There is more about games than competition…

I’m working on my final written assignment for the Gamification Course at Coursera (our professor is Kevin Werbach, The Wharton School, Univ. of Pennsylvania). One of the most inspiring comments were made during the interview by Werbach of Amy Jo Kim, an expert in game design, gamification and and ‘the development of social architectures’.
On the question about the future of gamification, she answered:

I think what we see right now is the awakening of what will be a much bigger and longer trend, and I don’t think it will be called gamification cuz I don’t think it’ll be one thing. I think it will be many different techniques that are inspired by games, that get embedded in different ways in software. So short answer is, I think the word will go away but the wave will only grow bigger and will become an integral part of most software.

Werbach asked about Richard Bartle‘s notion of player types – something which is also much discussed by virtual worlds experts. In Bartle’s player type model for Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOG) we distinguish:
– achievers, acting on the world, wanting recognition for their achievements.
– explorers, those who want to interact with the world.
– socializers: those who want primarily to interact with other players.
– killers: they not just want to win, but want to totally vanquish and destroy other players. Or they can control a group by playing a very crucial role, like that of a healer, keeping the whole team together.

Amy Jo Kim warns that while useful for a specific kind of game, Bartle’s model as such is not useful in other contexts – like in most gamification contexts (which are not games in themselves, but where elements and gaming design principles are being used). She works with ‘social engagement verbs’:

Very similarly, there’s competing, collaborating, exploring, and expressing. Explore is right out of Bartle, so that one is similar. Competing is similar to the achievers, but more specific. Collaborating is very much what he calls socializers, but with a very game perspective. (…) and then what Bartle didn’t talk about at all that is a huge driver in social media and social gaming is self-expression. That one was missing. And the drive toward self-expression. For many people, that’s a primary player
type.

This is crucial, as for instance young moms or middle-aged moms will respond more to collaborative mechanics and social mechanics. Which is very interesting, as games do not have to be zero-sum games. There is competitive gaming, but there are also collaborative games. Games such as The Sims and The Sims Online, or Rock Band (she worked on those games) don’t have quantifiable outcomes. ‘You just keep playing’. Amy Jo Kim defines those games as a structured experience with rules and goals that’s fun to play. ‘Rules and goals are pretty critical, fun to play is pretty critical, or at least pleasant, engaging.’
I think what she describes is very interesting for gamification in general, it really broadens our vision of what ‘games’ are, and I guess it could also be applied to open-ended virtual worlds, such as Second Life or OpenSim.
Here you see Amy Jo Kim during Google Tech Talks about applying game mechanics to functional software:

How relevant is an avatar?

What does it mean to be an avatar? Or should we say to ‘have’ an avatar? And what is an avatar: the thumbnail on a Twitter of Facebook account? The 3D characters in World of Warcraft or in Second Life? The textual description of a character in a text-only roleplaying environment?

In a comment on ‘The Metaverse is dead, long live shared creative spaces’, Caliburn Susanto says:

There are those of us (definitely a minority) who acclimate quickly to enjoying the 3-D online environment AS an avatar (as opposed to USING an avatar). Some people — the “niche market” everyone speaks of — have a Gestalt moment early on when the avatar stops being “it” (a cursor with arms and legs) and becomes “me.” From that point forward the humanity comes through and immersion becomes possible. The person’s character and emotions flow through his or her individualized puppet and the environment stops being a game (for lack of a better term) and becomes a place, a world. For most people (and I’ve tried with friends and acquaintances with very little success!) such immersion is foreign and even unpleasant.

I have the feeling that representation of self in digital environments is important – but how to learn more about it? One way to study this could be ethnography, so I bought Ethnography and Virtual Worlds, by Tom Boellstorff, Bonnie Nardi, Celia Pearce and T.L. Taylor.

Bookcover Ethnography and virtual worlds

The publishers at Princeton University Press say this is a concise, comprehensive, and practical guide for students, teachers, designers, and scholars interested in using ethnographic methods to study online virtual worlds, including both game and nongame environments.

