The terms of service for the game actually put "real money" in quotes at one point.
After the fold, a little of my personal experience and some thoughts on what it means.
According to the Financial Post, as confidence in the Eurozone falls, purchases of Bitcoins originating in Eurozone countries is rising. It's a correlation. But perhaps indeed some people are seeing the Bitcoin as a safe haven. You wouldn't put it in Facebook Credits, because of the exorbitant cashing-out fee of 30%. This is another instance of completely normal economic behavior - switching from risky money to safer money - that nonetheless seems weird because the allegedly safer money is generated by a software program and has nothing to do with the real world. But what, after all, does the Euro have to do with the real world?
We've become used to the idea that a social media or game developer would launch their own currency within their system. With Facebook Credits, we have a third-party cirtual money approach. That idea is apparent in other areas, notably GetJar Gold. GetJar is a distributor of Android apps, but it also offers a virtual currency service that can be integrated into the apps. For us iPhone users, it would be as if iTunes had something like "iBucks," where the iBuck appears in the apps you use.
This is an interesting parallel to the real world, where at some point it was deemed important to separate the monetary authority from the political authority. One runs the country, the other the country's money.
Got an email (copied after the break) from a comedian seeking to drive traffic to a charity website. He and his buddies are playing games in Iron Man Mode: One death. Nice, funny premise. It's consistent with Yogscast, the effort by two Brits to perform through Minecraft. My kids watched Yogscast as much as they played the game. "O Lewis! O Simon! AHHHHHH" It was funny.
When serious game content goes over the top - see Tera - it's too, too funny to knock it down. Drives role-players mad, of course. In this ironic age, we're all looking for a lore we can believe in and whatever is produced is just not good enough for some people. So everything gets griefed. I suppose that's healthy.
Healthy or not, if we treat all virtual worlds and everything on the internet as sites for mockery, we do get a heck of a good laugh out of it. Just don't take yourself too seriously out there.
After the break, read the appeal from the Iron Man.
So I was lucky enough to get a guided tour of the Smithsonian's Art of Video Games exhibit last week by curator Georgina Goodlander. If you're in DC, it is worth a visit, plus it will be venturing off on a traveling tour at the end of the year.
What I found curious, but not surprising, was my mixture of excitement and disappointment at seeing video games displayed as "art" in the Smithsonian. During a long stretch of my adolescence, I trained as a visual artist, with the hope of one day producing something worthy of placement in a museum. At the same time, I spent a significant amount of time (perhaps too significant) with video games and early computer graphics programs. At that time, it never struck me as strange that video games were not in museums, since the divide between fine art culture and gamer culture was so wide and clear.
So now, in 2012, I get to stroll through a gallery of screenshots and video captures of the Atari VCS, Intellivision, C64, Sega Genesis, etc. On the one hand, it's thrilling to see the Smithsonian take these small steps into categorizing and curating examples of the video game genre. (Curiously, in a way that Ian Bogost and Nick Monfort might appreciate, the major room in the exhibit adopted a platform-based taxonomy, with genre-based subcategories.) And surely, that was my dominant reaction to the exhibit -- it was really great to see the genre put on a pedestal, so to speak, as art.
My slight disappointment: how much was not there. It struck me that it is impossible it is to put the art of the video game in a small exhibit, or perhaps even to conceptualize this art form as fully expressive in the museum context. Video games are often such rich, interactive, social, and contextual experiences -- how to capture all of that in a few rooms of exhibits?
Perhaps, though, this is not unique to video games. I can only imagine what an ancient Egyptian might think, confronted with the average museum's scattered artifacts under glass. How much does an exhibit on ancient Egypt really give us a sense of what it meant to live in that culture? You can get a glimpse, perhaps, but not much more. The odd thing for me about the Smithsonain exhibit, I guess, is that all that you glimpse inside the exhibit is still very much alive outside of it.
