the Virtual Policy Network
the Virtual Policy Network (tVPN) is a not-for profit think tank dedicated to stimulating a balanced, global, and informed policy debate about virtual worlds, online games and other convergent media. Our goal is to maximizing the social good of these technologies through promoting their use in areas such as education, public diplomacy and entertainment, and supporting policy makers in finding the right balance of self-governance, law and regulation.
tVPN brings together industry, policy makers, academics and civil society. We seek to stimulate a process of global knowledge transfer by creating cross-disciplinary international research teams; linking organizations; collating and publishing a body of global policy research, debate and practice. tVPN is active in creating, co-creating and supporting a range of events.
tVPN’s Achievements include:
• Organizing a United Nations Internet Governance Forum workshop on virtual worlds and public diplomacy
• Organizing a OECD workshop on virtual worlds and public policy
• Presentations for the Council of Europe on human rights and online games and new concepts of media
• Co-authoring European Network and Information Security Agency report on Virtual Worlds online games and Security
• Organizing and running a two day virtual world policy event in conjunction with UK Government
• Annual academic symposium in conjunction with the Edinburgh Interactive Festival
• Presented on Video Games and Regulation for the Korean Ministry of Culture
• Launching and supporting a UN IGF Dynamic Coalition on Convergent Media
What is Convergent Media?
The term Convergent Media (CM) is inspired by Henry Jenkins’s work at MIT on ‘Convergence Culture’, it refers to digital media that bring together two or more traditional media forms such as text, video, voice, etc. In particular CM denotes online sites and practices where media-blending is essential to their form e.g. social networking sites, online games and virtual worlds.
Convergent Media pose a challenge to policy makers as they are sites which force an overlap of traditional media boundaries and consequently policy / legal / regulatory boundaries e.g. where audio-visual, telecommunications, consumer, intellectual property and tax regulations may all apply equally to an online artifact and / or practice.
What’s more specific instances of convergent media are constantly being created and modified – however policy debates often lag behind technological change bringing a danger of missing opportunities, dangers and possibility of causing inadvertent harm to development and innovation.
What is a virtual world?
A Virtual World is an online computer-mediated 3D, 2D or text based environment that provide a shared and persistent experience; interactions occurring in real-time; an underlying automated rule set (the “physics” that determines how individuals effect changes) and, individuals are represented within the world typically as “avatars”.
Virtual worlds are used for entertainment, social networking, education, corporate, promotional and a range of novel communications applications. The can be separated into a range of types, typically the Virtual Policy Network applies the following taxonomy:
Game or Ludic worlds
These are virtual worlds that are ostensibly games and have overarching game rules as part of the core software. Examples include World of Warcaft, EverQuest, Lord of the Rings Online, EvE Online etc.
These are virtual worlds that are ostensibly social spaces and while they may be used for playful purposes and have embedded mini-games are ostensible social spaces. Examples include Second Life and There.com
Private / Commercial / Corporate / Training / Platform Worlds
This is an emerging sector of virtual worlds that has been adopted by corporate, military and educational establishments for purposes such as training and meetings (video conferences with graphics). Examples include the use of the Olive Platform for Emergency Response training.
There are many online environments that sit on the boarder or cross the boarders of these definitions such as Stardoll which has only very limited virtual world properties and Gia Online which mixes social and game elements.
How do virtual worlds relate to public policy?
There are both direct and in-direct relationship between virtual worlds and public policy. Directly virtual worlds impact things like Education policy as they are a potential tool for learning. Indirectly the policies formed around virtual worlds can impact things like free speech online.
In part virtual worlds are worth centering policy study on because of their unique characteristics and because they point to how many of us are conducting more and more of our social and civic lives i.e. decision made now about virtual worlds may impact the freedoms we have online in the future. Of equal importance is the way that current broad policy debates are focusing on virtual worlds e.g. the debates over ownership of virtual assets points to a wider debate over issues such as the erosion of producer / consumer distinctions and the rise of the Amateur-to-Amateur culture.