The serendipity of Second Life has worked its magic again to bring together an extraordinary team with a vision. In a search that looks inward and outward, Rita J. King and Joshua Fouts are asking questions about what it means to be a conscientious global citizen, and the role of virtual worlds in creating global communities.
Recently, I met with Rita J. King, CEO and Creative Director of Dancing Ink Productions (a.k.a Eureka Dejavu in Second Life) whose work as a visionary entrepreneur in Second Life was written up in the New York Times recently, and Joshua S. Fouts (a.k.a Schmilsson Nilsson in Second Life) who directs the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. The center has been awarded a $550,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation to explore the role of the foundation in virtual worlds. A second grant has been received since for $250,000.
Rita and I are examining what it means to be a conscientious global community translated through the prism of what a foundation might do to improve upon the meaning of “conscientiousness” and “public good.”
In addition to meeting in New York City, I chatted with Eureka and Schmilsson in Second Life and visited The Windmill that is their work/home and a place to explore virtual expression and creativity.
We discussed how virtual worlds can play an important role in creating new ways for people to form meaningful relationships with each other across boundaries of culture and geography.
Rita and Joshua are not restricting their activities to Second Life. They are exploring the potential of other platforms too. As Rita pointed out, “Too keep it simple. It is the power of creativity that allows us to connect to each other.”
Gwyneth Llewellyn in a brilliant article on what sets Second Life apart from a wide field of competitors notes:
the biggest reason why we — the inhabitants of Second Life — are so special is because we say what a virtual world is supposed to be. And it’s not just “saying” it; we, the residents, implement it.
But, while Second Life is the exemplar at the moment, the power of creativity will emerge in many forms.
Joshua has joined Dancing Ink Productions as the Chief Global Strategist and is heading up the think tank for the company which is called DIP (Dancing Ink Productions) 150. Rita explained this is based on the idea in Malcolm Gladwell’s book, “The Tipping Point,” which stipulates that over one fifty a group loses its intimacy factor.
So we won’t go over a hundred fifty members. Clients will be able to access the think tank or they can be part of the think tank. They can bounce ideas off the rest of the group.
Business in “The Imagination Age”
I asked Rita how she first came to explore Second Life and her path to virtual entrepreneurship.
IBM was my first client. I’m currently working on a report for IBM about the development of their virtual universe community. A couple of years ago they started off with 15 passionate early adopters, and they ended up over 5000, growing daily and globally working together. So I’m chronicling the evolution of that group for them.
It’s really interesting because the first person I ever met in Second Life was Jessica Qin. She’s wonderful. But I had no idea that she was a star of Second Life when I came in. It was an IBMer who told me about second life to begin with. I just finished an investigative report called “Big Easy Money, Disaster Profiteering on the American Gulf Coast.” A friend of mine, Dr. Clifford Pickover who works at IBM, suggested that I investigate something that was more fun for a change. I said fun things don’t usually require investigation. And that is when he told me about Second Life. I was astonished! I went and checked it out that day. Jessica Qin was the first person I met, on his recommendation. She offered me to live on her island which I still do.
So what IBM is doing in my estimation is transforming from the idea of a multinational corporation toward a globally integrated enterprise.
[Dancing Ink Productions] focuses solely on corporations, universities, any entity that is interested in the emergence of an authentic new global culture in the Imagination Age.
Rita pointed out that a key question facing people in the an age of mass media is how can you emerge and express yourself creatively and make a contribution?
I think that the answer to that is becoming a conscientious global citizen in the most creative way possible, so that your art becomes your life. In other words, you’re not creating music, books or paintings. You can, of course, and that’s a great way to spend time and express ideas, but if you approach your own life as a work of art, everything you do in that framework is something you’re creating, that others can watch and perhaps even learn from, and you can enjoy.
The motion toward life as art is the hallmark of the artist of the conceptual age, the people age.
The Windmill is where Rita/Eureka Dejavue explores the expressive and creative potentials of living in a virtual environment. The tub behind us, she explained was inspired by a Schmilsson Nilsson.
Schmil can change his skin color from green. When he’s feeling sad, he turns blue sometimes. Angry, he turns red. Green is the Zen state. So one night he was blue, and it was crushing to see. But you can’t FORCE someone to turn green again! So during the course of our conversation he went back to green, and I thought what a great place SL is for expressing the true state of your mind at a given time.
