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Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun Is Changing Reality Paperback – November 11, 2008
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“Edward Castronova has again charted new waters to the virtual worlds emerging as the next frontier. He has proven himself as the oracle of the virtual world revolution.” ―Christian Renaud, Networked Virtual Environments, Cisco
“A book full of insights about our online present and a hopeful look at the future where politics and economics will be increasingly governed by the rules of video games.” ―John Beck, President of The AttentionCompany and co-author of The Kids are Alright
“As virtual worlds rise in popularity, they are bound to have effects on the way we live our real world lives. Dr. Castronova has put together a persuasive case that the real world may begin to model its institutions on games simply because the general populace finds them more fun. It's an eye-opening tour through how virtual worlds are run, and why practical, enjoyable governance is very different from the systems employed today.” ―Raph Koster, virtual world designer
About the Author
Edward Castronova is the author of Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games, he has been featured in such media as 60 Minutes, NPR, and The New York Times. He is Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in Telecommunications at Indiana University. He lives in Bloomington, Indiana.
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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.
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.
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.