Today marked the first day of conferences at the State of Play V conference in Singapore. Organized by Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, New York Law School, Trinity University, and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, the conference on virtual worlds invites experts across disciplines to discuss the future of cyberspace and the impact of these new immersive, social online environments on education, law, politics and society.
As per this SoP’s mandate, panels featured more than just the “usual suspects,” the primarily Western voices which have dominated games scholarship thus far. While both established and upcoming Western voices do seem to be making up a significant portion of attendees to the conference, many Asian countries have come – most notably from Singapore, Korea and China.
Prior to the panel sessions, we were addressed by a senior official from the Singaporean government. Dr. Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts, said that the importance for collaboration in games, noting the “drive to tap into the digital age.”
The first session, 'Building Businesses in Virtual Worlds', dealt with those businesses grown inside of worlds, but also those which are being brought inside. Second Life mogul Guntram Graef, said that corporations may need to “exit the magic circle,” in order to succeed. Jerry Paffendorf of Electric Sheep Company also encouraged corporations and developers to look at how they might use unique intellectual property and stories created within games.
Meanwhile, Thomas Malaby answered the predominantly business-oriented tone to the session by asking a question: could game-making be becoming less about gamers, and more about the corporations attracted?
The second session, 'Regulating Virtual Worlds', focused strongly on the different issues inherent to applying nationally and internationally binding laws to game spaces. Charles Lim Aeng Chang, of the Singapore Attorney General’s office, explored the issue of accommodating local governments, an idea which seemed immediately rebuffed.
David Post complained over the absence of in-game legal systems. Addressing game developers as “Ye Olde Game Gods,” he asked when developers would take the issue of online law seriously, most especially by enforcing player-made decisions. Richard Bartle then pointed out that most often, players don’t actually want laws – just as “most people like Gods to not do much.”
'Education, Kids and Teens in Virtual Worlds' examined some of the past, current and future classroom applications to games. Aaron Delwiche presented his courses which brought players into MMO spaces, while Angeline Khoo and others described certain areas where playing games actually taught difficult and emotional life lessons. You know, gank and be ganked. Not mentioned overly in the discussion on education was Harvard University’s Berkman Center, which had premiered at the SoP their initiative to teach essential life skills through the learning of poker.
While many people are exploring games as an educational tool, Dr. K. Pelly Periasamy of Nanyang Technological University asked a simple and pertinent question: “Is it applicable to the real world? The feel among the panelists was that games do hold limits as an educational tool, though there are also immense opportunities.
Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation brought up her concerns, asking whether some ‘new’ game theory may be “replicating rather than pushing the edges,” using established themes rather than exploring the untested. She also said that now is the time to do such research – as worldwide interest, and more importantly the resultant funding, will only last so long.
The final session worked on the topic of 'Connecting East and West'. The prolific Allen Varney moderated. Referring to their rapid growth, he suggested that event hosts “Singapore will surprise us.” Joshua Fouts reminded attendees that while we may all get excited over the numbers in World of Warcraft, it’s still just roughly half as large as its counterparts in Asian virtual worlds.
This was also the first session to include a translator. Judge Unggi Yoon of Korea spoke at length on how Korean culture influenced, but then was in turn changed, by games. He also spoke on the reasons behind the development of the PC Baang, or Korean PC room, saying that many sprung up and were run by individuals and families who had been struck hard by the Asian financial crisis.
What was fascinating about Judge Unggi Yoon’s speech is that a room full of bustling academics fell almost completely silent. Even if only for a moment, it seemed that the vision of this conference had been realized. East and West are sharing with one another.