Andy Swindler

March 23, 2008

World of Warcraft Interferes With Job Promotion

My Seattle trip has kept me too busy to write, but I’m back in the swing now.

A friend just turned me onto this World of Warcraft forum thread in which a guy explains how his excitement in learning that his boss also played World of Warcraft quickly turned to disappointed when he discovered his boss played for the other team (Alliance versus Horde in the game). The guy was up for a promotion, but once his boss learned they were on opposing teams he became evasive at work and it seemed the promotion was in jeopardy.

This speaks to a facet of the social media conversation that we haven’t fully figured out. If the idea is to be friends with everyone or at least have a conversation with everyone (be social), then how do we apply this to relationships that depend on a certain level of formality (e.g., a boss and subordinate or teacher and student)? Personally I embrace the notion of “friending” people in these environments, but I’m fortunate enough to be able to write some of my own rules, and the stakes are perhaps lower for me — not to mention the fact that I can turn anything into an social experiment. There is certainly nothing wrong with preferring to maintain formality out of habit or necessity. I tend to see more advantage in having an expansive network of peers than danger.

Another friend of mine is a teaching fellow at Harvard. It didn’t take long for him to decide to make his Facebook profile private so that only he could seek out friends, rather than be found through a search. He felt a strong need to draw a line to maintain the authority he had earned through teaching undergraduate students in his classes.

Attitudes tend to vary a bit between mediums. Facebook has always been a bit more serious to me than MySpace. Warcraft is a game. Second Life is a virtual immersive environment that arguably is the most natural place to form digitally augmented friendships that depend on a high level of interactivity and time. That’s the one thing that remains constant. Maintaining a friendship in any environment and by any definition still requires time and attention, and I suppose it always will — especially as it becomes harder to trick anyone into believing that your surrogate (someone else you have representing you — think ghost writer) is actually you.

Are we supposed to be friends with our employees or students? I say why not? And this leads me to support the idea of “friending” just about anyone on Facebook (except that other Andy Swindler out there who I don’t really know). As the world becomes flatter, so do business structures, where people take lead and ownership on different things and shared projects on different days. It must be harder to take for someone who’s spent 30 years working up through the ranks of a business suddenly to give up the earned authority and embrace a flattened structure. But being friends with coworkers at any level is nothing new. Historically it’s probably been relegated to going out for beers after work, and that’s perhaps the difference. Facebook and sites like it begin to tear down some of those walls within the office or school environment, which makes it harder to draw lines when considering professional issues at those institutions.

Read through some of the posts on that forum. They are enlightening.

Andy Swindler

March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax, the creator of Dungeons and Dragons and arguably the father of social fantasy gaming that led to current interactive gaming, died Tuesday.

“Mr. Gygax was always adamant that the game’s most important rule was to have fun and to enjoy the social experience of creating collaborative entertainment.”

This is saddening for a couple of reasons. Knowing how much fun, creatively liberating, and social this game was to play as a kid compared to other, more passive, board games, I can only hope that others will continue in his great tradition. In fact, others have taken up the reins for years. More than 20 million people have played this game and anyone can create new adventures or players at any time.

Compare that to the 10 million people who actively play World of Warcraft, a game with pretty clear roots in the Gygax fantasy game world model. 10 million people in a few years versus 20 million over a couple of decades. Technology has enabled the creation of sprawling, truly interactive worlds. But are the possibilities as limitless as D&D, and is the social experience as rich?

This brings us back to social media, particularly social networking like MySpace and Facebook. Would you rather hang out with six close friends in the same room or 60 people through a computer screen that you may or may not have met in person? Perhaps Second Life is a more relevant comparison, as it allows every player to have a hand in creating the environment, unlike World of Warcraft, where you focus on your character(s) and interactions with other players in a pre-formed, but constantly evolving environment.

With any type of computer program, you are always playing by someone else’s rules. While this is true in D&D, Gygax really just created a framework (what game works without rules?) and then the object was to let the group mind create the rest. This is the point most people missed about the explosion of underground role-playing games over the past couple of decades. I’ve never experienced social creativity like I did with those games, and I have yet to in the online world. It’s not to say interactive games are not fun or amazing in depth, but they don’t replicate every facet of face-to-face gaming. And perhaps they don’t intend to. With each new environment and mode of communication, we must take the advantages and disadvantages that come with it without trying too hard to fit it into a traditional model that no longer applies.

It would have been interesting to hear what Gygax thought of the new gaming worlds as they continue to evolve. There is an online version of D&D, which I’ve not tried. I imagine he had a direct hand in that project, though his legacy will always be evident.

Andy Swindler

March 2, 2008

Obsolete Skills

Someone went to the trouble to put together a list of obsolete skills so I thought it was worth pointing out.

Call me old-fashioned but I think navigating by the stars and painting cave walls both have a place in the modern world. Also, I’d hardly call Palm OS Programming obsolete.

I do rather like the inclusion of, “Obsolete Skills, Identification of” but I can’t agree that Spelling is obsolete!

February 19, 2005

Vcast Test

Test of video podcast.