State of Play VI, which took place at the New York Law School on June 19-20, convened a group of outstanding scholars who conducted research on the study of various aspects of virtual worlds. The stated theme of this year’s conference, plateau, focused on the unexpected rise of the virtual worlds and multiplayer online games while posing the question of whether or not scholars have reached a limit in their understanding of virtual worlds while investigating if there are still useful questions to pursue. Having attended this outstanding conference and witnessed the vibrant discussions that took place, I can safely say, we have barely scratched the surface. Many questions that had been posed in the first State of Play are still in the agenda, albeit in different forms, and newer questions have arisen since then as a result of the changing cultural, political, and economical environments that have altered the use of virtual worlds.
As the keynote speaker, Raph Koster talked about his vision of the future of virtual worlds where one creates these spaces with the intent of democratizing the content creation. Of course worlds such as Second Life are already doing this. Users will not only be able to run multiple worlds simultaneously in their browsers under different tabs, but each world will face interesting and different legal, policy, and business challenges. He used Metaplace (his brainchild) as his personal attempt at experimenting with this vision. Other panels explored how governments could engage meaningfully with the citizens of virtual worlds; the legal issues and the economic challenges that arise in these spaces; cross-cultural interactions that take place in these environments; challenges of creating and maintaining youth spaces; security and surveillance issues that became extremely important because of the world-wide increase in terrorism; laws and governance of virtual worlds; and finally how to conduct a credible research in these newly forming environments. I would consider this a banquet of all things related to virtual worlds.
In addition to these panels, there was also “birds of a feather” sessions where participants gathered around to discuss their topics of interest (such as narrative), an in-world meet-up, called avatargame, that took place in Second Life, and a bunch of gaming stations that were set up in the hallway. Oh, did I also mention Thomas Malaby’s new book, Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life? I wouldn’t be lying if I said I was spoiled over the weekend…
Here’s a much more comprehensive coverage of the conference by Roderick Jones: State of Play: Security Seminar VI