John Seely Brown brings a technologist’s eye to what World of Warcraft and its online siblings portend. There’s a lot that a brief article in Wired can’t take account of (for instance, just for starters, “why not learn to improvise from materials at hand in a physical environment, like camping or hiking?”), but I agree that Brown is onto something. His article and Don’s that I cited yesterday both point to a dimension of MMORPG (“massively multi-player online role-playing games”) participation that frequently eludes detractors: that these games can cultivate a sense of cooperation and mutual respect among very diverse participants. I stress the word “can,” because that cooperative respect isn’t automatic; it may indeed be rare, as a sizable proportion of participants monomaniacally pursue selfish wealth and advancement.
Still, there can be much more going on than meets the casual eye. I maintain strong reservations about the game, but (for now) an even stronger interest in just what’s developing as increasing numbers of bright, inventive, cordial people encounter one another online. (Witness the scintillating thinking that shimmers around the Terranova community, for just one example.)
So participating in MMORPGs does not magically inculcate leadership, cooperation, and adaptive effectiveness, nor do MMORPGs present the only sphere within which to learn such capacities — contra one possible reading of Brown’s piece. But attentive observers have shown increasing interest in possible positive dimensions of MMORPGs, and I reckon that we’ll see increasing appreciation for them as the idea becomes less alien.
I still have to write the (a) review and (b) ethical reflection on Warcraft — I think about them a lot — but Don Park and John Seely Brown signal that something’s happening here.
Disclosure Statement: I’m a Guild Administrator in Joi Ito’s “We Know” guild on Eitrigg, one of the Warcraft realms; that gives me a particular investment in foregrounding positive social dimensions of the guild and the environment.