Some snippets from John Sutherland’s interview with Edward Castronova in yesterday’s Guardian:
EC: My professional interest is in what we can learn from this synthetic world. We’ve never had the opportunity to experiment ambitiously on a social level. We’ve never had the opportunity to say, “I’m Karl Marx and I have this idea called communism. Wouldn’t it be neat if I could set up five societies that have exactly the same population, exactly the same natural resources and at year zero and try it out?”
JS: We could field test communism without killing 60 million people.
EC: Exactly. We could do communism, we could do fascism, we could do America. You can experiment with any number of social designs. This is one of the futures I see for synthetic worlds in the university. I think in 15 years’ time when someone in social science writes a PhD thesis, they’ll be required to put their ideas to the test this way. Business schools are already moving in that direction. There are tremendous business applications. Universities should get very involved.
…I think the smart thing for the US state department to do today is build a game about Islam but make it a democracy. And set it up so that every 16-year-old from Morocco to Pakistan can go into that world when they get a computer. Not say anything overt about democracy but have them play – have them vote, for example.
And this quote I think is pretty interesting – in some ways it’s reminiscent of some of the ‘cyberspace’ utopian writing of 10 years ago, but restating it in more subtle, mixed-reality terms.
JS: What do you foresee in 10 years’ time? Is it going to plateau out, or keep going nova?
EC: There will be a plateau. People do have to have children. But the really open question is how much human time we will spend in cyberspace, using our surrogate characters, living through synthetic bodies. But soon people won’t notice the difference. Real and synthetic worlds will blur. I’m talking to you by phone but, psychologically, I’m just talking to you. I don’t focus on the technological interface. We’ll just move in and out of bodies and worlds without noticing. It’ll fade seamlessly into daily life. And there will be some very good things. The economy pulls people apart and makes them live separate lives, as units. Gaming brings them together in a pseudo physical environment.
I’d really like him to explain more what he means by this last part. Does he mean that ‘real-life’ will feature more and more sophisticated, technologically-supported ARGs or ‘alternate-reality’ games?
As ‘the technological interface’ to gaming becomes more spatial, more embodied and less-separate from the world, it’s certainly one possibility.
“But as the Game Cat says, Be careful, be very careful. This ride is not for the weak.”