Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Gaming the Members Council

This weekend, OCLC's Members Council will meet here in Dublin. One of the topics on the agenda is gaming. Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkueler from the University of Wisconsin - Madison will discuss "The Anatomy of a Gamer" on Sunday night, and three gamers on the OCLC staff will give a real-life demo on Monday morning.

As part of the preparation for this meeting, delegates and guests were assigned several readings. My personal favorite was "Gaming the System: What Higher Education Can Learn from Multiplayer Online Worlds," written by JC Herz. Here is a quote from that essay that seems particularly relevant to the Scan:

If a gamer doesn't understand something, there is a continuously updated, distributed knowledge base maintained by a sprawling community of players from whom he can learn. "Newbies" are schooled by more skilled and experienced players. Far from being every man for himself, multiplayer online games actively foster the formation of teams, clans, guilds, and other self-organizing groups. The constructive capabilities built into games allow players to stretch the experience in new and unexpected directions, to extend the play value of the game, and in so doing garner status (custom maps, levels, characters, and game modifications are all forms of social currency that accrue to the creators of custom content, as they are shared among players.) ... Of course, not all players roll up their sleeves and write plug-ins. But if even 1% contribute to the innovation of the product, even if they are only making minor, incremental improvements or subtle tweaks, that's ten thousand people in research and development.
This is the most fascinating thing about the whole gamer gestalt to me. The idea of creating new universes with their own social, cultural, and financial systems, just blows me away. A few years ago, someone who created his own universe was shuffled off to the laughing academy. Now, he is celebrated as a citizen of a "persistent multiplayer online world."

And, I suddenly realize in one of those Homer Simpson moments, therein lies the difference. The person who created his own universe in the olden days (say, before 1992) was the only inhabitant of that universe. Now, there are score of thousands of people living right there with him!

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