Surveillance: whose territory is a virtual world anyway?

When I visited mid January 2008 a technology crime police team in
Amsterdam, they told me about the internet related issues they were
struggling with. One issue was related
to the physical location of a server.

They said to have permission to open someone’s mail box
only if the servers are physically located in the
In any other case they needed permission from the “hosting” state.

There had been a case where a mother killed her child and the
Yahoo-mailbox showed an unread e-mail with a subject that
seemed highly relevant for the case. Not looking at this e-mail
because the mail is hosted in the  US seems to me an
unjust territorialisation of the internet.

How should this policy be applied to virtual words?

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February 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (11)

On the Convergence of Virtual Worlds and Social Networking Sites

Bobprofile200 We're starting to see a convergence of virtual worlds and social networking sites in the new wave of virtual "social" worlds (e.g., Kaneva, vSide, Virtual MTV) and new 3D Facebook applications (ActiveWorlds, Gaia Online). This might be dismissed as fad. After all, everyone is either trying to replicate or piggyback on the success of America's #3 (MySpace) and #9 (Facebook) top-visited websites. World of Warcraft's 10 million users is impressive indeed, but MySpace has 30 times that. However, I think there is more to a convergence than mere hype. I see some interesting similarities and possible synergies between virtual worlds and social networking sites but also some important differences that could make integration tricky.

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February 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Welcome N00bs

Maybe it's just because I've been scanning the digital ocean horizons nervous about piratical death bearing down upon me in the last few days, but as I look around the universe of virtual worlds just opening or about to open, I don't exactly see any rivals to World of Warcraft around. The big issues facing the new products are not whether they're WoWkillers, but whether they can avoid being roadkill.

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February 6, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (29)

February Guests: Andrew Jinman & Arno Lodder

We'd like to welcome two guests to Terra Nova for this month of February: Andrew Jinman and Arno Lodder.  We're looking forward to their posts and some interesting discussions.  Biographical information & intros from both Andrew and Arno follow below the fold...

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February 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Legitimate Questions

One of my longstanding interests in studying virtual worlds is governance and legitimacy. How are virtual worlds governed, and to what extent is this governance legitimate? When we think about political legitimacy, we can start to see a key difference between how political institutions have established their legitimate rule in the past, and how the multiple new institutions of governance in virtual worlds go about it. In particular, I am curious about how games may be making larger and larger contributions to political legitimacy in virtual worlds. To what extent are the outcomes that games generate not only legitimate in reference to the game (a valid, just, or fair win, if you will) but also contributing in some way to the legitimacy of associated institutions, such as guilds, gamemakers, and others?

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February 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (20)

An Avatar's Day in Court

Farnaz Alemi, an associate at the law firm of Latham & Watkins, has just published a piece in UCLA J. of Law & Tech. about the resolution of disputes within (and without) VWs. From the abstract:

"Though the real world is attempting to recognize in-game property rights to provide relief, it is not the viable solution some may think. As this paper demonstrates, parties face major obstacles in the real world attempting to resolve in-game disputes. Thus, I have proposed a two-tiered justice system: the In-Game Justice System (the "IGJ") and the Real World Justice System (the "RWJ") to provide a potential means of resolving in-game disputes using various real world theories of law and judicial proceedings. More importantly, real world courts would now be sought as a venue of last resort if an aggrieving player pierces the virtual veil (the "PVV"). This proposal intends to provide justice and relief to victims of virtual worlds, and hopefully a means towards understanding the interplay between the virtual world and the real world."

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February 4, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Sexual Safety for the Price of a Teddy Bear

Build-a-Bearville, a new child-oriented MMO run by teddy bear retailer Build-a-Bear Workshop, opened its colorful virtual doors this winter--joining "web playgrounds" like Club Penguin and Webkinz on the highly-lucrative bandwagon of virtual world for kids. Though Build-a-Bearville's population is still small in comparison to giant Club Penguin, the teddy bear-themed MMO has used a lot of the same elements (character and clothing personalization, thematic mini games, etc.) to make the world appeal to children. Specifically, Build-a-Bearville is designed for kids who've purchased an animal from a Build-a-Bear store, which they can register online--though anyone can play.

Of course, like other children's MMOs, Build-a-Bearville is billed to parents as a "safe place where children can play" free from the dangers of internet predators, identity thieves, and inappropriate content. However, what's disconcerting about the world's play model--in which signing up is free, but certain privileges are reserved for players who've registered a purchased animal--is that the level of "safety" changes depending whether or not your child is a paying customer.

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February 2, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Survey for Emory's Virtual Worlds Conference

As Ted Castronova has already announced, a fascinating conference is coming up at Emory University, called  "Virtual Worlds and New Realities."  There are going to be a number of panel discussions (the last of which will be broadcast live into Second Life and on Second Life Cable Network as part of the Metanomics weekly interview series.) 

To spark discussion on the panels, the conference organizers have asked me to distribute the following survey links.  Even if you are not going to attend the conference, we would love to have your responses to the key questions, which address research questions, research methods, collaboration opportunities, and “commercial, social and political possibilities.”

The link to the survey is here.

Below the fold, I list the questions themselves, and give my stab at some of the answers.  You don’t have to write as much as I have—after all, your responses will be private (unless you want to post them here publicly, as I have.  I am sure that just a few bullet points would be a great help.

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January 30, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Santa Clara / Recent News

Below are some recent mainstream media stories on virtual worlds for those who might have missed them.  Thoughts, comments, and links to other things welcome, as always.

Before that, though, if you should happen to be in Santa Clara County on Friday (the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, specifically), I'll be there as part of a panel talking about how trademark law should work in virtual worldsSee this page.  Much more interesting, though, are the other folks who will be speaking, such as Richard Stallman, Alex Kozinski, Marty Roberts (GC of Linden Lab), Chris Kelly (Chief Privacy officer of Facebook),  Zahavah Levine (Chief Counsel of YouTube), and a whole bunch of other people rather fancier than myself.  Apparently, you can attend for free, although they encourage you to donate $10 to pay for cheese and such.

Now onto the news...

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January 29, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (4)

President of the United States

In 2005, one of the major remaining candidates for the US Presidency proposed anti-game  legislation whose wording indicated many of the biases and inaccuracies that have re-emerged in the Cooper Lawrence incident. Today, that candidate's web site says nothing about video games. While I don't consider myself all that deeply in touch with the gamer webspace, it seems  that I haven't heard anyone taking a position for or against any of the candidates based on the candidate's views about gaming. Is this because their positions on games don't matter? Or is it because gamers don't vote? Or have I just failed to see political stances that are, in fact, out there.

Gamers: Do you read sites like GamePolitics and the Entertainment Consumers Association? Who do you support in the current contest, and is gaming policy part of your position? Is gaming even a relevant issue now? Do you vote at all? How have these questions been answered recently in the elections of other countries?

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January 28, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (34)

Metaverse U

WHERE: Annenberg Auditorium, Stanford University
WHEN: Saturday the 16th and Sunday the 17th of February 2008

There are lots of good people attending this, and it looks like a solid event.

Details below the fold.

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January 27, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (2)

MacArthur Series on Philanthropy and Virtual Worlds

From the release:

The USC Institute for Network Culture and Global Kids present a discussion on Virtual Liberties: Do Avatars Dream of Civil Rights?

12:00p.m. PST on Monday, January 28, 2008

Please join the USC Institute for Network Culture and Global Kids for the first event in an upcoming series on philanthropy and virtual worlds.

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January 21, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (34)

The Lifetime to Master

It's taken me five years of on-again, off-again but often substantial playing of poker (don't worry, mostly not cash games) to really understand some of the game's concepts that I read about when I was playing but didn't properly understand.

