Sunday, October 29, 2006


The Age of Content Redux

Democreatization? Yes, I'm coming up with dumb new words again. At some point, I will figure out that this makes me sound like a nut-job, and then I'll stop. But we're living in a mash-up world, and I like doing it, and this is my blog, so quit yer whinging.

Two-and-a-half years ago, in March 2004, the first newsletter I published for my then consulting firm was titled, "Welcome to the Age of Content." In it, I argue that we have moved out of the "Information Age," where the ability to move data around is the quantifier of success, into the "Age of Content," where the ability to make creative use of that information is the key ingredient of success. To quote myself (which always makes me a wee bit itchy):

I believe we are in the first decade of the Age of Content. And by "content" I mean the creative use of information to establish meaning... In learning theory, "knowledge" is one step above "information," which is one step above "data." But in the case of content, we're not necessarily talking about leveraging information to increase knowledge. Some services do provide
learning (an increase in knowledge) as a byproduct of content. But the raw, basic definition of "content" is information that is manipulated, arranged, categorized, crafted, and tweaked in order to provoke in participants a sense of value received from original, created meaning.

The gist of the newsletter was about the role of content creation in marketing and, specifically, brand creation. The idea of storytelling... how bringing "thought ownership" to your brand gives you the ability to associate valuable, unique, identifiable, legally protectable content with a product or service. Since I was selling marketing consulting services at the time, I had to tie the ideas back to marketing, after all. But the overall point was about how, in a world that we're now (thanks to Friedman) calling "flat," creativity and content are becoming more and more the ways in which we understand, transfer and distinguish value.

What Engine for the Age?

Go read this MacArthur white paper now. I'm dead serious. I don't point y'all at 60+ page tree-killers very often, so please print out the PDF, kick back, fix some chai, and have at it with a highlighter and an hour or so. It's called "Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century." This is the best friggin' thing I've read on the Age of Content ever. Period. Makes me wonder who this MacArthur guy is and why we don't hear more about him on the talk shows.

In the executive summary, the paper notes:

  • Forms of participatory culture: affiliations (memberships, eg Facebook, MySpace, guilds, clans, board), expressions (new creative forms, modding, sampling, mash-ups, fanfic, zines), collaborative problem solving (Wikipedia, ARGs, spoiling, guilding), circulations (blogs, podcasting)

  • Policy and pedagogical needs: the participaion gap (unequal access to oppos, experiences, skills), the transparency problem (learning to see the ways media shapes perceptions), the ethics challenge (breakdowns in traditional forms of training and socialization that prepare for public roles as media makers and participants)

  • Skills needed for participation: play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation

And the summary then goes on to say that, "Fostering such social skills and cultural competencies requires a more systemic approach to media education in the United States. Everyone involved in preparing young people to go out into the world has contributions to make in helping students acquire the skills they need to become full participants in our society."

OK. Let's merge that with some neat data from just a few pages later in the paper.
According to a 2005 Pew Internet and American Life project study, more than one-half of all American teens, and 57% of teens who use the Internet could be considered media creators -- someone who created a blog or webpage, posted original artwork, photography, stories or videos online or remixed online content into their own new creations. Most have done two or more of these activities. One-third of teens share what they create online with others, 22% have their own websites, 19 percent blog, and 19% remix content.
So... we have a situation where half of teens are now creating content and a third are sharing it. And where we, as adults, educators, parents, voters, policy-makers, etc. are supposed to "contribute" to that world. You know... all of us old farts who spent 5 years watching our VCRs blink "12:00:00" rather than reading the manual. I ain't saying there aren't grown-ups who can't play on the Web, and new data suggests that there are lots of adults on MySpace, etc., and gosh-durn-it, old foggies built the Web and all... but I'm guessing that the numbers of 30-40 year olds who create content on the Web ain't 50%.

Participation is one way of terming the engine of content. And participation is also at the heart of what we've been terming "social" networking, computing, online platforms, etc.

No, not all participation will result in content that is very interesting to very many others. As a friend of mine is fond of pointing out, "It's mostly crap." That may be true. But I'd point out that lots of stuff that's hit the mediasphere prior to our current age -- stuff that was part of a much more official, but much smaller participatory circle -- could certainly fall under the rubric of "crap" as well.

