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  1. 1. Conclusion If knowledge can create problems, it is not through ignorance that we can solve them. - Isaac Asimov In February 2008, I attended the Summit for Triple Helix Innovation in Hawaii, a discussion among academics, scientists and government officials aimed at improving collaboration between these sectors in the name of fostering inter-disciplinary innovation. I did a talk on collaboration in virtual worlds that was very well-received, but what I was really struck by (aside from how amazing spiders are) were the considerations of ‘the other five billion’; the vast majority of people on this planet who as yet have no access to the networked world so many of us take for granted. I view this time of transition as an opportunity to learn as much as possible about what is good about extant digital spaces, and to use those data to engineer spaces that foster even broader cooperation amongst previously disconnected individuals. When I read through the reams of data I have collected throughout this study, the thing that strikes me most is the collective passion with which everyone expresses their feelings about these new interactive media and the impacts on individual lives. Games, in particular, have piqued our interest, for they represent entirely new modes of interaction that service some very basic needs. What we have not perhaps considered is how we can invite the rest of the world’s members to join these play spaces: certainly low-fi cell phone based games are a possibility in some developing areas, and combined with economic incentives, could be a mechanism for pulling some individuals out of poverty. What is clear to me is that there are myriad possibilities for building out global play spaces that encourage interaction, collaboration and co-creation, and yes, economic development.
  2. 2. I began this thesis with a quote about vision. Throughout history the best futurists have been those who have been able to marry a keen understanding of the present with a fascination for how our present might converge into future. Sometimes this forward- looking proclivity comes from an internal optimism whilst others fret about the future, especially regarding the ‘perils’ of technology. I fall into the former camp, obviously, because I think I am particularly well situated to weigh the beauty of these emerging communities against the more visibly negative minorities. Despite popular notions about digital games, in my mind they represent many things that are good about our changing world: Games are a productive context for research not only in terms of what they reveal about cognition (such as problem solving and its meaning) and the characteristics and features of successful and sustainable online communities, but also in terms of what they can tell us (as both culture and cultural artifact) about life in a world that is increasingly globalized and networked (Steinkuehler, 2005b, p. 8) Media scholars frequently worry about the power of media and its perpetrators to affect the docile and disenfranchised. What I have tried to demonstrate in this thesis, however, is that recent movements in media demonstrate a desire to be involved, and reflect a power that has toppled many a media hegemony even in recent months, just in the past two years (a number of traditional media and economic vehicles are also disappearing, denoting a period of transition 1). But beyond that, they demonstrate what can happen to people and their expectations of how their involvement might play out in worlds both virtual and physical. As I write this conclusion in the early 2009, the United States have just experienced a presidential race of historic proportions whose success many pundits attribute to the Internet and increasing connectedness between previously disenfranchised individuals 2. Similarly, many young people in the 1980s and 1990s were enormously disaffected by politics and apathy among Gen X and Y had been 1 2
  3. 3. pervasive. Yet something is clearly happening. A relatively inexperienced black U.S. senator hired a former Facebook employee and made tens of million dollars online via $15 donations given by individuals who had previously eschewed political participation 3 . Strangely this all came as a surprise to older generations, and observers world-wide, though the youthful tsunami that fueled President Obama’s campaign worked quietly and tirelessly till November 4th, 2008 when Obama’s landslide victory thrilled a nation that had lost hope and a sense of possibility. The country was shocked. As recently as 2004, groups like the Center for Social Media bemoaned the disconnection of youth from the public domain, calling it a ‘participation gap’: Over a 25-year span, the national rate of voter participation experienced a 9 percent drop among all age groups, but double that - an 18 percent decrease. for voters ages 18-24 (Montgomery, Gottlieg-Robles, & Larson, 2004, p. 7) However, within this set of issues, they foresaw a potential solution: that the Internet might play a huge role in encouraging young people to be more engaged civically. And that’s exactly what happened during this election, and continues to be leveraged in Obama’s subsequent service campaign. The opportunity was ripe. What they may not have expected is that participation, while measured in terms of specific political activity, is often prepared for via participation in other, less serious activities. Yes, even the much vilified gaming. Each small effort to participate, when reinforced with an appropriate response, encourages the participant to engage further, and more deeply. Even something as seemingly frivolous as organizing a naked race in a virtual world can serve to impart an important visceral message that one has the power to create change, that one’s personal agency is incontrovertible. Sending in a news story to CNN via email and seeing it broadcasted with credit given to the citizen iReporter 4 with their cell phone camera is a powerful mechanism that puts power back in the hands of the media 3 4