Anyway, there's a website that goes along with the Exhibit which has some interviews with game developers -- I have yet to watch them, but I'm sure they're fascinating: http://www.americanart.si.edu/exhibitions/archive/2012/games/artists/
Update: Gamasutra does a piece on this topic, featuring Henry Lowood's efforts. Must be something in the air this week.
Petra is a Finnish girl who, in the storybooks, is able to fly around the world and see many different cultures. On the Petra's PLanet MMO, the player does what Petra does: Go to different countries. There's nothing special or amazing about this, and that's what's special and amazing. In a decade, we've gone from 4 MMOGs and perhaps 6 immersive world-type games, to the point where a small country's story for children spawns its own immersive virtual environment.
Remember in 1995 when the headlines screamed "Soon there will be computers in cars and refrigerators!" Well, today there are indeed computers in cars and refrigerators, but there's big headline. It happens without noticing.
Therefore, take a moment to notice Petra's Planet.
Substantively, is this a good thing? You've walked through Epcot and enjoyed the sensations induced by faux-France and faux-Norway. You tink, hey I learned something about France and Norway today. But did you? Maybe you actually lost knowledge about them.
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.
Couple of reports from the world of the virtual currency Bitcoin indicate that it has become a hacker target. A BTC is worth about $5 at the moment; the thefts are in the 6-digit area in terms of dollars.
What do we have here? A real-world currency who holders are subject to extraordinary attacks? Or is it a virtual currency that is necessarily more vulnerable to security risks? Or, are the holders of Bitcoin small-scale operations with insufficient security? I can't tell; I don't know enough about security. I wonder how this hacker-theft rate compares to the theft rate for Chase's electronic dollar holdings.
The fact that the thieves have acquired a good with stable value - $5 a unit - indicates that Bitcoin is alive and healthy, though.
I thought reader must be interested in the forthcoming title from Edward Elgar: Virtual Economies and Financial Crime, by Dr. Clare Chambers Jones.
Here is the description from the publisher:
Virtual economies and financial crime are ever-growing, increasingly significant facets to banking, finance and anti-money laundering regulations on an international scale. In this pathbreaking and timely book, these two important issues are explored together for the first time in the same place.
Clare Chambers-Jones examines the jurisprudential elements of cyber law in the context of virtual economic crime and explains how virtual economic crime can take place in virtual worlds. She looks at the multi-layered and interconnected issues association with the increasing trend of global and virtual banking via the ‘Second Life’ MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game). Through this fascinating case study, the author illustrates how virtual worlds have created a second virtual economy which transgresses into the real, creating economic, political and social issues. Loopholes used by criminals to launder money through virtual worlds (given the lack of jurisdictional consensus on detection and prosecution) are also highlighted.
Looks very promising and timely!
So, you do something in a virtual world and you get a random item. Say, you kill a dragon. The item has real-world value. You obtained it as a result of three things: You paid or registered to play the game, you performed an action that may have required skill or maybe not, and the system executed a random item generation process. Still, it's not gambling. Right? It's monster-raiding.
OK, now you go into a social network and do something and you get a random virtual item of nontrivial value. Say, you 'Liked' somebody's pic and you got a free virtual rose. Or you wrote something that 100 other people 'Liked.' But you joined the network, you did something that may or may not have involved skill, and a random process of the system gave you an item of value.
We need to be firm at some point that there's a difference between killing monsters in games and 'Liking' things in social networks. It's not a technical or functional difference, its an aesthetic and experiential difference for which there is no bright line distinction. If we don't work to clarify this difference, courts will start calling monster loot gambling income. Not good.
Game worlds need to be identified as such and then tightly walled off, to the extent possible, from reality.
We've talked before in this space about academia and industry working together, and how much the academy needs to hire expertise from game developers. In perhaps the biggest such hire ever, USC has hired Richard Lemarchand. I wish I knew how much they had to pay him, as we are trying to come up with a way to do something similar. Any guesses?