So I decided to set the windmill up with things that are reflective of that. If I am in the tub (or if guests care to take a dip) then it means I have tears to wash away. I don’t have to spend a lot of time chatting about my emotional state of mind. When I get out, it means I’m not crying anymore. The Scheherazade furniture has a similar idea. If somebody has a yarn to spin, we go there. This chaise lounge has two options – to brood and to regress.
“Immersive 3D is going to completely change the way global cultures interact”
Joshua also talked about how creativity was key to his interest in virtual worlds. Joshua first got interested in virtual worlds through Star Wars Galaxies when Raph Koster was promoting the notion that content in SWG should be driven by the community. Joshua pointed out in 2003 many people in SWG were so passionately involved in creating content that they never followed the quests. Although since Raph’s departure from Sony Online this is no longer the trajectory of SWG.
I asked Joshua to talk about how he first became inspired by the potential of virtual worlds.
Doug Thomas and I, who work at USC together, have been long time video gamers. For the past ten years we have been having LAN parties. When MMO’s came out, we were very interested in those with the multi-user text based engines and we played those. But then Doug introduced me to this game called Star Wars Galaxies in 2003 (screenshot above from Gamer Shell). He said, “there’s this great game, you don’t have to be Darth Vader or Luke Skywalker. And I thought of you immediately Josh because you could be a chef. You don’t have to kill anybody.”
I got into it and said to Doug. “I guess I should take that as a compliment that you don’t see me as a hero archetype in the world of Star Wars.” That being said loyal friend of his that I am, and long time collaborator, we went in.
I started my account and the first thing that I discovered on the very first day that I entered into the game is that no one in the game is speaking English. In fact there were up to 5 different European languages that I could identify which was Spanish, some Portuguese, Dutch, German and French. I immediately called up Doug and said,
“Doug this is going to change our world. The fact that I am now playing a video game and building these relationships with people that are meaningful because of all these shared experiences.”
It was at that time that we had also just launched the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. Public Diplomacy is usually described as how governments work to build relationships with different cultures. It was at that same point that I met Connie Yowell of the MacArthur Foundation. And I had this epiphany where I said the immersive global nature of video games is going to completely revolutionize the way that cultures interact, the way they perceive each other, and ultimately the way that they get along.
So Doug and I launched the public diplomacy in virtual worlds initiative. The notion was that virtual worlds were going to transform the way people met each other, the way cultures interacted.
What is the role of a foundation in virtual worlds?
In January this year Connie Yowell invited me to come and present this idea to Jonathan Fanton, the President of the MacArthur Foundation. And they said OK this is great, we’d like to support it. Doug and I wrote a proposal that looks at what is the role of a foundation in the virtual world? The first event was June 23rd when we brought Jonathan Fanton into Second Life. He loved it. Loved it! And now he wants to go back again and apparently this is one of his prized projects. He was very comfortable. He loves getting IM’s to his avatar [I enjoyed sending him an IM too! See my post on The Role of Philanthropy in Virtual Worlds.]
Starting on November 26th with Connie Yowell, Director of Education at the MacArthur Foundation we’re going to start bringing in MacArthur Foundation program officers to talk about what they do.I think it’s going to be difficult for the Second Life community to answer what it is that foundations should do, if they don’t understand what a foundation does.
Another series we are working on is on developing what we call Exemplars … focusing on key issues that foundations support and doing an event around it.
Rita’s helping us to design these thematic events. They are to help us explore how this space can be used toward the greater public good. Public good is kind of a loaded term. But it’s the best way I can describe what foundations mean.
Then we’re also going to do these exemplar events that will be on civil rights themes, education, national, and corporate.
The MacArthur Foundation is the only major US foundation supporting this kind of stuff right now. There’s this inherent fear that foundations have of the whole video games area. I think many of the major foundations have bought into this media idea that video games are bad. It’s that binary view. One is that video games are corrupting our society. But the new alternative one is that people can get rich off of virtual worlds, which I think trivializes them. My refrain is that they either trivialize or demonize.
