blurring boundaries between real and virtual worlds


Ted Castranova has a fascinating post up on Terra Nova entitled "The Horde is Evil," in which he argues that the Horde races on World of Warcraft are "on the whole evil," and that this has moral implications for avatar choices:

I've advanced two controversial positions: that avatar choice is not a neutral thing from the standpoint of personal integrity, and that the Horde, in World of Warcraft, is evil. Nobody agrees, but it's been suggested that the community could chew on this a bit.

So here's my view: When a real person chooses an evil avatar, he or she should be conscious of the evil inherent in the role. There are good reasons for playing evil characters - to give others an opportunity to be good, to help tell a story, to explore the nature of evil. But when the avatar is a considered an expression of self, in a social environment, then deliberately choosing a wicked character is itself a (modestly) wicked act.

I don't agree with Castranova (my horde character is a Tauren, a peaceful bison-like creature that lives in a Native American-inspired cultural context), nor do many of the commenters--but the issues he brings up are powerful and interesting, and the lengthy discussion in the comments is well worth reading.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between "real life" and "game life," since I have personal and/or professional relationships with most of the people in my World of Warcraft guild, including both of my children. Castranova's argument, in which he bolsters his argument by citing his 3-year-old's reaction to his undead character, relates directly to those boundary-crossing issues.

When I was playing online on Monday, Joi said that he thought World of Warcraft was becoming the "new golf" for the technology set. I think there's some truth in that, but it brings with it all kinds of additional social pressures and complexities, of which avatar racial choices are only the beginning. I think there's some fertile ground for research in that boundary area, the crossover between the real and game worlds, and the extent to which they influence each other.


I agree with you -- to wholesale define the Horde as evil isn't right. Yes, there are some people who see it as such and are particularly drawn to that as a gaming choice, others who see the Horde as misunderstood (characterized as evil in the eyes of the Alliance) and still others who see some of the Horde quite differently from the rest.

I'll go take a look at this discussion after I've finished getting the girls their haircuts -- thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Liz-- I'm also curious about the values judgment of choosing to play WoW as a family at all-- vs. any of the "serious games" recently highlighted by the Christian Science Monitor. Granted, I don't think they are as of yet "massively multiplayer."

The brillance of hackers, is increasingly rooted in how individuals learn how to navigate virtual enviroments with hacker aptitudes rooted in gaming culture: but what happens to moral development when it intersects with age old social instability?

A recent experience from the Greek cyber world, demonstrates an old age conflict between Left wing greeks and westerners: Margaret Papandreou had her privacy disregared, and her emails stolen from her computer. The emails where to her son, the then foreign minister of Greece, and concerned issues around the NATO bombing of Serbia.

I think this article by Margaret Papandreou touches upon how lack of regard to privacy can twart eastern and central europe into political chaos. When individuals increasingly disregard privacy, the idea of how the violations are used, can create unpredictible social reactions, including new forms of New Media Disequiveillant Vigilantism: the phenomena of happy slapping, which is immature but effectively violent, can become a form in which disquiveillance is used to excert power and intimidation over other individuals.

The hackers should not have cooperated with a political organization to steal Margaret's emails. I do not think that this has yet to play out, and represents what happens when hackers act as blackhats.

It may become that the public surveillance systems will be coopted by individuals with ill intent,especially persons who take the law into their own hands. If we begin to disregard for what is considered good practice in maintaining autonomy for individuals, then we will rapidly see a new emphasis upon group dynamics that go beyond informant and peer pressure culture, but a european return to political systems that can be destabilizing with the consequences of extreme centralization without meaningful distribution of power and information due the inability to freely be private and have free thoughts.

So hence, those who are beginning to see Sousveillance, there is tremendous responsibility to be considerate, and avoid situations that undermine free networks and openess: also, persons should be able to defend their privacy, but this should be universal and the technical means to do so, freely distrubuted, and easy to learn (ie. such as blogging and eventually moblogging)

The hackers who stole Mrs Papandreou's emails for political gain, have set a very bad example, and as persons begin to protest, they should be mindful of the fragility of our democracies: they may be more fragile than it may appear on the surface, and disquiveillance can create tremendous instabilities; (think the recent riots in Paris, with text message coordinated violence)

So will gaming create a different society after several generations with different Piagetian experiences?

Horde characters might have a wicked look but they certainly can't be defined as the evil side, evil side would be the bosses we're farming

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This page contains a single entry published on December 28, 2005 2:09 PM.

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