I have actively played video games since before I could actively recall solid memories of my childhood.* Some of my earliest memories do include an Atari system set up by my father and primitive graphics. A lifetime of video games has lead to my current past time of World of Warcraft which I have since spent countless hours (some readers are already aware of this).** This has even lead to primordial discussions of a unique situation, ripe for academic exploration, in which particular raw goods are more valuable than the "value added" goods produced from them in the game. This is functionally equivalent to small amounts of wood, graphite, and rubber being more valuable than the pencils that are produced from combining these materials. Yet, these goods are still produced and poses an anomaly for normal economics.*** Given that there is an open exchange between virtual currencies (gold in WoW) and "real" currencies (Dollars, etc.), this is a fascinating problem.
However, this post concerns none of these topics and are only used as a background to my complete fascination with the following discussion. This post is about conferences. Conferences in the World of Warcraft. I was toying with the idea of starting a guild (an online group category in the World of Warcraft) formulated around advanced degrees in social science (the best name for it so far is "Homo Economicus"), and it appears the group has already started a similar feat as a result of the conference. Individuals dawned virtual identities (identities primed for combat against various forces), found a location to locate over 100 people, and discuss academic issues.
The article linked above is detailed, informative, and worth the read. The idea of virtual conferences in a framed time and space brings up limitations to such ventures both past and future. Paper distribution has to occur before the conference (which is a norm regardless), you would be prevented from using slides and graphics for an audience that has not read the paper (though that sometimes can be a boon), users unfamiliar with the environment will have problems integrating and navigating the various user interface features, it is prone to anonymous disruption, and requires significant computing resources that not every academic has available. The issue of anonymous disruption becomes even more of an issue if non-specialists find out en masse about the conference. While the benevolent nuisance mentioned in the article was mannered and productive, video gamers (including those as young as 7 or 8) may not be so kind.
There are a few other coordination issues (time zone differences, subscription costs), but these can be avoided or alleviated to an acceptable degree. In general, I don’t see World of Warcraft itself see as a lasting forum (thought it boasts over 10 million active and paying users) and something like a Conference Wiki would likely be more conducive to the exchange of ideas, articles, and graphics. Despite these flaws, I am amused and excited that it has happened and hope there was some productive exchanges – given a discussion based framework of a panel, I can see the large number of known and anonymous discussants could be potentially fruitful.
As a side note, anyone who missed Julie’s and Cynthia’s earlier posts I encourage you to take a look at them and offer some suggestions as they are openly asking for some input – Julie for humor and Cynthia for serious academic insight.
*There might be pictures that have supplemented this memory.
**The game actually counts them, I just refuse add those numbers up and reveal them publicly.
***There is an additional utility from making these goods — an apprenticeship gain from practicing a craft. However, the prevalence of these products on a very active market is something worth modeling.