By no means a comprehensive summary since I can only hop in from time to time, but I wanted to jot down notes and interesting information from the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education conference going on now in multiple VWs including Second Life, Opensim, World of Warcraft, and others. Â The full schedule is here and if for some reason you can’t go in-world to view, many of the sessions are being webcast on Treet.tv too.
Really fascinating project teLEGOrobotics – Â getting students from the UK and Japan to work collaboratively in OpensimÂ to control physical real world robots. Â They plan to model a nuclear reactor in a future stage of the project.
John Lester (aka Pathfinder Lester), Chief Learning Officer, ReactionGrid Inc. gave a great talk about Jibe as a multiuser 3d virtual world platform accessible via a web browser or standalone client, discussion also covered differences between Unity/Jibe and Opensim, plans for the “ji-way” (unity based hypergrid), keeping in touch with the educational community involved in virtual worlds, and bunches more. Â Great talk! Â Here are some links I pasted in as the talk was going on:
Virtual Harmony is a custom virtual environment that spans over 32 simulations to promote exploration and compelling learning experiences for education in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) as well as the study of history, leadership, innovation and military tactics. This paper introduces the current game design activities on Virtual Harmony and in Unity3D, the collaborative activities on the Military Open Simulator Enterprise Strategy (MOSES) project and a research study that evaluated the use of model-based reasoning and somatic computing for evaluating alternatives in avatar morphology to enhance STEM learning experiences within a Mars Geothermal game simulation. Â Also discussed Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory.
Note: Â This article was originally submitted to the Metavese Messenger, a now defunct Second Life newspaper, on November 18, 2005.
Fleep’s first avatar…
The First 30 Days
by Fleep Tuque
In October, a friend of mine posted on her Live Journal asking if anyone had heard of this Second Life thing and I remembered having an account in the beta, but due to lag I didn’t really play with it. Then I came home that evening and saw Second Life profiled in Newsweek magazine and thought, “I should check this out!” And on October 11, 2005, Fleep Tuque was born, in all her Barbie doll body glory.
On the very first day, I spent two hours trying to customize my face so that I didn’t resemble a freak. Then some friendly neighbors took me to a number of interesting places; the Prim Library, a public sandbox, and the Blue Stone theatre. As we settled in to watch a movie, I marveled at the ease with which I was able to view this streaming media in an online environment that looked and felt and sounded just like a theatre.
I work at a large state university in Ohio, teaching faculty how to use technology to enhance teaching and learning both inside and outside the classroom. I spend hours on the phone, helping distance learning students watch short video clips from as far away as Germany, and I thought about how sterile and visually unappealing the online format is for those videos when compared with the gorgeous textures and interactive environment that is Second Life. Already I’ve given virtual tours of Second Life to people in my department and it has sparked a new and exciting conversation about the future of distance learning and gaming as an educational tool for our students.
I also purchased one of the first few plots of First Land in Acontia, but within days, the land was snapped up by enterprising young noobs and before I knew it, a large revolving “JESUS IS LORD” sign was floating near my little prefab house and structures dotted the landscape. I had contacted a number of people from my online communities and dragged them over kicking and screaming to come experience this great new thing I had discovered, and together we managed to purchase, finagle and trade up for a sizable chunk of land with which to practice our fledgling building abilities. The Church of Starship, Eschwa Welcome Center, and the Temple of Eschwa now decorate our land, welcoming other new members and residents to explore their creativity.
I’m fascinated by this place. I’m fascinated by the possibilities, by the people, by the creativity I’ve seen, and the enterprising spirit that seems to have taken hold here. I’m also somewhat disappointed to find so much commercialism and pornography. Give people a blank slate, a blank new world in which they can be anything and build anything, and it’s sad to discover how many of them choose to replicate some of the most negative aspects of real life – unequal and demeaning sexual relationships, anything-for-a-buck capitalism, and seemingly endless strip malls and what looks like for all the world to be urban sprawl with little attention paid to creating a peaceful and soothing environment.
