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Session 3: John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas, "The Play of Imagination"

SESSION THREE: KEYNOTE ADDRESS John Seely Brown and Doug Thomas, ?The Play of Imagination?

Here are my notes on JSB?s talk on collaborative learning communities and remix possibilities in the life in the digital age?building, tinkering, learning and sharing. I?ve added some comments of my own, plus some urls that follow out the references in each talk and lead to more information on these topics.

Consuming/producing---(prosumption, in theory speak).

Remix & Mashup: creative tinkering and the play of imagination.
Modding . . .
Remixing Matrix as The Narutrix. .. parody or advertisement? Take a look:

Web 2.0 as a participatory medium-----?an emerging network-centric platform to support distributed, collaborative and cumulative creation by its users??John Hagel

Google map/earth mashup from citizens on the ground (for more info, watch the ?Katrina after the Storm? event on, Sept 28-30, sponsored by UIUC)---individuals beat FEMA for charting, locating, documenting, disaster and dispersion.

How do we look more seriously at technology about what we do for love? The example JSB makes is to the pro-amateur class of astronomer. Niche communities of co-creation, learning and sharing: by sharing telescopic digital images, they are also creating internet blogs, Yahoo groups, data bases, inc amateurs watching skies twenty-four hours a day, so any part of the earth that is dark is sending images around the world, to make collaborative view communities and science that also have perfected the practices of professionals while combining the collaborative affective communities that most professionals would envy. In fact, the professionals are reading what the amateurs are blogging. And even accepting their work and honoring it. So now the learning is working bidirectionally between amateurs and professionals. Again, an emerging and emergent learning community.

Open Source: In his days beginning of computer science, to be a hero was to write code no one could penetrate. Now, the social and intellectual capital of code is to be open, open system, open community, and community building practices that are far greater than the sum of the parts.

ARGUMENT: He believes more kids are learning computer science through on-line collaborative learning communities than in universities.

Cathy: I agree. This has huge implications for higher education. How do we in higher education draw these kinds of intellectual energies?

Neil Gershenfeld?s course ?How to Make (almost) Anything.?
As many humanists as scientists taking this course.

Check it out:

?Hyperbolic Tree Browser?: an experiential media browser that allows one to move through half-space and continue to map browsing

Next step is to take this browser form and turn it into a graphic novel with the same massively complex trees of knowledge . . .

Doug Thomas, Associate Professor in the School of Communications at USC, on ?The Play of Imagination.?
Doug?s bio:

Here are my notes on Thomas?s presentation:

His paper is on the complexity of player experience in MMOG?s (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), with focus on World of Warcraft. //

Avatar-based games that represent both the player and avatar, with systems of quests or missions for advancement.

[Hey! Only three people in the SECT audience acknowledged that they play World of Warcraft. That itself is pretty darn interesting.]

Social support structure is built up around WoW . . . inc support for someone going through divorce (partly because he was spending too much playing WoW).

Doug is showing us WoW and begins by alking abut the kind of character you can be : do you kill? Are you good guys or bad guys? You choose your race, your size, but no advantage to being male or female.

I (Cathy) think what would be interesting, of course, is to both be a Level 15 player (i.e. you have mastered all skills you need in this game) and be a cultural theorist who could understand the implications of social networking, role playing, gaming, and other features of the game.

It would be interesting to put together this presentation with Anne Balsamo?s earlier one so we could really think together about playing games and analyzing game play. Tim Lenoir?s How They Got Game course or the new first-year gaming interdisciplinary program at Duke: Game2Know

But to really do this, also requires new classrooms, new technologies, that capture game play and allow extended analysis.

Game should be over in a few weeks but people play for years because of the social interactions. What are the social contracts existing between players?
Movies based on WoW:, produce

Designers of WoW had no idea that so many millions would play, that average age would be 28 (not 16), that people would play 22 hours a week. (See work by Nick Yee on this subject, Yee does interesting work looking at such things as how interactional norms (e.g., gaze aversion, interpersonal distance) persist in game play. However, his work (like that of the also excellent work by Edward Castranova) could be interestingly inflected by more specific cultural features.
In addition to Yee?s work, I recommend you read him along with Edward Castranova, who talks about the social life of gaming in a quite US-centric fashion, and then Anne Allison, Millenial Monsters, who emphasizes the cultural aspects of game play and the international/globalized/non-US centric export and importation of games, toys, images, animes, aesthetics, morales, and social networks.

What are the virtual responsibilities and lessons learned in these game spaces? What do people learn when they play games? Parents and educators who object to the time kids spend online may be neglecting the social contracts and networks and obligations of game play.

I (Cathy) am very curious about the psycho-social relays between player/avatar/and non-playing person (and "person" here is an extremely complex and flexible construct of player/person/avatar, so far as I'm concerned). Even in writing this blog, I find myself continually shifting roles between the reporter and the comnmentator in a way that is psychically interesting----I am trying to be careful to keep my own theories and opinions and commentary distinct from the comments I am recording by JSB and DT. But I know that the very language in which I am recording their ideas is probably as much about me as them. When I then project that another level into the gaming universe, the solidity and the permeability of the player/avatar/non-playing person becomes even more complex. I think of "star studies" in film theory, where the "star" is and is not the actor, the "star" is and is not the person upon whom celebrity status is projected.

