- Related Stories
Shakespeare coming to a virtual worldOctober 19, 2006
Virtual goodies, real greeniesJuly 26, 2006
'Second Life' fending off denial-of-service attacksMay 1, 2006
Making the virtual world a better placeOctober 29, 2005
Name that metaverseOctober 6, 2005
Sony scores with Station ExchangeAugust 25, 2005
The idea behind the project is to produce a virtual world steeped in the rich lore and characters of the playwright's work.
But Castronova--an Indiana University associate professor of telecommunications best-known as the world's leading expert on the economies of virtual worlds and massively multiplayer online games--sees his initiative as far more than just a historical adaptation of the Bard's work. He looks at it as a way to teach students about Shakespeare's life, times and writing, as well as a way to conduct innovative social-science research.
For now, "Arden" is little more than a concept. But with the MacArthur money, Castronova and a small team of game designers are beginning to move forward with the programming and implementation of the ambitious project.
Earlier this month, Castronova sat down with CNET News.com to talk about "Arden." His answers reveal an ambition to change the way educators teach and scientists study--all in the guise of pure entertainment.
Q: What is "Arden"?
Castronova: It's a persistent environment that allows students and professors to learn about virtual-world technology. We'd like to teach our players something valuable, so that's why Shakespeare is our main source of lore. You'll find a lot of things in Shakespeare that are really fun, like ghosts and witches and battles and a lot of the same kind of things that you find in these contemporary video games.
What is the "petri dish" element of "Arden"?
Castronova: It's a new way of doing social-science research that is like the way they do things in the natural sciences. In biological research, you can take three petri dishes that replicate the same conditions and have different things going on. You can't really do that with social science, because you're working with all of society. Until now. Now we have this technology for making little pocket societies and we can do different governments, different economies, different social norms and see how it affects the things we care about like equality and justice and growth and efficiency.
Does that mean different "instances" of "Arden"?
Castronova: Well, I guess the term would be shards. For people who know about these games, for example, "World of Warcraft" has multiple servers and each server is sort of an isolated little village of its own. So we would use the fact that you can have multiple villages and have slightly different rules of the game in each one.
How does the Shakespearean environment come into play in this?
Castronova: It is a smoke screen. You don't want people saying, "Hey, I'm in an experiment. What are they experimenting about? Oh! They're experimenting about this, so I'm going to think about that as I choose my behavior." You want people saying, "Hey, here's a game where there's questing and adventure and monsters and ghosts and, oh, there's this guy named William Shakespeare. I'm just having a good time." Meanwhile, behind the scene, the social scientists are playing around with inflation and production and governmental structures and stuff without the players ever noticing it. So the Shakespeare part is a distraction, but in research terms, it's a very honest and useful one.
Will different parts of "Arden" be devoted to different Shakespeare works?
Castronova: Yes. We're going to start with "Richard III," which is one of his most popular plays. It's a story that has lots and lots of secret conniving and deal-making and battles and political intrigue. And it's historical, so that means it's really easy for us to take all the (usual) fantasy (game) stuff like knights in shining armor and peasants and woodworkers and they just fit right into "Richard III" right away. The way we envision it is once you get this thing going, I'll have another crop of students come in and say, "OK, what play are we doing this year?" And we'll say, "Well, let's do a post-apocalyptic 'Macbeth.'"
You're best-known as a virtual-worlds economist. Will there be a functioning economy and currency?
Castronova: There's going to be a currency. It's going to be the Old English currency, which will be kind of cumbersome to learn. But you'll learn something about what it was like, so when you see a Shakespeare play and they talk about money, you'll have a clue what they're talking about. But we're going to start with a crafting economy: resources and harvesting and things like that.
1 commentJoin the conversation! Add your comment