To Be or Be Virtual; Is This a Question?

Edward Castranova, author of Synthetic Worlds and virtual world scholarship community builder, spearheads a project at Indiana University called Arden.

Arden is the first in what the Synthetic Worlds Initiative at IU hopes will prove many efforts to bring controlled research methodologies to full societal scope. Essentially, Arden is a massively multiplayer online "game" set in Shakespearean England. It is named after the famous Forest of Arden from Shakespeare's play As You Like It where characters from a "mundane" town find themselves plunged into a fantasy realm that initially disorients them yet eventually proves to mirror the so-called real world in a social sense, bringing them a deeper understanding of themselves. The parallels to virtual world building were a little too charged for the developers to ignore, I guess.

This joining of modern technology to age-old dualities highlights two of the key elements of this project, education & research. From the project documentation, here are the 5 "purposes" of Arden's creators:

"Arden servers many ends.

1) People who play it will get to know the greatest writer in the English language without even trying.

2) Arden will serve as a test bed for research experiments, a petri dish for social science.

3) By helping to build Arden, cadres of students will be preparing themselves for careers in the game industry and academia.

4) The construction and administration of Arden will create a locus of public sector expertise about the technology of synthetic worlds.

5) Finally, Arden will be a fun game, a good thing all by itself."

The project was done using the NeverWinter Nights game engine which was built for open modding and expansion. It seems that the Initiative intends on developing some kind of process flow for establishing a virtual worlds version of wiki architecture.

The environment was released this fall, yet I've seen little press coverage of its progress. It looks like I have a project for this evening. Until then....

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