Implications of participation-based culture

The McArthur paper has lots of good stuff to say about education and participation 'cause, well... that's the subject of the report; the skills kids will need to thrive in this environment, how to teach and enable participation for all children, who should do it, etc.

What I'm thinking about today, though, are the memetic implications of a new cultural system -- widely, easily available, easily shareable participation in content creation -- that is, at its heart, rooted in so many self-reinforcing routines that tend to spread "thought contagions" extremely easily. Because one of the root tenets of memetics is the rule that those ideas which promote the promotion of ideas are more quickly and easily spread.

It only makes sense, but it's a basic function that is often ignored. The most widely used example is the "Big family vs. small family memes." If one group of people believe that having big families is a good idea, the various concepts and defenses of that belief will spread more quickly. Why? Because they will simply have more children to teach them to, and parents have the strongest platform for teaching family-related beliefs. Family "A," with ten kids, has ten chances to pass along any "Big Family is Best" memes. Family "B," with two kids, has two chances to pass along their "Small Family is Best" memes.

That's a very simple, physical example. It gets more complex when you talk about concepts that are less... biological. For example, education. Does "Education is Good" contain a set of self-enhancing memes? Some argue that it is, because education tends to lead to higher income, and to situations where the meme can then be shown to have had positive effects. Others say that it doesn't, because you can't truly understand the benefits of education until you have one; i.e., the price of admission into the meme is too high.

Examples aside, examining the list of new "participatory skills" given in the MacArthur paper in terms of their self-enhancing memetic capabilities is a good way to see how social context and participation will be (and already are, to some degree) going to be incredibly important in our culture.

These skills -- play, performance, simulation, appropriation, multitasking, distributed cognition, collective intelligence, judgment, transmedia navigation, networking, negotiation -- are almost all highly "contagious" from a memetic standpoint, and also require mastery not just of tool or craft skills, but of high-order social, group, cognitive, game and ego-balance skills. They can be easily manipulated by folks with bad intentions, and can go all pear-shaped and akimbo even when intentions are good.

In short, these are dangerous toys.

I may come back to them on an individual basis in future posts, as it seems a good list to work off of when breaking down what makes up "social" behavior.

Thanks to Nate Combs at Terra Nova for the link to the MacArthur paper.

* * * * *

Also... reciprocal link-love back to Walt Crawford, who mentioned my "Enough 2.0" post in the November issue of his "Cites and Insights" publication. Note: Walt really liked the "Enough 2.0" logo in that post, and, if you click on it, you'll get taken to the site where it was created, Alex P's "Web2.0 Logo Creator." I linked the logo to that site previously, but didn't note that source explicitly in the text of the original post. I've done so now.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Two Deadly Sins of Tech

I'm writing this post on a Mac. I have no idea what kind of Mac. It's got a picture of an apple on the front. I think they all do. The reason I'm writing it on a Mac is because my son takes a Saturday art class at CCAD, where I also teach a History of Advertising course one night a week. Since I'm on faculty, I figured out that I can log in on the Macs that the students use in the computer lab right next to where Dan's class is. It's a 2.5 hour class. So rather than drive the half-hour downtown, find something useless to do for 1.5 hours, and then turn around and come back... I can log onto a Mac and find something useless to do online. Like this.

Or... last Saturday I actually did work. I haven't used a Mac for much real work since about 1988. It just worked out that way. Even though I'm in marketing and advertising, my jobs have been predominantly on the client side, where PCs rule the roost. In the early 90's... that was a pain. The Mac kicked serious bahookey over PCs in the realm of creative tools. But over the last 15 years, things have become pretty equal. The main programs my crew of designers at work uses -- Photoshop, Quark, InDesign, Illustrator, Flash, etc. -- are just about identical on both platforms. And if you know your way around Firefox, most good Web sites are pretty much agnostic, too. So last week, without having had any training or practice, I sat down at the Mac here in the lab and started up Photoshop CS2 and got about 1.5 hours of serious work-work done. I had to get used to one thing; hitting the Apple key instead of the CTRL key. Whoop dee dooh. Other than that, the experience of Photoshop on the Mac was identical to what I do at work every day on my pretty-much-maxed-out Dell.