Ludological scholars are right to insist, in this respect and others, that games require attention as games, that they have a character or nature that is intrinsic to games and not to texts or performances or sociality. Poker has a "deep game" that is not spelled out in the rules, but which powerfully sorts out the losers and the winners, given a sufficient number of rounds of play.

What's the "deep game" of virtual worlds, those that have at least some game-like character?

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January 17, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (16)

My Tiny Life Now Free

About ten years ago, when I was wandering around the library at the University of Virgina looking for something that would teach me about the shape of community online, I found My Tiny Life.  I pulled it off the shelf and started with the first few pages in which the author confronts a RL server in Palo Alto that happens to contain LambdaMOO. 

It's a wonderful little depiction of a person trying to reconcile a vibrant and rich virtual world with the "silent, bone-white" machine that houses it.  After reading those pages, I was hooked.  I had found the kind of writing and subject that made me sit down on the floor right next to the bookshelf -- I didn't want to expend the time or energy to find a table.  I wasn't the only person affected this way by reading My Tiny LifeE.g. Larry Lessig's blurb on the back cover says: "Dibbell's story is why I teach cyberlaw."

Well, the main point of this post is that Julian has made his wonderful book available as a free download.  You can get it here, in a very spiffy PDF file.  The Web is now a richer place.

The secondary note is that Julian would like to make MTL even freer.  Yet he hasn't managed that trick yet because apparently there's a little problem with the phones at HarperCollins UK.  Explanation of that here (and that page also includes his reasons for wanting to  release the book for free).

January 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Sleep is cancelled

Over the holidays I found myself notified by those above me in an alliance in the game world of Eve-Online: "sleep is cancelled"  (pg 18, cited document below).  I wondered, how did it come to this:

  1. How did the fortunes of my tribe in that game world sour to this point;
  2. How many times can an alliance ask for its members to sacrifice a night, a weekend, even if a virtual empire hung in the balance?

I think the answer to these questions is complicated, but they both strike a deeper chord - at a deeply politicized 0.0 alliance game.  Simply put, political tension on a number of interconnected levels drives the purpose and mechanics of the large-scale alliance game in Eve-Online.

We've discussed much of this in the past, here, in the ongoing series on the Eve-Online alliance game  (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 7.  8.  9. ), as we will do too in the future.  I've started a parallel process of pulling together discussions past and future into a more complete set of documents.  An early draft is cited below:

A View of Politics and Morale in Eve-Online  (1.6mb PDF).  

Below the fold are a few footnotes.

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January 16, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Sub-Prime Crisis in Second Life

Real-world regulators are already seriously considering action against  high interest rates for poorly-collateralized loans with high default risk (so called "sub-prime" mortgages).  Well, Linden Lab has moved strongly to eliminate a class of such loans, with a twist:  the banks are paying the high interest rates, and are the ones that tend to default on their depositors.  Here is the key statement in the Linden Lab policy regarding inworld "Banks" (their quotes):

As of January 22, 2008, it will be prohibited to offer interest or any direct return on an investment (whether in L$ or other currency) from any object, such as an ATM, located in Second Life, without proof of an applicable government registration statement or financial institution charter.  We’re implementing this policy after reviewing Resident complaints, banking activities, and the law, and we’re doing it to protect our Residents and the integrity of our economy.    (Full text here.)

My analysis and predictions below the fold.

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January 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (31)

Foozles I Have Known, Quests I Have Done

Working off of a post by Raph Koster, I set down some of my own thoughts on the games of 2007.

Now I want to think a bit further about the content of game experiences, specifically in virtual worlds.   

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January 7, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (60)

World of Answercraft has had, for about a year, a beta feature/forum called  According to the web site:

 What is Askville?

Askville is a place where you can share and discuss knowledge with other people by asking and answering questions on any topic.  It’s a fun place to meet others with similar interests to you and a place where you can share what you know.

An online Q&A community is not exactly a new idea.  There's the defunct Google Answers and the non-defunct Yahoo Answers.  And see USENET, that virtual community where netizens still share and discuss knowledge, ask and answer questions, and all that good stuff.

What's intriguing about Askville is not the substance of the exchange, but the incentive structure they have wrapped around it.  There are experience points and Quest gold that can be earned by answering questions.  For instance, if you look at the charts on that FAQ page, you'll see that in order to be a level 4  user on Askville, and get a 20 gold payout bonus, you'll need to have 1,500-2,999 experience points.  The real innovation here is that Amazon is apparently targeting all the Gygaxians out there.  Is that a good idea?  Is it a fun idea?

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January 3, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Let the Total Inundation Begin...

Amidst our talk of a possible virtual world winter,  and the frantic efforts of pundits looking for bright spots in a somewhat dismal holiday retailing season, more and more suggestions that kids will fuel the next wave of virtual world development ('the most annoying trend since Beanie Babies')....

From the NYTimes...

Second Life and other virtual worlds for grown-ups have enjoyed intense media attention in the last year but fallen far short of breathless expectations. The children’s versions are proving much more popular, to the dismay of some parents and child advocacy groups. Now the likes of the Walt Disney Company, which owns Club Penguin, are working at warp speed to pump out sister sites.

“Get ready for total inundation”...

Or is this just a new cog in the hype machine?  What happens when your 5-year old is inconsolable when they can't log on?  My prediction for 2008:  a fresh crop of virtual world 'addicts', and all the requisite concerned voices to go along with them, including the likes of...  wait for it...  Dr. Phil.

December 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

2007 Predictions Review

Well, I seemed to have missed one minor prediction for 2007, but it is still time to review the rest.  Read on to see how I did in 2007.  Did I surpass last year's 0.500?

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December 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Strange company in Eve-Online

Mention of Eve-Online frequently slips into a sci-futuristic noir of "0.0 taxation regimes", rapacious marketeering, "a game about economics and its constraint on power", and corporations.

The ongoing series on the alliance game in Eve-Online  is no exception (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 7.  8. ).    Robert Bloomfield (TN side-bar) asks in what ways are Eve-Online corporations like and unlike their real world counterparts.  Usefully, Eyjlfur Gumundsson (CCP)  recently posted "econ dev blog no. 3 - some statistics on corporations (in Eve-Online).  Here is a good place to start with a few questions.

Consider (Gumundsson):  "In EVE there are 34,658 active corporations with player members of which 45 are NPC corporations and 34,613 are player established and operated. "   While I think it would be more accurate to compare Eve-Online corporations to the guilds of other MMORPGs  - essentially social and coordination vehicles, I think they are also the products of their environment.  The large and relatively complex economic system of the Eve-Online universe seems to have driven a broad range of types of corporations of varying grades of sophistication.

My own player experience has seen Eve-Online corporations in fairly parochial terms.  Yet I occasionally hear of stories of corporations that have bumped to a next level.   I also think that for at least the 0.0 ecosystem we've been discussing in the earlier cited series, much of the additional and evolving framework will come from above- from the alliance system.  In that space, perhaps the growth of the corporation will be stunted by the need for PvP might and the economic power to wield it. 

The problem with sandboxes (fn1) is that it is hard to know what lies over the next mountain.  Below the fold are a set of excellent framing questions from outside the sandbox: to keep and use on your next travels in Eve-Online.  Followed by a few thoughts of my own, from this side of the mountain.

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December 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (20)

Florida AG issues subpoena to IGE

As reported by Wired, WoW Insider and Massively.  As far as I know, this is the first time a prosecutor's office in the United States has investigated gold farming.  The subpoena can be found here.

December 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

A Virtual World Winter?

"...nearly all of those who came, left" - Wagner Au

In his New World Notes blog, Wagner Au notes that Second Life has plateaued at about half a million active users.  He carefully spins this news in the glass-half-full direction, saying that this makes Second Life essentially the equivalent of lovely Portland, Oregon, and what could be wrong with that? 

