I had occasion this evening to revisit Jane McGonigal’s TED Talk from 2010, and it reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:
Okay, so these are four superpowers that add up to one thing:Gamers are super-empowered hopeful individuals.These are people who believe that they are individually capableof changing the world.And the only problem is,they believe that they are capable of changing virtual worldsand not the real world.That’s the problem that I’m trying to solve.
– Jane McGonigal
I and the gatos live in a small farm house on the outskirts of town. We don’t need much space, but have a large garden and work to contribute our share to the local food economy.
I founded the Chilbo Community in 2006 and remain a life-long member, in addition to my local community in terra. I’m also a member of the Screaming 3D Bootstrappers Superstruct, the SLED Community, the Velks, and many other professional associations related to higher education and the grid.
Human network resource management, education and community building in the metaverse, connectivism, and I grow a mean tomato.
I am the founder of Chilbo and work most days either in the Chilbo Town Hall or elsewhere in the Metaverse. I have offices and projects scattered all over the grid and pop in to wherever I’m needed when I’m needed. I also serve on the Board of Trustees for GlobalGrid University, one of the original virtual-land-grant research universities created by the United Nations in 2012. GGU serves an international learning network of over 200 million learners through GGU Nodes of Excellence on the grid.
The Chilbo Community is a global village in the Metaverse, made up of artists, musicians, writers, teachers, students, creative thinkers, entrepreneurs, and those who are interested in contributing to the public good.
As the Chilbo Community reached its second anniversary in 2008, and I spent more time traveling and learning in terra and on the grid, I began to better understand the rapid speed with which the Metaverse was developing. I was fortunate to stumble into an emergent network of highly motivated and brilliant nodes all over the globe and it quite literally transformed my life. In the ensuing decade, our network has grown tremendously, as has our capacity to collaborate and locate the resources we need as we need them. We continue to work to teach others these important skills even as we make our own contributions to projects and endeavors that inspire us.
Increasing access to education, research, knowledge, and learning throughout the grid and finding ecologically sound and sustainable ways to live.
Blogging became too time-consuming. Â Formatting, linking, embedding, bad copy pasta that has to be fixed. Â But I’ll try again, because my network continues to inspire me so much, I feel I should make the effort as they do. Â Bless their hearts, what would I read in the morning if they got lazy like me?
And, I remain forever amazed atÂ how wonderful tripping, linking, chasing, stumbling through others’ thoughts on the internets can be, and how sharing our thoughts can further other people’s trips in (hopefully) meaningful ways.
Here’s my latest trip to go with your morning coffee.
Badges and evidence, the “reputation economy”, and data used to make decisions
Scanning past Stephen’sÂ blurb about the VWBPE keynote, somehowÂ I came across Alan Levine’s (@cogdog) recent post “Seeking Evidence of Badge Evidence“, wherein he explores the usefulness of gamified badging systems if they don’t link to actual evidence that the badge was earned. Â Metadata about the evidence isn’t the same as linking to the evidence itself, right? Â Right.
This sparked a memory of an older post of mine, Twitter and the Reputation Economy in 2014, wherein I mused about how to measure “reputation” and suggested that Twitter Lists provide a non-obvious measure of something. Â Alan subsequently pointed out that a Twitter list wordcloud may be anÂ indicator,Â but it is not aÂ measure. Â Good point.
My tweet about Alan’s post sparked D’Arcy Norman (@dlnorman) to point to Cory Doctorow’s (@doctorow) recent post about what a terrible currency reputation would be.
My tweetÂ also sparked Alan to go down a deep, technically complicated but fascinating rabbit-hole of what my Twitter list wordcloud means, whether it’s useful, and how to generate one using docker, which I still don’t really understand.
At the end of all that chain, I summed up my current take-aways about data used for decision-makingÂ on a comment to his post:
1) measurements and indicators are not the same thing, important point.
2) reliability is key, whether of a measure or indicator.
3) the use-case (type of decision youâ€™re making) should drive the type of data used to make your measurement or indicator.
4) a measurement or indicator created for one use case may not transfer to a different use case.
Metaverse Vocabulary Words – Metaxis, Liminality, Stygmergy
Somewhere in checking out that tweet stream, I also came across Mark Childs’ (@markchilds) recent post exploring words that describe transitions, edges, limits, and perceptions of spaces, or places, or feelings of being present in a space or multiple spaces even. Â
..the video of which relates to Midas’ golden touch played out in Minecraft, and that perfectly captures and visualizes the idea ofÂ stygmergy,Â a word I came to know and love through Sarah Robbins (@intellagirl) years ago when she was exploingÂ using virtual worlds for teaching. Â See her “Using a Faceted Classification Scheme to Predict the Future of Virtual Worlds”. Â (I should link to her dissertation, but I can’t find a good link.)
After clicking through all that, I went back to Leon’s Twitter page to make sure I was following him (I am), and saw that he referenced the above tweet and forwarded Mark Child’s postÂ on to Martin Robinson (@surrealanarchy), who apparently has changed his main Twitter account to @trivium21cÂ (I followed that account, too).
Recently The Guardian published an interesting critique of the TED Talks series by Benjamin Bratton that I’ve been thinking about since I read it. Â The piece asks what good does it do for TED to take extremely complex topics and boil them down into 20 minute presentations, which are viewed as infotainment by a certain segment of people, and then not much gets done about the issues being discussed. Â I think it’s an interesting critique, and as someone who organizes technology conferences, I often worry that if we all just come and do a lot of talking and not much afterwards, what purpose has the conference really served? Â I’d be interested to hear others’ thoughts.
Beyond the critique of TED Talks, however, there were two lines in particular that really struck me:
Because, if a problem is in fact endemic to a system, then the exponential effects ofÂ Moore’s lawÂ also serve to amplify what’s broken.
