Learning From Games

When it comes to building communities online, one of the most often overlooked examples is the world of online gaming. This is quite unfortunate, as games have some of the most powerful and successful communities around. People may be all atwitter about MySpace and YouTube and whatever other "Web 2.0" startup is hot this week, but if you want to learn how to get people organized and performing tasks via the internet, you need to look at World of Warcraft.

Gaming is often overlooked because of the perception that it's still a fringe/geek activity, but as a recently released Nielson study shows, there are over 100 million online gamers in the US, and a majority of them are female.

This definitiong of online gaming includes everything from Halo 2 to online crosswords, but these numbers speak for themselves. Online gaming has gone mainstream, and the modes of interaction it uses -- persistent identity, roles and classes, scores and levels -- have the potential to create powerful real-world action.

We're just beginning to see how some of this might take shape. At the moment, morally questionable examples like Gold Farming and real-life retaliation for online violence are grabbing headlines, another reason gaming is often overlooked. But whatever you may think of these phenomena, they indicate a huge potential.

At Chapter Three, we're hot to design systems to drive things like civic engagement and distributed research. It seems to me that the same kind of passion that moves people to buy virtual money and equipment from a Chineese "gold farmer" or to hit back in meatspace after getting killed in a game can be put to use motivating folks to investigate congress or organize charity events.

A Real Life Example: Shining Sunlight on Spouses
The upstart transparency champions The Sunlight Foundation are starting to take this track with their "citizen muckraking" work. Their latest research initiative, looking into what members of congress may be questionably employing spouses or children attaches credit for resarch findings to a user's screen name. It's not surprising to see the same names pop up. They're the top players.

This is a first baby step towards a more sophisticated social/gaming system around which information gathering and verification can be built. We'll be watching closely to see what comes next, as this is most definitely something we're looking to do with our work on the NewAssignment.Net project.

The online world is evolving rapidly, and one of the continuous trends is that it becomes increasingly interconnected with (really, a part of) the "real world." Conventional wisdom and perceptions about what goes on online -- games are for geeks, blogs are for kids -- tend to lag behind reality, sometimes by years. This is a pet peeve and constant annoyance for me, but it's also a great advantage. There are big openings for those who can recognize the reality, and the opportunity it presents, ahead of the conventional wisdom curve.