That question implies a sort of settling for something less than being the start of the globe-spanning 3D Web, something less than winning Dmitri's quarter.  More generally though, what does this slowing say about the growth and sustenance of virtual worlds and MMOGs overall? 

While I'm still bullish on virtual worlds and MMOGs for a number of reasons, that doesn't mean we won't necessarily go through a deep winter before we find spring again.    I'm often asked about what comes after World of Warcraft?  Can this market be sustained?  Is it possible that we could find ourselves in a situation where we have to say about our entire customer base that "those who came, left"?  And if so, how do we prevent that from happening?

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December 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (26)

The FSM has Left the Building: Cory Leaves Linden Lab

Our own Cory Ondrejka has left Linden Lab, and the SL blogosphere is abuzz. News reports can be found at CNET and InformationWeek, for starters. Best of luck to Cory -- like many I'll be eager to see what he does next (beyond take a cushy quasi-academic break somewhere, à la Al Gore ;-) ).

As for Linden Lab, if interested folks would like to muse about what this might mean for it and Second Life, please feel free to weigh in.

December 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Virtual Worlds and Social Science: Conference

I'd like to let you know about a conference being held at Emory University on February 11. I know there are many virtual worlds conferences these days. This one is different. Let me set a historical context.

There have been virtual worlds conferences for many years. The industry itself has run the Austin Game Conference, and there have been several academic conferences centered on the humanities: interesting discussions without the intent of having a practical impact one way or another. (And there's nothing wrong with that.) Then came State of Play in 2003, at New York Law School, the most influential conference of that era. That conference produced a community of hard-headed people, a community that then developed the advice and reasoning that courts and legislatures are using today to deal with the virtual worlds legal issues we knew would come.

Soon, firms became interested in virtual worlds, and a series of Virtual Worlds Conference and Expos have allowed that community to develop marketing methods, business models, and interoperability standards. Second Life has been the main driver in that area.

Throughout this period, many of us said that the next thing would be a revolution in social and behavioral science. Virtual worlds will change society, making them a research subject in their own right. But virtual worlds would also be an important tool for researchers, a controlled environment for studying macro-scale questions, a social science petri dish. As such, virtual worlds would revolutionize the academy as well as society.

These possibilities have now been thrust into the spotlight by the publication, in Lancet and Epidemiology, of research on the Corrupted Blood plague in World of Warcraft. A trickle of virtual world social science papers is appearing. It appears we are now entering the next phase, in which hard-nosed, quantitative, social and behavioral scientists will address the likely impact of virtual worlds across all society. A community is forming, and the first conference of this nascent community will meet at Emory University on February 11, 2008.

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December 18, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Why Fantasy?

Here's a simple question for you, which I suspect does not have a simple answer: why is Fantasy the predominant genre of game-like virtual worlds?

It can't all be down to the influence of The Lord of the Rings, surely?


December 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (97)

The 800 lb gorilla in Eve-Online

Eve Online is many things to many players, but its economic sandbox seems to get a lot of play (fn1).

I thought in "PvP, asymmetry, and the information game in Eve-Online" that Eve-Online was "a game about economics and its constraint on power."  My view of Eve-Online has been of late on the alliance game (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. 7.  ) and is therefore naturally inclined to look more towards the constraint and power elements, as I find their texture and  nuance interesting.   Yet there is a more direct view.   

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December 13, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Talking trash about intellectual trash...

I quite enjoy it when people get sick of hype and decide to rain all over the parade.  The problem is that too often people do it when their annoyance causes any degree of balance and levity to flee, as in the case of  Malcolm King writing in 'Australia's e-journal for social and political debate', who clearly has seen one too many articles about the amazing wonders of Second Life and the residents therein... Yes, he's a bit late to the SL bashing party, but the level of vitriol smells like a pile of fetid backlash to me (predicted by Ren for 2007.  Check).

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December 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Exploitation of Christmas Extends to Virtual Reality

Thanks to Sasha Barab, designer of the educational virtual world Quest Atlantis, this link to a news item about virtual gifts. Says the AP:

"You don't wrap these presents in a box. You can't wear them, play with them or show them off, at least not in the real world. Even so, virtual gifts -- computer-generated items given and displayed online -- are quickly becoming must-haves. And increasingly, people are willing to pay cold, hard, real-life cash to purchase them for friends, family and co-workers."

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December 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (30)

The History of Play and Leisure (Syllabus)

So here's my first stab at actually teaching about games. In this case, since it's a class that needs to be in my home department and discipline, I've integrated digital games-related material into a wider history of play and leisure. I actually think that's an interesting grounding for discussion of contemporary games, both in terms of thinking about issues like time and "addiction" in virtual worlds and in terms of foregrounding some classically "ludological" questions about formalism.<p>

It's also a course for first-year students, so there's a lot of emphasis on skills development that I might otherwise not feature so heavily. I'm still making a few adjustments here and there, so suggestions are welcome. (The reading loads may appear very heavy in some weeks, but in many weeks, I'll be dividing the students into groups, with each group reading something slightly different and then having to present about their assignment as a way to build confidence about discussion participation.)

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December 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (39)

WashPo: Dealing with your Online Gaming Child

From the Washington Post:

Q. I thought my thoughtful, sensitive, conscientious, kind, funny, handsome son would grow up to be successful, happy and self-sufficient but he's 20 now, he's passed only one or two classes in his two years at community college and he quits every part-time job he gets.

He is addicted, I think, to online gaming. He says he isn't interested in anything but playing his game -- a game, I'm ashamed to say, I gave him years ago -- and only wants to work for the maker of the game or the gaming industry...

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December 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (47)

Feigning death

Torrill Mortensen mentions of a news story in Norway about a 12 year old boy who survived a moose attack having "first yelled at the moose, distracting it so his sister got away, then when he got attacked and the animal stood over him he feigned death. 'Just like you learn at level 30 in World of Warcraft.'"

On the subject of serendipitous transfer to your real life your MMOG experience.

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December 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (25)

New Nexus Project

One of our banner submitters, Tripp Robbins, let us know he was eager to get word out about a project he is working on to use virtual worlds as an educational tool.  The website of the project is here and I asked Tripp if he could write a short summary of what he is up to for the blog so that people can have a chance to provide input.  So that follows below.  Thanks, Tripp!


Summary of the NEW NEXUS PROJECT for Terra Nova

After spending a lot of time in various virtual worlds/games/simulation, the idea of using a VW for education seemed powerful. I spent the last 18 months or so doing research on “what’s out there” (and I’m sure I missed a lot). After a great seminar on “Using Videogames in Education” at Stanford University with James Gee as the key presenter (and others from UWisconsin and Stanford) last summer, I came away feeling like what was needed is a tool kit for educators to create VW content. That led to the creation of the New Nexus project.

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November 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (17)

Two Releases: Arden I and Exodus

Two announcements –

 1. Arden I: The World of William Shakespeare is being released today. If you go to this website, you can play it. You can also download the files and modify it as you wish. All this, and ongoing work, made possible through the generosity of the MacArthur Foundation.

2. My second book, Exodus to the Virtual World, is also being released today.

More on both below the fold.

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November 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Fly safe

A common player sign-off in Eve-Online is "fly safe", as in "I must go to bed, *fly safe* everyone."  In Real World (RW) terms to "fly safe" in Eve-Online implies an odd mixture of metaphor. 

In the lingo of Eve-Online, players are called "pilots."  Pilots in turn are said to "fly ships" to conduct "fleet operations."  Well capturing this blending of RW metaphor is my favorite in-game command:  "pilots, align your ships [to a destination]".   To this day whenever I hear it, my pace quickens [Fn1].