The focus of the handbook is on ‘virtual worlds’, meaning:
– places that have a sense of worldliness
– multi-user (shared environments, synchronous communication and interaction)
– persistent (they continue to exist also when players log off)
– allowing players to embody themselves (usually as avatars)

Which means that for instance Facebook is not a virtual world, because of the lack of worldliness and embodiment (even though in Facebook or linked to Facebook there are virtual worlds). So a possible tension is that the results of research in for instance Second Life are only relevant to that particular environment (or maybe even relevant to specific communities in that world). So will such research learn us something about for instance online collaborative learning on forums and blogs, rather than in a virtual world as defined above?

Chapter One, Why this Handbook, concludes by saying:

Many of the many contributions of virtual world ethnography is to broaden this conversation by showing how forms of technologically mediated sociality shape and are shaped by the contemporary context.

Which sounds nice, but the question remains: will data about how people use avatars in World of Warcraft learn us something beyond World of Warcraft? If I find out, I’ll post it here – and don’t hesitate sharing your experiences in this regard!

The metaverse is dead. Long live shared creative spaces!

Linden Lab, the company behind the virtual world Second Life, is about to launch two non-Second Life products: Creatorverse and Patterns. Creatorverse is an iPad-app:

Patterns will be a ‘new 3D creative environment’. Virtual World-watcher Wagner James Au says on New World Notes that Linden Lab no longer has as mission to make an online world ‘that advances the human condition’ but rather specializes in ‘shared creative spaces’ – not in facilitating the emergence of the metaverse. For those who forgot about the metaverse – which seems these days a bit like an antiquated idea – Wikipedia defines it as thus:

The Metaverse is our collective online shared space, created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and physically persistent virtual space, including the sum of all virtual worlds, augmented reality, and the internet. The word metaverse is a portmanteau of the prefix “meta” (meaning “beyond”) and “universe” and is typically used to describe the concept of a future iteration of the internet, made up of persistent, shared, 3D virtual spaces linked into a perceived virtual universe.

Second Life is stagnating, at least not growing like Californian tech companies are supposed to growth (that being said, it seems to be profitable). I’ve been fascinated by that virtual world since about 2007, as it allows to transcend geographical and maybe even cultural distances. It enables people to meet, avatar-wise, in shared and persistent spaces. It has a creative and liberal culture – the world is almost entirely created by its ‘residents’. For a while I thought that maybe the future internet would look like a sophisticated Second Life, and that 2D-objects such as websites would simply be a part of that metaverse.

In the meantime I realized that it’s a niche culture. At first it was believed that Second Life, as a user-generated, free culture for (mainly) adults did not go mainstream because of management and marketing errors. There were other attempts to create a open-ended, user-generated worlds, such as Lively (Google), Metaplace.com (Raph Koster), Blue Mars, which failed. Other worlds are still very much alive such as OpenSim (like Second Life, but open source), the very new Cloud Party (browser-based) and Jibe (an embeddable virtual environment, visit Reactiongrid’s new site). I like projects such as OpenSim and Jibe, but those are even more niche than Second Life (and often the users/residents are former Second Life people).

Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Patrick Moya museum in the virtual world Cloud Party

Some think that virtual environments will gain traction once they are browser-based (no hefty downloads) and are made easier to use. I’m sceptical: while I feel comfortable in a virtual environment and as an avatar, for many others it’s an uncanny experience, especially in a professional context. I have the feeling that it is about the representation of oneself and others, about identities, not about technical hurdles.

It seems to be different for online games which of course did go mainstream, also for adult audiences – but then again, these are games, not open ended user generated worlds. Minecraft is very popular, but it’s more a game (while there are game environments inside Second Life, the world itself is not a game). As it is explained on the Minecraft site:

I strongly believe that all good stories have a conflict, and that all good games tell a good story regardless of if it’s pre-written or emergent. Free building mode is fine and dandy, but for many people it will ultimately become boring once you’ve got it figured out. It’s like playing a first person shooter in god mode, or giving yourself infinite funds in a strategy game.. a lack of challenge kills the fun.

