My Life’s Work

Working for social change at work using the liminal space between MMORPGs and The Future of Work

In rewatching this video below with John Seely Brown, in which he discusses how World of Warcraft players are innovating on a level that most businesses can’t imagine or even achieve, I’ve come to the realization that this is pretty much the essence of what I want to be doing with my life’s work.

“But it gets back to this notion of passion, it gets back to this notion of curiosity, and it gets back to this notion that this is an interest-driven phenomenon that unleashes exponential learning of a dimension that’s almost unimaginable any other way.”

John Seely Brown

The primary difference between John and myself though is that he’s mainly focused on the innovation occurring within the social organizations (aka guilds) around the game. What I want to do is even go beyond this and utilize the game elements themselves as metaphors to not only help people make sense of how The Future of Work will work but how we will achieve the necessary social innovation via creativity to actually get there in the first place.

For example, in massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs), players level up their character within the game, thus gaining new capabilities that enable them to take on challenges of increasing complexity. For society to reach the The Future of Work, we also need people to level up their consciousness, thus gaining new capabilities that enable them to take on challenges of increasing complexity as well. That’s because The Future of Work is effectively “a whole new game” that’s paradigmatically different from our conventional World of Work, thus requiring people to change the way they perceive their world and themselves as well.

A new paradigm, informing a different way of experiencing and working in the world, will require the development of different capabilities than most of us have now. These capabilities are difficult to acquire or sustain outside of a community and culture within which mutual support and learning can occur. The trick is to build or evolve culture at a level that doesn’t simply reproduce old patterns of thought, and this requires the development of consciousness. Consciousness, in this context, refers to the ability to recognize different levels or orders of world.

Carol Sanford, Indirect Work

However while our approaches might differ, I think the primary method that John Seely Brown is so effortlessly using is one that I’ve been struggling to find and replicate myself, that being lightly touching on the game elements as an opener but then deeply describing their translated meaning afterwards. For example, he talked about a typical “guild” doing a “raid” within World of Warcraft but then translated what that means for innovation within the workplace, describing how the self-organizing social structures of these online communities are allowing them to do unprecedented things compared to the conventional World of Work.

All said and done though, if you had told me a little over two decades ago that today I was going to be standing within this liminal space between MMORPGs and The Future of Work, I probably would have said you were crazy. That’s because at the time, while initially building online communities around video games personally on my own, I had successfully made the jump to professional work as a Senior Web Development building online community hubs around video games for some of the largest video game publishers, such as Sierra, Activision, and Konami. So my life looked like it was perfectly on track and going in the right direction, with nothing to stop me.

But when the Dot-Com Bubble burst shortly afterwards in 2001, imploding my entire life and work, that’s when I began questioning the way that work worked altogether, leading me on a quest of researching The Future of Work, social innovation, creativity, and vertical development which strangely enough over two decades lead me full circle back to the innovations I had previously experienced within these video game communities. Like John Seely Brown said, “there is something going on here” in these spaces with people playing in these “complex worlds” and I hope to reveal just that in the days ahead.

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