State of Play: Day 2

Last night we were treated to a sumptuous and delicious dinner at Singapore Zoo, and then taken on a night safari. Tigers, lions, hippos, giraffes… but no gnus. Oh yes, there were no velociraptors sighted on the tour. As a Costa Rican, I’m always conscious about the inherent dangers built into wild-life tours.

Understanding Virtual World Inhabitants. Rather interesting session about social research on virtual worlds. The panel included Henrik Bennetsen (Stanford Humanities Lab), Ian Lamont (Computerworld), Thomas Malaby, (University of Wisconsin Milwaukee), and Aleks Krotoski from the Guardian’s Games Blog. The discussion centred on the research conducted on the many types of research conducted on MMOs and virtual worlds, and Alekx gave data on gender distribution, (roughly 80%-20% in most games, but it is more equal in SL and WoW). I have this theory that those games are indeed popular BECAUSE they are the ones with the real women, but I did not want to put it forward to the panel. Interestingly, games like EVE Online have gender distributions of 95% males (it’s all about the ships and explosions).

Space, Place, and Culture Inside Virtual Worlds. Spaces, architectures, property in virtual worlds, dealing with issues of architecture, design, input and information in-game. There was a lot of discussion on the management of the concepts of space in worlds where the concept does not necessarily mean the same as it does to us, and where one can build different space-time continua (or is it continui?)
My favourite presentation in this panel was actually one that did not fit in it. Jeff Malpas, a philosopher with the University of Tasmania, gave one of the most trhougt-provoking and challenging talks of the conference. He was interested in talking about the underlying principles for the analysis of virtual domains, and he began by challenging those present about their preconceptions, or to be more accurate, their lack of proper analytical frameworks when dealing with some of the research subjects involved. His research interest lies mostly on the philosophy of place and the structure of space. I agree that there is a marked lack of a conceptual framework, but I disagree that there is so much of a methodological quagmire. Despite protestations from philosophers, some people conducting research in the area do know what they are doing, and they are using tried and tested methodological tools from their disciplines.
He made a mention about the autonomous nature of virtual worlds from the real world, and he commented that there is no such thing, which seemed to generate certain animosity from parts of the audience. Virtual worlds are tied in with real worlds (I agree thoroughly with this). He did mention Hobbes and social contracts, and how these may explain regulation and the acceptance of in-game rules governing virtual worlds. Players, by taking part, express their consent on this social contract. I found this part rather less straightforward. I’m suspicious when philosophers mention Hobbes and not Rousseau when talking about social contracts. Besides, the philosophy of law has moved considerably since then, but I digress. His last point was about the polictics of the game, why should worlds be democratic? Why should there be any sense of democratic entitlement by players?
Yee Fen Lim, presented an excellent legal analysis of looking at virtual land with the same tools awarded to real land, and looking at how property is defined in common law. I’m not sure I agree, but it was thought-provoking.

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