Still, I do like this notion of virtual shared creative spaces. It is exactly what we’ll need in many different contexts, as globalization increases dramatically and the technological possibilities multiply exponentially. But there is competition. Just suppose you want to link up with other people, elsewhere in the world, for a project or even a joint venture. You don’t have the budget for a high-end videoconferencing system. I guess that Google+ Hangout – with its videoconferencing features, screensharing, chat-possibilities, apps, network, possibility to save the conference and with links with the other Google goodies would do a very nice job. It even is free.
My guess is that you’ll mainly use the Google-stuff. A virtual environment? Maybe to create 3D-objects together, if that would be your line of business or educational project. Or as a fun experiment. Or for a simulation.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of these possibilities. Especially not because I’m a firm believer in the importance of developments such as 3D printing. Creating 3D objects together, or at least experiencing 3D prototypes in a virtual environment might very well be very interesting. But I would not call it ‘the metaverse’.

Sometimes, the reputable university press wins out

Interesting. George Siemens, together with Bonnie Stewart and Dave Cormier have agreed (and been contracted) to write for Johns Hopkins University Press. George Siemens launched the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in 2008 (with Stephen Downes). His book, about the scope and nature of higher education (HE) change, will not be open. So how does a believer in open education such as Siemens deal with this? Easy: by publishing the field notes on a blog (http://www.xedbook.com/). In the discussion about the publication decisions the ‘admin’ answers to objections:

We made a tradeoff between openness/impact and reputable press. Based on who we are hoping to impact with this book, the reputable university press won out. It may well be a non-sensical decision.

(hat tip to Stephen Downes for mentioning this development on his blog/newsletter).
This being said, Siemens together with Rory McGreal facilitates a real MOOC about Openness in Education. It started on September 10 and runs for 12 weeks. The MOOC ‘will explore openness in education – its roots, its growing influence, and economic and systemic impact.’ There is still time to register.
Still confused about what a MOOC actually is? There is a page about MOOCs in the peeragogy.org handbook, and here is a video conversation between Howard Rheingold and George Siemens. A nice quote about that memorable first MOOC in 2008 (which also had a cohort in Second Life): ‘It’s the internet. People did what they wanted to do.’

The Rapture of the Nerds

I’ve just finished reading The Rapture of the Nerds, written by Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow. It’s an often almost dream-like book about life in the era of the technological singularity. Wikipedia explains:

The technological singularity is the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human superintelligence through technological means.Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood.

However, followers of Ray Kurzweil, better have some sense of humor reading this book as it is a comic novel.
It often is even hilarious, and especially those who have experienced life in user-generated virtual worlds such as Second Life or Open Sim will have a good time reading this stuff. Charlie Stross and Cory Doctorow are very interesting authors, who did some serious thinking about the issue of singularity and it seems they are very sceptical about it (Stross maybe even more than Doctorow). Here you find a wide-ranging interview with blogger, activist and author Doctorow:

Also visit Charlies’s Diary, being the blog of Charles Stross, and then try to comment there: you’ll be linked to an interesting Google Group where Stross interacts with his readers. He seems to use the Google Group to avoid the spam.
At The WELL you can participate in a forum discussion with both authors.

Cloud Party needs a party and some fun games

There is a new kid in the town of the virtual environments: Cloud Party. I visited the place regularly since Wagner James Au posted about it a few weeks ago on New World Notes. He explains:

Cloud Party is a new 3D virtual world on Facebook now in open Beta that’s described as “a world built by people like you”. It just apparently went online, so I’ve only explored a few minutes, but as you can see above, it’s got the look and feel of Second Life circa 2003. That’s no surprise, because Second Life co-founder Cory Ondrejka (who’s now with Facebook), and Cryptic Studio’s ex-CTO Bruce Rogers, who founded a startup called Walletin with Cory before also joining Facebook with Ondrejka, are investors and advisors to Cloud Party.

There’s a wiki with tutorials for residents and builders. People are building pretty awesome stuff:

a view on a cloud party world

The world of Lilli Thompson at Cloud Party

I enter the new environment on a daily basis as it fascinates me. I can do this in our newsroom, the firewall does not prevent me from entering Cloud Party, it is effortless as it’s just using an url. There seem to be always some people at the Beginner Zone, where avid builders experiment continuously. It’s exciting to watch, as it looks like the beginning of a kind of new Second Life. I visited the forums, one of them is called “What lessons from other virtual worlds do you want Cloud Party Inc. to know about?”

