World of Peacecraft

New massive multiplayer game emerges
January 31, 2010

Imagine: Virtual architecturee, sets stage for Emergence quest.

Imagine: Virtual architecturee, sets stage for Emergence quest. Credit: Philip Lin/© Emergence game project, 2009

Imagine this: 200 years in the future, an entire race of androids—created by humans to alleviate worldwide labor problems and global economic crises—has created a sophisticated world of beautifully surreal, well-constructed, and environmentally advanced buildings under the control of a computer network.

But a design flaw suddenly causes the androids to rebel and unleash a rapidly unfolding chemical, biological, and nuclear holocaust that destroys much of civilization. Then, the cyborg perpetrators seemingly disappear, leaving the survivors—competing factions of rogue scientists, genetically modified settlers, mobsters, ex-military personnel, and others—to pick up the pieces.

Imagine: Player challenge, sets stage for Emergence quest.

Player challenge, sets stage for Emergence quest. Credit: Takayoshi Sato/© Emergence game project, 2009

That may sound like a prescription for the mother of online war games. But a diverse group of faculty members and students at Duke are collaborating to craft what they call "the first massively multiplayer online game that encourages diplomacy and social cooperation over violence."

Tim Lenoir, Kimberly Jenkins Chair for new technologies and society; Casey Alt, visiting professor of the practice in art, art history & visual studies; graduate student Patrick Jagoda; sophomore Brent Sodman; and juniors Harrison Lee and Lucas Best are building Emergence, a video game in which the mastery of diplomatic, economic, and social dynamics pays greater dividends than the exercise of brute force. The game is designed to be played by thousands of people at the same time.

According to Jagoda, the strategies required to succeed are equally effective outside the game, and offer a new breed of game for a more socially aware generation of gamers.

"The game narrative and structure, which in some respects recall traditional violent games, hook players while simultaneously teaching them, implicitly, about alternative modes of social and political interaction," he says.