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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on January 2, 2008
I read and thoroughly enjoyed Castronova's first book on the subject: Synthetic Worlds. And, as in SW, Castronova is at is strongest in Exodus when he explains the "realness" of virtual worlds. The main thesis of Exodus is that because synthetic worlds are more fun, people will increasingly choose to spend time in them over the real world, and that, eventually, the real world must remodel itself, taking cues from virtual worlds; eventually the real world must become more fun. Exodus, though it has a few interesting new contributions, is terribly repetitive book that takes way too long getting to the substantial points. When it finally does, it is shallow in its descriptions and analyses of how, exactly, the exodus to synthetic worlds is going to radically affect the real world.

The biggest flaw (among the several I found in the book) is Castronova's thesis itself - that the real world will eventually have to model itself on synthetic worlds. The flaw is evident in his use of "migration" as the metaphor for what's going on with synthetic worlds. He explains that a family migrates from Old Country to New Country, and then tells its friends back in Old how great New is. Eventually, after hearing how great New is over and again, those that stayed put in Old put pressure on their government to change the country, to make it more like New. Castronova provides no historical examples of this, and I don't know my history well enough to know if this is how it has happened in the past, but the flaw in the metaphor is, and Castronova admits this himself, that the synthetic migration isn't physical, and therefore not permanent. It's super-easy to switch from real to synthetic, or among various synthetic worlds. This undermines not just his metaphor, but his entire argument...

A better metaphor, one that incorporates the ease of movement between places/activities, would be engagement in different activities, like sports: I play baseball when I want to hit home runs; I play football when I want to score touchdowns; I don't complain that I can't hit a home run in football. Or even more broadly: I go to the gym to work out; I go to the library to study. I don't complain that I can't run on a treadmill in the library. Why wouldn't this be the result of synthetic worlds? I hop into WoW to partake of the "good vs. evil" shared lore. I hop into SL to sell virtual real estate. I hop into the real world to go for a run, eat lunch, take a nap, kiss my spouse. Why should I expect to be able to do any of these things in the other worlds? Once it's established that the synthetic worlds provide fun, and that the real world does not, why/how does it follow that the real world must aspire to be more fun, like synthetic worlds? Why would I demand that the real world also be fun?

Castronova's argument that people will go where their utility is highest points to the same problem in his argument. He thinks synthetic worlds provide the highest utility, so off people go. But it's not as simple as "the world with the highest aggregate utility wins." There are different goods to be achieved in different worlds, so people will always come back to the real world for the goods that only it can provide (Castronova raises the issue of childbirth/rearing in a different context, but I think it's an adequate example of what I'm talking about here). Now, maybe some day in the future it really will be possible to hook up electrodes and "virtually" experience things we once thought we could only experience in the real world: eating a cheeseburger, having sex with our partner, giving birth to a child. But I think we are far from that point and can still easily say that there are just some things that we can only do in the real world. It seems more likely to me that we'll end up in a future where we go to synthetic worlds for fun, but still come back to the real world for other activities, even if they aren't fun.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on January 6, 2008
This book was not what I expected. It is primarily a reflection on lessons learned through development of digital games that could be applied to real life. The author doesn't seem to have any expectation that they will be applied exactly as described and doesn't address the myriad details that would need to be dealt with for that to happen, but the whole concept provides a lot of interesting food for thought.

For example, two general themes that cut through a lot of the lessons are the importance of fun and the idea that people's experiences playing digital games are likely to influence their expectations for how things should work back in the "real world" outside of games. So if the book had been called something like "Real Life Lessons from Digital Games," it would have delivered well on the expectations set by the title.

As it was, I found the title misleading for a couple of reasons. First, while the title refers to "Virtual Worlds" most of the lessons relate specifically to game-based virtual environments. Social worlds such as Second Life are discussed, but the author specifically acknowledges the fact that these are quite different from game-based environments which have clearly defined goals, roles, rules, rewards, etc. Therefore, if your interest relates more to open-ended worlds, such as Second Life, that are used for a variety of purposes and are not focussed on a single unified game, then there may be less in this book for you than you would guess from the title.