I did have some lessons in mind, but I refrained from posting them there as they are not really very constructive. However, I did react on a post by Wagner James Au on the New World Notes, about SL artists like Aristide Depres creating interactive experiences in Cloud Party. This was my reaction:

It’s fascinating and yes, the fact that it could eventually interest some Facebook-users is great, as is the fact that no downloads are needed.

However, I guess I’m still a bit traumatized by the Blue Mars experience, the Lively-failure and the Metaplace shut-down.

As it happens, many of the users of Blue Mars and Metaplace were already part of the unfortunately smallish group of people who are interested in open-ended, user-generated virtual environments.

Often they belonged to the even smaller group of ‘builders’ in those environments.

However, at the end someone asks tough questions about ROI and things like that, and projects which only gain traction among some hundreds of participants are not very likely to be interesting business-wise.

So, visiting Cloud Party and counting there about twenty to thirty people, I have my doubts, even though the project is still very young. Of course, I do hope I’m wrong and that the project will succeed.

So my first reaction was rather hesitant, but I’ve to confess I’m going more often to Cloud Party these days than to other virtual worlds such as Second Life. I had some interesting in-world discussions (which continued via Facebook), helping me to reflect about my stance regarding virtual worlds.
I’m still fascinated by this stuff, but no longer convinced it’s the cutting edge of the web or the internet, and not convinced at all it’ll gain much traction – which explains why my blogging about virtual worlds has slowed down considerably.

What really interests me is how virtual stuff can find its way to the physical world (via 3D printing or augmented reality-style mobile apps for instance). These days it’s all about local, mobile and social. While these open-ended environments are very social (but not necessarily involving the people you do know already in the physical world), as yet they are neither local nor mobile.

There is somehow a link between Cloud Party and the physical world because participants are linked through Facebook and their ‘real identities’, but what lacks is a reason for non-building and non-scripting people (let’s say the overwhelming majority of mankind and the people on Facebook) to give it a try. I guess that the people launching these worlds are software wizards, and they tend to sympathize with other coding and building enthusiasts, which is all right of course – as long as they don’t forget most people don’t consider building or coding as party-time. I remember statistics about Second Life, showing that a majority of residents are socializers rather than builders, and Cloud Party urgently needs something to attract those socializers – by organizing events maybe (no, I did not mean a workshop about Blender, Maya or 3Ds Max), or by promoting some simple but cleverly designed game. Maybe, at the very least, they should introduce some more gamification elements to incite people to learn how to build and script.

Mind-blowing books, interviews about Avatars, Otaku

Professor Henry Jenkins published the second part of his interview with his colleague Beth Coleman about avatars and the x-reality (the thing we live in when we constantly switch back and forth from digital space to what we used to call the ‘real world’). I also read Coleman’s book Hello Avatar: Rise of the Networked Generation.

About everything in the interviews and the book is very important to me (also have a look at my Storify of the interview). It’s a deep meditation about the power of co-presence in participatory culture:

Telepresence, or what I am calling copresence (the sense of being present with someone via mediation), is huge for participatory culture. We are moving unerringly toward a more graphic and increasingly real-time mediation. One of the things I underscore in the book is the idea that people in their everyday engagement of networked media create all kinds of innovation and intervention.

Beth Coleman puts all the stuff I care about in a very rich context of the history of gaming, virtuality, but also of cultural studies and philosophy (yes, even the French philosopher Jacques Derrida is mentioned as is the French thinker Jean Baudrillard).

I was just recovering from the book and the tremendous interview when I noticed that Jenkins posted yet another fascinating post, about Otaku culture:

(…) the culture of a technologically literate segment of the population which is characterized by their impassioned engagement, skilled reworking, and intellectual mastery over elements borrowed from many aspects of popular culture, including not only anime and manga, but also games, popular music, digital culture, even history or trains.

William Gibson, the author who coined the word ‘cyberculture’, writes in Distrust That Particular Flavor:

Understanding otaku-hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the Web. There is something profoundly postnational about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the postmodern world, whether we want to be or not.

Jenkins now reports the publication of Fandom Unbound: Otaku Culture in a Connected World, edited by Mizuko Ito, Daisuke Okabe, and Izumi Tsuji, and bringing together works by leading Japanese and western researchers interested in Otaku culture as both a national and transnational phenomenon.

