Joi Ito’s Polychronic Metaverse
Joi Ito gave a fun talk at SDForum about being a massively multiplayer online game player, rather than a venture capitalist, and how the player’s experience could lead the development of virtual worlds. “The whole concept of cyberspace is holding us back a little bit,” Ito said. It’s not the case that cyberspace starts when you log into an immersive virtual world like Second Life or World of Warcraft, Ito said. I couldn’t agree more. The virtual world is simply a seamless extension of the real world. “We need to rethink the idea of cyberspace,” Ito said.
Ito gave his presentation with the help of slides on a screen within the virtual world of Second Life. He leans more toward the open model of metaversal development, rather than the walled garden or propietary model. His desktop is often a forest of interactive applications that he keeps open at all times, he said, not to mention the fact that he keeps TeamSpeak going over his stereo when he’s at home. (Ito traveled more than half a million miles last year, is away more than he’s at home, and says he’s in Irongforge, the dwarf city in WoW, more than any other single place on earth.)
Connecting all these together in virtual worlds is the way to go, he thinks. “It’s not about the game anymore, it’s really about the community.” (Most of the really exciting stuff happening in his guild, he said, is happening outside the game.)
Ito went on to describe why he’s excited about the VW space from a business perspective. The screenshot he used was of a 40-person end-game raid in World of Warcraft, absolutely chock filled with user-created interface add-ons being used in a raid in Molten Core. (At one point, some of Ito’s guildmates came on TeamSpeak and inadvertently interrupted his talk with a brief discussion of where they felt like going questing.)
Ito showed a video of his guild raiding in WoW, and then showed the Second Life site where his guild gathers to watch such videos when WoW is down for maintenance. His guild is even considering building WoW model simulations in Second Life to train for one virtual world’s raids while in another, perhaps creating a Second Llife-based walk-through of a high-end dungeon instance.
“Even though I just trashed cyberspace, 3D is very interesting,” Ito said. “All of these [virtual worlds, MMOs, mobile computing and others] are tools that will eventually converge. People will have different interfaces they will optimize for. This is all going toward some massive conversion.” Ito pointed out that the people who can’t remember not having an email address will one day soon be the majority of those using the Web and virtual worlds. For them, video games are a natural part of their toolkit. Compex interfaces like those found in WoW will become the norm.
Ito also talked about the difference between “monochronic” time — in which only one thing is going on at once — and “polychronic” time — in which many connections with many people are available at any one time. Ito often simply keeps many connective applications open on his desktop — including WoW and SL, not to mention keeping TeamSpeak running through his stereo — and flows through a day-long conversation that roams from context to context, he said. Taking advantage of polychronic time keeps things contextualized, he said, because each successive conversation is related to the next, whereas monochronic conversation are decontextualized and don’t actually provide as much information.