Second, the Exodus part of the title made me think that the book would talk more about what will happen within virtual worlds when more of us spend more time in them (e.g., How will it change the ways we work, play, communicate, consume, etc? What are the legal and political implications since so many more of our interactions will involve people from other countries?), but as stated previously the book is more about how interacting within virtual environments will change our expectations for interactions outside of those environments. Related to this is the idea - which seems to stem in part from the games versus more multi-faceted worlds distinction made previously - that we will at any one time be in either the virtual world or the real world and not both simultaneously (at least in terms of our attention). My own belief is that over time virtual worlds will become integrated with the other parts of our lives just as the Web is now, but that type of integration is only discussed briefly in the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 15, 2009
In Exodus to the Virtual World, Dr. Edward Castronova explores a possible future wherein participation in virtual worlds and MMOs becomes so widespread that major social effects are felt here in the real world. He suggests that as more people spend more time in virtual worlds, they will come to expect the real world to provide many of the conveniences of those virtual worlds: more fairness, more opportunity, more fun. This, he theorizes, will lead to a conflict over attention between the real and the virtual, with the real world being forced to adopt social policies inspired by game design.

The author frequently suggests that game designers may be better-equipped than most to handle the social policy issues of the 21st century and beyond. As a game designer, I found this rather gratifying, though I remain skeptical whether it's actually true. However, the parallels he draws between social policy design and virtual world design are compelling, and many of the mechanics we find today in virtual worlds and MMOs are in fact elegant solutions to social issues that have yet to even be well-addressed in the real world.

This book is primarily a speculative, futurist work. Many of the author's claims go largely unsubstantiated precisely for that reason: they're speculations into one possible future. I had no problem with this, and the author makes it clear up front what type of book this is. You just have to come into it with the right mindset. That said, he does frequently reference verifiable present-day facts in order to establish trends which inform his projections, making them more educated predictions than wild guesses.

My only major complaint with the book is that, as the author has extrapolated the present state of virtual worlds and MMOs into a vision of future society, he's undertaken significant cognitive effort to evolve the social side of things, and spent almost no effort on the evolution of the virtual worlds and MMOs themselves. In effect, there seems to be an unstated assumption throughout the book that the design of virtual worlds and MMOs will remain largely static, and that the only variable will be the percentage of the population participating in them. But if the relatively brief history of video games shows us anything, it's that we can expect meteoric paradigm shifts in games around every 5-10 years. Relevant examples include the introduction of the first text-based MUD, the first graphical MUD, and the original Everquest. Why should we not expect similar paradigm shifts to dramatically alter the landscape of virtual worlds and MMOs in the next 5, 10, 20, even 50 years? And of course, these paradigm shifts will affect how users participate in those worlds, which will in turn affect their expectations of the real world in accordance with the author's theory.

Nevertheless, Exodus to the Virtual World comes well-recommended. It's a thought-provoking read for game designers and players alike, and I'm willing to bet some politicans could learn a thing or two from it as well. ;)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 22, 2008
The central theme of Exodus is the concept of "attention migration". That is: that more and more people choose to immerse themselves in synthetic worlds (Castronova's word instead of "virtual worlds") - MMOGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Games), like Second Life and World of Warcraft. Today they have at least 16 million registered users, and the number is increasing quickly. Also, some of these synthetic worlds function like alternate societies with their own norms of conduct, citizenships, economies, codes and policies and so on. In a information society where attention is central, the increasing attention spent on synthetic worlds will (according to Castronova) create a "atmospeheric event"...
Castronova writes well and he discusses this social phenomenon and it's probable future impact in an interesting way. Though at times I think the discussion becomes a little repetitive, and I can't totally agree that "real" societies will have to become more "fun" and gamelike to compete with the synthetic counterparts. But it is a fascinating thought.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 23, 2007
This is a very interesting book that deserves more attention than I fear it's likely to get. The author has used his experiences with synthetic game-worlds to write a thought-provoking look at the social landscape of the future, and craft a compelling argument for the way games will influence "reality" in the years to come.