Fortunately, I’ve also found places of respite from those aspects of Second Life which seem depressing to me. I stumbled onto the Brainiacs and promptly signed up for the Brainiac Education Exchange Program (BEEP) and took my first scripting lesson. I discovered the memorial for the victims of Hurricane Katrina and was touched by the outpouring of emotion I saw there. And I’ve worked with residents in my sim to form the Acontia Neighborhood Association so that we can collaborate and work with each other to make our little noob sim an interesting and exciting place.
In the future, I plan to learn more about the stories of those residents who have managed to impact the development of this world for all of us, and watch closely as the economy and political activity on Second Life continues to evolve. After only a month, I see potential and promise here and I finally can fly around without banging into walls and landing on my face too often. My next task is to understand the players and people who have shaped Second Life, for better or worse, so look for upcoming profiles of the famous (or infamous) residents who have made their mark in the next issue of the Metaverse Messenger.
In early March, I was honored to be a guest moderator for the Virtual Worlds Educator Roundtable, where I got to interview the folks who make the weekly meetings happen. Â It was a really great session with lots of reflections about how far we’ve come in terms of using virtual worlds for education, and lots of brainstorming about where this field is going.
But one of the questions I asked the panel kind of stuck in my mind and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Â I asked if the panel had any thoughts about Linden Lab’s new CEO, Rod Humble (SL: Rodvik Linden), and I was surprised to hear several panelists say that they weren’t following the employees of Linden Lab as closely as they had in the past. Â To paraphrase, one of the panelists said something like the “the cult of personality phase” of their watching Linden Lab was over. Â I can appreciate that, after last year’s downsizing at the Lab, many of the employees I knew and had spent years developing good working relationships with were gone, and it seems from the outside as if we’re almost dealing with an entirely new company.
Rod Humble in his office at Linden Lab. Â ImageÂ courtesyÂ New World Notes.
Still, I thought about the panelists’ responses and wondered if I was perpetually in some kind of fan-girl stage of watching the leadership at the Lab for clues and omens about the future of the platform. Â Having given it some thought, I don’t think so. Â Though I have many criticisms of Second Life as a platform, and of Linden Lab as a company, I still see Second Life as the primary consumer platform in the virtual world space – and as such, I think its leadership matters very much. Â For good or ill, the philosophy of its CEO and other senior management can and will have a direct impact on my work, and potentially impact the direction the metaverse takes as a whole.
In that sense, I think it matters quite a lot what those leaders think, and as I’ve watched Rod Humble’s tweets and interactions with the Second Life userbase over the past few months, I’ve been more and more pleased that Second Life is being headed up by someone who seems to be, above all, thoughtful about what virtual worlds are, what impact games have on human behavior, and what the end goal is of our virtual lives. Â In sharp contrast to the last CEO, who seemed more focused on monetizing and marketing virtual worlds as an economic tool, Humble appears to genuinely reflect on the same kinds of questions that sometimes keep me up at night. Â And I find that comforting.
Humble’s Keynote at Inventing the Future of Games
I was having those thoughts about Humble’s leadership of Second Life (so far) even before I saw his recent keynote at the Inventing the Future of Games conference last week, but after watching the video multiple times, I am even more convinced that the Second Life platform is in better hands.
I should note, the audio quality of this video is not so great (part of the reason I had to watch it over and over) but I’m still grateful for the folks who made it available to those of us who couldn’t attend the conference. Â Â If the audio troubles are too much for you, check out this synopsis on Gamasutra.
Asking the Right Questions
It pleases me to know that Humble is thinking about this stuff on a very deep level, and is asking the kinds of moral and ethical questions that I worry often get pushed aside in the pursuit of Â making money for shareholders and investors.
Perhaps more importantly, I think he’s asking some of the right questions. Â He accepts, as I suspect most people reading this blog do, that games and virtual worlds are an art form, and that games and virtual worlds can and do change people’s behavior. Â The real question is – to what purpose? Â And as designers and developers of virtual spaces, are we thinking about this enough?
