The serious side of games (C|Net News.com)

If you find yourself looking for any of the leading thinkers on the social, intellectual, economic or legal aspects of online games this week, you probably won’t find them unless you’re in New York City.

That’s because they’ll all be in the Big Apple for the third annual State of Play conference, a gathering beginning Thursday of game players, game developers, law professors, journalists and others interested in what’s happening on the digital frontier of virtual worlds such as “Second Life,” “City of Heroes” and “EverQuest.”

During three days of panels, workshops, dinners and other events, the several hundred in attendance will discuss topics like financial speculation and experimentation in online games, the future of metaverses, law in virtual worlds and many other issues.

And while those unfamiliar with the complex issues surrounding massively multiplayer online, or MMO, games and virtual worlds might think that such a conference wouldn’t attract the serious-minded, the roster of attendees from Harvard Law School, Yale Law School, Wired magazine, Sony Online Entertainment, the Kennedy School of Government and other institutions belies such thinking.

“It gives me a chance to interact with people from a wide variety of fields,” said Beth Noveck, State of Play’s organizer and an associate professor at New York Law School, where the event is being held. “We try to focus in on a set of profound questions and get new and exciting people talking together about the answers to those questions.”

To attendees like Ron Meiners, the community manager for the virtual world “There,” State of Play is a chance to examine where reality ends and virtual reality begins.

“For me, the most exciting thing is the extent to which the virtual world is more and more being seen as an extension of the ‘real’ world,” Meiners said. It’s “less and less a separate thing and more and more part of the rest of our experience.”

Millions of people are taking part, at least in some small way, in that conversation. In less than a year, Blizzard Entertainment’s “World of Warcraft” has become one of the most successful MMOs of all time, with more than 2 million subscribers in the United States alone. Another virtual world, Linden Lab’s “Second Life,” may not have a large numbers of subscribers, but it has developed a sophisticated economy in which millions of dollars a year worth of virtual goods like digital clothing for players’ avatars, futuristic vehicles and fantastical houses are traded or sold.

Meanwhile, to some, State of Play provides an opportunity to mix people from different fields who they find to be rare at other conferences. (more…)

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