The author has more game-experience than I was expecting when I picked up this book, and has avoided the easy traps and overgeneralizations that often plague writers who are attempting to explain or interpret synthetic game-worlds. This lends his thesis on the economics of fun a verisimilitude that makes even his more extreme predictions seem a likely vision of what-might-be. Not only is this a book for the interested game, but even more it's a book for the businessman, and the policy-maker, who will more and more benefit from his insight into the games people play.
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on August 9, 2012
In his book, Edward Castronova depicts a memorable image of a future in which participation in virtual worlds across all age groups and social levels is a normal part of everyday life. The basic idea is: based on the exodus from the real world into virtual game environments, human expectation of life is increasingly influenced by gaming fun.

Synthetic game worlds already motivate by means of a near-inexhaustible supply of tasks to be accomplished, variety of goals to be achieved and other available opportunities. In other words: there is always something to do. In synthetic game spaces, a fair reward is given across the board for game success; furthermore, gamers can climb the virtual hierarchy on equal terms. The most important thing is that it's fun.

Exodus to the Virtual World is a visionary book. Although the essay is indisputably based largely on speculation, Castronova is able to address current societal problems such as unemployment or social isolation by using suggested practical implementations starting from game design.

Castronova underlines the idea that the motivating and fun qualities of virtual worlds are increasingly called for in the real world too, as a (life) necessity. Consequently, the comforts and pleasures of synthetic worlds - which are characterised by gaming fun - should also gain significance in real life. Given this tension between the real and virtual worlds, Castronova suggests that political decision-makers would be well advised to take inspiration from the philosophy of game design.

The author depicts a daring view of a society in which virtual experience is the norm. Glances into the proverbial crystal ball are essentially fraught with risk. Nor does Castronova make any secret of the speculative framework of this futuristic observation; indeed, he repeatedly emphasises this. Yet even if a large part of the appraisals and predictions should be retrospectively proven a mistake, Exodus to the Virtual World is an important contribution in the positioning of game design in a socio-political context. More importantly, going by the idea that presently we still know very little about gaming fun, Castronova embarks on a search for (and closer examination of) the necessary ingredients for a happy life in the incipient age of virtual games and living environments.

One of the book's weak points can be found in the starting point for future projections itself: while the social and political implications of a `virtualised' future are presented in great detail and possible developments are argued soundly, Castronova neglects to discuss the further development of massive multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPG) and open virtual worlds such as Second Life and Club Penguin. Consequently, he starts from the status quo of synthetic game spaces in order to draw conclusions about social upheavals. It is critical to note here that rapid changes and new definitions of game design were possible in the short history of the video and computer game. Castronova, however, views the current situation as a constant, and underpins this approach with the hypothesis that population masses engaging in virtual worlds is alone the determining factor in changes to the real world. In the interests of fairness, it should be remarked here that this already very complex and speculative reflection would have been made considerably more difficult by looking at the potential development dynamic of massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) and virtual worlds. Nevertheless, it must be assumed from this that the game design landscape of the successors to World of Warcraft or Metin 2, as well as virtual social spaces such as Second Life, will change considerably over the coming years.

Another point of criticism is in the growing escapism that Castronova predicts as a result of the fun afforded by synthetic worlds. Here, it is far more plausible to accept that game design could be a valuable stimulus for solving social problems. However, an absolute and far-reaching departure from the real world is unlikely. In the final section, Castronova addresses and acknowledges the key problem of such an attempt at explanation - experiences that cannot be transported fully onto the virtual plain. However, he does so by depicting the worries and efforts of the parents in the context of game design and "fun policy".

Despite a few conceptual weaknesses, Exodus to the Virtual World offers an enthralling and profound read without claiming that its often very bold predictions will come true. Nevertheless, the author gives a crushing judgement on widespread political approaches to social problems as well as on the social and intellectual embedding of political solutions. Castronova describes many people's currently money-fixated society and living environment as the "money-hunting game" and calls for priority to be given back to happiness, fun and contentment. For the author, it is clear that these elements need to take greater importance in future society. The challenge - according to Castronova - is in developing the science of fun in order to understand the imminent upheavals of future generations.