Back in the day, say 2004 or 2005, some far-seeing folks tried to set up virtual currency exchanges. Traffic was too light at the time, but now it seems to be a sustainable business model with some venture buy-in. See this article in Forbes. Here's the skinny: The exchanges stand ready to transfer balances in either direction for a large number of currencies, including $. It's a natural next step in the evolution of this space. When there were a zillion European currencies, banks made a lot of money just helping you switch from one to another. "If it's Drachma, this must be Greece! Therefore, Tuesday!" Followed by "O Noes it's SPARTAAAAAaaaaaaa......." -Splat-
To gain perspective, let's count the babies who have been sent prematurely to their final rest.
Not sure what it all means, but I'm inclined to think that there is some root cause, or rather a glaring absence, or perhaps presence, of something, in modern culture, that produces both bad gaming and bad parenting. You be the judge!
On its face, EVE Online seems such a paradise for the independent person. No laws, no restrictions, no way forward except individual merit. Can't handle it? Die or quit. Completely predictably, the resulting society does not consist of thousands of yeoman farmers but rather strong-man rule in the form of player guilds (corporations). Over and above this emergent oligarchic tyranny, the owners of EVE established a first-of-its-kind player governance, a parliament of sorts whereby the players would supposedly be able to have a hand on the game's development. This only replays once again the farce told eloquently by our own Julian Dibbell many years ago in his My Tiny Life. Another famous example was Peter Ludlow's and Mark Wallace's experience in the "freedom-loving" confines of Sims Online and Second Life.
For, as correspondent Marcus Carter reports, there ain't no freedom in EVE after all. He writes:
Something just happened in EVE Online that I thought TerraNovans might be interested in.
EVE has a player elected council, the CSM. The election for CSM7 just finished. The winner, ‘The Mittani’ is a bit of a controversial figure in EVE, and got most of the votes. It doesn’t hurt that he is the head diplomat for the Goonswarm Federation, probably the most powerful (and controversial) alliance in the game (Goonswarm made TerraNova last October).
Voting for CSM7 finished at around about the time EVE Fanfest began. At the Alliance Panel hosted by CCP, near the end of fanfest, The Mittani made some controversial comments.
I’ll just copy/paste from the massively article
During a Q&A session after the presentation, he said something that has become the focus of a great deal of controversy. "Incidentally, if you want to make the guy kill himself, his (in-game) name is [redacted]," The Mittani said, adding that "he has his own corp. Find him." The talk was watched by a packed room of Fanfest attendees and streamed live to thousands of players at home.
In the community, there was/is serious uproar. Many were quick to point out that what The Mittani had done was in strict violation of the EVE EULA and has been described as cyber-bullying. He soon apologised, and later offered his resignation from the chairman position on CSM7, but not the CSM itself.
However, CCP just announced that his conduct on the day was a “clear violation of our Terms of Service” and “According to our existing policies, we have issued a 30 day ban from EVE Online to the panel speaker” which removes him from the CSM entirely. See more from that statement here.
What I find most interesting is that *a player broke a games EULA while not even playing that game*. In the thread on the forums, several users were quick to jump on this, some more flippantly than others, “You guys should ban me because I am sitting in my room saying EULA/TOS breaking things out loud in front of the monitor”.
Now while this situation is clearly different, occurring at a hosted CCP event and live-streamed online, but if the boundary for a game EULA isn’t at the end of the game – where is it?
A Serious Games Association is being launched, and they want to compile a directory of all the games for good out there. Please go to SeriousGamesAssociation.com to sign up, help out, and add your serious game to the list.
You're hearing it more and more: There's a higher-education bubble. Remember bubbles? They're those things that pop and cause catastrophes. In 2008, the housing finance bubble popped and we're still dealing with the effects. Personally, I think the 4th straight year of economic molasses has a lot to do with long-run trends in technology and the negative effect of the internet on aggregate demand. People who spend all day surfing and tweeting and playing just don't buy as much stuff. They're certainly exposed to a lot less advertising. But still, even when long-run trends are downward, the economy tends to contract via bubble-pops, not smooth decline.