What happens when the esteem one receives in WoW and other games goes away when the player stops playing? What is the overlay of identity and status on the psyche of the player? If the playing stops, and a person is simply a person, not a player and not an avatar, what happens to one's relationships outside the game? When are the questions of social and moral commitment within the game in friction with the same morals outside the game? What is the carryover and what is the tension?

Ninja-looting . . . social consequences when someone purloins qualities and virtues of others lost during the game.

The Order of Twilight Guild Conduct is fifteen pages long---rules of conduct by which all players must abide to be part of the community.

The case of Sara Andrews: a transsexual performance artist and WoW player who goes into the Barrens and says they are creating a guild for non-homophobic, non-racist, etc. Blizzard says if she does this again, she will be excluded WoW privileges since her behavior causes racist, homophobic reactions from fourteen year-old boys. She gets mad and starts posting her conversations and the responses.

But this is fascinating since we?ve been told that gender doesn?t matter in the game. Does it not matter because gender is assumed to be male? Thomas prints a piece by a WoW community that ends ?hell, we?re all gay in the World of Warcraft.? (Where?s Eve Sedgwick?)

Interestingly, Blizzard eventually apologizes to Sara Andrews and also insists on non-homophobic sensitivity training for WoW masters. Is this for billion dollar profits? Or is this something deeper culturally?

Thomas argues that MMogs are spaces of supplementarity . .

What happens AFK (Away from Keyboard)? Or in Biobreaks (i.e. bathroom, food)? How do these embody MMOG relations? There is more here than identity play and far more complex than the binary of ?real? and ?virtual? space. There is a Derridean deconstruction here, a tearing down of structures, between player and avatar.

Mark Turner: Works on higher order cognition and gaming. MMOG?s are blended spaces in Turner?s sense where there are no conflicts between virtual and actual.

Working hypothesis---we create meaning and understanding in

Interesting: Thomas says there are two kinds of questions: (1) How much transfers from the game to the world
Or, more interesting: (2) Does how you imagine in the game transfer to how you imagine in the real world?

Game-Based Agency: Develops an ?ensemble? where winning or losing is less important than Collective Emergent Action---esp interesting is the ability of an ensemble to deal with the unexpected or unknown.

?Learning occurs when two radically different spaces (virtual and physical) each vividly embodied, offer up points of experiential convergence (a trigger) which invites (or requires (reflection and active use of the imagination to translate meaning from one space to the other.



Audience member: The talk collapses one hundred years of research in multiple areas, including public schools, theories of play, imagination, etc. How new is this? Perhaps gaming the old-fashioned way was more interesting? What if old-fashioned play was more interesting because play WAS the world? Every time you played a soccer game and ran away with the ball there was an ethical issue there. And there were rules of conduct. But we must be more respectful of fact that human beings have been doing this a long time . . .

Thomas doesn?t disagree with this comment , but is interested in what we can learn about new forms of learning and its relationship to formal education.

Our effort is not to collapse things but to think through differences and what is new here. How can we find that? Work and play, valued and not-valued? Entertainment and work? He wants to look at supplementarity, not collapse.

[But, hey, media scholar Constance Penley is sitting next to me and she?s been talking about these issues for a long time and brilliantly. tp://]

JSB: What in this form of virtual play may be a new trigger on innovation? He raises the issue that analogical thinking is not the only way to learn. How can we reframe the discussion in order to understand what the games do.

DT: We need to understand play.

JSB: It?s important for innovation.

Audience Member: These are heavy pedagogical tools but should or could one teach an ethics course on WoW?

DT: Another question might be how you teach ethics by lecturing someone? He says ou only teach ethics experientially. [But, if this is true, he has just refuted himself because he has been talking about simultaneity of worlds. So why must ethics be experiential? Isn?t lecturing a virtual experience? Or is it real? ]

He taught a class in a gaming environment where teacher had to get out of the way because it was useful for students to guide themselves. He found students wrote the best exams, best papers, after reading Haraway and others and then finding examples in their game environment. They were learning from one another.
[Again, this happened in the IMPS room too in How They Got Game. Students captured their own out-of-class game play and then annotated and analyzed it for class presentations based on theoretical readings.]

Audience Member: Are there bgames without war and violence?

DT: Yes, games like PeaceMaker, on solutions to Israeli-Arob controversy.

But do these sell millions and millions of copies? Can it even be capitalized? That is another question.

I would suggest anyone interested in this issue take a look at the Serious Games Initiative.

Anne Balsamo recommends Cloud:

Audience Member: How can you talk about social responsibility and ethics when ultimate aim is to kill?

DT: Aim isn?t killing but acquisition of capitalist goods. [Audience laughter.] He says WoW isn?t about ethical behavior. It is making people think about ethical behavior when killing . . . he wishes Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney would think more about ethical behavior when killing. He is saying, instead, that gaming does is invites people to think about what constitutes ethical behavior. How do you create a challenging game where expertise is not based on killing?

