The Speaker And The Setting
When I reflect on the entire experience -- from conception of the initiative to completion of the lecture -- I think that there are a number of things I have learned.
First, when your young analysts come running to you telling you about all the wonders, threats and opportunities of virtual worlds, listen to them. It is a tech thing so, of course, it is hyped and overblown, but there is something important going on here beyond the mere confines of a "game".
Second, we all still have time to wrap our arms around it. The tech and the trends have not gotten so far out in front of the community that surprises are inevitable. This train is moving fast, though. Without proper resources to understand the phenomena and its possibilities, surprises not only become inevitable but increasingly likely to be unpleasant ones.
Third, right now, what problems that exist appear to be fundamentally white collar law enforcement issues. It takes a good deal of economic sophistication, knowledgeable players of the games or inhabitants of the virtual worlds and access to a high speed telecoms infrastructure to make any real mischief. That's all it takes, though. Anyone (or any group) that meets these criteria could figure out how to use the economics of these worlds for their purposes. The odds of this happening go up significantly as time goes on and as the worlds get bigger.
Fourth, the best way of monitoring and controlling any potential problems is not through draconian laws and knee-jerk enforcement mechanisms. It is through the owners of the platforms and the participants themselves. Like house owners in a nice neighborhood, they are the ones with the most to lose if the hoodlums move in. They are also in the best position to spot stuff that is more than just out of the ordinary -- that is just plain wrong. It is about applying the Community Oriented Policing Model to virtual worlds...
Fifth, and finally, the educational opportunities here are enormous. The potential to expose students to new concepts or to reinforce theory with hands-on application existed at every turn of this experience. The fact that today's student is so open to this kind of learning makes the possibilities even more exciting. To paraphrase James Gee at Arizona State University, what is a game but a big test? If you figure out how to make learning as exciting and interesting as some of these games and virtual worlds are to the players, you have a truly powerful new force in education.