And the concept of not just innovating but also “immunizing” society:
The potential for these technologies are both wonderful and horrifyingÂ at the same time, and to make them serve good futures, design as “innovation” just isn’t a strong enough idea by itself. We need to talk more about design as “immunisation,” actively preventing certain potential “innovations” that we do not want from happening.
Regarding the exponential effects of Moore’s Law, I’ve written before that I think our public institutions (government, academia, social structures) aren’t just failing to keep pace with changes in technology, but that the technology itself is amplifying their (our) failures. Â Wherever a gap existed before the information age, now it’s becoming a gulf (think income disparity, socio-economic mobility, access to real political power).
Whatever minor systemic failures or bureaucratic quagmires that crept in during the industrial age are turning into full-blown catastrophic disasters in the information age. See the US Congress or our public education system for stark examples, both represent not just a failure to adapt to a changing world, but technology is also amplifying the ills inherent in those systems with truly catastrophic results – a congress that has gone from dysfunctional to not functional at all, and a public school system that is failing the very students it was designed to help – the poor, the underserved, the first-generation students.
We talk and read about “disruptive innovation” every day in the tech and business press, but often its in the context of “creative destruction” as some new business model or product displaces an old one, and in general that’s seen as a positive outcome in a “free” market system. Â But for public systems and institutions, those public goods that have no profit or market incentive, this amplification of the broken is really very scary to me and I am not at all convinced that privatization of public systems is the answer (which is why I don’t support charter schools or for-profit education businesses, no matter how innovative they promise to be – MOOCx blah blah blah).
The most important things in life can’t be quantified in dollars and we can’t “innovate” a business model or technology solution that changes that basic fact.
So where does that leave us? Â I’m not sure, but I’m intrigued by Bratton’s concept of “immunizing” society against the futures we don’t want, and I’m wondering just how we might go about doing that. Â Bratton says:
Problems are not “puzzles” to be solved. That metaphor assumes that all the necessary pieces are already on the table, they just need to be rearranged and reprogrammed. It’s not true. Â “Innovation” defined as moving the pieces around and adding more processing power is not some Big Idea that will disrupt a broken status quo: that precisely is the broken status quo.
.. and I’m inclined to agree. Â I think those of us who consider ourselves technology evangelists and futurists need to think long and hard about these questions.
As a practical step, perhaps one way to help “immunize” society against the technology futures we don’t want would be to make sure that every talk we give, every presentation, every slide deck (or Prezi or whatever), every workshop has a section about possible NEGATIVE outcomes of the technology we’re talking about, and what we could or should do to avoid it? Â If we’re going to spread the word about new tech, don’t we have a responsibility to also discuss the possible negative effects?Â Perhaps as conference organizers and workshop planners, we need to include not just positive visioning, activities, and keynotes, but Â sessions that specifically talk about the possible negative outcomes?
I’m not sure, but it’s something I’m thinking about and want to keep in mind.
I found this both moving and inspiring. I’ve come to believe that academics and researchers have a moral imperative to fight closed publishing, and this talk by Lessig only makes me feel that more strongly.
Me blowing bubbles on my grandpa’s back steps, age 3 or 4?
. . .
When I was a little girl, back when most girls my age were dreaming of being ballerinas, princesses, orÂ veterinariansÂ (a popular choice in my rural community), I dreamed of being the President of the United States. Â I’m not sure when or why I came up with that idea, I just knew I wanted to help people, and in my little girl mind it seemed like the president got to help all kinds of people.
Then one day, I think maybe in 2nd grade or so, we were assigned a class project to draw a picture of our future selves at work in our dream jobs. Â I drew a picture of myself in the White House behind a big desk, probably with some rainbows and pink and purple hearts. Â Anyway, as we took turns sharing our pictures with the class, it was finally my turn and I was pretty excited that no one else had wanted to be my dream job yet. Â So you can imagine how upset I became when a classmate interrupted me to say that could never happen because only boys could be presidents. Â I promptly started crying, but it was anÂ angry kind of (embarrassed) crying. Â That kid probably unwittingly planted some of the earliest seeds for my lifelong feminism. Â I was sure I’d prove him wrong – some day!
. . .
I never made a conscious choice to work in the field of Information Technology. Â What started as a student worker position in my university IT department eventually turned into full time job, but even though I was working full time,Â I spent many years thinking my day job was just a placeholder until I could graduate and get on with myÂ realÂ career. Eventually I realized that the calling for public service I felt from a very young ageÂ hasÂ been realized by a career in IT, it just took a different path than I expected, and I didn’t think of it that way for so long in part because the narrative society tells us about what it means to work in technical fields is all wrong.
Working in Engineering and Information Technology is all aboutÂ helping people.Â Â It isn’t some abstract, impersonal problem solving exercise.
I was fortunate to have had early access to a computer and other kinds of technology even as a pretty young girl. Â My grandpa was an engineer, and the day he taught me how to load up games on his Commodore 64 was life altering. Â Load “*”, 8, 1 became a passport into whole new exciting worlds and I can directly trace my current job right back to that very first experience. Â I also knew one of my uncles was a computer programmer, and as I got older, I certainly understood that his job was high paying, challenging, and high status. Â Another uncle was an engineer too, and I knew he also had a good paying job and everyone seemed to respect his work and his career. Â All these men in my family, who I loved and respected, who seemed to be judged as some of the most successful career-wise in the family, and yet I had absolutely ZERO interest in doing what they did for a living. Â Why? Â Because it all sounded so darnedÂ boring.
My first game addiction, Ultima III Exodus on the Commodore 64.
