The greatest sword figher in all the world delivered pizza

Something stuck me yesterday, as Peggy Sheehy and I showed an extensively academic gathering the work we are doing in WoW in School and Massively Minecraft respectively — Can someone really understand what we’re doing in games, if they don’t also actively and visibly participate in broader digital-cultures?

By that, I mean something more significant than knowing about, having an opinion of and be paid to debate. Let me rewind a little and say everything that is happening in digital media today was somewhat predicted in much of the cyberpunk fiction that pre-dated the internet. Co-incidence or connection? Games emerged as much from this as from ancient Rome or Greece, or research. Novels as Neuromancer by William Gibson (1984), Hardwired by Walter Jon Williams (1986), Ghost in The Shell by Masamune Shirow (1989), Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson (1992), Vurt by Jeff Noon (1993) or even Doctor Who in the 1976 episode “The Deadly Assassin,” where the good Doctor enters the Time Lords’ ultimate computer — called the Matrix.

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” (Neuromancer) is perhaps the greatest opening line of a book ever. It almost sums up the entire novel.

I think, that without being ‘in’ digital media, by which I mean participating in the various channels where discussion is active, frequent and global that taking a theoretical view of what games are or are not – what fun, play and immersion means –  is very much like Gibson’s opening line – being tuned to a dead channel.

It is not only easy to buy today’s game influencer books on Amazon, it’s also easy (and recommended) that you discuss them in the same medium, in spaces such as Linked In, Twitter, Facebook and the numerous game-focused blogging communities commonly inhabited by Indie Gamers. Unlike closed academic journals, these things are not locked behind an exclusive pay-wall to an exclusive audience. Even students creating games at University will be highly active in these spaces, while those that are teaching them are absent. The students know the power and value of these spaces, and how they are connected to their learning and audience.

James Gee, in his book “What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy” calls this an active, critical learning principle. Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) as a complex system is core to the learning experience. Like all authors, others can shoot at Gee’s work, as is the nature of the discussion, but I think it also makes sense to consider Neil Stephenson’s view in Snow Crash “She’s a woman, you’re a dude. You’re not supposed to understand her. That’s not what she’s after … She doesn’t want you to understand her. She knows that’s impossible. She just wants you to understand yourself. Everything else is negotiable.”

While I admire and respect the academic research process, the time invested and the methods applied, I struggle to see how games scholars can exist externally to the very medium that is creating an entirely different experience of gaming. That means participating in online spaces and discussions where everyone’s reputation starts at zero and is earned though the culture of participation the demands. There is no RPL unless you can transfer and apply it in a relevant way to that audience, in mediums they prefer.

What I’d like to know, should our work not be seen as important or relevant is this … What have you created in the metaverse that we can learn from to correct our foolish errors to make the experience better for our players? [just supply the link].

Please avoid dive-bombing the work of non-scholars (whatever that means) from a lofty perch, as that position is somewhat of an assumption. The greatest sword fighter in all the world delivered pizza.

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