Why is the university system in the US about to pop? I first thought about this future back in about 2000 when I was working at a Cal State school. The tone of the place was entirely vocational. There was no student life. No spirit. No mentoring. Nothing that I would associate with higher education. It was a group - albeit a large and at times hard-working group - of young people seeking a certificate by the easiest possible means. A university in name only. Naturally, the thought occured that the whole thing could be done online at a fraction of the cost. And that someone out there would do that. And when they did, the Cal States of the world would go under.
Apparently these days are upon us. I've heard that 3,000 US colleges and universities will fold within the next 10 years. This gloomy forecast comes from the people who sell grotesquely overpriced textbooks to these schools. What a small lifeless campus can do, Phoenix University Online can do better. Thus, good-bye Direction-State University; good-bye Dead-Guy's-Name College.
Moreover, a good chunk of a big university's money comes from cash cow courses (the 1100 students in Economics 101), and these are easily done online as well. Revenues at big university will contract dramatically. There will be cutting; there will be blood on the tile. All those hyphenated departments, majors, and programs, created only to satisfy political demands or the power-lust of big-name professors, will go away.
The contraction in higher ed has distinct consequences for young people hoping for an academic career. If your advisors are telling you to ignore all this, follow your passion, and everything will be fine, my advice is: Find new advisors. Everything is *not* going to be fine.
The latest Virtually Policy podcast is part two of the Jon Matonis interview. In the second half of the interview Jon focuses on Bitcoin and we cover everything from human rights, Bitcoin as a cross platform gaming currency and Dr Castronova's post on this very blog: Bitcoin (see also my summary of what it's about: A Bit too far?).
Jon is contributor to Forbes.com and has just published a written companion to the podcasts, also titled Virtual Currencies and Roach Motels.
Virtually Policy 3: Virtual Currencies and Roach Motels
Virtually Policy 4: Bitcoin
The guys at Motivate.Play are taking in GDC and have posted their first notes. Travis Ross comments on the unstated stance of many serious games speakers that making a game fun an easy part of a project. As if it's easy to attract players...yeah. He also says that an emerging norm for game academics is to learn how to code, and that Unity is becoming the game engine of choice. Jim Cummings relates the latest efforts of motivators to make work fun, a project that, well, makes a body think.
Ren continues to crank out interesting new podcasts on the Virtual Policy Network.
In the second episode of Virtually Policy, Bill May talks with Ren Reynolds about using social media and Second Life in public diplomacy.
The third episode of Virtually Policy is part one of a two-part interview with virtual currency expert Jon Matonis. (The next part will be about Bitcoin.)
Kudos to Ren for putting these together -- looking forward to more in the future!
The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research will be publishing a special issue dedicated to law and virtual worlds. Dan Hunter, Melissa de Zwart, and I will be editing the issue. The Call for Papers and more information can be found here: http://bit.ly/CFP-lawvirtual
Here's an excerpt from the site CFP:
This special issue will focus on legal questions generated by the creation, regulation and participation in virtual worlds. We are looking for papers that explore beyond the basics of ‘the magic circle’ (asserting that virtual worlds are immune from external laws and norms) and consider emerging legal issues that may encourage or inhibit the uptake of virtual worlds. In particular, we are interested in papers that adopt a multi-jurisdictional focus and which propose new ways that the legal issues may be approached by developers and regulators. Innovative and creative papers are encouraged.
Given the audience and nature of the JVWR we are looking for papers which are accessible to a non-legal readership. They should demonstrate a good awareness of the nature of virtual worlds.
Kudos to Ren Reynolds for kicking off a new podcast: Virtually Policy. In the inaugural episode, Ren interviews Arno Lodder with regard to the Dutch Runescape case, which led to the first national Supreme Court decision concerning crime in virtual worlds.
Someone saw the movie Second Skin and wrote me asking about game addiction. He said "You gave the example of the heavy set girl who has to take care of her mother so she can't leave, she plays mmorpgs to be someone else. The most powerful part of this example was, 'yes, I agree that there's a problem in that situation. But the problem is not with her, it's with us.' ... Why do people become so addicted to these games? Is it societies fault? What do we need to do to prevent people from feeling like they have no other options but to play these games? What are the challenges people face once they develop this so called 'Second Skin'? And how important is it to shed the second skin and come back to their true self?"