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November 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (27)

TN Banner


Thanks to everyone who sent in stuff.  Though it was a close race, Richard Page's submission came in with the most votes.  TN is now settled in for a long winter's blog.

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November 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (32)

CFP: Breaking the Magic Circle

This call for papers (received via Vili) is of interest, given our frequent discussions about the magic circle here.

the Magic Circle

Call for Papers: Game Studies Seminar, Tampere 10-11 April, 2008

One of the classic theories of games and play was presented by Johan Huizinga in his work Homo Ludens (orig. from 1938). Huizinga wrote about the free and voluntary nature of play, how it is "an activity connected with no material interest" and how it "proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space", involving and absorbing players utterly into a separate world set off from the "ordinary" life, while being created and maintained by communities of players.

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November 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4)

A culture of mistrust in Eve-Online

Players in Eve-Online harbor a mistrust of strangers.  A harsh Player-versus-Player (PvP) culture fueled by competitive (and asymmetric) play drives a culture of suspicion about the identity and purpose of characters.  Throw into the mix "alts" (alternate characters) and one might imagine the total unravelling of a social system: "whose alt are you?"  Yet the social system of Eve-Online flourishes for it, I think.  It does so by layering a degree of nuance and circumspection in player relationships that seems unique in virtual worlds.

I think this aspect of the Eve-Online experience is fascinating because it illustrates how novel and yet sophisticated social arrangements can be constructed in online environments in response to worlds of harsh constraint.

Whose alt are you anyway?

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November 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

What do we mean by ‘computer game’?

When we talk about computer games we are picking out a set of things in the world. Typically we will think of PC games, console games, flash games – that sort of thing. However I think that there is vagueness when we think about boundary conditions and, more interestingly, that these boundary cases tell us something about how we conceptualize games.

As this is a long post  it's worth putting the answer I get to, then running through how I get there, so this is my proposed definition:

    A computer game is a game where at least some of the bounds of game-acts are essentially controlled by information technology.

This is my thought process - at a brief glance it looks to me that there are two areas in which we might find necessary conditions for something to be a computer game. These are: display of action and decision-making.

[Three posts in a row, I’m sure I just heard a gong from the side of the stage]

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November 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (64)

Do virtual worlds liberate us?

I’m wondering what TN reader’s view is of the trajectory of the intersection of virtual worlds and what some term the political economy is. In short do we think that the practices associated virtual worlds are tending towards liberating us or are acting as just another way for dominant ideologies to be re-enforced?

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November 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (124)

Plato’s game

Rules are one of the things that define something as being a game. But I wonder what it is we refer to when we talk about the rules of a game.

Warning this is only of interest, and then only marginally so, to the particularly beardy.

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November 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (38)

Tabula Rasa

TrSo Tabula Rasa is released today, after many years of rumor and speculation.  What is written on the clean slate?  Wired's Susan Arendt claims that it reinvents the MMO to court casual gamers, the point being that you can get into hectic tactical combat quickly.  he New York Times offers some interesting quotes from Richard Garriott that make a few more pitches about the game:

As many kudos as I would like to give World of Warcraft, it’s basically a remake of EverQuest, just incredibly polished and refined,” he said. “There are harbingers of failure in that model. Everyone in these games is obsessed with the concept of how much damage-per-second they are inflicting and maximizing their D.P.S. When you do that, you are no longer playing a role; you are playing an inventory-management game...  With Tabula Rasa we wanted the player to spend as much time as possible actually looking at the environment and what they’re shooting at.

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November 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (31)

PvP, asymmetry, and the information game in Eve-Online

Player-versus-Player (PvP) games do not have to be balanced.  By "balanced" I narrowly speak to the perspective and interaction of a small number of individuals or groups of players.  If they are not balanced they can instead provide venues to allow players to engage indirectly and level the playing field.  In stone-paper-scissors stone bests scissors but paper sneaks up, so scissors says to paper "Dude - let's be allies?"

Another misconception might be this.  If *multiplayer* PvP games require more skill than PvE (Player-versus-Environment) games, then it must follow it is about twitch (eye-hand coordination). This might be more true for arena games (though not entirely - as teamwork can count).  It is less true for MMOGs where large numbers of players and their apparent need for outcomes to be independent of network latency has meant that when two parties hit the "WHACK YOU" button, all things being equal, the outcome is designed to be largely out of your control. 

Choices that come before and after hitting the "WHACK YOU" button provide whatever skill differentiator there is.

Eve-Online is a complicated place.  The previous posts in this series sugggest this (NBSI and the grey problem, Scarcely rare, My friend’s keeper, The moon is a harsh mistress).  However, what may not be apparent to most readers is that with Eve-Online's complexity comes opportunity for asymmetric exploits that can convert unbalanced relationships into more balanced ones.  And it seems to me that such are critical in making the game world seem fair.

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October 27, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (25)

What to Call a Griefer?

It used to be that the term griefer had a very specific meaning in virtual worlds: it meant someone who deliberately did something for the pleasure in knowing it caused others pain.

What does it mean nowadays, though?

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October 23, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (77)

Residents no longer own Second Life?

Ever since I can remember the home page of Second Life’s web site has said the same thing:

Second Life is a 3D online digital world imagined, created and owned by its residents

Then suddenly – it changed to this:

Second Life is a 3D online digital world imagined and created by its residents

So, no longer owned by Residents then?

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October 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (36)

A Case Study of Second Life

Innovationscover 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.

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October 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Research potential of virtual worlds: what environment for what methodology?

Science Mag has an article entitled "The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds" by William Sims Bainbridge which gives a pretty good overview of how games such as MMO have a "great potential as sites for research in the social, behavioral, and economic sciences, as well as in human-centered computer science.

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October 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Virtual Law Update

There has been a lot of activity on the virtual worlds and law front.  So in lieu of several posts, here are some bullet points:

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October 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (20)

Habbo Hotel as a boundary object

There is an insightful interview of Sulka Haro, the lead designer of Habbo Hotel by Brandon Sheffield on Gamasutra. The interview covers a broad range of issues and may be of interest for who-ever is intrigued by "gameless games" or the "social web" or the evolution of the game industry as a whole. It's not all about MMOs but it shows how the topic overlaps with other themes such as social software, multiple on-line identity or scrum development etc.

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October 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (6)

The moon is a harsh mistress

Player-versus-Player (PvP) games mean winners and losers.  Player-versus-Environment (PvE) games means you might whack trolls and no-one else is for the poorer.  PvP means you whack a troll and some other player is playing that troll.  PvP can also be subtle, e.g. economic competition:  you are trying to out-market someone else.  Etc.

In many ways, I think, how a game world handles the losers says more about it and its participants than how it handles the winners.  If a game system can tolerate more losers (not scare them off) it can more richly reward the winners.  Yet, to have winners a PvP game must be able to recycle its losers.  If the losers feel like they are only serving as the redshirts to the fantasy of a few yellow-shirts (fn1) they will leave.

With most online arena games the price of failure is minimal.  Often, it seems that the hint of the possibility of winning on the next go and perhaps a bit of smack-talk is all that is required to keep players coming back.  In starker PvP games like Eve-Online, where losses can be horrific (e.g. player months of time investment can be lost easily in a single battle), the problem is compounded.  Consider just one weekend campaign involving a thousand ships, say 500 winners and 500 losers.  Ignoring that winners lose gear - try telling 500 participants in any other casual social organization that their efforts over the last N weeks or months has just evaporated.

Eve-Online seems to not only have been able to recycle its losers, it has built an ecosystem to nurture them for another day.  In its own way I think this speaks some to the ways social systems under stress can be resilient.