I think it’s extremely important to look at it and say how can we take responsibility as game creators. What games should we ethically build? If you are going to be influencing those [players] you have an enormous weight on your shoulders.” Â Â – Rod Humble at the Inventing the Future of Games Conference
Like Humble, I too hope to see virtual worlds and game worlds do more to explore the issues of power, class, and freedom – and what it means to be human in this increasingly virtual “real” world. Â And I hope that this can be an ongoing dialogue Â between the leadership at the Lab and the community of users who have invested in expressing their own visions of the future through the Second Life platform.
All too often in the past, it felt as if the Lab’s goals were simply to capitalize on the work of its Residents instead of recognizing that beyond earning a living, most of us are living out our digital lives in pursuit of answers to the same profound questions that govern our real lives.
Many cheers for a CEO who is engaged as deeply in those questions as we are.
Wait, that’s not the new CEO, that’s Phaylen writing about the new CEO. Â 😉
The game of musical CEO chairs has finally come to an end at Linden Lab today, on the eve of Christmas Eve! The music has stopped and the gentleman finding himself at the head of the table is Rod Humble, which has sent some people into throngs of optimistic praise and others into brow furrowing dread. Why?
The concept of “Life as a Game” is certainly not a new one, when I was a kid, the game of Life was my favorite board game of all time.Â I still remember the thrill of filling up my little car with boy and girl babies I imagined I’d haveÂ at some point in the far off future, or the crushing defeat of bankruptcy, a term I didn’t really understand, but in that context basically meant “Game Over.”Â Spin the dial – what does the game of Life bring you next?
And it’s not as if I’m not a big fan of video and online games – I cut my teeth on the Atari 2600/5200, hand drew maps in colored pencil to find Princess Zelda, played Ultima on a Commodore 64, still have an account on the Medievia MUD that goes back to 1994, have an 80 level holy spec priest on WoW (they nerfed holy spec, don’t get me started), and most recently celebrated the completion of my horse stable on Farmville.
I grew up on games – the first generation to grow up playing video games – I was a “Girl Gamer” back when we were a pretty rare breed and I’m still playing now that “gaming” in its various forms is so common that the Pew Research Center reports that, “Game playing is ubiquitous among Americans teenagers. Fully 99% of boys and 94% of girls report playing video games.” They also report, “More than half – 53% – of all American adults play video games of some kind.”
We are increasingly (already?) a nation of gamers.
And yet, despite the fact that virtually all young people game, and over half the adults in the US game, there still appears to be a very finite line between “gaming” and .. everything else.Â We still delineate “real life” (RL) as separate from game spaces – even when the space isn’t actually a game space, as in Second Life.Â The skepticism and often openly hostile reaction of scorn/pity that Second Life residents get from non-SL peeps is almost remarkable considering that the very people delivering that heaping dish of disdain turn right around and log in to WoW or EVE or Farmville.
Just yesterday, in a debate about a topic wholly unrelated to gaming, someone I was arguing with bolstered his point with the concluding line:
“I think of you as less of a person for using Second Life, and for no other reason.”
Now, to be fair, we were engaged in a sort of theatrical debate where the low blow is not only acceptable but expected, and it was all said in good fun and humor, but.. like with many kinds of humor, it was funny because it had the faint ring of truth.Â Many people actually DO think less of me as a person for using Second Life, just as a decade ago they thought less of me as a person for playing EverQuest, just as a decade before that they thought I was not only insane but maybe dangerously insane for talking to strangers on the internet through those weird BBSs and MUDs full of D&D playing soon-to-be-axe-murderers.
Ahhhh how times have changed.Â The internet, she vindicated me. And ahhh how times of changed, now half the adults in the US play WoW or some other game and it’s not so crazy anymore.Â Â Alas, I’m still waiting for virtual worlds to vindicate me, but having gone through this combo-pity-scorn routine a few times, I’m not shaken by the current state of attitudes about virtual worlds, augmented reality (why would you want to look at DATA on top of the REAL WORLD on your PHONE, what’s wrong with you?!), or most of the other technologies I use that cause people to look at me askance and with wary eyes. (Twitter????Â Whaaa???)