When I think back to what that young version of me thought of their jobs, I associate all kinds of very dry, abstract concepts and words to their work. Â It seemed to involve a lot of math. Â It seemed to be about working with tools and machines and metals. Â It seemed to have nothing at all to do with other human beings, other people, or about solving the kinds of social problems that I found interesting and compelling as I got older and more conscious of the wider world. Â Somewhere along the line, I got the idea that technical fields like engineering and computer science were not only off limits for girls, but they were about inhuman, mechanical things, which I had no interest in anyway!
What’s funny is that you could excuse this misconception from a young girl growing up in the 80s, but it’s a lot harder to understand how I could still think that way even as an adult actually working in an IT job, and even though my mom worked in IT too! Â The difference was, my mom’s work stories were always about the people and relationships, so even though she also worked in a technical field I guess I didn’t associate her job in the same way – I thought of her as a people problem solver, not a technical problem solver, and somehow never made the connection between the two.
Connecting the purpose of our work to the tools we use to do it
I think what happened is that the information I absorbed about what it means to work in a technical field was focused on the tools used to do the work, not theÂ purpose of the work. Â And frankly, a hammer just isn’t very interesting. Â But if you talk about how using a hammer can help you build houses, and building houses helps families have stable, happy homes, then suddenly that inanimate hammer object is placed in a human context that’s tied to something relatable even to the youngest of children. Â Focusing on the tools used in technical fields is obviously appealing to some people, but it certainly wasn’t appealing to me.
Because of these misconceptions about IT work, I spent the early part of my careerÂ avoiding the more challenging technical aspects of the job. Â Partly it was out of fear that I wouldn’t be smart enough to figure it out (girls can’t be system administrators or programmers!), and partly because I was under the mistaken impression that becoming more technically adept would take me further away from the human interaction that I loved most about my job. Â It took me years to discover that I was wrong on both counts. Â Perhaps if someone had helped me connect the dots, it wouldn’t have taken me so long to discover how thrilling it is create something new that people find useful or valuable, or how wonderful it is to empower others to use technology for their own goals.
Me explaining the architecture of the University of Cincinnati’s OpenSimulator grid.
I think the way we frame the narrative of technology work has a lot to do with why girls and women choose other career paths. Â Even today, I doubt many people would associate working in technology with public service, even though in large part, the purpose of our work is about solving human problems, improving living conditions, and making society better. We just don’t talk about it that way. Â And we should, because for all the little girls (and boys) who are drawn to the human elements of a particular career, we want them to know that IT and engineering jobs can be very human centered! Â Yes the programming and software and protocols are necessary to do the work, but that’s notÂ why we do the work – we do the work to make the world a better, safer, more interesting and beautiful place, just like doctors and veterinarians and ballerinas – and (hopefully) presidents.
Ada Lovelace DayÂ aims to raise the profile of women in science, technology, engineering and maths by encouraging people around the world to talk about the women whose work they admire. This international day of celebration helps people learn about the achievements of women in STEM, inspiring others and creating new role models for young and old alike.
Ada Lovelace is widely held to have been the first computer programmer. Close friends with inventor Charle Babbage, Lovelace was intrigued by his Analytical Engine and in 1842, she translated a description of it by italian mathematician Luigi Menabrea. Babbage asked her to expand the article, â€œas she understood [it] so wellâ€, and this was when she wrote several early â€˜computer programsâ€™.Â Ada Lovelace died of cancer at 36, her potential tragically unfulfilled. Â
[Note: Â This post was originally published in May 2008, but I thought I’d reprise it since it’s been on my mind lately. Â I’m not sure my thoughts on the topic have changed much since then – have yours?]
I have been involved with education in virtual worlds for several years now, and at discussions and conferences I often hear the question asked, â€œWhy recreate a classroom with desks and PPT presentations in a world where anything is possible? Why create buildings with roofs and walls in a place where it never rains or gets cold?â€
These are good and interesting points to consider, and certainly one of the most exciting aspects of virtual worlds is the sense of limitless possibilities they offer – we could hold class in the clouds, or on a beach, or in an environment imagined and created by the students themselves, for that matter. I think many educators hope that the flexibility and endless creativity available in virtual worlds will help us re-think and re-examine our teaching spaces and practices – not just in the virtual world, but in the real world, too. I count myself in that camp and think rigorous questioning of our teaching methods and learning spaces is very important, particularly in light of the changing landscape of knowledge production, aggregation, publication, and sharing that weâ€™re seeing with Web2.0 technologies.
Having said that, however, Iâ€™d like to make the case for why you _shouldnâ€™t_ scoff at the countless university islands in Second Life with traditional buildings containing traditional classrooms with traditional desks and chairs and the ubiquitous PowerPoint slide presenter. Iâ€™ll add this caveat: If in 10 years those Second Life islands still contain nothing but traditional buildings with traditional classroom spaces, then you have my permission to scoff and you should. But today, hold your scorn in check, because what you are seeing are the artifacts of learning taking place, and who of us ever gets anything perfect on the first draft?
Iâ€™ve personally introduced the concept of virtual worlds and Second Life to hundreds and hundreds of people. From my grandfather to college professors, from personal friends to strangers and students and administrators and geeks and non-geeks alike; Iâ€™ve sat through their first tentative steps, encouraged them to explore, and watched as many decided it wasnâ€™t for them or took too much time or wasnâ€™t far enough along yet. Iâ€™ve also watched as some smaller percentage become intrigued and stick with it long enough to cross the line into immersion, and I see patterns in what happens next – across gender and age lines, across populations with varied levels of computer and technology access, skill, and know-how, and even across cultural and national identities.
