Massively multiplayer online games (MOGs) come in many shapes and sizes, from EverQuest to City of Heroes to Second Life to The Sims Online. But no matter how self-contained a MOG is designed to be (it's a sliding scale), these virtual worlds consistently end up coloring outside the lines of simple fun and games.
Like Jurassic Park with avatars instead of dinosaurs, players routinely pour over the designers' intended boundaries and take over the park, at least partially (hat tip to Jeff Goldblum). This really miffs some of the hardcore gamers whose immersion is disturbed by glimpses of the workaday world outside, not to mention those gaming companies that want to put a smackdown on secondary markets for virtual goods.
The whole thing is rather complicated, what with its who's who of legal, creative and ethical issues. What does seem clear is that as the degree of freedom and quality of simulation within digital environments rises, the pressures of real life suggest new capabilities in areas ranging from education to business to rapid prototyping to military training to dating.
The Virtual Space theme of this year's Accelerating Change conference explores the future of reality gaming and massively multiplayer environments by bringing together some of the most savvy and visionary thinkers on the topic of digital worlds which embrace the real world. Will Wright, creator of The Sims, and Cory Ondrejka, Second Life developer, will provide keynote presentations that should not be missed--"Games as Prosthetics for the Imagination" (Will), and "Living the Dream: Business, Community and Innovation at the Dawn of Digital Worlds" (Cory).
Following Will's talk there will be a debate entitled "Real Money in Virtual Economies: The Future of User-Created Content" between Jack Emmert (lead designer of City of Heroes) and Steve Salyer (new President of Internet Gaming Entertainment--the world's largest secondary market for virtual goods and currencies), and including Cory Ondrejka.
Similarly focused speakers include Nova Barlow (online community consultant and forecaster), Robert Gehorsam (There and the Earth military simulation), Keith Halper (Kuma Reality Games), Robin Harper (University participation and learning in Second Life--Wired News article), and Clark Aldrich (Simulation and the Future of Learning).
For more conference information and a full list of speakers go to http://www.accelerating.org/ac2004. Early registration ends on September 30th.