Audience Member: (And it?s Constance Penley) She was struck by similarity of discussion to other discussions of flash fan culture, which is almost entirely female---collaboration, social networks, gift economy, etc etc. What would make DT?s approach and findings new is to say that boys and men can do this too!

DT: What he says is different is that, inWoW, the players constitute the game itself. This is a different from flash fan culture or Hebdidgean subculture.

JSB: We?re thinking a lot out of co-lateral learning, such as taking indigenous tribes and introduce them to point of view of Western science? Notion of a trigger space is interesting in thinking about indigenous learning.

CP: She would say that fan slash is also remaking, remixing, inventing.

Audience member: He goes back to example of amateur astronomers. And wants other examples. And in games, how can we take away the center of the game (gaming warring content) and no specificity of the players (they are anonymous). Aren?t there specific communities?

JSB: Amateur astronomers are also creating their own communities of practice. Evolving a practice of looking. He?s interested in the interplay of theorists and practitioners of looking.

Audience member: Isn?t the center of the game strategy and tactics, rather than violence and war? Why is it any different than chess or go? Why not more focus on game-play mechanics?

\DT: Two things drive me crazy: One is when the only thing someone knows about gaming is Grand Theft Auto and they then want to pretend to have an intelligence conversation on gaming operating from that realm of prejudice and opinion not rooted in any kind of knowledge. And the other is name World of Warcraft. It isn't really about warcraft only, but many different strategic decisions of great complexity. Imagine chess where every player is a pawn and in other respects every player is powerful too and where everyone has agency. That is the central part of the game and it is enormously complicated. Your agency is limited by my agency and propelled by it. . .

JSB: Negotiations become so complex that it is an ensemble, a magical moment of collaboration and cooperation that predicates and affords collaborative thinking.

DT: A good soccer game is almost a MMOG.

Audience Member: You are talking about how it effects learning. What about how it effects knowing? What will knowing be in world of hyperbolic browser? What should we as teachers consider knowing in a world of relational interfaces and shifting ground?

DT: A moment of destabilized knowledge and games are a reflection of that. How we respond to it is very interesting. We come to a place like SECT to understand this. Like all technological change, there?s good, there?s bad, and it?s never as much so at either end as we think it is. Knowledge is always in crisis---that?s its definition.

JSB: What is happening here is indicative. People not normally interested in constructing stuff is coming here. Building artifacts that require multiple disciplines, come together around concrete objects that are a negotiation in practice. It defines half of what we?re doing this week at SECT.

Audience Member: Sara Anderson story. What does this mean?

DT: Blizzrd didn?t think anyone would defend her and then surprised at community reaction in support of Sara.

JSB: Multiuser games and unintended consequences. Wish Washington would understand this.

Audience Member: How to make knowledge when we have very different interfaces?

JSB: We need to switch from knowledge to knowing, what affords knowing? V. knowledge qua knowledge.

Audience Member: Cinematic aspects of WoW. We know when this lecture is finished because it is over, the book ends, but what about WoW and nature of a permanent or open ending? How does this connect to notions of narrative?

DT: Developers haven?t figured out to go beyond an ending except by adding new levels. Except that, when you get up to the top level, that is when game gets interesting. Like dance party for WoW, a new game, new events, the ongoing dance party.

JSB: Notion of game as platform.

DT: Here is Second Life. Just some land to build whatever you want on it. When you show up in Second Life, you need aguide, no clue what to do.

Audience Member: Curious about role of developers.

DT: Game development is a weird area. He did ethnography of developers and he was shocked that they thought about little else except what it takes to make money now, this week. Developers disavow responsibility for the game. Difficult to talk about them. At Sony, they are contractually bound not to talk about notion of addiction to press, media, or anyone else. They can be fired for this.

JSB: He thinks this is a dark view. Not Will Wright (Sims).

Wrap up by Anne Balsamo: What do we do when we think of WoW? It?s cultural worth, work to be done on how do we attend culturally for 8 million people in WoW and War on Terrorism? That is a project out there. How do we connect and account for simulataeity of these cultures? Soldiers online,Military on line? Agency and sociality? What do we mean with these terms? Do we need to multiply our taxonomies of agency and sociality? Methodological issues in game studies? How do we capture professional media so we can come back to it and study it? Do you have to be a gamer to understand games? Participant-observer techniques? Critical engagement with WoW is great and they need to take it up, and take it seriously and engage it. If average age is 28, tis is a culture our peers are engaging in. Issues of historical antecedents, with history of fan cultures, with other methodologies, relation of scholar to fan culture. How would you build a game differently? How would you build a game paradigm that wouldn?t depend on killing and capitalism? How would we begin thinking and rethinking paradigms? Dispositions in gamers?poker players, dominos, or WoW, and must reharse what you just did: we should have played that X sooner? Sensibility of rehearsal. I would kill to have that among their students!! How can we as educators capture THAT?


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