Reuters and the Flawed Research Value of Virtual Worlds

Have a puzzling economic problem or a social program you'd like to beta test before dropping it on the American people? Reuters recommends you turn to virtual worlds as a possible test-bed for real-world policies.

In a recent article, Reuters jumped on Edward Castronova's well-trod "Metaverse as a laboratory" bandwagon, even calling up the respected Indiana University virtual worlds researcher for his thoughts on the utility of virtual worlds:

"We can do controlled experiments in virtual worlds, but we can't do that in reality," said Castronova.

"Controlled experimentation is the very best way to learn about
cause and effect. We are on the verge of developing that capacity for
human society as a whole."


To find out why Reuters is out to make Castronova skeptic Dusan Writer squirm, read on below the fold.

Continue reading Reuters and the Flawed Research Value of Virtual Worlds

Questing: UC Irvine Gets $100,000 to Study World of Warcraft

Research Week continues with the happy announcement that the Unversity of California – Irvine received a $100,000 National Science Foundation grant to study World of Warcraft. The hundred grand gift from the federal government will go to study the social and cultural aspects of online gaming – mainly how strangers come together and agree on workable groupings for quests and combat.

For more on U.C. Irvine's study and how it's going to answer some of the lingering questions related to online gaming, jump below the fold.

Continue reading Questing: UC Irvine Gets $100,000 to Study World of Warcraft

Gerard Butler’s “Gamer”: The Key to Mainstreaming Virtual Worlds?

Gameronesheet_a.0.0.0x0.400x625 I’ve been following the pending release of Gamer, the new film by Spartastic actor
Gerard Butler. As an urban hermit who hasn’t actually been to a movie theater
in months, I’m interested in the flick for reasons other than sating my popcorn
dependency.

Gamer is the latest
offering in an emergent genre of writing and film I call MMOReality – flicks
that cover the merging cultures of online games and real life.
 

If Pixels and Policy
can be accused of anything, it’s that we tend to take a rosy view on the
merging of virtual and real worlds. That said, there’s something viciously fun
about imagining all of the horrible ways the unity of web and world could go
awry.  

The genre has a proud history: Blade Runner. Minority Report. Ender’s Game. Tron. The slightly newer Tron with an overweight Jeff Bridges and
a new graphics card.
By all accounts Gamer
is good people, but that’s only half of what makes the film so compelling.
With a wide slated release and in-your-face marketing, Gamer could bring millions of new avatars to the welcoming shores
of online gaming. 

There’s nothing particularly special about Gamer. In many ways it’s a retread of The Running Man, but with Butler’s version we have average
Americans logging on to a virtual combat world as avatars. The twist? The
avatars are actually death row inmates engaged in a bloody battle royale. Any
inmate who survives 30 rounds wins his freedom. You can figure out the rest
from here.
 

Gamer is going to
provide a boost to the online gaming industry by acquainting millions in the
audience with a type of gaming experience that they may never have found
otherwise. This follows closely on the heels of a point I made in my earlier
post, Sleuths: Or How Interactive TV Makes You Smarter – the majority of consumers are introduced to new technology by
means of old technology. In this case, the theater introduces massively
multiplayer gaming.
 

Perhaps the spike in World
of Warcraft
or America’s Army
subscriptions will only be temporary, but as with all booms, a good portion may
well stick around past the initial phase of outsized expectation. Online games,
as Edward Castronova has shown, are inherently social. Once a new player is
connected, they will reach out to others in their real-world social group as a
means of augmenting and strengthening both real and virtual social networks.
 

Another recent sci-fi movie, District 9, grossed around $83 million to date. Assuming $10 per ticket
– the reason why I’m not included in any box office stats since maybe Titanic – that’s 8.3 million people. If
we figure around the same for a big-ticket name like Gerard Butler, and then
cut out a good half who may already play online games (a liberal sum to cut),
that’s still 4 million new exposures.
 

If only 10% of those go on to play an online game because of
their exposure to Gamer, that’s 400,000 new subscriptions. That’s only
slightly fewer than the current number of active accounts in Second Life. With an optimistic
prediction, we begin to see how Gamer
could bring virtual worlds and online gaming into the mainstream.
 

So, why does it matter? One big reason: If online gaming
goes mainstream, the number of innovative users and organizations with knowledge
of and access to virtual worlds spikes. As the population of players grows, so
does the potential for innovation in virtual worlds beyond entertainment.

Virtual
worlds will benefit from the economy of scale: You’re much more likely to get a
good idea for using virtual worlds in long-distance education when you have
400,000 teachers than when you only have 4,000. 

And they said we’d never learn anything from movies.

Pixels and Policy Article on Iran Featured in ‘Foreign Policy in Focus’

It's not often I get to see such instant gratification, so I'm going to make the most of it: this blog's first article, which analyzed the many ways Second Life enabled Iranian pro-democracy activists to protest long after the repressive Iranian Security Service put a crackdown on real-world demonstrations, is now featured on the Institute for Policy Studies' Foreign Policy in Focus think-tank!

Foreign Policy in Focus is a peer-reviewed online think-tank affiliated with the venerable Institute for Policy Studies, a think-tank that takes a wide view of the world's pressing foreign affairs conundrums. Having one of our pieces published with them is a great coup for us and a fantastic step to getting the serious study of virtual worlds accepted as a legitimate branch of foreign policy.

The battlegrounds and diplomacy arenas of the future will increasingly find their way online, and an understanding of the Metaverse will provide a great advantage to nations that take its study seriously.

So, thank you everyone for this first big victory!