What DOES cause me great concern, however, is that these Ludic Luddites have no clue about what’s coming.
Barry Joseph delivers the SLEDcc 2008 keynote address.
His keynote talk, Living La Vida Ludic: Why Second Life Can’t Tip, is worth watching, and it’s one of those talks that sticks in your mind like a burr, at the time it didn’t quite penetrate (I was one of the conference organizers, so my brain was on 50,000 other things) but it stuck with me, and in the years since, the message he delivered only resonates more strongly with time.
Loosely translated, it’s about living a playful life.Â It’s about combining the adventurousness, fun, openness, exploration, and all of the other joyful aspects of our game play into our “real life”.Â Â The central thesis of his keynote was that virtual worlds and other platforms like Second Life can’t and won’t tip, until the broader culture of “living la vida ludic” tips.Â One must come before the other, and back in 2008, he made it clear that the title of his talk could be taken in two ways – first, that virtual worlds like Second Life would NEVER tip – or that something was holding Second Life back from tipping into the mainstream.Â He left the question about which interpretation was right for the audience to decide, but I thought then as I do now that the answer was the latter.Â There are forces at work holding back virtual worlds, Second Life, AND the ability for us to live a ludic life as openly and as joyously as we wish we could.
Those who don’t understand not only feel scorn and pity, they feel fear.
Yes Virginia, NASA scientists say the earthquake in Chile may actually have knocked the earth's axis. It's not just your perception, the world has actually shifted.
As I said to a good friend of mine the other day, I’m struggling with this.. feeling I have, that all of the meta-narrative that stood at the very foundation of my understanding of the world – how the world works, where it’s going, where I fit into it, what I’m supposed to be doing – the meta-narrative from my childhood seems to not make much sense anymore.
The world seems off kilter.Â It’s changing so quickly, I don’t know anyone who feels like they can keep up with the pace of change.Â And so many major systems that underpin our society and culture appear to be, frankly, broken.Â On the rocks.Â Our government. Our banking and finance system. Our ecosystems.Â Our healthcare system.Â Our system of education.Â None of these systems and institutions appear to be meeting the needs of our society as we experience it TODAY.Â They all seem to be failing us.
Why?Â It’s a no brainer, of course, and not an original thought at all.Â It’s simple – the systems and institutions built to address the needs of a pre-digital-society don’t work to address the needs of a society that can get, transmit, and transform information as quickly as we can today.
And boy is that causing a lot of fear.
I feel it, don’t you?
Fortunately, the nation’s best teachers have some advice
(well, mostly the nation’s best male teachers, but that topic is for another post)
Chris Lehman at TEDxNYED explaining that changing education necessarily means changing the world. Photo credit WayneKLin.
Perhaps most importantly, the subtext of the conference was that the issues teachers and educators are facing aren’t just confined to the “educational system” – as if it’s some discrete thing disconnected from the society and culture at large – and indeed, as George Siemens said, considering that society dumps every ill and issue at the doorstep of education to solve, it’s amazing the system functions as well as it does.Â But take out the word “education” from these TEDxNYED Talks, and they are talking about what society at large needs to do to adapt to our changing circumstances.Â (The videos aren’t up yet, but they’ll be available on YouTube soon.)
At least for the purposes of this post, I think the first important piece of advice came from Michael Wesch.Â Which is simply this:
When a game changing technology enters a society or culture, you don’t have the option to opt-out.Â It changes everything.
All those Ludic Luddites, who fear the technology, avoid the technology, feel that the current systems of getting things done would work just fine if only they could better regulate, standardize, and enforce them, are just plain wrong.Â The world has shifted and there’s no turning back now.
What does this have to do with gaming?
Slide from Dan Meyers' talk at TEDxNYED - quests anyone? Photo credit kjarrett.
Well, I’m getting round to that.
As I watched these presentations and suggestions from teachers about ways to improve (society) education, I couldn’t help but see game elements – and the ludic life – infused throughout their talks.
