Monday, December 04, 2006

And the Fork ran away with the Spoon ...

I am reading The State of Play- Law, Games and Virtual Worlds and today found Chapter 11, There is No Spoon, authored by Yochai Benkler to be particularly intriguing. Yochai is a brilliant scholar, albeit verbose (have you *read* Wealth of Networks?), but he opens the essay with a simple yet disconcerting sentence:
Virtual worlds are like The Matrix.
Yochai argues that virtual worlds are no more than three primary elements: an interface, a platform for play, and a platform for human connection and collaboration. Does he really mean "there is no spoon"? That's it? I have my doubts here.

I agree, those are primary elements - like elements on a periodic table for the chemistry of a virtual world - but are they the *only* elements? Certainly not. They are necessary, but not sufficient to define the scope of a virtual world. And, like any other world (implying some form of life), there are elements to the virtual world, and there are attendant forces (let's say policies) that define the behavior and properties of those elements in combination and interaction. One way of looking at those policies is to understand the interactions in Second Life such as property rights and relations.

Yochai argues that the question as to whether property rights should be afforded to Second Life is a *game* design question, not a policy question. Design? A game can be designed, a virtual world, however cannot - nay, should not - be designed. [We could explore a treatise on evolution versus creationism here, but his discussion would rapidly degrade so I will stick to Yochai's essay.] It is this distinction, or rather lack there of, that I argue undermines Yochai's perspective. If Second Life were merely a game, the value of property rights would be arguably unimportant insomuch as there was no value in that which cannot be used for individual gain.

Yochai suggests that Second Life has a basic design characteristic similar to Wikipedia - one of a collaborative creation platform. I don't know how much time Yochai has spent in Second Life, but I think he would be hard pressed to find anyone that has tried to actually collaborate on a build that the underlying design premise is a platform for collaboration. He does, however, touch on a more intriguing and relevant point.
Whether there are beneficial effects to introducing exclusive rights, on the other hand, depends on how one understands the motivation of the participants.
Herein lies the true debate. Games have goals and objectives, shared or otherwise, these motivate participants to participate and in some cases collaborate. What, then, are the motivations of Second Life residents?

I would argue that motivations are driven by needs, and needs can be classified and categorized much as they are in the real world. And by now, you may be seeing a theme emerge in this blog.
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