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October 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (21)

VWs Arrive II.1 - Writer's Guild

Although one could view it cynically as an effort to extend their reach, the Writer's Guild of America has announced their first videogame writing awards will be presented next February. If nothing else, this is an indication that it's a sufficiently significant portion of today's new literature that the guild wants a piece of the action. We'll have to see how VWs fare among other videogames.

(Also see Google News, Kotaku, GamerNode, and joystiq.)

October 11, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5)

The Hidden Bartle Type

Often when I write about games, I'm interested in an experiential perspective on play and in the kinds of social and political structures that evolve within virutal worlds, but TN readers probably have noticed that I'm equally drawn to questions about design processes, about the authorship of digital games.

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October 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (62)

VWs Arrive II - Toyota/WoW Commercial

Wowbutton Just because everybody else seems to be talking about it...

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October 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

You know virtual worlds have arrived when...

There is now a customizable digital Barbie that connects (with included cradle?) to a virtual world - 'a next-generation fashion doll and stylish MP3 player all in one'.  You need the device to connect to the world, but once there can create a room, shop, and do other typical social VW stuff (all with parentally controlled permission settings).  From Amazon (who are suggesting I buy one):

The hottest toy of the season is finally here! The interactive Barbie Girls let you do more with Barbie than ever before! At, girls can create their own, personalized online space--everything from designing a "room" to creating a character--where they can then play games, chat with gal pals, watch videos and even shop with earned virtual money. They even play MP3's! Parents will appreciate extras such as word filters, moderation tools and other safety features to ensure that the virtual world stays friendly and fun for all visitors. Barbie Girls are the newest, coolest way to play.

Apparently the site has been up since April, but this is this first I've heard of it... anyone else got kids obsessed with Webkinz?  Mine calls hers Websky.

Check out the video...

October 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (20)

Lighting US bulbs

Being a net leech on TN I thought I’d ask the Hive Mind another question.

I’m running a workshop at Virtual Worlds in San Jose on Wed at 13:00 – 14:00. The workshop is part of my larger project to engage industry, academia and governments in discussions about virtual worlds and public policy. This all falls under the umbrella of the think tank The Virtual Policy Network that I’m gradually giving life to.

The challenge here is: what topics / angles that fall broadly into the arena of public policy and fit within the context of the US debate would a crowd primarily interested in commercial / serious uses of virtual worlds be interested in?

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October 7, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12)

The Future of the Book is...Second Life?

Daniel Terdiman, long time FoTN, has a new book and blog out. Which apart from me wanting to plug, led to think about the amazing weight of books that are emerging about virtual worlds and especially Second Life. Looking at the Amazon pre-order page for Daniel's book discloses no less than 16 books on how to [(make money from), (understand), (have sex in), (generally deal with)] Second Life. You know that something is significant when the "Dummies Guide To Second Life" comes out. And a quick search for "virtual worlds" on Amazon brings up a metric assload of books, some of which actually look quite interesting (and some of them are not about Second Life, amazingly).

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October 5, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Rules v. Fiction

Quake I'm currently re-reading a bit of Jesper Juul's book, Half-Real.  I should say at the outset that I haved always enjoyed Juul's general approach to videogame studies.  His work is highly accessible, innovative, thoughtful, and centered on concrete (and popular) examples.  (He also includes lots of screenshots, which is good.)  Juul takes what might be called a "grassroots" approach to game studies, not bringing heavy disciplinary baggage to colonize the area, but instead trying to build a formal theory of games from the ground up.  He takes his lead primarily from game and culture theorists like Huizinga, Caillois, Crawford and Sutton-Smith rather than from literary theory or media studies.

But I don't want to review Half-Real here -- I just want to share a passage that made me wonder a bit about the differences between MMORPGs and other games.  The question is: how do players set the balance in MMORPGs between world immersion and game/rule objectives?

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October 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (44)


One of the many announcements made at the Tokyo Game Show a week or so ago concerned a new, peer-reviewed journal that might be of interest to some of TerraNova's readers. The International Journal of Role-Playing is "a biannual international journal that covers all aspects of role-playing, irrespective of the medium, platform or intent". It differs from other journals in that it treats role-playing with respect, rather than as some psychological aberration brought on by too little exposure to human beings and sunlight. You should be able to get quality work published here that elsewhere might be looked down on for being, you know, to do with games...

The editorial board is made up of some of the most highly-respected people working in the area, plus me.


October 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Video games as research tools in psychology

Being a researcher interested in the user experience of interactive technologies, I have always been following how video games are employed as a platform to explore certain topics and practices, especially in social sciences/psychology. The use of such kind of platform has already been discussed in the human computer interaction field for a long time. In psychology, especially, you have papers from 1995 about "Video games as research tools" by Donchin or some statements by HCI researchers (like Holmquist in "The right kind of challenge").

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October 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Second Life Indicator Contracts (SLICs)

The Iowa Electronic Markets and allow people to trade contracts that pay off based on the outcome of the 2008 US presidential campaign.  Prices in these 'prediction markets' appear to be superior to traditional polls.  This superiority is consistent with economic theory, because traders' price influence is tied to their trading aggressiveness, which in turn reflects their confidence.  As long traders' confidence is tied closely enough to the quality of their information, prices in prediction markets will be superior to an equally-weighted average of people’s beliefs.

In this post, I throw down the gauntlet to those running (or considering running) a trading exchange in Second Life—create a 'Second Life Indicator Contract' (SLIC) that would predict the future user base or economic activity in Second Life.

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October 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Arden Slows Down, Takes Breather

Logo_final Arden: The World of William Shakespeare ended a year of development yesterday, closing with a stress test. (Many thanks to our alpha testers!)  Unfortunately, that might be the last bit of news from Arden for a long time. We have come to the end of our funding, and while we are still working, I'm not sure when we will have anything worth reporting.

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October 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (23)

Virtual space evolution according to Korean developer Jake Song

Last month, I had the pleasure to co-organize a small event in Seoul about digital and physical space, and how technologies reshape them. One of the speaker, Jake Song gave an interesting talk about the evolution of "virtual space" in multi-player games. A South Korean programmer, regarded as one of the greatest game developers in Korea, Jake is one the of the creator of Lineage and is now CEO of XL Games.

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October 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10)

October Guest Nicolas Nova

We're very excited to welcome Nicolas Nova to Terra Nova as a guest author for the month of October.  Nicolas is a cognitive scientist by training and works as a research scientist at the Media and Design Lab (Swiss Institute of Technology, EPFL) in Lausanne, Switzerland and as a user experience and foresight researcher for IT and video-game companies.

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October 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2)

This is Your Brain on WoW

A recent article in The Age entitled Ethical Dilemmas canvassed the question of the ethical obligations of game designers to players. According to the piece, Jonathan Blow, the designer of Braid, claims that the grind of MMORPGs is unethical:

Mr Blow believes developers need to think about what their games are teaching players when they reward them for performing certain actions.

"That kind of reward system is very easily turned into a Pavlovian or Skinnerian scheme," he says. "It's considered best practice: schedule rewards for your player so that they don't get bored and give up on your game. That's actually exploitation."


