[SLED] Good Deeds in 3D? Is altruism a special trait of this medium?

Jonathon Richter jrichter at uoregon.edu
Fri Sep 1 11:08:08 PDT 2006


Jeremy, et al.

Altruism in Virtual Worlds is definitely an interesting topic. One  
that I've been giving some thought to since we talked about a month ago.

 From an ecological standpoint, I believe, true altruism generally  
only exists purportedly when there is a sacrifice of one's own  
reproductive possibilities in order to help another (e.g. allowing  
one's self to drown in order to save a child from the raging river).  
This can't, of course, be your OWN child - as you have a 50% genetic  
investment in your own kids. My textbook on Comparative Biology from  
my early '90's psych coursework has E.O. Wilson-ish discussions of  
the comparative advantages gained by different behaviors that look,  
on the surface, like altruism - but upon examination, have "selfish  
gene" interests. For example, when a honeybee stings you and it  
thereby dies, it has no reproductive possibilities anyways and thus,  
does so for the sake of the group. Likewise, a human daughter may  
forgo reproduction in order to help rear additional sisters.... and  
so on. It's explained through the Theory of Optimality - as I recall :)

With the affordances that Second Life provides the user - the social  
interactions, the relative personal anonymity and absence of death/ 
physical pain (can't your character just start over even after losing  
in the Kill Zones?), what strategies are people engaging in, with  
particular psycho-social motivations?

What strategies will people advance in Second Life in order to model  
the kinds of behaviors that they think this marvelous open system  
ecology best be used for?

 From a constructivist standpoint, people are probably looking at  
Second Life metaphorically, as it is too big and too ambiguous in its  
application  for people to embrace it categorically ("well, you can  
do LOTS of things - what do you WANT to do?"). One person sees SL as  
a space to play games, another sees is as a place to meet people and  
socialize, yet another sees it as a place to teach and learn. Some,  
of course, have multiple purposes in mind (and thus, multiple  
avatars). The way they think about SL will, to a large extent,  
determine the types of interactions that they seek and the strategies  
that they engage in to advance their motivations - including  
benevolent, unsolicited behavior.

Looking at the relative psychological gains that a person may get  
from acting benevolently in an unsolicited manner vis-a-vis the  
social environment that exists (and that a person hopes will arise)  
in MUVE's such as SL, one may discover some great strategies - though  
not necessarily truly altruistic:

	(a) I read a psychological explanation about why people, when  
driving their car, will stop to allow another driver to go ahead.  
This behavior not only allows that other driver a relative advantage  
(getting ahead in traffic) while causing the giver to "take a back  
seat" - er, so to speak - -- it also may give this seemingly  
altruistic person a sense of control: "I didn't HAVE to give that guy  
a nose-in to the oncoming lane, but I CHOSE to do so. Aren't I a nice  
person?", they say to themselves with a self-pat on the back. It  
makes them feel good about themselves and a sense of exigency.

	(b) Helping people out as a strategy may also - in the person's mind  
- advance the kind of culture that they are seeking. I'm a teacher  
and I believe that in a world where people are mutually supportive of  
one another, people will learn better, more efficiently, and more  
rapidly (more helpful people = more teachers, less distractions, less  
hurt). Apply the Golden Rule and we may get the kind of Second Life  
that we teachers envision. Griefers, on the other hand, might be  
operating from the metaphor that Second Life is a "predator-prey"  
ecology - much like violent video games - where it's ok for people to  
do ANYTHING to dominate.

	(c) When you see someone struggling in Second Life and in need of  
some help (whether by their appearance or by something in their  
behavior or communication) - and there is little to no cost in  
helping them out, will a person help? ... I think yes, because they  
will feel good about themselves without much pain. I bet you could  
survey this in different areas of SL and other MUVEs and see what  
variation exists across environments/age groups/usage preferences.

Just some thoughts....

~ Jonathon
************************************************
Jonathon Richter, Ed.D.
Research Associate
The University of Oregon
Center for Advanced Technology in Education
205C Rainier Building
1244 Walnut Street
Eugene, OR  97403-2056

541.346.1630
jrichter at uoregon.edu

I like the dreams of the future better than the history of the past.

~ Thomas Jefferson

************************************************










On Aug 31, 2006, at 11:30 AM, Jeremy Kemp wrote:

> Hey there,
>
> Does this medium itself foster altruistic behavior unlike any other?
>
> We're all seeing a bloom of socially conscience activity in SL.  
> Does facing
> an avatar trigger a "do good" posture toward others?
>
> I know that Philip Rosedale and others with Linden put forward an  
> unctuous
> goal of doing good with the medium. They've built in various scaffolds
> encouraging good karma and discouraging "griefers" in the system  
> itself.
>
> All good intentions aside, does the medium "massage" our interaction
> in-world and slant it toward helpfulness? This is a chicken and egg  
> question
> - does doing good come from the intentional seeding of that trait  
> OR does
> this company get it? Are they simply following an innate quality of  
> the
> medium itself and seeing great success because of it?
>
> Example: Take the generally negative attitude in the SL forums vs. the
> opposite behavior by the VERY SAME residents in-world.
>
> I wonder if SL's free-form interaction and narrative-independent  
> environment
> is finally letting the latent character of this mode come out?
>
> Strong team bonding is prevalent in MMORPGs like WOW. People help  
> each other
> and newbies even without impetus from game creators. Example: My
> clanplaid.net community was altruistic from the start of Bungie's  
> Myth. We
> still keep in contact - with 20+ in-person gatherings since 1998!  
> We even
> banded together to help out a poor member get a new $1000 monitor.
>
> Move beyond the D&D "killing ogre" theme and watch the effect  
> Teenagers are
> using this tool to tackle child sex trafficking, hep "FICs" are  
> raising
> money for Cancer research. (FIC = fetid inner core = long term  
> players who
> supposedly receive perks from SL.)
>
> One guy is even protesting Iraq in America's Army by stepping out  
> of the
> "warrior" character and yelling tributes to fallen soldiers. See:
> http://tinyurl.com/pclxg
>
> Has anyone seen literature on the topic of flourishing altruism in  
> immersive
> environments? I'm thinking my dissertation will explore this  
> function of the
> immersive mode of communication.
>
> Do you feel more helpful in-world than non-immersive environments?  
> Even here
> on this list, in discussion areas or in text-based real-time chat -
> helpfulness is less obvious. Not because we don't say "help  
> eachother" here
> in plain text.
>
> The implications of this are huge - and not confined to SL.
>
> -----------------------
> "And finally I would just say to each of you, I hope you would think
> carefully about what a better world means to you, and as you go  
> about Second
> Life you do things, build things, and interact in ways that further  
> your own
> vision of that better world." http://tinyurl.com/nbhm2
>
> (From SLCC speech by Mitch Kapor, LL Chairman on 8/19/06)
>
> --Jeremy
> www.simteach.com
>
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