The first step for the majority of folks is to recreate what is familiar. The first spaces they create are meaningful _real world_ symbols that resonate within the context of their engagement with the _virtual world_. Teachers look for classrooms, administrators look for familiar campus landmarks, librarians want to know how to make books. Friends create houses and gardens and look for fancy cars and luxury items they donâ€™t have in real life. My mother looks for virtual replicas of the types of furniture she wants to put in her real life sewing room.
For some people, the transitionary period seems to be much shorter – before long they tire of recreating the familiar and move on to exploring the limits of the platform; instead of recreating their house, they imagine a house in the clouds or skip the concept of a house altogether and begin building fantastic creations that simply are not possible in real life. Given enough time, and the resources and learning communities that speed learning, teachers begin to hold classes around campfires and in tree houses. They might not demolish that first traditional classroom they built, though, not yet anyway, because man that took a lot of work and there is some pride in the accomplishment and some nostalgia in remembering those early days when the virtual world was new and fun and not yet coupled to responsibility or work (for those who begin to use it seriously to teach, believe me, itâ€™s a lot of work!). Itâ€™s the equivalent of a childâ€™s crayon drawing that you donâ€™t throw away, but rather hang on the fridge as a reminder of how far theyâ€™ve come.
But for others, the transitionary period takes much longer, or perhaps for their own personal reasons never happens at all – they choose to spend their time in and create for themselves spaces that are symbolic replicas of the real world. Maybe with some sparkly floating stars and a few bells and whistles not normally seen on Main Street, but for the most part they stay in spaces that evoke something you might see in the real world. My own Second Life community called Chilbo looks and feels like a small, cosy village, and we like it that way. Who are you to judge if it serves our purposes?
But to bring this back to education in particular, it seems unfairly harsh to criticize the early efforts of individuals and institutions who are exploring virtual worlds for the first time. A recognizable school building _does_ serve a purpose – it says to the newcomer â€œThis space is intended for learning!â€ A classroom with desks and podium and PowerPoint projector allows a teacher new to virtual worlds to experiment with a new interface while keeping all the other variables the same. And in terms of looking at a campus space, what we see manifested in that space often is not the result of one personâ€™s journey, but the result of a group experience, with laggards and speed demons mixed in with bureaucrats and oversight committees, and relics of past stages of learning that simply havenâ€™t been torn down yet.
There are some imaginative and creative teachers who perhaps never built a classroom in Second Life at all, because they chafe at real life classrooms already. Thatâ€™s terrific, and I hope that virtual worlds will provide a giant laboratory for us all to experiment and play and explore other possibilities, other configurations. There are some instructional designers who can extrapolate from their experiences with other technologies and immediately seize on using virtual worlds for what they are best at (co-presence, simulation, collaboration, prototyping) and leave the quizzes and notes and document repositories on their course management system, which delivers those types of content better than virtual worlds currently can. Thatâ€™s terrific too, and probably results in a more effective learning experience for students as a result of their wisdom.
But for every instructor who experiments with delivering a quiz in the virtual world, one of them might stumble upon a method that IS more effective than the course management system. I havenâ€™t seen one in Second Life yet, though the Sloodle chair that moves a student higher up in the air the more questions they answer correctly is a step in that direction, but that doesnâ€™t mean there wonâ€™t ever be one. And it doesnâ€™t mean that we shouldnâ€™t _try_ and encourage others to try.
Critiquing our and our institutionsâ€™ efforts in virtual worlds is good practice, and it is imperative that we continue to push our own boundaries and not get locked into habits or practices in the virtual world that we donâ€™t even like in the real world (true story, I rarely use PPT in real life presentations, but find myself using them more often than not in presentations I give in the virtual world), but to instantly dismiss every replica of a traditional learning space in a virtual world without understanding the context in which it was created, the purpose and intent with which it was to be used, is not only unproductive, I think it may even be harmful. No one wants their sincere efforts to be mocked, and as teachers and educators, we shouldnâ€™t be engaging in that kind of behavior. We should be showing alternatives, starting conversations, and experimenting with new solutions to stubborn old real world problems that we can share with our colleagues.
Iâ€™ll continue to create familiar classroom spaces for faculty who are brave enough to explore these virtual worlds with me, because my goal is to facilitate their learning, and I believe learning should be student centered – donâ€™t you? As far as I can tell, the best way to speed that process isnâ€™t to refuse to build a classroom with a roof, itâ€™s to create a classroom to real life dimensions with roofs and all and let them experience bumping their head every time they try to fly. And some examples of traditional learning spaces, I hope to keep for a very long time to come. Iâ€™m very fond of the little one room school house that sits on our virtual campus, complete with desks and chalkboard. It reminds me that learning can happen anywhere, that good teaching can happen anywhere, and that we truly are pioneers in this increasingly digital, computerized, information saturated, complex virtually real world.
To be pioneers means that many of our efforts will fail, that the development of virtual learning spaces will be iterative, and that the real world symbols of teaching and learning will take time to morph into something else even in the virtual world. I think we should be patient, take a longer view, and do some very real research into the efficacy of all sorts of learning spaces and teaching models in virtual worlds. And in the meantime, we should let people experiment with teaching and learning in whatever spaces feel the most comfortable for them, because in virtual worlds, weâ€™re all learners – even the teachers.
By no means a comprehensive summary since I can only hop in from time to time, but I wanted to jot down notes and interesting information from the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference going on now in multiple VWs including Second Life, Opensim, World of Warcraft, and others. Â The full schedule is here and if for some reason you can’t go in-world to view, many of the sessions are being webcast on Treet.tv too.
Really fascinating project teLEGOrobotics – Â getting students from the UK and Japan to work collaboratively in OpensimÂ to control physical real world robots. Â They plan to model a nuclear reactor in a future stage of the project.
