Consider an internet site devoted to designing for the video game, The Sims (the bestselling set of video games in history). In the Sims players can use 3-D design tools to design houses, environments, furniture, clothes, and many other things to resource the families and neighborhoods they are building in the game. They can also give away or sell what they design to other players so they, too, can use them in their game play. All this fan-based design work is the great game-designer Will Wright’s “sneaky” way to get players to do his work for him, all the while resourcing their creativity and taking his money to the bank. So far no one is complaining.
This Sims site is what I call a passionate affinity space. People with a passion for designing for the Sims set up a hive of activities, interactions, and teaching and learning tools to resource people with an interest in the Sims and, for some of them, to fan that interest into a passion and a real mastery of design.
The site is a space within bigger spaces and it is space linked or connected to other spaces, some “far away” from it. All these sets of inter-connected spaces are an affinity space, one big one, and each space is part of the larger affinity space and itself an affinity space. Every space (even a book or guide that is linked within the whole system and used as part of it) is a “portal” to information about and activities in regard to the Sims. Some of the portals are also “generators” in the that in these spaces fans can not only get information, but can produce (generate) information, social interactions, and activities themselves.
Even within the one site we are considering, people do more than just design things for themselves and others to use in their play. They engage in a myriad of other endeavors, as well. Some create novel challenges about how to play the game and run competitions. Some use the design tools that come with the game—and other tools like Adobe Photoshop—to create graphic novels, a form of fan-fiction devoted to the Sims. Some debate the design of the game and suggest modifications; some debate how well the game represents different aspects of culturally and class-based lives in the “real” world. Others organize social activities on the site or in the real world. Still others take their Sims design skills over into landscaping, designing furniture or clothes, or taking photography in the “real” world or in other virtual spaces (like Second Life). And many passionate fans design teaching tools and offer mentorship to help others learn and, if they want, become passionate masters themselves. Some people on the site become real masters of design with no “official” credentials or degrees—gaining wide respect and adulation (and sometimes money)—a phenomenon happening across many Maker Spaces.
No one, I think, really yet knows how to map the geography and explicate the physics of affinity spaces (within spaces). The word “space” here is a metaphor, but, perhaps, it is more. Or, then, again, maybe we should invent a whole new word here. I don’t know.
However, there are those who are impressed by the way in which affinity spaces organize teaching, learning, mastery, creativity, and the acquisition of 21st Century skills (for example, in our current example, 3D design, computational thinking, leadership, collaboration, collective design and intelligence, fanning interests into passions, and various transfers to the “real” world). They ask whether we can “make” an affinity space in bricks and mortar and grass. But then the metaphor can come back to “eat” its own literal tail (base). Others are interested other sorts of bricks, and mortar and grass of things inspired by other sorts of virtual spaces devoted to areas like medicine and health, activism and community development, “third spaces”, and even, I would think, religion.
When architects design real rooms and buildings they often take advantage of the “golden ration”. This ratio – 1:1.61– is found in nature repeatedly, for example, in the shapes of clouds and flowers, in the proportions of bodies, human ones included, and in aspects of the universe as a whole. It is fundamental to mathematics, music, and painting. And it is a fundamental part of the architect’s toolkit.
An architect might determine that the best shape of a room designed for certain specific sorts of interactions is a golden ratio rectangle, not a square or a circle. This decision will be based on how people feel, think, and interact in such spaces, on how such space shape the human mind, body, and social interactions.
But what is the shape of affinity spaces and the “rooms” in them? How do these shapes shape the human mind, body, and social interactions when the body has entered virtual space or a combination of virtual and “real” spaces? Are there any “golden ratios” here? What happens to “real” buildings and “real” space when virtual space comes to re-shape it? What then will then rebound back to virtual space to transform it and its fit with the “real”? These are, I would think, new questions, as of yet unconnected to any one discipline. As with all good new questions, here the metaphorical and the “real” blend, mix, and transform each other.