  4. 4. consumer, now media producer as well. Developing this sense of agency in the world goes a long way towards combating the apathy that had become all too pervasive. In the coming months and years I would like to continue to develop a model around productive play, perhaps by mapping a segmentation onto those proclivities that will help to predict how players are likely to engage, and to what degree they are aware of subtle achievements, learning and transformations that might be gained. Increasing self-awareness through reflection (Boud 1985; Marsick 1992) accompanying play might be an important part of the equation moving forward. Certainly promoting teacher and parental awareness is critical, so some of this reflection (how do you feel about mowing down those pedestrians in Grand Theft Auto, Johnny?) should occur naturally. I am completely convinced that the opportunities to marry digital play spaces with existing knowledge bases is huge and will represent a profound shift in the way we learn and internalize that learning. Cognition is not data in/data out, but rather a holistic set of processes that play experiences are particularly well suited to (Hawkins 2004, 2005, Pinker 2005 a, 2005b, et al). Beyond thinking about games for learning and personal and collective transformation, I am interested in how play, game cultures, and indeed the mechanics of gaming have changed the way we approach the world. If we were to extend the culture of an average server on City of Heroes to the physical world, would it represent a microcosm of some larger, perhaps prescribed, reality, or something different entirely? Could it be considered a blueprint for a beneficial and collaborative society? Recent research into the role of play in our lives suggests that play might be less of a literal preparation for life, and more of a mechanism for the development of overall brain flexibility, as well as more holistic capabilities (Henig, 2008). As Pat Kane suggests (2005), a more playful society could well be the key to solving many of the world’s problems. It seems slightly ridiculous, for instance, that we even fight physical wars anymore, when there are mechanisms to challenge one another without hurting real people (penalties could be economic?).
  5. 5. Like Plato and Dewey, my concern with learning is that it is the way in which we evolve as individuals, and how this evolution can potentially lead to improvements in our human ecosystem, including our various institutions like work and school. As George Siemens comments (2004), considering a better model for school, for instance, might benefit from studies such as this, where we can look at how people from youth to the elderly learn in digital spaces. We know that survival in our crowded, inter-dependent world is based on our ability to adapt to our socio-cultural contexts: to collaborate, cooperate, reduce waste, find efficiency, and generally work together more effectively. As economist Edward Castronova says in the conclusion to his book, Exodus to the Virtual World, our forays into digital spaces may well represent a model for a new society based on such values: The coming exodus into virtual worlds will force us to change. The society that emerges in the real world will have to become more fun than the society we have now. Because games and virtual worlds have learned how to help people learn and work and socialize while having fun, the new society will probably be better educated, more productive, and more civically engaged. I hope we will parent as well or better. Our task is to prepare for the revolution by further developing the new science of fun policy, seeing what we can accomplish with the tools that virtual world designers have created. Doing so, we will improve our understanding of the world to come. More important, though, we may well discover some new, exciting, and beneficial things about how our society works, and how it can make every one of us happier (Castronova, 2007, p. 208) As outlined in Chapter 4, this study centered around a handful of core research questions. I believe these questions have been more than adequately addressed, and there is also a significant body of data that allows them to be explored even more thoroughly in the future: 0How players self-organise into temporary and more permanent groupings and assist each other in learning the intricacies of a world.
  6. 6. 1- These practices were documented, players articulated the nuances of the experiences, and subtleties around etiquette, communication and meaning-making were explored. The findings corresponded to expected theoretical foundations, as outlined in Chapters 1-3. 2How players contribute to the world and meta-world environment, and how developers/publishers respond to these contributions. 3- The meta-game, in addition to the game world itself, were explored and documented, from the perspectives of players, developers and fan producers 4How socio-cultural literacy develops in the context of a world, and how the worlds develop and regulate unique cultures and values. 5- Myriad examples of the foundational game and cultural elements were provided and tied into broader theoretical memes as much as possible 6What a successful group looks like in terms of etiquette, roles and social norms. 7- Player expectations around these constructs were explored 8How skills developed in virtual worlds might be leveraged into real-life contexts. 9- Examples of both how this has been achieved and how it might be achieved were provided 10What implications virtual worlds suggest for learning programmes in business and educational settings. 11- Some possible ideas and examples were provided 12What, if any, are the possibilities for transfer, transformation and indeed, greater social good? 13- Only the tip of the iceberg ‘was explored, but some examples of ‘transformational learning’ and ‘sanctuary’ were covered, and future directions anticipated.