When Dan Meyer talked about changing math curriculum to stop asking kids to give the answers, but instead help them figure out what the important questions are, itlooked like creating good game quests to me.
When Lessig and Jenkins talked about mashup culture and how destructive it is to limit the creativity unleashed when you put tools in the hands of individuals, it reminded me an awful lot of how content gets created in virtual worlds like Second Life and OpenSim.
George Siemens at TEDxNYED. Image credit WayneKLin.
The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems â€“ (global) warming, population growth, poverty â€“ will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems.
Sounds like the serendipitous, chaotic, and unexpected connections you form in WoW, or EVE, or any other game world, and “mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions” is just fancy talk for good class balance.Â Can’t have too many tanks and not enough healers or the whole thing comes crashing down.
Ok.Â And one more, also from George:
The big battles of history around democracy, individual rights, fairness, and equality are now being fought in the digital world. Technology is philosophy. Technology is ideology. The choices programmers make in software, or legislators make in copyright, give boundaries to permissible connection.
This is, of course, the perennial battle between the game players and the game gods. Except wait, what?Â The whole story of the birth of the US is all about us being our own game gods.Â Hm.
In any case, the point here is, I think the Ludic Life is starting to tip.
We haven’t hit it just quite yet, but the elements of game play that Barry talked about in 2008 are starting to show up in the oddest of places.Â The World Bank is funding an Alternative/Augmented Reality Game called EVOKE that has thousands of people, from school kids to adults, and from all over the world, playing a “game” that promises to teach us how to address major global issues and respond to global crisis.Â Oh, and you might win scholarships, grants, or seed funding from the World Bank if you have a good idea.Â Put that on your resume!
What happens when game devs (working for corporations?) become our primary social engineers instead of the nominally elected politicians?
Naturally,Â I’m interested in the ways that game mechanics, game culture, game concepts, and game design filter out and influence RL.Â And though I work in higher education, my undergrad degree is in Political Science and my not-so-secret passion is sort of the nexus where the emerging metaverse and game culture is changing “real life” society and culture, which of course includes education but goes beyond edu, too.
I know I’m not the first guild master to think that herding this bunch of cats is way more complicated than many RL jobs, or to realize the skills I learned adventuring with my guildies often had applicability to real life situations. I’d like to think I learned something about teamwork, diplomacy, compromise, and all sorts of organizational, strategic, tactical, and political skills through my journeys in worlds that only exist in bits and bytes.
Generally speaking, my career, my work, this blog, everything I’ve been doing for the last 10 years is about bringing this technology to people who don’t have it/know about it/use it yet.
But watching that video gives me the willies.
First, because I don’t think it is as far off in time as some think it might be.Â Second, because I don’t think it’s that far fetched in terms of what could actually come to pass.Â And third, because I’ve been a lowly peon player in the game god universes/metaverses for a really really long time.Â On an old BBS I’m still using, I’m one of the “moderators”.Â And you know what we say?Â This ain’t a democracy.Â Don’t like our rules, don’t play.
Furthermore, my post the other day about Stickybits demonstrates just how quickly the barriers to privacy are falling.Â I posted that barcode just to figure out how the service worked, and before I knew it, I was collecting the home addresses of my blog readers without even realizing what I’d done.
Want me to know your home address?Â Go ahead, download the app to your smartphone and scan that barcode.Â I’ll get an email within a minute or so letting me know you scanned it, and where you were on the planet when you did, right down to the address and a lovely Google Map pinpointing your exact geo-location.
And I guess I should award you 5 points if you scan it.Â Redeemable for..Â I don’t know what yet.Â An hour long private tour of Second Life, I guess.
And now I’ve broken the #1 rule of the 140 character metaverse, which is to make a really really long post and get to the end and not have any answers.
I don’t know exactly what train we’re on here, but the train seems to be moving ever faster and faster.Â And I worry more and more about who’s driving the train, and I have a sort of sick feeling that about half of the passengers have no clue that they are even on THIS train – I think they think they’re on a different train entirely, and that they’re driving it.Â But they aren’t.