So I, growing sentimental, said,
Interesting story! Well - how can I help? Addiction, as a concept, is pretty loosely defined. The term gets applied too often. What's the difference between a chemical brain dependency - a medical problem - and an activity that is so enjoyable that you don't want to give it up? Some people like France. Is it ever proper to say "That guy is addicted to France?" Bottom line, I'm not sure that addiction is a helpful concept here.
Let's try a different concept and starting point - virtuous living.
Jason Wall sent me a note explaining that World of Warcraft (you've heard of it?) is doing even more to encourage the formation of ad hoc raiding groups. Back in the day, he notes, the only way you could get raid-level gear was by being in a raid-level guild and by raiding, a lot. Much was said back then (not least by me) about the way MMORPGs seemed to provide a communal experience for people isolated by contemporary society. If society gave people anomie, then online community, it seemed, was the antidote.
How pollyannish! We (I) also said that online environments were really no different from offline ones in a number of ways. "It's a strange theater, but the players are still human," I would say. I should have followed up and asked myself, if this is so, then why should we expect society to look any different in there than it does out here? How could game designers eliminate an anomie that is so pervasive elsewhere?
I suppose if I had challenged myself that way, I would have responded that game designers have the advantage of consciously designing a place. Or perhaps they have the advantage of vast dictatorial power over both the rules and the physics of interaction. These advantages would surely enable some designers to discover how to generate community among people who (I assumed) desire it.
The assumption that people want to have community, indeed that they would agree to be forced into it, is denied by tale of the suburb. Housing prices are highest in the suburbs, places that often look very village-y but are in fact built to provide each person with solitude. Soft barriers protect suburban residents from too much interaction. Yet unlike residents of rural areas, suburbanites are not completely alone. Suburbanites are alone together.
"Alone together" - we've heard that before. Over the past decade, online game communities have evolved from forced grouping models to alone-together models such as we see in SWTOR and in WoW's new pick-up group mechanisms. We've moved from massively multiplayer online games to massively singleplayer online games. Our virtual worlds are becoming like suburbs - places where most people, most of the time, are doing whatever they please and having no effect or interaction with anyone else. Protected from others, but not separated.
The neo-liberal in me says, 'this is apparently the life people want to lead.' It is striking that game designers have created environments that so perfectly match the isolating ethos of urban development that so many people bemoan. It is striking that the forced-grouping model has fallen away and been replaced by solo play. Both online and off, the villages went away and were replaced by cul-de-sacs. Both were developments - someone developed them to be what they ended up being. And people like it.
The whole thing smells of irresistable social and economic change, of dynamics that are unavoidable. The massively singleplayer outcome is perhaps a very solid equilibrium between the competing tensions freedom and community.
If that is so, and I think it is, it spells doom for all kinds of social engineering projects. The New Urban neighborhood? The Global Village? The online game that purportedly makes people into good citizens? These will all remain as empty as the dead little towns that dot the rural landscape, or as decrepit and bully-plagued as the once-vibrant urban neighborhoods that dot the cities.
In the end, people just want their space. The Buddha was told that the monks were squabbling. He replied, "Like pebbles in a small bag, the monks polish each other." But if they can get out of the bag, Wise One, won't they? And keep their rough edges?
The Dutch Supreme Court issued its ruling in the Runescape theft case today. You can find the ruling here, and here's a Google-translated version. The ruling cites to the work of Professor Arno Lodder (who guest-blogged here), who has been keeping close tabs on the case, as well as to my book and to my work with Dan on virtual law & virtual crime.
One thing to bear in mind is that this case involved real violence and the theft of virtual goods. The victim was beaten and threatened with a (real) knife, with the defendants demanding he hand over a mask and an amulet within Runescape. As the court notes, the violence occurred outside of the context of the game. So at the very least, this was a case of criminal assault. The only issue was whether the crime amounted to theft, which hinged on whether or not the virtual items could be classified, under Dutch law, as goods.
