Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Raph Koster: "I sit and I look at what we do and I think 'Goddamn we're irrelevent.' "

Raph Koster, the lead designer of Ultima Online and creative director of Star Wars Galaxies kicked off the Worlds in Motion summit with a keynote address. The address was nominally about "...why virtual worlds and online spaces are more than a fad-and why you absolutely should care."

It turned into something that has echoed across the game development blogosphere, touching off a firestorm of criticism, commentary and (one would hope) some self-reflection.

The quote that makes up this entry's title comes during the slideshow presentation where he says

"... the Neal Stephensons dreamt of the infinite promise, and you wonder how it addresses the things that we wrestle with in the real world... The collective venture capital at the summit has to be north of 50 million; enough to replace the FEMA trailers the people of New Orleans are living in. "I sit and I look at what we do and I think 'Goddamn we're irrelevent.' Have I brought you down enough yet?"

But all is not lost, he says. Gaming and virtual worlds do have importance because

"What we do in this room can have an impact... We see windows into virtual worlds when we download the [World of Warcraft]client. The metaverse is more windows -- breaking down the barriers between the worlds. We're heading for a world full of windows -- the question is what we'll be seeing through them. Will it be like a mirror or something new? We're not playing with toys but with people. We need to use what we already have and make a difference. Whether we empower each other makes a difference."
Definitely a lot of food for thought. It's not just video games, but our everyday lives are becoming more and more virtual every day: online banking, shopping, craiglist, ebay, online dating, message boards, blogs, you name it.

How can we harness this focus and energy to help others? It's not like there's zero reach. Ralph said "We have cybercafes in rural Senegal -- people without food and water still have Google. ".

Is this pie-in-the sky idealism, or will virtual world building lead to real social change for the good of others?

And even if it can, does that mean it should? OR should games be games, social movements be social movements and never the twain shall meet?

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