The Gonzo Scientist

Scientists, We Need Your Swords!

Science  18 Apr 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5874, pp. 312
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5874.312b

Dear Reader

Has your life been deeply shaped by Tolkien, Dungeons & Dragons, Final Fantasy, and/or Conan the Barbarian? Were you, like me, fascinated by Science's 27 July 2007 cover article about online worlds as natural laboratories for scientific research? And what are you doing 3 weeks from now? If the answers to those questions are Yes, Yes, and “Taking my orc shaman into Blackfathom Deeps to kill naga,” then I hereby invite you to take part in a unique event:

Convergence of the Real and the Virtual: The First Scientific Conference in the World of Warcraft 9-11 May

This will not be your typical conference. Sure, there will be sessions devoted to various research topics involving virtual worlds, panel discussions, social activities, and those conference goody bags that we've all come to love. But to attend this conference, you don't have to splurge on grant money or add to global warming by flying to another country. And in the goody bags, you won't find brochures, pens, or those quickly lost notebooks.

Instead, each conference participant will receive (while supplies last) 10 gold pieces, a red “Sciencemag” shirt, a colorful conference tabard emblazoned with an infinity symbol, two extra bags for swag, a telescope, and a pet creature. Between sessions, there will be group field trips across landscapes inhabited by dangerous beasts—some earthly and extinct, others fanciful—an introduction to the world's auction-based economy, and finally a massive joint assault on an enemy city. (Beat that, Gordon conferences!) Anyone with an Internet connection can take part, from anywhere in the world. All you have to do is install the game, create a character, and join the guild called “Science” on the Earthen Ring US server.

If that sounds scary, complex, weird, geeky, well… welcome to the future. At least, welcome to the future of scientific research envisioned by the conference organizers, William Bainbridge (a sociologist at the National Science Foundation) and about a dozen scientists whose research involves the 10 million people who spend time—scary amounts of time—in the Warcraft universe.

I look forward to meeting you there. I'll be playing my 20th-level troll huntress, Gonzorina. That's a picture of her above, along with her fearsome pet, Darwin.

Best wishes from Azeroth,

The Gonzo Scientist

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