It’s not the emptiness, it’s the loneliness

 

In August I attended the State of  Play conference here in  Singapore.  Historically, a conference founded by some
‘legal folks’, State of Play is now a rather eclectic and, at the same time,
interesting mix of both the original ‘legal folk’ interspersed with gamers,
educators, people representing the emerging virtual world creators and other
interested and curious onlookers. It’s
interesting to note that this seemingly bizarre mix of people is somewhat
indicative of the current landscape – a landscape that, whilst changing and
evolving on a par with the technical innovations making it all possible,
crosses over and overlaps with a myriad of social, technological and even philosophical
disciplines and implications.

 

The panels and associated
discussions reflected this as did the effusing small groups that gathered and
reverberated during the coffee breaks and over the rather good lunches and
dinners. Despite the diversity of conversation there was this almost bizarre
meta layer (to use a term that seems rather appropriate) to all the discussions
World of Warcraft – a subject that a only a few years ago would have made
little or no sense to almost anyone was now (to a large extent) binding
together one of the most intellectually gifted and diverse group of people I
have ever had the privilege to be part of.

 

Whilst the notion of
gaming and, indeed, collaborative gaming is not new, the advent of, at first,
the internet and subsequently vast processor power and fat data pipes into the
living room and bedroom has meant a paradigm shift in the nature and level of
engagement and taken the activity from places and environments few of us may
have ventured into the desktops and laptops of children, teachers, work
colleagues and CEO’s. As one of the
well-established conference attendees so poignantly put it, “World of Warcraft
is the new golf”.

 

My thoughts during the
conference were as many and varied as were the discussions and it was only on
the third day that I found myself saying something that I realized as I said it
for me, at least, captures an underlying theme – a foundation even – of what
makes this whole thing so exciting and important.

 

It was during a workshop
where a few of the conference stragglers were having an informal discussion
about commercial opportunities and applications in Second Life and other
virtual worlds. One of perceived
problems with Second Life and perhaps one of the main points raised by Second
Life’s band of detractors is the large number of empty areas, specifically
those areas created and built by large organizations, some of whom have
desperately tried to get on board the Second Life speeding train with little or
no thought about why they were doing it. Several participants alluded to these ‘empty’ spaces and whilst there is
much that can be said on this subject my point is simple. It’s not that these places are ‘empty’ that
has bothered me when I’ve wandered through the branded 3-D landscape often with
little more than 2-D web pages stuck on the side of 3-D objects, it’s that I am
lonely. What perturbs me is not that the
creator may not be engaging me sufficiently with content and experiences that
really should have been better thought through, it’s that there is no-one else
sharing the experience with me.

 

And it is for this reason
that we should be taking World of Warcraft, Second Life and all other community
based spaces including 2-D social networking sites such as facebook very
seriously. Whilst we are all
increasingly accustomed to the functionality, access and opportunities the
internet offers us, the possibility to do all those things and other things
that people have not even thought about yet, with our friends, with people we
have not met before, be it join a common interest group on facebook or hang out
and share an experience in Second Life or go on a raid in World of Warcraft, is
what makes these spaces wonderfully exciting and hugely important.

 

During the first dot com
boom many people and companies went a bit wrong trying to invent human needs
and activities that might fit the technology. World of Warcraft, Second Life and facebook simply enable us, as human
beings, to do what we have wanted to do for a long time and feel what we want
to feel day to day.

 

Golf anyone?

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