Hello everyone! I write about virtual worlds at my personal blog Look In The Air
. Many of the posts are not directly related to the subject matter of this community, so I don't plan on posting everything I write to VGHVI. For topics that do overlap, I will try and add them. Thankful for the opportunity to contribute!
As I mentioned yesterday
, I just started reading From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stuart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism
by Fred Turner
. The passage below struck me as particularly interesting:
Rather than work with a transmission model of communication, in which performers or others attempt to send a message to their audience, [their] events tried to take advantage of what Gerd Stern called 'the environmental circumstance.' That is, [they] constructed all-encompassing technological environments, theatrical ecologies in which the audience was simply one species among many... [T]hey built artistic worlds just like 'God created the universe.'
Here, Turner describes the artistic techniques of the 1960s and 1970s art and media collective USCO
. Within this description, it is difficult not to see parallels with today's virtual world designers. The most obvious similarity is the reference to constructing "all-encompasing technical environments." USCO events were described as "be-ins" as the audience was to "inhabit and not simply observe the work." These environments were participatory in nature. The authors created a space for directed thinking, but did not explicitly tell the audience what to think. Fifty years ago, USCO did this through the use of slide projectors, stereo speakers, and strobe lights. Today, these environments are mediated by computer componentry: mice, keyboards, GPUs, and software: World of Warcraft, Second Life, Everquest.
A second similarity between the work of USCO artists and modern day Virtual World designers is alluded to but not readily apparent. Turner writes that, "USCO was founded on a fusion of Eastern mysticism and ecological, systems thinking
." The intended effect was to downplay individual importance and underscore the importance of interpersonal connections. Similar values, common today across many computer-mediated media, are particularly apparent in virtual world design. Different from most video games which often assign agency to a single unitary player, virtual world design reinforces the social connections between individuals. In most virtual worlds, it is quite difficult (if not impossible) to advance without the help of others. Individual races and classes are not separated, but designed in a way that makes each reliant on one another. Group success is often dependent on successfully navigating, and incorporating, the unique abilities of multiple disciplines. For instance, a raid comprised only of tanks will be just as unsuccessful as a raid comprised just of healers or DPS. Collaboration is mandated by design, silos are limited.
These values often emphasize relatively flat organizational structures. For instance, USCO artists were leaders in some sense, but they prescribed tremendous autonomy and agency to those interacting with their work. Observers were compelled to form their own conclusions and interpret USCO produced installations individually, within the constraints of the installation. This design value is observable in virtual worlds where designers often build an environment for users to act upon. World of Warcraft players are given an environment where they have significant affordances
to be highly autonomous.
This value regularly filters down into social relationships between users. Consider again a raid structure. A raid leader is designated, often as the result of a group consensus. These leaders oversee the raid structure, but each raid member is granted significant autonomy. Players are encouraged to interpret the raid on their own terms, even when class and game mechanics (and less frequently social dynamics) artificially place constraints on the player's ability to do so. Value is placed on collective effort and self-efficacy. The result is often a high degree of group success.
This success often leads to calls for similar structures in alternate organizations, particularly businesses. I see the merits, and logic of this argument. Unfortunately, I am still hazy on how this is actually implemented. Virtual worlds design these value into the environment. I am unsure if a redesign of organizational structure is enough. In the process of organizational change, I am particularly interested in how these new values are adopted across a structure with entrenched norms. I believe my next book will be Total Engagement: Using Games and Virtual Worlds to Change the way People Work and Business Compete
by Byron Reeves
. Hopefully I will find some answers there.