I bring all this up because a good friend of mine recently posted and article in an online tech rag about a bad experience he had with a Mac... and guess what? He got horribly, fantastically flamed. Threatening voice-mails, hate email, hundreds of foul, profane comments, dozens of flaming blog responses. All because he basically said, "I really don't like Macs. I had a bad experience with them."

He's got a pretty decent "advanced layman's grasp" of computer gizmos. But they are NOT what he does for a living. He's a marketing dude. He works with computers and software, not on them. Subtle difference. It's the difference between a carpenter (me) and a handyman (my friend). Between a plumber (me) and a guy who has a wrench at home and can fix a leaky pipe (my friend). Between a doctor (me) and somebody who knows CPR (you get the freakin' picture). His description of his experience was a layman's description. It was what you'd tell a doctor if you went to see one with a pain in your chest; "I have a pain right here; above my belly-button. It kind of hurts when I laugh or cough." The MacAttack gang when bananas on him and basically carved him a new one for not being able to adequately identify that he had a ruptured spleen.

I'm not saying I'm a programmer. I ain't. And I'm not saying my buddy is an idiot. He ain't. He's a very "high end regular user." A very, very smart dude. But he is not somebody for whom the operation of the computer and software is integral to the operation of his business. If you said, "We're taking away the computers," or "You don't get to use Photoshop anymore," he could still do his job.

I couldn't. Photoshop is God. Quark and/or (preferrably "and") is required on any resume I look at for an Art Director position. When the computers go down at the office, folks go home and work on their personal boxes (some of which are Macs) and log in remotely.

My Mom uses Word. Everybody uses Word. That's fine. Cool. But for many people, if you said, "You can't have a computer for a few days," they'd probably shrug and go back to work. And to play. And to life. We who live on the damned things and the Web and the blogs and the pods forget that you really don't need this crap for about 90% of the actual "stuff." It's very, very helpful. Don't get me wrong. And my job abso-freakin-lutely depends on it. And 65% of all my hobbies and fun depends on it, too. I'm deep deep deep down this bunny hole.

But... the first and most deadly sin of tech is Pride.


Life came before tech and computers and the Web. Books and plays and music and dance and paintings and games have been around for a very, very long time. The tech serves the content. I mean that in both ways. Yes, I know that computers run the airplanes and the trucking schedules and UPS and help the drug companies design the anti-acid that I take, etc. etc. They are inextricably tied into our society and commerce and social fabric. I ain't sayin' they ain't. But what I am saying is that you need to remember that they are tools. Not archetypal marks of some kind. Not gods. Not people. Not signs pointing to other things. It's a box full of wires that helps you push ones and zeroes around very efficiently. It's pretty lights. It's noise and data in some combination. I love them, yes. A lot. Pretty, pretty, shiny box. But if you fetishize any object -- car, beer, perfume, gun, sneaker, shampoo, sports team -- to the point where you evaluate its importance more highly than that of a person... bingo! Pride. Because you have just set your value judgement of that technology above the value of another person. It's a complicated hammer, people. And when you put the value of any tool above that of a person, you will begin to...


...after it. Oh, lust. To have, as the dictionary says, "A strong or excessive yearning." Whether it be Mac or PC, iPods or new cell phones, digital cameras or HDTV... technolust is clearly here to stay. It's a relatively new variation on planned obsolescence. We want the latest, greatest techno bauble. Why? Because it does... er... new... things. Better. Faster. Bigger. Harder. Plumper. Juicier. Ooh, baby. The problem with lust in the classic, personal (human), sexual sense, is that it a warping of that greatest of God's gifts, love, and actually forbids love. Why? Because Lust stems -- as do all the Seven Deadly Sinse, in classic literature -- from Pride. Lust places the desire of the subject (the luster-er) well above the wishes of the object (the hot potato in the cut off jeans, belly shirt, dangly earrings and little tattoo of a butterfly right above her...). And placing any of our own desires or intentions above those of others is a variety of Pride. With humility and maturity, Lust can become love. In the case of technolust, it is, of course, impossible for Lust to become love, because love requires two. And no matter how hard your try, your iPod will never love you back.

Wrapping it Up

I'm pretty sure I could drag this metaphor out for the other five sins; envy, wrath, glutony, greed and sloth. But the two bigs that came to mind relative to the MacBeating that my buddy took were Pride and Lust. When something is (or seems to be) the most important thing in your life, for both play and work, it becomes a source of unhealthy Pride. "Bad Pride." Not the "I did a good job and should be proud." That's OK. But the kind where your shite gets all out of proportion. Where you make threatening phone calls to someone who never did you any personal harm and whom you've never met and who was only stating an opinion. Even if somebody is a total dip... come on. That's seriously putting your own agend way, way out in front.

And when Pride leads to Lust, we have unrequited Love. Read my lips, people ---

Mac/PC/MP3 Player/Cell Phone/Blackberry

No matter how much your job depends on your knowledge of Ajax, and how many MP3s you have on your hip, and how many "friends" are on your MySpace page, and how fast you text... I understand that it hurts when someone disrespects your chosen tech. It hurts because she/he cannot defend him/herself. Your Lust and Pride has projected part of your own self-image onto the product. That is a direct result of really, really good marketing and, in some cases, good products and services. And because that Lust can never be turned into healthy love, the reaction will often be that of an unrequited lover; anger, resentment, violence. Because Lust is not healthy, and Pride is all about you.

Technology is things. And things are not deserving of our love. Only people and God deserve to be loved. So before you engage in the other Deadlies, and do harm to a person on behalf of an un-loveable, fetishized artifact... question your motives carefully. Tech is imporant. The Web is way cool. But like the man said, "If I had a hammer... I'd hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters." Not, "I'd hammer out a 2,000 word, massively profane, hateful, flaming rant."

We're all on the same side, my friends. We're all monkeys. Stop throwing poo.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Eleanor "Skywalker" Roosevelt: 1991 - 2006

On the same day that my then fiance Chris and I were packing up my Uncle Doug's truck in Needham, Massachusetts to move to Columbus (by way of Buffalo, NY, where she would prepare for our wedding in about a month), an as-yet unnamed basset hound was born.

August 18, 1991. I had turned 25 about a month before. I had no job waiting for me in Columbus, but did have an apartment set up. On of my best childhood friends, Dave McCann, stopped by out-of-the-blue and helped us load up the truck. I haven't seen Dave since.

Chris and I were married on September 21, 1991. That October, we went to get a dog. We wanted a basset hound because they are long and low and funny and sweet. A girl basset, because they are less troublesome and don't dig through concrete as much. Seriously. We looked around at some various breeders and a couple pet stores, but eventually found a couple who had bred a pair of bassets (Chris can always remember their names; I can't), and for whom this was the second litter. We went and looked at the puppies (one of whom was soooo porky) and picked out the one with the longest ears.

She was white and black, with only a wee bit of liver-brown on the tips of her ears and the bottom of her tail. As she aged, the brown would spread, which is unusual. Tri-colored bassetts often get darker, not lighter, over time.

We named her Eleanor Roosevelt. Entirely out of respect and admiration for our 32nd-and-1/2 president. I should say, Chris named her Eleanor Roosevelt. I named her "Eleanor Skywalker Roosevelt." There has always been some contention about which is the official name... And though we had thought about "Rosie" as her everyday name (Eleanor is a long name even for a long dog), for some reason, she just looked like an "Ellie."

She never really got the hang of howling. Not the long, low, mournful, baying howl that bassets are supposed to do. She barked like mad. Especially in latter years whenever we left her alone. She could bark for six hours straight. But she rarely gave out that great, wooooooooooo! noise you expect from a hound. She did whuff, chuff, chortle, boof, sniff, snuff, ploof, grunt, burp, fart, wheeze, whine, wheedle and click her toenails on any hard surface.

When young, she rolled on dead fish down by the banks of the Mighty Scioto River. She played a game we called "basset ball" where we'd kick a kids' plastic ball against the basement wall in our apartment and she'd leap up to block it with her belly. She initially feared balloons, and would stalk them, finally overcoming her terror enough to leap on them... either bursting them with claw and tooth, or balancing atop them on her belly, rolling on them comically while wondering, we imagined, where they'd gone for the moment.

She once chased her tail around 17 times.

"Basset" comes from the French. "Bas" meaning "low." Basset can literally be interpreted as "rather low." Ellie was, indeed, a long, low dog. We joked that she wanted to be a greyhound when she was a puppy... but she was brought up short.

She was as gentle a dog as ever there was. You could take food out of her mouth if need be. She loved kids, and tried very hard to knock them down so that they would be at her level and, thus, more lickable. She loved to give wet, stinky kisses. She got the chance (twice) to eat whipped cream out of the mouth of a prominent lawyer (you know who you are). On her birthdays -- 15 of them! -- she preferred ice-cream sandwiches to cake.

We once, many years ago, re-wrote the lyrics to the song "Superfreak" for her:

She's a very sleepy hound.
The kind you don't wake up for breakfast.
She will always put her jowls down
Directly on your feet (yeah)
She likes to eat from your hand
Doritos are her all time favorite
When she makes a move for the couch it is nap-time
It's such a sleepy scene

And such. Also, since she liked to walk around in circles and hop... and skip... and jump around in her blankets in preparation for bed, we liked to sing:

Do a little dance
Make a little nest
Lay down tonite.
Lay down tonite.

There was also a picture, Photoshopped, from very early on in her career, and using one of the very first digitial cameras ever available, of "Stealth Bassets Over Baghdad." What really won the first war, you know...

Ellie took part in the Michigan Bassett Waddle, back in... oh, it must have been 1995 or so. Nothing like 300+ bassetts in a parade.

Her favorite toy was... well... chicken. Or tuna. Kind of a tie, I guess. When she was younger, we tried giving her those disgusting, dried piggie ears. She would take them to a corner of the apartment, or the back of a closet, and then attempt to burry them. Which is hard, when there's nothing there but carpet. She'd drop the ear, push it into the back corner with her nose, and then rub invisible dirt all over it with her snout. Again and again. To the point where she'd rub her nose almost bloody. Very, very odd. Those pig ears were either so foul or so wonderful that they had to be hidden from sight or preserved for posterity. We never figured it out.

Once or twice (or more, maybe) she would find for us a creature outside and bring it in, dead or mostly dead, for us to enjoy. This is what bassets have been genetically engineered to do. And so we did not blame her. Their long ears are designed for picking up underground vibrations. Their noses for burrowing and sniffing out critters. And their short, very powerful legs for digging various fauna from their underground lairs. You can't fight several thousand generations of bassett inbreeding. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, bassets gotta barf up semi-digested bunnies in the middle of a fancy dinner party. C'est la vie.

You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but Ellie learned them on her own. In her twighlight years -- bassets normally only live to be 10 or so -- she began to be, well... unreliable as a free-roaming bassett. We had installed a dog-door, and for many years she used it fine when we were out and at work all day. Not so these last few years. She'd go outside and bark like mad, full tilt, all day, until we came home. So we had to keep her inside. An cordoned off unto a particular zone of the house. Or so we tried. This dog could get out of almost any human-made zone of control. She'd chew her way through dog fences. Shimmy under or around blockades. Climb over furniture we left in her way. Much of this behavior after the age of 14, which is, for a basset, pretty much like 110 years old for a person.

The first day we brought her home, she tried to get a tennis ball that was about the size of her head into her mouth. She did it. Hysterical. Just yesterday, the day before she died, I fed her a handful of cut-up hot dogs and one got stuck underneath her and she couldn't quite figure out where it was. When she finally got it, she shot me this look that so clearly said, "You put that there on purpose, you goober." Hysterical.

She had the most beautiful ears of any basset. Ever.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

Virtual Alternate Reality Game (VARG): A Proposal

Three things that are in my head...

...and what happend when they smashed together.

I'm currently reading "The Night Watch," by Sergei Lukyanenko. It's a neat fantasy book about vampires and witches and sorcerors in modern day Moscow. Originally written in Russian, now in English. Fun stuff. It supposes a system by which all folks with supernatural powers of any kind, called "Others," are bound by a treaty so that there won't be a huge war that wipes out most of mandkind and earth and them and various bad things like that. So that's in my head; a world with another level of secret "stuff" going on. A battle in another magical dimension that takes place all around us.

Two. I'm almost always thinking, at some level or another, about Second Life. Although I don't play it much anymore, it still fascinates me. That plus the fact that anytime anyone with an actual company starts an account, the press release gets picked up in the media. But one of the reasons I stopped playing was that it had become, for me, a glorified, very pretty, chat room. And I've got plenty of people to chat with IRL, at work, at home, in IM, on email and on the blogs I frequent. Bumping into random people, faeries, furries, Goreans and mechs is fun... but I really have/had other stuff I should be working on. If there had only been a real "purpose" or more of a "game" to SL, I might have stayed on longer and done more. I hear that frequently from other folks, too. I tried becoming more of a builder at one point, to see if that would do the trick. But the 3D system in-game, while amazing for being free and letting you build your own content for a VW... well, it's still tricky and often cludgey. And you basically have to own land to really get the most out of it. And you then need to go use Photoshop to make textures. Which is a bit of a busman's holiday for me. And then you need to do scripting/programming for your stuff. And then I'm tired. So I just sit around at the bottom of an ocean and chat with people who look like large cats. What to do in Second Life?

Three: One of the blogs I keep an eye on, and have marked over there -- >, is InfoCult. Bryan talks about lots of neat stuff, but one of his frequent topics is Alternate Reality Games, or ARGs. From the Wikipedia definition:

An alternate reality game (ARG) is a type of game that overlaps the game world with reality, by utilizing real world media, in order to deliver an interactive narrative experience to the players -- a kind of surrealism. ARGs are typified by involving the players with the story and its characters, by encouraging them to explore the story, solve plot based challenges, and interact with game characters. ARGs can be delivered via websites, email, telephones, or any other means of communication which is readily available to the players.

There have been a number of famous ARGs in recent years. See the Wikipedia link above if you're interested or the ARGN Network, and bookmark Bryan's blog for ongoing coverage. It's fascinating stuff. But the basic idea of a game that goes on using real world media and events, intertwined with the same tools we use for work and other play... that's been in my head, too. So...

The Virtual Alternate Reality Game (VARG)

So... What if a group of people were to take the ARG motif to Second Life? I mean, lots of groups have all kinds of explicit alternate realities going on inside SL; they do Star Wars builds, they have islands that look like Hawaii, they have various S&M roleplay sits, etc. etc. But all of these suppose an understanding by all and every player that, yes, our little corner of the virtual world is different; incoherence. My reasons for being a furry do not overlap your reasons for being a Jedi do not overlap her reasons for being a dominatrix.

A good ARG, however, is built around coherence -- the idea that the real world is indistinguishable from the created situations of the ARG world. Its differences are implicit, and only then when you know it's a game.

So... how could you build a VARG on top of Second Life? A game inside the non-game? Several ideas have come into mine wee haid.

  • An economy based VARG. Each player joins by putting up a certain amount of $LD (Second Life currency) into a general pot. Some portion is held for a final prize. The same amount is used by each player to start an SL business, and at the end of the game period, the player with the biggest bank account wins. The game could either specify a certain type of business, be a free-for-all, exclude certain types, etc. All transactions would need to be recorded and public or some such nonsense.

  • Social VARG. How many friends can you make in a week? How much can you boost your ratings? Offer prizes.

  • The alien digital critters VARG. Pretend to be aliens from another dimension who have been either doomed or ejected or sentenced or something to a digital world -- Second Life. Totally roleplay the crap out of it. Maybe have several factions. Kinda like "Highlander" for SL.

  • The Knights Templar VARG. Start a whole secret society whose purpose is to do... something bold and moral. Stop having in-game sex? Start having more sex? Better sex? Wipe out in-game gambling? No bling? Pick an ethical (or aesthetic?) gambit and have at it. Either something that really tickles your fancy or something that would just be fun to implement from a, "Wow. That's changed the world," standpoint.