John Lester (aka Pathfinder Lester), Chief Learning Officer, ReactionGrid Inc. gave a great talk about Jibe as a multiuser 3d virtual world platform accessible via a web browser or standalone client, discussion also covered differences between Unity/Jibe and Opensim, plans for the “ji-way” (unity based hypergrid), keeping in touch with the educational community involved in virtual worlds, and bunches more. Â Great talk! Â Here are some links I pasted in as the talk was going on:
Virtual Harmony is a custom virtual environment that spans over 32 simulations to promote exploration and compelling learning experiences for education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) as well as the study of history, leadership, innovation and military tactics. This paper introduces the current game design activities on Virtual Harmony and in Unity3D, the collaborative activities on the Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) project and a research study that evaluated the use of model-based reasoning and somatic computing for evaluating alternatives in avatar morphology to enhance STEM learning experiences within a Mars Geothermal game simulation. Â Also discussed Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory.
I gave a TeachU Seminar this afternoon that managed to go on even though I never did get my headset working for some reason (I blame a flash update that I unfortunately installed yesterday AFTER we did the test run).
Virtual worlds and online games are used by millions of people around the world for recreation, corporate and academic conferencing, formal education, research, training and charitable work. These worlds have given rise to public-policy issues, both ancient and cutting edge. Governance in Virtual Worlds will provide an exploration of these issues by professors, journalists, corporate managers and community activists. Learn what it means to be an active citizen, a creative producer, and a savvy customer, and meet the people shaping policy for the worlds of the future.
Now, I’ve attended a LOT of conferences, conversations, symposia, discussions, and other such things revolving around virtual worlds, but I must commend John Carter McKnight, Adjunct Professor of Law atÂ Arizona State University for putting together a truly excellent group of panels.Â (And I’m not just saying that because I was on two of them!)Â Â Though the conference was plagued with technical issues at the beginning, which happens sometimes, the panels sparked good conversations (and sometimes heated debate)Â and it was the first time in a while I heard some new ideas that made me stop in my tracks and think, “Oh, yeah.Â Why aren’t we talking about that?”
John Lester (formerly Pathfinder Linden) Gives Keynote Opening Address
For long time SL peeps, one of the highlights of the conference was John Lester‘s keynote opening address.Â Formerly known as Pathfinder Linden, who did much to promote the education and health care communities in world, John appeared as his original avatar from the SL beta (the first one!) days, Count Zeeman.Â John’s keynote was unfortunately one of the ones marred by the technical challenges, but he talked about the biological responses that humans have to our virtual experiences.Â He gave an example of a teacher who brings her students in world and right off the bat has them jump off a mountain.Â The students feel fear, vertigo, and all these physical reactions, they don’t know if they’re (their avatar) is going to die, they don’t know what to expect.Â The physical reactions we experience in virtual spaces are due to our brains having evolved to think in, navigate in, and respond to 3D data, we have entirely natural responses to 3D cues, it activates our lymbic system just as if we were standing on a physical mountain.Â Ok maybe to a lesser degree, still.Â 🙂
Of course, we’re missing key components of physicality in virtual worlds, particularly the non-verbal cues of body language, posture, etc.Â John reminded us Snow Crash fans that in Stephenson’s novel, the thing that made the metaverse take off was when it incorporated the natural body language of those who were jacked in, so we’re not yet at a point where I yawn in real life and my avatar yawns as well, but that’s where we’re headed.
I’m not sure if this was just my take or John’s, but there was some conversation that augmented reality is likely to top into the mainstream before virtual worlds, since handheld devices are already ubiquitous and the super-smart-phone genre like Droids and iPhones are becoming more commonplace and affordable.Â John mentioned the augmented reality windshield GM prototyped that I tweeted about the other day (woe the day our windshields get hacked!) and we talked about a future where our HUDs were not just on the screen but in our contact lenses.Â Good stuff!
In terms of governance of virtual spaces, the issue is that our current system of laws and courts are processes that move so exquisitely slowly, and yet the pace of technological change is accelerating at an ever faster pace.Â How are we to govern spaces that our current systems are not even remotely equipped to understand, let alone arbitrate?Â And that, of course, was the key question of the conference.Â It was great to see John and despite the audio glitches, it was great to see him in world again.
Keynote Panel:Â The Politics of Virtual Engagement
Next up was the keynote panel, which also had a rocky start on the technical end (again, not the fault of the conference organizers!) and I didn’t get to show my slides so I’ll embed them here:
I’d hoped to talk about how we can look at the small scale governance issues already cropping up at the institutional level, like in higher education, and then extrapolate how those issues will affect the larger ecosystem of institutions participating in virtual world spaces, but the tech issues got our timing and things off to a rocky start, so I’m not sure how much came through.Â Â In any case, the “Politics of Virtual Engagement” at my university are just one example of many, but I think there are lessons to be learned.Â For example, virtual world evangelists and people like me trying to introduce the concept of virtual worlds to academia have to have a deep knowledge of our institutional culture.Â The needs of our student population are different than the needs of faculty, which are again different from the needs of administrators and staff.Â Â The trick is trying to weave those needs together into virtual spaces and experiences that tap into what can only be done in virtual worlds or that virtual worlds do better than other platforms. People have to see how this technology meets their needs before it can scale up.Â This is as much true for every other domain – business, non-profits, online communities – as it is for higher education.
And the questions and issues raised by the students, faculty, and staff at the University of Cincinnati are likely to be echoed across the spectrum of institutions who move into virtual worlds.Â Â Â This technology forces us to renegotiate long standing and entrenched boundaries that DO exist in the physical world, but are highly permeable in the virtual world.Â Â What can we learn from early adopters who are already negotiating these shifting boundaries to make it easier for the early majority?