The lawyer for the defendants argued that Runescape's virtual items are not goods because they are not tangible and have no commercial value. The Dutch Supreme Court disagreed. Citing to the size of virtual economies as well as to specific sales on eBay of Runescape items, it rejected the argument that the goods had no economic value. It also observed that the victim had invested time and effort to obtain the value of the items, that the game gave him exclusive rights to the items, and that the defendants had, by violence, acquired that value and those exclusive rights from the victim.
In my opinion, the reasoning of the Dutch Supreme Court is roughly analogous to the reasoning in the U.S. decision of Kremen v. Cohen, which found that domain names were subject to civil conversion in California despite their intangible nature. Though I have mixed feelings about the Cohen case, I believe the recognition of the items as goods is the right result in this case. As the Court explains, the victims here were clearly motivated by the prospect of acquiring the virtual items of the victim and they used violence to obtain that value.
Additionally, as the Dutch Supreme Court explicitly notes, the violence here was not in the context of the game. As I explain in Chapter 6 of my book, there can be cases where legal prohibitions against in-game theft of virtual property may be in tension with the rules of a game. (In essence, this is the question of the "magic circle" which we have discussed here for some time.) In this case, however, the theft occurred completely outside the rules of Runescape. Given this, I think the Dutch Supreme Court's recognition of the economic and status value of virtual items is entirely appropriate.
I may have more to say once I get a better translation of the ruling -- Google Translate is great to get the gist of the matter, but I have a feeling I'm missing plenty of nuance.
Update: I should clarify that the cites mentioned above are actually contained in the AG's opinion accompanying the Supreme Court decision. The Dutch Supreme Court apparently does not do cites in its opinions. The AG's office is attached to the Supreme Court and offers advice to the court.
Holy hellions, Batman, 2012 is off with a bang.
Too bad about SWTOR and the LEGO Universe, but Guild Wars 2 might actually ship this year, and there are some other exciting things brewing. Tera Online might emerge unscathed from its legal machinations and make its promised launch date of May 2012. Blizzard is making a 'casual' MMO (with product placements)...
But here's what I'm waiting for...
Also, don't forget that DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association) is holding its semi annual conference in Tampere, Finland (where all the very cool kids are). They need papers and reviewers, so get in touch!
Gamasutra just posted a rather longish essay of mine about Minecraft and what's wrong today with the intersection of games and intellectual property law. Here's the link. In some ways, I think I'm echoing Ted's criticisms of the new Star Wars MMORPG in the last post . In short: the more games become like movies, the less interesting they become. On the other hand, the more games let us express ourselves artistically and socially, the more interesting they become.
One significiant problem, as I see it, is that the current trajectory that intellectual property law is pursuing is much more supportive of the the former (games on rails) than it is of the latter (games that let players become authors).
How did we get to the point that an online multiplayer game feels less alive than a single-player sandbox world? Like many of you, the past couple of months have been spent in Skyrim and SWTOR. A decade ago, Elder Scrolls games were large, empty spaces. They had many actionable items but still - the NPCs you encountered were rather quiet and mindless. You were the only person alive. But the genre of open-world RPGs has gradually added more and more life-like elements. Fallout 3 was an eye-opener for me. And now Skyrim, with conversing people, merchants on a budget, reputations. I've spent much time in that game just living there, poking around, taking a nap, getting up, seeing what's in that cave, knowing it was all there for someone to find and hey - why not me? That world feels much more alive than those games did 10 years ago.
Meanwhile, MMORPGs have made a turn for the hearse. SWTOR somehow feels dead. Rather than explore everything, you get specific quest lines. You're on rails. You're instanced away from others. They still haven't solved the ancient problem with MMOGs - quests that don't actually change the world. SWTOR adds cutscenes and narrative for each quest, but eventually you pattern-match to it and realize that you're doing the same thing every time: Running out, killing 8 rats, interacting with four boxes, and bringing back the jewel. Over and over and over.