Conclusion: Virtual worlds are significant because people interact socially and have fun. In his book, Castronova makes the bold attempt to predict future developments by means of daring prognoses and by debating and substantiating present examples. Consequently, current social problems should be tackled using the solutions afforded by game design. Given the complex topic and ambitious concept, the book occasionally contains redundancies and long-winded explanations, yet nonetheless offers an exciting and comprehensible read. Currently only available in English.
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on September 28, 2009
This is a thought provoking book with an excellent tour of what goes on in the game design world. But let your own thoughts occur without being led by those of the author. In that way the read will be productive.

The title is an accurate prediction but not a good indication of the content. I think increasing numbers will get involved in virtual reality for the fun and psychological rewards it brings, but they will do it for escape to a kind of pure and controlled environment, something the physical world can never be.

Having been a character in World of Warcraft, a game I played with dedication for 9 months, I opened this book with anticipation.

But the central premise that the fun to be had in the virtual world will bring demands for the real world to be more fun is more than a bit wacky. I get the impression that the author wanted to make some kind of broad statement in defense of virtual reality and settled on the transfer of fun.

The real world is full of entertainment and fun already. Neil Postman wrote a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death that questioned it. That was a far better thought out book than this one.

Castronova wants us to believe that the politics that work to make an online game can be transferred to real life but there are differences that make this all but impossible. For one thing, the risks in real life are real. You don't get to die and come back to life, you don't get an infinite number of tries to achieve a goal. The real environment is not magically regenerative so that once you have taken something another copy appears to be taken by others. There is no infinite supply of anything here on Terra Firma.

Throughout the book, I kept wondering if he had read Brave New World, a dire warning of a world where pleasure for the masses has been achieved while the whole thing is watched over and directed by hidden managers. Castronova implies that it would be a good thing for virtual world game designers to step into positions of authority. Aldous Huxley is turning in his grave.

The book increases in silliness, reaching a peak in the fantasy in the epilogue of a Senator logging in to World of Warcraft.

But Castronova's effort is not a waste of time. Read it for enlightenment about how and why game worlds work as they do...and they do work very well.
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on January 8, 2011
For any who wish to understand the virtual world, this is a major insight. From a gamer perspective, despite the first hand experience, this book highlighted many details that I had not realized. The digital world/internet has its own culture, whether or not the participant actively realizes this.

From this book, I also decided to purchase Castronova's other book: Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. It was then did I realize part of what is in this book is the same as its predecessor. Overall, very insightful.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 16, 2010
THIS BOOK, EXODUS TO THE VIRTUAL WORLD, IS A GREAT INTRODUCTION TO THOSE WHO WISH TO STUDY THE ASPECTS OF LIFE IN THE VIRTUAL, OR, SYTHETIC WORLD. THE FASCINATION THAT PEOPLE HAVE WITH GETTING AWAY FROM REALITY BECAUSE IT IS BORING AND NO LONGER "FUN" IS A RATHER DANGEROUS ROAD TO TAKE. MOST WORKING ADULTS HAVE JUST ENOUGH TIME TO JUGGLE WORK, FAMILY LIFE, AND THE MANY CHORES COMMON TO MOST FAMILIES. IMMERSING YOURSELF FOR 10 OR 20 HOURS A WEEK IN THE SYNTHETIC WORLD BECAUSE IT IS "FUN" AND LETTING GO OF REAL LIFE AND ONE'S RESPONSIBILITIES IS A LIDICROUS ACT OF SELF-CENTERED SELFISHNESS. IN MY OPINION IT IS AN IRRESPONSIBLE COP-OUT. THE AUTHOR PAYS ALMOST NO ATTENTION TO THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF LIFE IN THE SYNTHETIC WORLD, BUT, I SUPPOSE THAT WAS NOT HIS INTENT IN WRITING THE BOOK. I WOULD CERTAINLY NOT ALLOW MY CHILDREN TO TAKE THIS DANGEROUS ROAD. ALSO, MAKING MONEY IN THE SYNTHETIC WORLD IS LAUGHABLE: WHY WOULD ANYONE PAY $2000 FOR SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T EXIST IN REAL LIFE? WHY ARE SO MANY PEOPLE BLIND TO THIS CORRUPT IDEA? INDEED,I WAS BORN IN A DIFFERENT WORLD.
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