I also think virtual worlds expose the limits of our creativity and imagination in ways that are.. somehow less obvious in the physical world.Â Give a teacher the freedom to work in any kind of learning environment they can imagine rather than a traditional classroom, and you’re bound to get some blank stares.Â Â And who can blame them!Â They aren’t accustomed to having that kind of freedom and flexibility, and conceptualizing the actual SPACE in which learning takes place is not in their knowledge domain because in the physical world, someone else designs the classrooms.Â And it isn’t just teachers, students, staff – it’s also me!Â The plasticity of virtual worlds gives us tremendous freedom to create settings and experiences that can’t be replicated in the real world, but our imaginations are not yet caught up to the possibilities this technology makes possible.
I feel that way even after participating in virtual environments for over 15 years at this point.Â Every day something new shakes my world and hints at possibilities I hadn’t even considered.Â It’s fascinating stuff.Â Â And I think in the long term, all the other issues – who owns your data, privacy issues, conflicts over copyright and IP – these issues don’t have simple black and white answers, the inter-relationships forming between individuals and individuals, and individuals with institutions, and institutions with institutions, and scaling all the way up to encompass the global digital community and ecosystem, these things are so complex, and emerging and evolving so quickly, I just can’t imagine that our existing institutions will survive in anything resembling their current forms.Â Â I guess we’ll see!
Real Laws in Virtual Space
There were two speakers in the next panel who made a lasting impression on my overwhelmed brain.Â Joshua Fairfield, Associate Prof of Law at Washington and Lee School of Law, and Gregory Lastowka, Professor at Rutgers School of Law.Â Â This post is already getting long, so I’ll sum up quickly.Â Joshua’s main point was that we are spending an awful lot of brain cycles worrying about how RL law is going to impact virtual worlds, and not enough time thinking about how the rules of virtual worlds would be horrific if implemented in RL. Good point!Â From my quickly jotted notes as he was speaking:
Imagine IP licenses embedded in our toaster, our clothing, our cars, as we do have constraints on our use of virtual property. What then?Â Â On privacy, we all know from the Bragg case sued Linden Lab, LL has ALL communications from people in world, all IMs, they were able to pull up IMs from years before.. All of those convos can be sometimes must be made available without a search warrant, no probably cause required. The essential irony – we go to escape and are under constant surveillance. Cell phoen tracks you through GPS whereever you go.Â So the question is, are we losing our personhood?Â Personhood, once property and privacy are in trouble, personhood will follow. We are a social network in our selves, the social networks we use are coming to OWN that tangle of connections that we are. We will hand over our personhood when all aspects of our behavior, posessions, creations, and communications are owned by .. someone else.
Gregory Lastowska’s talk was also good, again my raw notes:
Virtual Worlds as a separate jurisdiction.. virtual law as separate rules of physical jurisdiction. Play spaces are governed by a separate set of rules, we can look at different human societies, say the rules pertaining to education, religion, or family, they are sort of “special spheres” of human interaction, so there may be some precedent for game worlds, but that isn’t the trend we’re seeing, the courts are treating them just like web sites, so not seen as separate sites of jurisdiction which may not always be the right way. David Post, Jefferson’s Moose, hypothesize different laws for cyberspace. If we were to look at the internet and copyright law, we never would have developed our copyright law as we did because much of it doesn’t WORK as applied to the internet, the net is constant copying, every microsecond there are violations, and when it comes to financial importance, lawsuits, Napster etc. you see the general trend is to limit the growth of the technology in order to serve the copyright law, and that seems ,.. not good.
SO – if this were a separate space, what kind of law would we have?
Second the point on augmented reality, separate from VW issues? We will see some issues from VW will also be issues with augmented reality, primarily the difference between the customer/client and the owner/server operators, as we move towards cloud computing, balance between tech and law, Lessig’s Code..
Got interrupted, work phone call.Â Then a meeting and I missed some of the next panels.Â Bummer.Â 🙁
Virtual Self Governance
The last panel was about how communities existing in virtual worlds govern themselves, and I was really excited to talk about my own virtual community, Chilbo, in this setting.Â Â Here are my slides from that presentation:
Now strangely, it seemed that one of the other panelists was upset that I had slides, that I talked specifically about how the Chilbo Community formed and was governed, and especially that my last slide invited people to visit and explore our town.Â Frankly, I thought that’s what everyone on the panel was going to do, per the instructions I received from the conference organizers, so I’m not sure exactly where the miscommunication occurred.Â Â If I wasn’t supposed to talk specifically about Chilbo, then I’m not sure what the point of the panel was!Â Further, the other panelist also seemed to disbelieve my statements about our experience.Â I didn’t expect any of the content I presented to be .. inflammatory or controversial, rather I thought the point of the discussion was to talk about some of the specifics of how different in world communities form, govern themselves, and use the tools and platforms to self-organize.
Perhaps I misread the tone of the other panelist, but I felt distinctly defensive after a bit.Â As hard as it may be to believe, yes, we do actually mostly govern by consensus and no, acrimony, arguments, and strife are not very common – in fact, it’s quite rare.Â That isn’t to say there are never any disagreements, just that differences of opinion or conflicting interests seem to be resolved with little fanfare and few fireworks.Â I confess, I know very little about the inner-workings of CDS.Â I’ve very pointedly made an effort to let the structure and processes of governing Chilbo evolve out of our specific culture, community, and needs, rather than trying to emulate or model it after something else – because in some sense, though human communities are obviously not new, the thing that IS new is the who’s, why’s, and how’s of how we have all come to be together in this particular virtual world, in this particular region, at this particular time.Â Â Though as Rose Springvale said, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel (a good point!), I think we also have to give ourselves the freedom to imagine new ways of self-governing to break out of systems of governance that were developed in a pre-digital age.