  7. 7. It is my sincere hope and belief w.that with guidance and reflection from parents, teachers, and yes, our digital communities at large, positive experiences in virtual environments will find ongoing transference to our physical environments, that we will learn to harness the best of all worlds into one reality that encompasses both physical and virtual dimensions. It is also imperative that media literacies (Buckingham and Sefton-Green 1997) across analogue and digital spaces be part of any educational curriculum. My vision for the future includes a time when we will no longer debate whether a relationship that takes place in a virtual reality is real or not. I imagine a day when we will not scapegoat digital games as the source of societal ills, but will instead consistently look to thornier issues of poverty, education and nutrition for clues into what troubles our youth (Williams 2004), and then look further to try to understand the nature of the satisfactions and possibilities (Aarseth 2003,Salen and Zimmerman 2004) they are finding in digital spaces. For one thing, these technologies and the spaces surrounding them afford amazing new opportunities for transformational learning, a possibility that has yet to be explored to any significant degree. I look forward to the day when we can anticipate a bright future in which everyone can realize their potential, in which everyone is given many opportunities to try on a range of identities and roles until they find the one that suits them best. I would love for game developers to be inspired to make some amazing games (McGonigal et al, 2008), especially ones that can dovetail effectively with state and national curricula, and that leverage what games do best: create sandbox environments that allow learners to experience and therefore learn deeply, not simply memorise facts out of context. But most of all I look forward to a world in which we really can depend again on our communities to help us learn, support us in times of need, and fuel us through collective endeavours that help us understand what it means to contribute and belong, and I do believe that digital games are a way in which many kids, geeks and non-geeks alike, are developing these capabilities. One of the primary motivators in life is being needed. Yet I would argue that it is the thing that has been missing these last few decades as the distance between people, their families and communities has widened, and the reason I believe people
  8. 8. have gravitated towards the Internet with such fervor as a result of losing other mechanisms for community and participation (Putnam 1995; Steinkuehler and Williams 2006). However, I would argue these places are more than just the third places of yore: they represent a way in which we can reconnect with our collective spirit, the absence of which leaves us bored, depressed and feeling hopeless. Perhaps as Barack Obama says, it is audacious to hope, but without a sense of optimism about our future, without the ability to believe that the bad might outweigh the good, then what is the way forward? We can vilify games, or ignore them, but what we need is more studies that define what works and doesn’t in digital game environments, and applies those finding to tough educational and social issues. I hope this thesis is a start for other researchers passionate about these possibilities. In digital spaces like Terra Nova (, the conversation continues… I posit that at the core there is no real boundary between the virtual and the real phenomenologies. Both are publicly accessible and both contain real social interactions, and real values, both create group histories, group/collective memories and so on and so forth. Both allow group creation of products, values etc... Both allow the corruption of everything that can be created both within and out of the virtual. So your statement paraded as a question (rhetorical?): 'are we that opaque mass that happily accepts meaningless substitutes for meaning' There is as much 'meaning' in the virtual as in the 'real'. Note that the distinction real and virtual is purely technological: i.e. what sustains the phenomena. Whichever way you look at it, even if reality is deconstructed, as has been done not only by the recent post modern left bank western philosophers, and by a whole series of really ancient Asian philosophies e.g. advaita vedantism, buddhism, non-dualism etc... reality and virtuality are indeed on the same difference, both functionally and epistemologically. I have always been very surprised at the endless posts about 'hey
  9. 9. what are you doing in the virtual world? Get a real life' I am still thinking why some people find 'reality' more meaningful than 'virtuality' (Ramesh Raloll 5) Even more importantly, the future is bright as our physical and virtual worlds become more and more connected, with more and more participants, and a deeper, native understanding of what these worlds are about, and the opportunities they afford. I do think it is mandatory that parents and educators and pundits invest a bit of time in actually experiencing the environments I’ve described in this document. What they will find is a frontier ripe with possibility, full of players whose emotional investments in these spaces are surprisingly profound. We can’t underestimate the power of these experiences; further research clearly needs to be done, but I hope this thesis is a useful snapshot of a culture in time, and might provide inspiration to other scholars interested in these arenas. Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. In a networked world, the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins. When knowledge is subject to paucity, the process of assessing worthiness is assumed to be intrinsic to learning. When knowledge is abundant, the rapid evaluation of knowledge is important. Additional concerns arise from the rapid increase in information. In today’s environment, action is often needed without personal learning – that is, we need to act by drawing information outside of our primary knowledge. The ability to synthesize and recognize connections and patterns is a valuable skill (Siemens 2006). What stories do you have to tell? How can you help connect the dots to other formal efforts to produce happy, well-adjusted citizens? There is much work to be done with these gifts we have cleverly unearthed, these incredible technological tools we have that can create better, brighter worlds based on values encompassing collaboration, 5
  10. 10. cooperation, humor, tolerance, and yes, love. Our talents are profound; it is only faith and vision that we lack. Let’s do what we can to believe. Having begun with a quote, I will also end with a couple. Thank you for reading. “Play is the only way the highest intelligence of humankind can unfold.” -Joseph Chilton “Play fair. Don't hit people. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody.” -Robert Fulghum