I’ve the impression many people who are knowledgeable in all kinds of web and mobile technologies often are no longer aware of the culture and literature of  ‘cyberspace’ – which is a shame, as I think it’s crucial for creativity to combine technical expertise with in-depth knowledge of the humanities (literature, philosophy, sociology, anthropology…) as it relates to the disruptive change toward a networked society. Not just creativity in the sense of inventing yet another location-based social network, but the kind of creativity which gave us the iPhone and the iPad.

Anyway, here is a nice video about Otaku which you can also find on Aca-Fan, Jenkins’ site:

MOOCs in Space

Over at the Massive Online Open Course (MOOC) A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour people seem to have a really great time. I’m just lurking at their P2PU site, but go there too and have a look at pictures about the game EVE Online which is a a player-driven, persistent-world Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game (MMORPG) set in a science fiction space setting.

Also have a look at the slideshow on Flickr.

Interesting stuff I noted: the MOOC uses Google+ for orientations in Second Life and MMORPGs. Google+ is also being used by the community of co-learners around Howard Rheingold and even though there are limitations (one cannot participate in a Hangout with more than 10 people), it’s really a very interesting collaboration platform, enabling audio, video, screen-sharing, text chat… for free.

Read also: Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

Where is your avatar, anyway?

These last few days were very rich in eye-opening news events and posts – enabling us to get a better view on fundamental changes in media and technology. An overview:

Virtual Worlds, Games and Education (another MOOC!)

There is a true explosion going on in open online learning. I don’t know whether it’s always “massive” as in Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), but anyway, there is a lot happening out there.

I don’t have statistics about how many projects there are, nor about the total number of participants and how many “succeed”. One of the issues here is that the definitions are not obvious. When do we say something is “massive”? What does it mean to “succeed”? The other issue is that I don’t care. I just feel that there is so much going on that I cannot find the time to blog about it all. For instance, I did not yet find the time to report about the MOOC  A Virtual Worlds, Games and Education Tour.

You’ll notice that the above link directs you to a site on P2PU, which is The Peer 2 Peer University:

a grassroots open education project that organizes learning outside of institutional walls and gives learners recognition for their achievements. P2PU creates a model for lifelong learning alongside traditional formal higher education. Leveraging the internet and educational materials openly available online, P2PU enables high-quality low-cost education opportunities. P2PU – learning for everyone, by everyone about almost anything.

The participants conduct virtual world tours and exploration, study and experiment using machinima, World of Warcraft and discuss about the bleeding edge of these technologies.

Of course there is a lot of Second Life in all this, which is normal because it really is a world where about all content is being created by the “residents”, using 3D building and scripting techniques. However, the course also discusses Inworldz and New World Grid – virtual worlds based on the OpenSim software (and as such very familiar for those used to Second Life), the games EVE Online and World of Warcraft (WoW), and I guess other virtual or game environments will be discussed as well (Minecraft).

The course is very distributed, participants work in the virtual environments but also on a number of social media platforms, while the whole things is organized and commented through the P2P U site and a WordPress blog. Also have a look at the social bookmark collection at Diigo.

Lack of time prevented me from participating in this course, but I did read posts on the forums. Subjects being discussed:

– How games such as WoW manage to make missions difficult enough to be interesting but not so difficult as to chase the players away.

– How games incite players to analyze situations and to work together in teams (for raids) and in larger groups (guilds). Leadership skills are being learned and practiced which can be useful in the “real world”.

– How can sophisticated virtual world Intelligent Agents (NPCs or BOTs) be used in learning environments?

– Practical stuff about screen capturing and making video in virtual environments, and about the educational application of these practices. (In general: even for those not participating in the course, you’ll learn a lot just browsing through the posts and bookmarks, watching the videos. One also discovers tools such as Livebinder and in Livebinder this collection of tools about screen capturing and video producing in virtual and gaming environments… )

– Interesting discussions about how educators try to use and promote cutting edge technology in their work, which is not always appreciated by everyone in the institutions.

This MOOC follows on a three-day conference  about best practices for virtual worlds in education (VWBPE).  Here is the video announcing the  VWBPE conference – I like it because it illustrates how original and creative gatherings in a virtual world can be. Which makes me believe that even the further expansion of affordable and free videoconferencing will not make such virtual meetings obsolete.