"I think a lot of modern game design is actually unethical, especially massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft, because they are predicated on player exploitation," Mr Blow says

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October 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (50)

Computational Social Science and the Problem With Hakkar’s Blood

Everyone remembers the Ironforge Plague, back when Zul’Gurub was new and some enterprising raiders brought the Curse of Corrupted Blood back from fighting Hakkar, and in doing so turned the Undercity and Ironforge into a scene from a charnel house. You remember it: Skeletons lining the hallways of every urban locale, the plaintive cries of the newbies as they died matched in intensity only by the laughter of the high-end hunters who brought the curse back with them by stashing their infected pets in ZG and then releasing them in IF. At the time I recall hearing that the Centers for Disease Control were excited by this story as a way of using virtual worlds as a way of understanding the spread of disease. And a couple of months ago Elizabeth alerted me to the article in Nature in which a couple of epidemiologists discussed exactly this idea in some detail.[fn1]

Now the problem for me is that Lofgren and Fefferman’s Nature article is really nice. It’s smart and informed and actually demonstrates that the authors actually know their Jin'dos the Hexxers from their Bloodlords Mandokir. The thing is that I’ve used the “Problem with Hakkar’s Blood” as one of my standard pitches about the dangers with drawing real world conclusions from virtual world behaviors.[fn2] And the article has once again made me ask what are appropriate questions for the field of what might be labeled “computational social science.” So after the fold, I want to discuss the conclusions of the article, and ask the Terra Nova hivemind for some help with understanding what computational social science might look like.

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September 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (26)

My friend's keeper

Rodgers and Hammerstein's popular portrayal of the 19th century American mid-west depicted strain amongst rural countrymen.  The Farmer and the Cowman seems prescient of intra-alliance strains in an online game called Eve-Online in the 21st century:

One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow, But that's no reason why they can't be friends...  [oh really?]

Noting  the tensions separating friends is useful for two reasons.  First, it would suggest a more complicated structure to their relationship than outside appearances might indicate.  Second, given enough scale - for example, a decision process involving potentially 1000's of cooperating players in Eve-Online - it might be useful to cast the process in political terms rather than a straight up-and-down management or "command and control" problem.

For discussion, let us characterize broadly two player interests that occupy the same territory and share common purpose in its security and economic vitality yet differ in approach and apparent priorities (fn1).  Let us label one constituency as cowmen, and the other as farmers.

Consider then the house they have built together.

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September 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Play What You Are

Following a link from f13 to Kotaku brings me to a story that the management of the Chinese MMOG King of the World has suspended accounts owned by male players who used female avatars. Supposedly by using required webcams to verify the match between the gender of character and players.       

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September 25, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (61)

My World = Google's World?

GooglebotIt looks like Google might really be planning an avatar space.  We noted vague fuzzy hints of something a year ago, but it now seems Arizona State is doing student sign-ups for a prototype test of an avatar/game/social network for a "major internet company" which everyone seems to think is the G-borg.  Google isn't talking, no real details are out there that I found, and the beta isn't live yet, but... the cutesy little graphic on the ASU page asks:

"Are you into 3D modeling, videogaming, etc?  Do you have a virtual avatar?  If so, click here!" 

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September 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Shameless Plug Redux

Since the folks on Terra Nova really helped me revise my Anti-Social Contracts article, I wanted to provide the updated version.   Special thanks to Richard Bartle, Greg Lastowka, Leandra Lederman, and Peter Jenkins for some great comments. 

Also, please feel free to stop by Second Life and hear me give an in-world lecture on the role of contracts within virtual worlds, as part of the Metanomics Series.

September 24, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Blog on Virtual Worlds & Learning: Pop.Cosmo

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:

September 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Areae's Metaplace Announced

Yesterday Raph Koster's group Areae finally took the wraps off of Metaplace, the project they've been working on for some time (this has now been covered by Boing Boing, the BBC, and Slashdot, as Raph notes on his site).  The announcement was greeted with much applause, along with a bit of head-scratching by some (and I'm sure more than a little relief for the Areae team).

Metaplace is not just another virtual world: they're doing their best to break down the walls around  the currently walled gardens.  This is a huge development that could change how we think of virtual worlds... if they can make this cool flying machine actually take to the air. 

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September 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Job Postings

Indiana University has a job opening, and I know there are others but I've forgotten who they are. If you have a job opening, post it here.

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September 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (72)

Scarcely rare

In the linguistic shorthand of Eve-Online some minerals are said to be "rare."  The rarer mineral is the scarcer one in market terms:  they are more expensive than the less scarce ones (fn1).  Yet minerals are much less rare than one might suppose:  I know where they are, I know how to extract them, and yes, I can even arrange the logistics.    But I don't do it myself.  Why?

Minerals in Eve-Onine are scarce for lack of another in-game resource which can be indeed quite rare in some areas:


The structures that players use to manage security in Eve-Online can be substantial. 

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September 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (23)


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.  Metanomicslogo_5 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.

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September 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Pen and Paperless

Many contemporary virtual worlds draw a lot of their structure of play as well as thematic content from Diku-Muds, which I would argue in turn drew a lot of their structure and themes from pen-and-paper roleplaying games (and from early non-multiplayer computer games like Wizardry that also drew from pen-and-paper as a source).

I think we sometimes do not pay enough attention to the embedded influence of pen-and-paper games on current virtual worlds, both in terms of how they are designed and in terms of some of the gamer practices and discourses that surround them.

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September 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (5)

NYT on Second Life

Sl_2 The New York Times ran a pretty standard Second Life "people are buying and selling virtual stuff and working in virtual jobs" article yesterday.  Nothing new, really.  I only mention it here because Julian, Robert, and Nick get quoted -- so good for you guys!  :-)

September 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4)

The Singularity, Virtual Worlds and AI Babies

I'm reporting from the Singularity Summit (AI and the Future of Humanity) in San Francisco where a bunch of fascinating luminaries (from MIT, IBM, Google, WorldChanging, etc.) are discussing the possibility that despite a lack of excitement in AI research lately, we might yet invent artificial intelligence that is smarter than we are.  (The term singularity, though I'm sure you all know this, was first pulled from the physics/big bang/black hole vernacular and used in this context by Vernor Vinge, then popularized by Ray Kurzweil, who is speaking via video conference tomorrow). Some people get as excited about the Singularity as Christians do about the Rapture, thinking it might solve all of our problems via a positive feedback loop emerging from intelligent systems that are capable of making themselves recursively better.  Others refer to it as a nerdpocalypse and tell tales of Hal-like doom and gloom or economic and network catastrophes that will inevitably arise from AIs (either malevolent or just behaving stupidly because of bad programming) running rampant.

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September 8, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (36)

NBSI and the grey problem

In Eve-Online there are player groups called "corporations" which roughly correspond to "guilds" in other MMOGs.  Corporations may band together forming alliances that can number thousands of players and control large amounts of territory (in space opera terms - swaths of planetary systems).  The bread and butter of these alliances is the territory they control: territory forms the first rung of the economic system that makes the game possible (or enjoyable) for its members.  From territory comes the minerals to fuel factories to build ships to fight wars.  Something like that.

Members within an alliance are marked by varying colors.  Green means that fellow is a corporation member, blue he's part of the alliance, etc.   Degrees of separation, even among buddies.   Red, in several flavors, distinguishes shades of bad guy.

The problem is with the grey.

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September 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (42)

Pointy heads invade NPR

NPR's Science Friday featured an hour on virtual worlds and research 8/31/07.

The podcast is up at:

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August 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Attitudes to RMT

At State of Play V in Singapore, Joshua Fairfield and I had one of our regular arcane discussions about the various merits or otherwise of real-money trading (essentially, the conflict between financial capital and gaming capital in these environments).

That's not what this post is about.

What this post is about is our different perceptions of the extent of RMT in today's virtual worlds, in particular WoW.

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August 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (118)

How Much Time Do Second Life Users Spend In-World?

According to this Wall Street Journal article about a Second Life user whose real-life wife isn't too pleased about his in-world marriage, "a typical 'gamer' spends 20 to 40 hours a week in a virtual world."  First off, I love that the word gamer is in quotes. Do we really exist? Who knows!  Second, that number sounds sensationalist-ically high to me.  When I said so a few weeks back over on my blog, a reader reminded me about Nick Yee's actual research on the subject. According to Nick, the average amount of time an MMO player spends in-world is indeed around 20 hours a week. Where The Wall Street Journal got 20 to 40, the world will never know.

