Tag Archives: MMOG’s

Virtual Worlds, the Good and Bad

Virtual worlds are and will always be a very interesting topic.  There are various perspectives, issues, and challenges when it comes to these virtual communities, and I personally can’t decide whether I should care about them or not.  On one side of the spectrum, I see virtual worlds as a tool that people use to escape from reality.  As long as they don’t cross over into real space, that should be ok. On the opposite end of the spectrum there is a belief that there is no separation from virtual worlds and reality.  The two go hand and hand; therefore whatever happens in either world indirectly connects with the other.

There are several interesting theories proposed by scholars concerning the phenomenon.  One such article argued that virtual worlds are changing the way we learn. Not learning in the sense of accumulation of information or facts, but the type of learning that occurs when individuals of different backgrounds come together in virtual space.  One can argue there is great deal of learning occurring in games such as World or Warcraft in which people come together to solve problems, solidifying what  Douglas Thomas calls the networked imagination.  He writes:

“The idea of a network of imagination ties together notions of community, technologically mediated collective action, and imagination, when players begin to act through joint investment in the pursuit of common ground. This kind of collective action is more than networked work or distributed problem solving. It requires that problems be thought of as group problems and that the goals of all actions and practices are to move the group forward.”
-Why Virtual Worlds Could Matter

This argument is definitely valid.  It is apparent that activities involving high group collaboration can be an avenue to feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than yourself (which Jane McGonigal argues is a necessity), as well as a way to engage with people from all over the world with different perspectives, ideas, and contributions.  The very act of this type of engagement in virtual reality educates people with knowledge that can be applied to the real world.

Ethical Issues in Second Life (by Hope R. Botterbusch and R. S. Talab) was a very interesting article about issues that occur in virtual worlds. I must admit that sometimes I think it’s silly to put so much emphasis on virtual worlds when it’s not a real world.  Who cares about what happens in a fake world?  However there are people out there who do care.  Issues such as copyright infringement, exploitation, vandalism, and identity deception are just a few associated with Second Life. Botterbusch and Talab research findings imply that people who commit what I’ll call virtual crimes commit them because they have no fear of consequences of the real world.

One example in the article explains how “Miss Avatar” decides to create a shop where she sales digital products she created.  One day she notices some players have access to her products that she hadn’t receive compensation (Lindens) for.  Someone used Copybot which allowed them to copy her digital products.  She filed a copyright infringement suit which eventually got turned over to real life lawyers.

So the question becomes is this right or wrong?  I personally can’t take a firm stand on either side of the issue. However, I think a big source of the problem is crossing real world constructs over into virtual worlds.  In other words, I don’t think this would be that big of a deal if the Second Life Linden was not connected in any way shape or form to real world dollar.

Any negative aspect crossing from virtual worlds to the real world can be considered a problem. It’s ok if a person uses virtual worlds to escape from reality or to explore their identity, but when the lines are not drawn between the two worlds, problems can arise.  It will be interesting to see how governance or the lack thereof matriculates as years go by and virtual worlds become increasingly associated with the real world.

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Virtual Worlds: Analysis Questions

This week in Theory and Analysis, we are discussing virtual worlds.  The following analysis questions are ones I would like to examine more through out the course of the week.

As virtual worlds become more and more a popular, what happens when virtual reality crosses over into reality? Is there a distinction between the two?

What is the importance of networked cultures in virtual reality?

Should people be allowed to commit heinous acts or forbidden  acts in virtual worlds that are punishable by law in the real world?  Should there be virtual reality laws?

How do or can virtual worlds benefit society? Are there other benefits besides entertainment purposes?

What is the future of virtual reality?

“Play it- before you live it”

….is the premise and tagline of the popular Alternate Reality Game (ARG) World Without Oil (WWO).

WWO, described as a collaborative simulation of global oil shortage, was an ARG created by game writer and designer Ken Eklund along with other ARG superstars Jane McGonigal, Marie Lamb, Krystyn Wills, Dee Cook, and Michelle Senderhauf.

The purpose of this game was to bring awareness to the impending shortage of oil and its possible impact on the world and global economy.  The creators aimed to ignite the world’s thinking about what could happen when the demand for oil is greater than the supply.  This was achieved by simulating the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis beginning on April 30, 2007 as though it were really happening in reality. 

The following dialogue was used on the game’s site to explain the ARG:

WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?

Tell us your story. Fuel prices are sky high (see top of this page!) and the ripple effects are pulling at the seams of our society (see the latest Weekly Story). Everyone’s life has taken a hit – but how much of a hit are you taking? How much pain are you in? No one will know if you don’t add your voice to the collective shout. And who knows? If enough people speak up, maybe the force of collective truth will help prevent this crisis from ever happening again.