There are also plans to stage similar events in HiPiHi in Spring.
Global Citizens Waging Peace
He explained that Public Diplomacy is conventionally defined as what a government does to reach out to a foreign public or polity to explain its culture, policies, values, and beliefs. But Schmilsson and Eureka are rethinking this idea and looking at the responsibility of us as individuals and civil societies to communicate with each other as a global community.
Schmilsson pointed out to the Grid Talk audience:
Public diplomacy is NOT just a U.S. practice. The term may have been defined here, but it is the UK that has implemented it best. One diplomat in the U.S. government, Nicholas Burns, describes public diplomacy as a government’s effort to “wage peace”.
Indeed, I think at its heart “public diplomacy” is about facilitating inter-cultural dialogue. Public Diplomacy’s roots come from propaganda. The earliest days of it was doing counter propaganda to the Nazi propaganda machine.
Diplomacy is government to government communications. PUBLIC Diplomacy is government to people. But I think that Public diplomacy, as I mentioned, has evolved. It is very much people to people.
This conversation is about how we as representatives from other countries and cultures coming together to understand each other. What I mean is that other groups, citizens, civil societies, NGO, non-profits have realized the importance of helping people understand each other. In a way, the PEOPLE have taken back the world. And I think that’s a good thing.
Having a better informed perspective on other countries and how they REALLY are informs you and, hopefully, does something to reduce our tendency toward conflict.
A Platform for Inter-Cultural Communication
Philip Rosedale, CEO of Linden Lab, in his keynote address at the Managing Virtual Distance conference held by the Institute for International Research in The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, CA., made a number of points on how 3D immersive platforms like Second Life can facilitate inter-cultural communication in new ways.
He pointed to the rich communicative capabilities of the immersive environment that provide opportunities for people to cross barriers of language and culture in ways a 2D web site cannot. He gave the example of how opaque a 2D Korean web site was to a non Korean speaking visitor when compared with the experience of visiting a Korean sim in Second Life (picture above).
“Only Open Will Win”
Philip Rosedale also emphasized the importance of open sourcing the Second Life server technology to ensure the growth of a global community and reaffirmed his commitment to this.
Many of my Second Life, Facebook, and Twitter friends were at the Managing Virtual Distance event in Second Life. They have put together some great reports already focusing on different aspects of Philip’s presentation. Metaversed has a detailed summary. Arts Place also noted Philip Rosedale’s expression of commitment to open sourcing the Second Life server code.
Tara Yeats has put together a nice concise video report. Fleep did some mo blogging on Twitter and live blogged from Second Life using BlogHud. She commented on her blog: “I was really tickled to have Philip speaking right into my ear through the voice client.” This was the first time also that I have been at a Second Life event that chose to use Second Life voice system to enable a speaker to present remotely to a live and Second Life audience. The set up was simple but effective.
Dizzy Banjo (Bob Thomas in RL) has an excellent post on Philip’s keynote (some cool Windlight photos of Philip and Torley Linden too). Dizzy asked a visionary question about Second Life that didn’t reach Philip during the event but Torley answered later.
Dizzy Banjo: in 20 years…when the virtual world becomes as compelling as you envisage.. what do you think will happen to the social networks of society.. do you think virtual worlds will ever be able to convey the intricacies of REAL human contact ? Whilst being incredibly positive in terms of sustainability and global innovation – are you concerned about the potential for isolation ?
See Dizzy’s blog for Torley’s answer!
The important role of music in Second Life communities was one of the points that Philip emphasized.
Dizzy Banjo is a pioneer and leading advocate for the development of the Second Life soundscape (see his recent post on the Metamusic Roadmap). Dizzy described the work of Metamusic to me in this way:
Music and sound in Second Life is definitely getting more attention lately from Linden Lab. Personally I think we need ‘Windlight for audio’. That’s the kind of qualitative difference we need, if not more. Far more of our perception of space happens through audio than most people think. If we could create a real sense of place through sound ( as well as music of course ) Second Life will be far less like the “cartoon version” of reality which many people refer to it as. Metamusic has really been about trying to find out what people want to do with music and sound, and how we can implement it.
JenZa Misfit has some great photos of a recent meeting of Metamusic and the many Lindens who have been attending.