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August 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (25)

Game Over, well not quite

As this month of guest blogging comes to an end culminating in me reaching the ripe old age of forty I have the phrase "Game Over man" from Aliens ringing in my ears. It did remind me of some things I have observed about the whole notion of a game being over from seeing my kids start to take in interest in my games consoles.

The most unusual point is that the 4 year old looks at games with no sentimental baggage, nor with any desire to win in the old fashioned sense. This manifests itself in some very quirky ways and has got me wondering where the limit is in educating a new game player about the social norms that apply just as we educate them with everyday social skills and rules.

To my daughter "Game Over" is viewed as a reward and the cause of much enjoyment.

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August 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15)

The Image of the Undercity

Undercity Lately I've been doing some amateur dabbling in theories of space.  One interesting book I'm reading is Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City.  According to the Lynch, our cities should not be understood as facts about arrangements of bricks and metal, but as a shared social constructs, collectively read and navigated by inhabitants.   In the minds of their residents, cities are mentally modeled around important landmarks that function as connecting passages and allow the creation of heuristically functional (though perhaps factually faulty) cognitive maps.  (De Certeau would add that in daily life, we read and write cities as we traverse them,  drawing and inscribing new meaning with each navigation.)

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August 29, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Symbols along the garden path

Earlier this week I was mesmerized by "Secrets of the Stately Garden," an ITV (UK, Channel 4) history/archeology feature.  True, 18th century English gardens had a penchant for classical design, but what I found fascinating was Tony Robinson's  presented thesis that these gardens could serve as canvases upon which their designers fashioned messages to clever readers.  Messages that we find hard to comprehend whilst on our 21st century walkabout...

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August 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Goldilocks and the Three EULAs

Many TN readers know that I have been interested in developing a virtual world platform (Worlds For Study) that can be used to study regulation.  To get an idea of what I mean, consider the following experiment in a game like World of Warcraft or Entropia, except with a business focus (hostile takeovers, but no dungeon raids; I think of it as World of Bizcraft):

  • Create two virtual worlds that are identical except for one regulatory feature (such as consumption taxes instead of income taxes).  After months of play, how would the worlds ultimately differ in terms of wealth creation, income inequality, or whatever other features interest you?

There are obviously many hurdles in succeeding in this ambitious project (as pointed out by the excellent comments to these posts), but also tremendous educational side benefits.  Today, I want to focus on one particular issue:  Can one craft an End User Licensing Agreement (EULA) that gives players few enough property rights to allow the world developer to impose their own inworld regulations, while still protecting property rights enough that players have strong incentives to pursue profit?

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August 22, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (59)

Sustain That Brand

State of Play V, from immaculate Singapore, kicked off this morning with a panel on "Building Businesses in Virtual Worlds." As I write I'm listening as the panel wraps up, with the panelists -- all involved in business development companies that focus to some extent on virtual worlds -- taking questions from the audience. But continuing to resonate in my mind is a phrase that panel participant Ken Brady of Centric used in his remarks to characterize what businesses should aim for in virtual worlds moving forward: "sustainable branding." This idea was echoed by the others on the panel as the discussion progressed, and to me this should prompt us to continue to think about the current era of virtual worlds as one that is beginning to be defined less by the relationship between their makers and their users (as individuals or nascent groups), and more by the expansion (one might even say colonization) of them by both emergent and pre-existing institutions.

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August 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (20)

EverQuest to Integrate Card Game With MMO

While the idea of trading card tie-ins is not new, Rory Starks, one of the designers and artists of Arden,  reports that Sony will make a trading card game that is played from within the MMO. There are some new issues. Rory's analysis:

EverQuest: Legends of Norrath: Oathbound: The Trading Card Game
Rory Starks

During the Fan Faire MMO event a couple of weeks ago, SOE president John Smedley revealed a new trading card game based on the Everquest franchise – "Legends of Norrath: Oathbound".  At first glance, this news was not too entirely exciting considering that EQ fans can play the EverQuest pen-and-paper RPG, various spinoff games, and they can even light up their cigarettes with EQ-emblazoned Zippo lighters (provided they have the requisite skills in fire crafting).  On the other hand, what was interesting about this announcement was that Smedley revealed that the game is online-only and played from within EverQuest 1 and 2.  Players can purchase cards and construct decks inside the two games and then challenge other players to a game.  There will eventually be a standalone client so that players can even play the game outside of the two EQ titles (and without having to have a subscription). 

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August 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15)

We don’t want the mess cleaned up

It looks like I’ll be on BBC Radio 4 tonight debating with Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution, the question of whether Virtual Worlds replace the messiness of real life relationships with sanitized virtual ones.

I thought I would use TN as a jotter for how I was thinking about replying.

If you are reading this Baroness Greenfield – welcome to TerraNova, and I mean that is so many ways.

The BBC have kindly sent me an MP3 of the segment, you can now  download load it here.

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August 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (19)

Augmented Mixed Reality - Real to virtual and back again

Augmented Reality has been around as a concept for a long time. It has very often been described in images of the future as enhancing the real world with additional layers of digitially created information.  As more people are becoming aware of virtual worlds and seeking to build within them they, in general, start with trying to recreate some element of Real Life. This may be representations of themselves as avatars, existing buildings and offices they frequent. real world metaphors such as chairs, tables, presentation screens. This is something I have observed as the willingness to engage with virtual worlds has extended past gamers and early adopters. The representation is focussed on the boundaries of the environment being used and on how to manipulate the building tools to create that vision, crafting for that environment.

We are seeing more uses of things from the real world crossing over into the non-game metaverse environments. e.g. tennis ball trajectories and scores from Wimbledon into Second Life.

Is this augmented mixed reality? Are we creating Augmented Reality for virtual worlds? Is there a continuous circle feeding real things and virtual things into representations of one another?

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August 16, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (14)

Lonely, social, or just messed up?

Within about 10 minutes of each other, I read two news reports offering opposing implications on the social impact of virtual spaces. First,* Alexandra Alter of the Wall Street Journal reports on how some Second Life players are ruining their real life relationships by spending too much time in SL (Forget for the moment that the RL relationship in question didn't sound overly solid to begin with. Move along, these are not the droids you are looking for). Next, reports the abstract version of Mark Griffith's latest research on MMO players, namely that they are very social. (Forget for the moment that Prof. Griffith offers a lengthy and nuanced series of papers on the grey areas of play, sociability and compulsive use. Don't look at the man behind the curtain.)

The upshot?

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August 15, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (26)

What would you do if you were AI?

Gospers_glider_gun Continuing some themes from several prior posts, we find John Tierney of the New York Times presenting Nick Bostrom's argument that life is just a sim created by a higher being. Link.  Tierney says he's convinced and adds:

[I]f owners of the computers were anything like the millions of people immersed in virtual worlds like Second Life, SimCity and World of Warcraft, they’d be running simulations just to get a chance to control history — or maybe give themselves virtual roles as Cleopatra or Napoleon.

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August 15, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (24)

Here come the regulators....everybody duck!

This morning I had a very interesting talk with Dan Miller, Senior Economist at the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress.  Dan has previously talked about the taxability of virtual wealth, on a panel at State of Play, and to reporters. Now the JEC is trying to stay ahead of the issue by laying out the arguments against real-world regulatory intervention by the IRS and others (like the SEC)—before regulatory bodies take official steps (like issuing regulations or interpretations) that are difficult to reverse.

