Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Presentation at Gamers in Society

Here is the presentation I gave today at the Gamers in Society seminar in Tampere, Finland. To summarize it briefly: I state that the intrinsic motivation that virtual worlds supply leads to more room for social aspects (as opposed to the task-oriented nature of "traditional" ICT), which in turn leads to more knowledge transfer. Let me talk a little bit here about the feedback I got.

First of all, my presentation apparently struck a cord with many of the people present because it sparked quite a bit of debate. Many different aspects entered the discussion, all very useful to further my thinking. And even though a lot of elements of my presentation were challenged, it was done in a very positive and constructive way.

One of the biggest problems that the audience had with my perspective was this: while you could argue that intrinsic motivation is an important aspect of virtual worlds (which makes them an enjoyable experience), wouldn't the fun stop as soon as you use virtual worlds in a work context? One commentator stated that "you cannot force people to have fun", which is true of course. In this round of discussion, the divide between the world of managers and the world of gamers came somewhat to the forefront. I was in the latter arena here, which meant some skepticism here and there about things having to do with the corporate world.

There was also some criticism about my (admittedly fairly blunt) statement that the use of "traditional ICT" (embodied in my perspective by the field of Computer Supported Cooperative Work) is always extrinsically motivated whereas virtual worlds are always intrinsically motivated. It is of course not that black and white. Examples were given of extrinsically motivated activities in games. Also, the possible difference in motivation was pointed out between what draws you into a virtual world initially and what keeps you there. In the discussion about this point, the exclusivity of virtual worlds as supplying the five elements of intrinsic motivation that I mention was challenged. Examples were given of social networking sites like LinkedIn or MySpace that also can be said to show most of these elements.

So where do I go from here with this project? One adjustment that I think I'll make to my approach of the subject is this: I will not focus so much on virtual worlds as a tool for knowledge transfer, but rather on virtual worlds as a way to create the preconditions for knowledge transfer. And one of the most important preconditions is trust, which (as one commentator pointed out) I have to decompose a bit further. Another aspect I want to consider incorporating is the development of managerial skills inside a virtual world (for example, by leading a raiding guild in World of Warcraft).

The most valuable comments were made by the two invited commentators (T.L. Taylor and Daniel Pargman). They focused on the next steps in my project and on how to go about actually investigating the managerial relevance of virtual worlds. Their contributions supplied me with some solid ideas that will be very useful in the coming weeks and months when I go about designing my research methodology.

1 comment:

Veksi said...

At my current employer we have given some serious consideration on using some sorts of virtual worlds as means to communicate on multisite projects. Our aim is to find a solution that allows using split screens across sites to draw pictures and to use voice communication. If this is something that goes under the umbrella of virtual worlds in your paper, then we are using it and extending our use.

Basing on the previous definition, I think we are using it already in the form of Skype, IRC and instant messaging and enjoy it as much we would enjoy doing it with workmates we like anyway. I don’t think that involving work in virtual worlds takes the fun out of it. On the contrary in case the world allows flexible communication.

In communication lies also the pitfall, the technology involved has to work well and in a supportive way. That is why the virtual world meetings are carried you in much more detail, with good preparation and a shared understanding of the protocol used: technology still has its limitations but the useful features are usable if used with caution.