You can't just run where you want in SWTOR. They actually have a region map clearly showing that area A is over here and area B is over there; they exist on the same planet; they are within running distance of one another; yet when you try to hoof it from A to B, you hit an 'exhaustion zone' that will kill you. You're forced to get on the rails and ride there.
SWTOR has managed to do something very weird to its markets. Players don't do crafting, rather, you have a crew to do it. Sending the crew on crafting missions involves a simple click. Player labor input is minimal. Naturally, as a result, the net monetary proceeds from doing crafting are near zero (labor theory of value works here - zero labor input implies zero profit on sales of things labor produces). So the market feels dead.
Grouping and social activities are no better than other games, and perhaps worse. Warhammer and Rift made advances in terms of allowing legitimate peripheral participation; you saw some people beating down an instance, you auto-joined it. Not in SWTOR - you have to do the LFG holler, and I noticed that as I advanced in levels, there were fewer and fewer of those calls going out.
So, once again, there are parts of the experience that you can only get if you either bring friends into the world or work hard to make friends there. This makes for unpleasant surprises, like WoW's questline capstones, where you would solo 95% of the storyline only to find that you had to team up for the last part. Does that make sense? Either make it a solo game, where solo players can do everything. Or, make it a multiplayer game from the start, so there are social norms under which everyone feels completely normal meeting strangers and playing with them. With systems like WoW's and SWTOR's, you solo along as the path of least resistance until, YOU have to be the one who breaks silence and asks for help. Remember EQ? You'd wander into a zone and immediately shout "34 Cleric lfg." That's how everybody played. In today's MMOGs, somehow it's become like the junior high dance - everyone standing around against the wall, nobody dancing.
On top of this there was some serious design weirdness in my particular class (Scoundrel). Why they made the stealth class a healer, I'll never know. It seemed that difficulty was poorly balanced - you'd destroy everything easily and then suddenly would come a quest that was impossible. Talent tree for Scoundrel was odd - you got all these punching skills (Punching? Really? In a world with lasers?) and yet, I found my DPS was better when I ignored all my talent tree talents, sat back in cover, and shot.
SWTOR's big innovation was the addition of thousands of filmed cutscenes to the game. As in Mass Effect, you're watching a movie and playing some game during the breaks. If you love Star Wars, this does let you immerse yourself in the Star Wars universe. And this is an important, critical goal; I remember Raph saying this was his main goal in designing SWG: Let people live in the Star Wars Universe. Thing is, I don't love Star Wars all that much, and I don't really like watching movies. As I wander the latest version of that galaxy, I don't feel the world responding to my touch. It's got a hard-plastic feel. And somehow, Skyrim does not.
I can't count how many times a casual social conversation has led to someone looking at me incredulously, blurting "You haven't seen [Movie X]? How could you not have seen [Movie X]? You have to see [Movie X]. I'll loan you my DVD. In fact, come to my house next week and we'll watch it." I have a stack of DVDs of "essential" loaned films that I have yet to watch. Not to mention "essential" TV programs and "essential" books. I'd like to take this opportunity and tell the world: No. I don't consider it essential at this point in my life to watch or read any particular narrative. I'm sick of narrative. The vast majority of "essential" narratives stink. Most of them are lies. A few are entertaining lies, fewer are entertaining and useful lies, a very small number - very small - are interesting, shocking, and true. Well, I've read or watched those, all three of them. The chances that Hollywood's offerings in the last 20 years constitute anything important for a contemporary mind are vanishingly small. Same for fiction, indeed, almost anything made to be looked at in the last generation of creativity. Largely a waste of time. So - please stop giving me this worthless homework.
In 2004 (yes we’ve been around a long-ass time), I wrote Bah, Humbug & Digital Distribution, talking about the tensions between getting physical and virtual gifts. I’m yet to see a break down of the stats from Star Wars The Old Republic (SWTOR) but I’m guessing the physical : virtual is going to break new ground.