My hope with this post is to spark comments that would help the JEC identify the most persuasive arguments for and against keeping regulators out of the innards of virtual worlds. I know Dan will see your comments, because he told me that he views Terra Nova as required daily reading—some comfort to those who have read arguments that TN is no longer relevant.)

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August 14, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (44)

Seriously, the hotel has a great pool

In a week's time I'll be lounging by a pool in Singapore, drinking three or four insanely alcoholic drinks in preparation for State of Play V.

I'll be thinking about the dinner that I'm about to have, that will be followed by Glenn Thomas's film "Ideal World".  I'll be wondering which of the following two day's panels I will enjoy the most, and which of the workshops I'll attend.  I'll be thinking about the dinner the following evening at the Zoo, and the subsequent Night Safari.  I'll be wondering whether Doug Thomas will, in fact, be mistaken for a large primate and not allowed out of the grounds, even if he is going to be interviewing John Seely Brown.  Oh, and I'll be thinking about chili crab. 

I may ask where you and your friends are.  I suspect that many of you will be there.  And you will be thinking of chili crab too, and so we'll make a plan to head out and get some.

Can't wait.

August 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (7)

CFP: Journal of Electronic Commerce Research (JECR): Special Issue on Virtual Worlds

[From Marc Fetscherin, Editor of the Special Issue]

Journal of Electronic Commerce Research (JECR): Special Issue on Virtual Worlds

Special Issue on Virtual Worlds
Submissions due: November 1, 2007
Scheduled Publication date: August 2008

The emergence of virtual worlds and Web 3.D change the way of doing business. Web 3.D is the synonym for Internet-based virtual worlds, where people can create own 3-D *virtual* personalities. Virtual Worlds such as Second Life and others are undergoing an evolution similar to that of the Internet in the mid nineties and might impact profoundly the way people cooperate, communicate, collaborate, and conduct business. The recent entering of companies such as Toyota, American Apparel, Nissan, or Adidas indicate the upcoming role of this platform for the next generation of conducting electronic business. This call for papers is intended to cover a wide range of business and research topics that fall within the broad description of activities, challenges, opportunities, applications, innovations and implications associated with Virtual Worlds as the emerging new online business landscape.

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August 12, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Death to Snow Crash

Like a lot of other people, I read Neil Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash back in the mid-1990s (along with other staples like Neuromancer and the still-applicable True Names). Like many, I was entranced by the idea of digital avatars with detailed facial expressions (something we were working on in 1995 and continue to today), and by the idea of  the ‘Metaverse’ – of having a digital home in a bustling virtual world that was somehow entirely immersive, that moved beyond visual and auditory to the kinesthetic. I was so taken with the idea as presented that I was willing to overlook its technical faults, and like so many others, dreamt of a huge all-inclusive world.

Many people continue to hold out hope for some Snow Crash analog as an all-encompassing virtual world: mostly this is discussed as the transfer of the Web to a VW, typically imagined in 3D, sometimes as a vision of something like Second Life (albeit more open, more interesting, with better performance, and maybe less of an emphasis on sex). This Snow Crash Metaverse is the online equivalent of the “flying cars” view of the today as seen from 1935. The latest installment in this vague, hand-waving exercise in techno-fantasy comes to us in the Business Week article, "Just Ahead: The Web As A Virtual World,” which enthusiastically describes the typical justifications for a 3D Web – buying jeans in 3D, walking from one web site to another, checking out a 3D virtual mall or hotel room, etc. – without more than a glance at the crippling issues and inefficiencies pipedreams like these present.

So it needs to be said: Death to Snow Crash. Death to the sugarplum visions of the 3D Web World that dance in our heads.  It’s time to move on.

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August 10, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (48)

A Hierarchy of Authoring Tools

I keep thinking about a single interesting sentence from a profile of Wikipedia in the NY Times magazine in early July, a prediction that the written word would continue to be Wikipedia's main focus even if pictures, sound or moving images could be appealing supplements to its information. I know that doesn't sound too profound: it's like predicting that human beings will continue to communicate with one another using language. But the point raised in the article is that writing works for Wikipedia  not just because it's what we're historically accustomed to as a medium for communicating information and knowledge, but because it remains a superior technology for the kind of collaboration that Wikipedia is built upon. It's the best authoring tool that we know of: supple, flexible, easily adapted to new purposes, relatively easy to teach to a very wide variety of author-users and widely distributed through the population as a result.

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August 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (16)

IBM's Virtual Worlds Guidelines

Back in 2005, IBM published a set of  blogging guidelines for employees. The introduction said

In 1997, IBM recommended that its employees get out onto the Net -- at a time when many companies were seeking to restrict their employees' Internet access. We continue to advocate IBMers' responsible involvement today in this new, rapidly growing space of relationship, learning and collaboration.

In so many way, nothing has changed with the adoption of virtual worlds. Last month, IBM's virtual worlds guidelines pointed out that

IBM believes that virtual worlds and other 3D Internet environments offer significant opportunity to our company, our clients and the world at large, as they evolve, grow in use and popularity, and become more integrated into many aspects of business and society. ... IBM encourages employees to explore responsibly and to further the development of such new spaces of relationship-building, learning and collaboration.

There has been a lot of press coverage of these guidelines. An Associated Press article was run pretty much everywhere (here's an example at TIME). Since people are often quick to assume that IBM is clamping down on its employees use of virtual worlds, and that's really not the case, I'd like to attempt to clarify a few things here and give even more of an insider's perspective than I previously did on Eightbar. It may be an interesting discussion for anyone thinking about whether companies need virtual worlds guidelines, why we bothered and what implications they have for employees using virtual worlds on their own time.

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August 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Omigod. This Is Completely Unreal.

According to a four-page article in today's New York Times, there's this 3D virtual site called Second Life where people can log on and make virtual houses. This one guy actually made a Mexican-style "villa", in a virtual "neighborhood." He says his virtual "neighbors" come over for visits with their "avatar", just like in the real world. Huh!

August 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (30)

What a performance! Live Vs Recorded in a multi player world

A theme strand has developed in how I view virtual worlds and metaverses. It has formed from online and multiplayer gaming but been flavoured by my work environment (As with all these posts these are merely my opinions not those of the IBM). That theme is about performing, about the nature of the live performance as opposed to the crafted and edited kind.

What are the opportunities to benefit from live expressions of knowledge, talent and ideas? How does this change the perception of a metaverse environment when it is regarded as a performance medium as much as a canvas for fixed assets to be displayed?

I think there are two main ways people express themselves through their actions. The first is the product of their actions, something manufactured, crafted and delivered for other people to use. The other is through live performance actions of some kind.

Metaverses and virtual worlds are as much about live performance as they are about manufacturing and creating content. 

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August 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (19)


In the vernacular of game lore, a "grognard" is one who plays board wargames (fn1).  "Grognard-capture" came along later as an apparent dilution (and a mildly derogatory one at that) to stand for hard-core gamers in general (fn2).   Perhaps the latter hijack is the better sense of capture.

I spent the last couple of weeks reminiscing (with help) about what the board wargame legacy is (or, as stated, perhaps it's obituary is premature).  Personally I look to the wane of this genre of play as a symbol of the larger demise of turn-based gaming in general.  Lazy RTS!  [humor].  Lazy, lazy First Person! [more humor!]  More seriously, I'd like to collect pointers to the recollections of others on this and related subject.

I list a number of essays/posts that I have that are in turn entry points to other resources (avoiding duplication).  In general I am somewhat disappointed with the quantity of commentary that I've been able to find.   I'm sure it is generational - every Tom and Sally MMORPG player is an online commentator in this age, but in that age...

I would be most glad for insight and comment from players - X or otherwise.

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August 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (29)