In any case, I’m not suggesting that the Chilbo model is perfect for everyone and maybe wouldn’t work for any community but our own, and it isn’t even as if I understand exactly how or why it seems to be as successful as it is at constraining the discord that often appears in online communities, but for whatever reason, it seems to be working for us on a lot of levels, and so my goal was to share about our experience.Â That really shouldn’t have offended anyone’s sensibilities, I don’t think.
Overall, I felt it was a great conference and I was sorry to have missed a couple of the panels, but I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did and many thanks to all the folks who organized, attended, and participated.
The concept of “Life as a Game” is certainly not a new one, when I was a kid, the game of Life was my favorite board game of all time.Â I still remember the thrill of filling up my little car with boy and girl babies I imagined I’d haveÂ at some point in the far off future, or the crushing defeat of bankruptcy, a term I didn’t really understand, but in that context basically meant “Game Over.”Â Spin the dial – what does the game of Life bring you next?
And it’s not as if I’m not a big fan of video and online games – I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600/5200, hand drew maps in colored pencil to find Princess Zelda, played Ultima on a Commodore 64, still have an account on the Medievia MUD that goes back to 1994, have an 80 level holy spec priest on WoW (they nerfed holy spec, don’t get me started), and most recently celebrated the completion of my horse stable on Farmville.
I grew up on games – the first generation to grow up playing video games – I was a “Girl Gamer” back when we were a pretty rare breed and I’m still playing now that “gaming” in its various forms is so common that the Pew Research Center reports that, “Game playing is ubiquitous among Americans teenagers. Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games.” They also report, “More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind.”
We are increasingly (already?) a nation of gamers.
And yet, despite the fact that virtually all young people game, and over half the adults in the US game, there still appears to be a very finite line between “gaming” and .. everything else.Â We still delineate “real life” (RL) as separate from game spaces – even when the space isn’t actually a game space, as in Second Life.Â The skepticism and often openly hostile reaction of scorn/pity that Second Life residents get from non-SL peeps is almost remarkable considering that the very people delivering that heaping dish of disdain turn right around and log in to WoW or EVE or Farmville.
Just yesterday, in a debate about a topic wholly unrelated to gaming, someone I was arguing with bolstered his point with the concluding line:
“I think of you as less of a person for using Second Life, and for no other reason.”
Now, to be fair, we were engaged in a sort of theatrical debate where the low blow is not only acceptable but expected, and it was all said in good fun and humor, but.. like with many kinds of humor, it was funny because it had the faint ring of truth.Â Many people actually DO think less of me as a person for using Second Life, just as a decade ago they thought less of me as a person for playing EverQuest, just as a decade before that they thought I was not only insane but maybe dangerously insane for talking to strangers on the internet through those weird BBSs and MUDs full of D&D playing soon-to-be-axe-murderers.
Ahhhh how times have changed.Â The internet, she vindicated me. And ahhh how times of changed, now half the adults in the US play WoW or some other game and it’s not so crazy anymore.Â Â Alas, I’m still waiting for virtual worlds to vindicate me, but having gone through this combo-pity-scorn routine a few times, I’m not shaken by the current state of attitudes about virtual worlds, augmented reality (why would you want to look at DATA on top of the REAL WORLD on your PHONE, what’s wrong with you?!), or most of the other technologies I use that cause people to look at me askance and with wary eyes. (Twitter????Â Whaaa???)
What DOES cause me great concern, however, is that these Ludic Luddites have no clue about what’s coming.
Barry Joseph delivers the SLEDcc 2008 keynote address.
His keynote talk, Living La Vida Ludic: Why Second Life Can’t Tip, is worth watching, and it’s one of those talks that sticks in your mind like a burr, at the time it didn’t quite penetrate (I was one of the conference organizers, so my brain was on 50,000 other things) but it stuck with me, and in the years since, the message he delivered only resonates more strongly with time.
Loosely translated, it’s about living a playful life.Â It’s about combining the adventurousness, fun, openness, exploration, and all of the other joyful aspects of our game play into our “real life”.Â Â The central thesis of his keynote was that virtual worlds and other platforms like Second Life can’t and won’t tip, until the broader culture of “living la vida ludic” tips.Â One must come before the other, and back in 2008, he made it clear that the title of his talk could be taken in two ways – first, that virtual worlds like Second Life would NEVER tip – or that something was holding Second Life back from tipping into the mainstream.Â He left the question about which interpretation was right for the audience to decide, but I thought then as I do now that the answer was the latter.Â There are forces at work holding back virtual worlds, Second Life, AND the ability for us to live a ludic life as openly and as joyously as we wish we could.
Those who don’t understand not only feel scorn and pity, they feel fear.
Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis. It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.
As I said to a good friend of mine the other day, I’m struggling with this.. feeling I have, that all of the meta-narrative that stood at the very foundation of my understanding of the world – how the world works, where it’s going, where I fit into it, what I’m supposed to be doing – the meta-narrative from my childhood seems to not make much sense anymore.
The world seems off kilter.Â It’s changing so quickly, I don’t know anyone who feels like they can keep up with the pace of change.Â And so many major systems that underpin our society and culture appear to be, frankly, broken.Â On the rocks.Â Our government. Our banking and finance system. Our ecosystems.Â Our healthcare system.Â Our system of education.Â None of these systems and institutions appear to be meeting the needs of our society as we experience it TODAY.Â They all seem to be failing us.
Why?Â It’s a no brainer, of course, and not an original thought at all.Â It’s simple – the systems and institutions built to address the needs of a pre-digital-society don’t work to address the needs of a society that can get, transmit, and transform information as quickly as we can today.