The players played the game by contributing online media stories that they created.  The stories posted by the players were of an imagined reality of an oil shortage crisis.  At the top of the game’s interface, players could see the rising gas prices and its availability percentage. They told their personal story through e-mails, call-ins, by posting blogs, photos, videos, and through social media avenues such as twitter.  The game’s “masters” ranked the players based on their realistic portrayal of the oil shortage. The game encouraged quality with daily awards and recognition for authentic and stimulating stories.  Emphasis was also placed on player created communities, collaborative stories, and collective efforts.  

WWO concluded on June 1, 2007, and based on reviews, the game was a huge success.  According to Jonathon Waite, “WORLD WITHOUT OIL breaks new ground in serious gaming (gaming with a serious purpose). By weaving fact and fiction closely together, and entrusting players with power over the story, the game creates the sort of immersive collaborative engagement that makes for effective learning.”  Approximately 60,000 visitors followed the game’s events, and over 1,800 people signed on to participate. There was player representation of every major U.S. metro area as well as Germany, France, Iraq, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, Holland, Norway, Poland and Venezuela. It created a fictional, but impactful documentary of an oil shortage shock while becoming a forum for citizens to share life-changing ideas that could happen in reality.  As a result of the game, people reacted proactively by doing things such as planting gardens, shopping at farmers markets, and using bicycles for transportation instead of gas guzzling cars.

After looking at the success of WWO it made me think McGonigal’s theory could actually be true.  Maybe if more ARG were created with the purpose of improving society, society would actually improve socially and economically.

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Can Games “Fix” Reality?

“Reality Compared to Games is Broken.”

This succinct and powerful statement is argued by Jane McGonigal in her book Reality is Broken. I must say this book is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while.

McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer, argues that people are suffering because reality is not what it should be. Reality isn’t providing the necessary principles people need in order to obtain true happiness. However, this can be fixed through the use of games.

Yes, games.

As an Interactive Media student with interest in the positive effects of interactive media on society, the thought that game playing can trigger positive change interest me. Mcgonigal’s claim may sound absurd at first glance, but she argues her point well by first identifying what reality is “missing”, and then how games can help fix it.

For example, McGonigal’s first “fix” is:

“Unnecessary Obstacles: Compared with games, reality is too easy. Games challenge us with obstacles and help us put our personal strengths to better use.”

She argues games make people happy because it’s voluntary hard work and “…almost nothing makes us happier than good hard work.”

Upon reading this, my first thought was, “People like hard work? I know a few people who I can categorize as lazy, who would rather sit around and do the bare minimum to survive.” So, I didn’t necessarily agree with that idea.  However, McGonigal made me wonder if those people I considered “lazy” were in fact “lazy” because they have no interest in interacting with society because reality is “broken.” Her ideas definitely got my brain churning.

I do agree with the idea that when people play games, they are voluntarily doing hard work. For example, when I play games such as “Bejeweled” or “Text Twist,” I am voluntarily playing those games that challenge me mentally. Or when playing games such as “Wii Sports” or “Just Dance” on Nintendo Wii, I am voluntarily participating in a game that challenges me physically, and it’s fun. Those things are considered “hard fun” according to McGonigal.

However, I think people can participate in “hard fun” outside of game play. How? Just by doing things in reality that they love to do.

For example, as an iMedia student I have learned how to use Adobe Flash which is a program that allows users to create simple animation.  For me, this program was difficult because I had to learn a computer programming code called action script which I had never heard of before.  Flash projects are very time-consuming and the program itself is very fickle when it comes to coding accurately, but I thoroughly enjoy working with it. It’s hard work that I like doing.

In my opinion, “hard fun” is achievable when people choose occupations or careers that make them feel good on the inside, not because of the extrinsic awards it provides.  I love videography, so if I was to choose a job which would allow me to utilize me skills, I would be participating in hard fun, thereby feeling satisfied with reality; I wouldn’t need a game to feel that way.

I’ve only read the first few chapters of this book, and I’m excited to continue reading and find out more about McGonigal’s revolutionary approach to fixing society.  I’m sure as I continue reading I will remain on the fence about her ideas; not totally agreeing with them, while not totally disagreeing with them.

Reality is Broken Pt.1

Analysis Questions Pt.1-

More than three thousand years ago, the Lydians used games to survive the scarcity of resources for 18 years.  Can this concept of using games be implemented in third world countries to reverse the negative psychological and physical effects of starvation?

If games are created to fix the problems of society, will this lessen their entertainment value thereby leading to the demise of games?

How can the concept of “unnecessary obstacles” be achieved in society when most people do what they have to do only to survive in such a tough economy?