Back on ’04 I was musing about the impact of virtual gifts on xmas – I still do, how many of you bought someone a dead-tree-book rather than a kindle edition so you could give someone an object (do they sell some kind of token you can give, like a card with a code on it, if not why not?)?
The ritual I’d either forgotten about or something that was not such an ‘event’ in ’04 was the midnight launch. As the guys (and they all seem to be guys) on pod casts such as Mos Eisley Radio were lamenting many game stores did not have a midnight release event for SWTOR, which as the people are starting to note is a gamer ritual that some of the hard-core are starting to miss.
There are multiple reason for why midnight release was not a big thing in the case of SWTOR: Digital Download / Amazon et al pre-ordering; but possible most of all the phased early entry process that was used. There are god management reasons for having phased entry, though for those of us that sat in popcap queue for a long time last week load balancing did not go perfectly (though possibly as well as it could). But, there did seem to be a lack of an event, a communal moment for many players – though as podcasters have noted some people shifted from standing in line to waiting in server queues on vent with their buddies – we always find a way to be together I guess.
May the force be with youTM….
We tend to focus so much on the digital that we overlook wonderful simulation engines right under our noses. Sometimes the best simulators are also simple games. Dress up chess a little bit, and you're doing combined-arms warfare. The game does not have to be digital or massive. Rather, the key contribution of Game is that games represent systems really well. It is very hard to write a book or give a lecture about a system. (Test: Explain your city's zoning system to a friend.) It is comparatively easy to create a simulation of the system, then add objectives to create a game. It being just as important to grasp systems as much as narratives or personalities, games belong in every literate person's toolkit.
Be that as it may, we can now note that board games have grown up and now present opportunities to simulate extremely pwoerful and difficult systems. Labyrinth is a maddeningly accurate and convincing demonstration of the impossibility of rational foreign policy in the Middle East. Play the game to understand why our only choices seems to be flavors of madness.This game is also cool for being a simulation of history we are still living. Helpful, that.
Another wonderful board game is 1960: The Making of the President. This is a robust articulation of the US Presidential Election system. Just for kicks, I updated it to simulate the 2012 Election. It wasn't that hard. In 1960, Civil Rights were a big issue. Today, we have the Culture Wars. Defense then was about frosty fellows in porkpie hats. Today it is about bearded gentlemen in the hills. Is the Economy still an issue today? Yes, yes...going out on a limb here...I think so. YIKES of course it is. Speaking of permanent things, the game has an Event Card called "Late Returns from Cook County" that gives the Democrat player some mystery votes in Illinois on Election Day. As we observe yet another Illinois governor heading to jail, what can be said of this game mechanic other than - COOK COUNTY WILL NEVER CHANGE. KEEP THE CARD.
I uploaded the 2012 variant to BoardGameGeek, a great site for anyone seeking effective system simulations. Having played the 2012 election variant a couple of times, I come away with at least one recommendation: Watch Pennsylvania.
My colleague Mark Deuze just let us know about Notehall. The site allows students to sell their class notes. My faculty looks upon this with a negative eye. They say, You should write your own notes. The notes on the site can be stupid or outdated. Many of our faculty release the lecture notes for free anyway.
"The site allows players to sell their gold. Designers look upon this with a negative eye. They say, You should grind your own gold. The gold on the site can be counterfeit. Much of our game releases gold practically for free anyway."
How long before we have "note farmers" - people who go to class just to take notes and sell them?
If you want to control black markets in the digital age, how do you do it? If they have a website you can shut down, shut it down (Napster). If they don't, you spam the network with bad content (Kazaa).This is an example of force projection within networks; controllers must always project force within the network where the important assets live. The Prussians projected force within the rail network, the Nazis within road networks, and digital powers must project force into things like Notehall.
Advice: If you don't like Notehall, you have no hope if you rely on admonition and warnings and ethics codes. Rather: Announce to your students that you will be releasing fakes notes on Notehall. They will contain wrong answers. The fakes are designed to ensure that students who study from Notehall will fail the class.