And boy is that causing a lot of fear.
I feel it, don’t you?
Fortunately, the nation’s best teachers have some advice
(well, mostly the nation’s best male teachers, but that topic is for another post)
Chris Lehman at TEDxNYED explaining that changing education necessarily means changing the world. Photo credit WayneKLin.
Perhaps most importantly, the subtext of the conference was that the issues teachers and educators are facing aren’t just confined to the “educational system” – as if it’s some discrete thing disconnected from the society and culture at large – and indeed, as George Siemens said, considering that society dumps every ill and issue at the doorstep of education to solve, it’s amazing the system functions as well as it does.Â But take out the word “education” from these TEDxNYED Talks, and they are talking about what society at large needs to do to adapt to our changing circumstances.Â (The videos aren’t up yet, but they’ll be available on YouTube soon.)
At least for the purposes of this post, I think the first important piece of advice came from Michael Wesch.Â Which is simply this:
When a game changing technology enters a society or culture, you don’t have the option to opt-out.Â It changes everything.
All those Ludic Luddites, who fear the technology, avoid the technology, feel that the current systems of getting things done would work just fine if only they could better regulate, standardize, and enforce them, are just plain wrong.Â The world has shifted and there’s no turning back now.
What does this have to do with gaming?
Slide from Dan Meyers' talk at TEDxNYED - quests anyone? Photo credit kjarrett.
Well, I’m getting round to that.
As I watched these presentations and suggestions from teachers about ways to improve (society) education, I couldn’t help but see game elements – and the ludic life – infused throughout their talks.
When Dan Meyer talked about changing math curriculum to stop asking kids to give the answers, but instead help them figure out what the important questions are, itlooked like creating good game quests to me.
When Lessig and Jenkins talked about mashup culture and how destructive it is to limit the creativity unleashed when you put tools in the hands of individuals, it reminded me an awful lot of how content gets created in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim.
George Siemens at TEDxNYED. Image credit WayneKLin.
The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems â€“ (global) warming, population growth, poverty â€“ will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems.
Sounds like the serendipitous, chaotic, and unexpected connections you form in WoW, or EVE, or any other game world, and “mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions” is just fancy talk for good class balance.Â Can’t have too many tanks and not enough healers or the whole thing comes crashing down.
Ok.Â And one more, also from George:
The big battles of history around democracy, individual rights, fairness, and equality are now being fought in the digital world. Technology is philosophy. Technology is ideology. The choices programmers make in software, or legislators make in copyright, give boundaries to permissible connection.
This is, of course, the perennial battle between the game players and the game gods. Except wait, what?Â The whole story of the birth of the US is all about us being our own game gods.Â Hm.
In any case, the point here is, I think the Ludic Life is starting to tip.
We haven’t hit it just quite yet, but the elements of game play that Barry talked about in 2008 are starting to show up in the oddest of places.Â The World Bank is funding an Alternative/Augmented Reality Game called EVOKE that has thousands of people, from school kids to adults, and from all over the world, playing a “game” that promises to teach us how to address major global issues and respond to global crisis.Â Oh, and you might win scholarships, grants, or seed funding from the World Bank if you have a good idea.Â Put that on your resume!
What happens when game devs (working for corporations?) become our primary social engineers instead of the nominally elected politicians?
Naturally,Â I’m interested in the ways that game mechanics, game culture, game concepts, and game design filter out and influence RL.Â And though I work in higher education, my undergrad degree is in Political Science and my not-so-secret passion is sort of the nexus where the emerging metaverse and game culture is changing “real life” society and culture, which of course includes education but goes beyond edu, too.
I know I’m not the first guild master to think that herding this bunch of cats is way more complicated than many RL jobs, or to realize the skills I learned adventuring with my guildies often had applicability to real life situations. I’d like to think I learned something about teamwork, diplomacy, compromise, and all sorts of organizational, strategic, tactical, and political skills through my journeys in worlds that only exist in bits and bytes.
Generally speaking, my career, my work, this blog, everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is about bringing this technology to people who don’t have it/know about it/use it yet.
But watching that video gives me the willies.
First, because I don’t think it is as far off in time as some think it might be.Â Second, because I don’t think it’s that far fetched in terms of what could actually come to pass.Â And third, because I’ve been a lowly peon player in the game god universes/metaverses for a really really long time.Â On an old BBS I’m still using, I’m one of the “moderators”.Â And you know what we say?Â This ain’t a democracy.Â Don’t like our rules, don’t play.
Furthermore, my post the other day about Stickybits demonstrates just how quickly the barriers to privacy are falling.Â I posted that barcode just to figure out how the service worked, and before I knew it, I was collecting the home addresses of my blog readers without even realizing what I’d done.
Want me to know your home address?Â Go ahead, download the app to your smartphone and scan that barcode.Â I’ll get an email within a minute or so letting me know you scanned it, and where you were on the planet when you did, right down to the address and a lovely Google Map pinpointing your exact geo-location.
And I guess I should award you 5 points if you scan it.Â Redeemable for..Â I don’t know what yet.Â An hour long private tour of Second Life, I guess.
And now I’ve broken the #1 rule of the 140 character metaverse, which is to make a really really long post and get to the end and not have any answers.
I don’t know exactly what train we’re on here, but the train seems to be moving ever faster and faster.Â And I worry more and more about who’s driving the train, and I have a sort of sick feeling that about half of the passengers have no clue that they are even on THIS train – I think they think they’re on a different train entirely, and that they’re driving it.Â But they aren’t.
As much as I love gaming, and I do love it, I’m not so sure I want Crest giving me points for brushing my teeth.Â I think I’ll have to come back to this.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears.