World of Warcraft is more than a game. There is no ultimate goal, no winning hand, no princess to be rescued. WoW is an immersive virtual world in which characters must cope in a dangerous environment, assume identities, struggle to understand and communicate, learn to use technology, and compete for dwindling resources. Beyond the fantasy and science fiction details, as many have noted, it's not entirely unlike today's world. In The Warcraft Civilization, sociologist William Sims Bainbridge goes further, arguing that WoW can be seen not only as an allegory of today but also as a virtual prototype of tomorrow, of a real human future in which tribe-like groups will engage in combat over declining natural resources, build temporary alliances on the basis of mutual self-interest, and seek a set of values that transcend the need for war.
What makes WoW an especially good place to look for insights about Western civilization, Bainbridge says, is that it bridges past and future. It is founded on Western cultural tradition, yet aimed toward the virtual worlds we could create in times to come.
Each presents a different picture of how technology and society could evolve in coming centuries, but one theme runs through all of them, the attempt to escape the Earth and seek new destinies among the stars. Four decades after the last trip to the moon, a new conception of spaceflight is emerging. Rather than rockets shooting humans across vast physical distances to sterile rocks that lack the resources to sustain life, perhaps robot space probes and orbiting telescopes will glean information about the universe, that humans can then experience inside computer-generated environments much closer to home.
All nine of these fantastically rich multiplayer masterpieces have shown myriads of people that really radical alternatives to contemporary society could exist, and has served as a laboratory for examining the consequences. Each is a prototype of new social forms, a utopian subculture, and a simulation of technologies that have yet to be invented. They draw upon several different traditions of science fiction and academic philosophy, and they were created in several nations. By comparing these nine role-playing fantasies, we can better consider what kind of world we want to inhabit in the real future.
The primary methodology is focused on sending avatars, representing classical social theorists or schools of thought, into online gameworlds that harmonize with, or challenge, their fundamental ideas, including technological determinism, urban sociology, group formation, freedom versus control, class stratification, linguistic variation, functional equivalence across cultures, behavioural psychology, civilization collapse, and ethnic pluralism.
Researchers and students in the social and behavioural sciences will benefit from the many diverse examples of how both qualitative and quantitative science of culture and society can be performed in online communities of many kinds, even as artists and gamers learn styles and skills they may apply in their own work and play.
Both the Bush and the Obama administrations have cut back severely on fundamental research in space science and engineering. Understanding better what space exploration means for citizens can contribute to charting a feasible but progressive course. Since the end of the Space Race between the US and the USSR, social scientists have almost completely ignored space exploration as a topic for serious analysis and this book seeks to revive that kind of contribution.
The author communicates the insights in a lucid style, not only intelligible but interesting to readers from a variety of backgrounds.