From Plato‚??s Republic to Quest Atlantis:

The role of the philosopher-king

  • Sasha Barab Indiana University
  • Craig Jackson Indiana University


In this article, we present a reflective account of our experience in developing a play space for learning that sits at the intersection of education, entertainment, and our social commitments. We use Plato's Republic as backdrop to understand the struggles and opportunities of designing and supporting a globally-distributed, multi-user virtual environment to facilitate the learning of thousands of children ages nine to thirteen. This environment allows us to better understand the tensions involved in sharing power, facilitating distributed ownership, supporting voice, insinuating norms, and the assigning of roles and responsibilities within the confines of a monitored social environment designed to support learning. We (designers, teachers, and members alike) have faced implicit and explicit opportunities to learn about and experiment with social power in a context that is relatively safe, instructive, forgiving of mistakes, and capable of fast adaptation when changes are needed. Here, we provide an account that both advocates for and problematizes play spaces for education, sharing hope and providing empirical grounding to what are all too often unsubstantiated claims or highly theoretical aspirations.
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