  • The Dojo / Guild VARG. Start a teaching society whose goal is to make folks into better scripters, builders, texturers, animators, etc. Preach the gospel of "DIY" on the grid. Have levels in several professions. Grant journeyman and master's status. Rate players and shops. Become the AAA of the multiverse.

Come to think of it, putting the last two of those together (or the last three?) would be interesting. The point is to figure out some overwhelming reason to be doing something with an overwhelming reason, and then stick to it in the game world.

This would be lots easier in SL than in the real world. Why? Because SL is built to be built on. You'd also have an easier time converting characters than you would people in a real life ARG (did I just type that?).

The last thing that occurred to me was that you could probably make some actual scratch doing this, as there is a real economy inside SL. If your VARG created objects that could be sold, a la the Dojo VARG... it's a game with a product. If it was a service VARG... same dealio. Here's a scene that popped into my head to leave you with...

Jayorg Maybank looked up at the half-finished temple wall he was helping to build along with four other apprentices. When they were done, the detail work would be exquisite, having taken the five of them nearly six hours each. But it would be worth it, as it was the project that would finally earn them their Journeyman Builder Badge. After which they would be allowed among the pleasures available on Cyan Island, rather than just skulking around the sandboxes and lame discos of the Apprentice Zones.

One of his compatriots was complaining about the work on in open chat, but Jayorg hushed him. "Shut up, Tael," he IMd. "You never know when the Master may pop in." Tael did shut up, and Jayorg could almost imagine that his avie was surly as he continud to apply textures and create new 3D shapes for the wall.

Once Journeymen, Jayorg knew, they'd be allowed to work on teams with animators and scripters, and that's when the real money could come in. So far only one of his pieces -- a rather nice pair of shoes, if he did say so himself -- had been accepted into the Guild Store. Of course his Master, as his sponsor, received 25% of all commissions and the Guild got another 25%. But he'd already made 2,400 LD in one week. The Guild Mall had incredibly strict taste and requirements, and it didn't hurt that there were always live fashion Artistas from the Social Hall on hand, 24/7, to help guide any shoppers.

He'd heard that when the Guild reached 500 members, and the Guild Chest had at least LD 1 million, that they would begin work on Magenta Island, which would be both a home for the Masters, and a place of rare services for invited high-rollers. Rumor was that the Journeymen were already working on a class of animated objects that required over a thousand hours of scripting each. Of course those were just rumors... If a Journeyman ever actually spoke to an Apprentice of his/her tasks and was found out...

Jayorg finished the final touches on the scrollwork of the wall lintel and placed it just-so. He paused to look around at the temple garden and was truly amazed and still a bit taken aback that he'd been accepted into The Guild. Nowhere else on Second Life could you find original work of this quality, because nowhere else were 300+ citizens working together, learning together, all under one plan. And the Guild's plan? The Commandment of Moral Beauty:

Our Second Lives are gifts. Gifts of time to communicate, connect and create. We will not waste these lives in idle chatter, nor in lewd acts, nor in gambling, nor solely in the contemplation of others' work. We will strive at all times to make this Other World a better place. More beautiful, educational,  civil, intelligent, interesting, pleasant, moral and profitable.

Six months and hundreds of hours of modeling and texture work... But Jayorg was *this close* to becoming a Journeyman. And even if would take him another six months... he believed in Moral Beauty in Second Life. When he went elsewhere on the grid and saw all those avies whose houses were cookie-cutters of each other... saw the chair campers... saw the chatters. They were having fun, sure. And that was fine... But he was... accomplishing something.

The temple garden stretched away into the distance in all directions; east and west, and up into the air, and down into the ground. Beautiful and original and designed by architects and planners, the Guildfounders and Masters and Journeymen. Somday he would call them "peers." He would walk with them and plan the new islands and towers and games.

But for today... there was another arch to build. And a temple to complete.

Just one idea... A real set of goals inside a virtual world. I don't have time to build it, but I'd sure like to visit...