As much as I love gaming, and I do love it, I’m not so sure I want Crest giving me points for brushing my teeth.Â I think I’ll have to come back to this.
Thanks for reading if you made it this far, and if you have any thoughts, I’m all ears.
Hi folks, still jotting down some notes for myself to go back and review when the SLPro! conference is over. Â The last couple of days have been very exciting and a little overwhelming – not only has the conference had some really great sessions, but the conference itself combined with experiencing the world in a whole new interface has been fun, challenging, and a bit exhausting. Â 😉
So here are my notes to go back and pore over when I get a minute to catch my breath:
A Few Bits I’ve Discovered (or more likely someone taught me)
Scoble’s Interview with Mark Kingdon (SL: M Linden)
Excerpts from Claudia Linden’s Email to SLED
Announcing Second Life Viewer 2 Beta and Shared Media
Today, we’re excited to announce the launch of Viewer 2 Beta, the next generation of Second Life viewers — combining an easy browser-like experience with shared media capabilities — providing what we believe is the best experience yet for accessing Second Life, and a new option to choose from among Viewer 1.23 and other Third Party Viewers. Our Viewer 2 blog post is here:Â https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/features/blog/2010/02/23/second-life-viewer-2-beta-now-available
Shared Mediaâ„¢, a standard capability in Viewer 2, makes sharing standard Web-based media and content in Second Life easy, and enables content creators to make more compelling, interactive experiences. Content creators can now place Web pages, video, Flash content, and other web media, onto any surface in Second Life. We expect that Shared Media will inspire a creative renaissance in Second Life as Residents explore more immersive and integrated inworld experiences and business opportunities such as gaming or theaters.
We Look Forward to Your Feedback
We need to hear from you! Participate in the Viewer 2 Forum (https://blogs.secondlife.com/community/forums/v2) and share your experience and suggest future enhancements. Then, go tell your friends! If you Twitter, then use the #SLViewer2 hash tag.
Considering I’ve been working there pretty much full time the last few years, I didn’t know it was dead.Â 😉
OK that’s not fair, the hype cycle of 2007-08 came and went and it’s had a palpable effect to be sure, but those kinds of posts always make me vaguely defensive even though I have my own criticisms of the platform and the company running it.
I started to write a response in his comments, but I lost my text twice (I think it’s Chrome’s fault) so finally I said heck with it, I’ll put it here instead:
Whatever the failings of the platform or LL’s specific implementation of it, they were hugely successful at introducing the concept of a non-game-based virtual world to millions of people, and most importantly IMO, a world created by the users rather than the company.Â User generated content and crowd-sourcing is practically passe now, but back in the day, those were still very untried, untested concepts.Â The idea that an immersive 3D space could be populated with content using the same community/random user model as Wikipedia was definitely not a given.Â That it succeeded at all in Second Life still seems miraculous to me, especially given the technical skill required and the dreadful interface.
As it stands now, Linden Lab’s biggest advantages are 1) that enough of us who saw the potential in those early years have managed to stick it out and continued to populate the world with experiments, interesting use cases, and compelling content, and 2) they got a very lucky reprieve, just when things started to not just plateau but decrease, the economic crisis dried up a lot of funding for potential competitors.Â Anyone professionally interested in the future of the metaverse has little choice at the moment BUT Second Life (or its cousin OpenSim).
Hopefully it will give them enough time to fix what’s broken, especially with the interface and new user experience, but just as importantly with the scalability issues and lack of APIs that have hindered integration with other platforms and enterprise data systems – it’s the latter holding back increased institutional adoption more than the former.
Either way, whether Second Life as a platform (or Linden Lab as a company) endures through the ages is less interesting to me than seeing where the concept of the metaverse goes from here.Â I still think robust competition from some wholly different conception of a virtual world will be the best medicine for Linden Lab, but I worry that they’ve got such a corner on the still relatively small market that currently exists that it’s actually stifling innovation in other directions. It wouldn’t be so troubling if I saw more evidence that they could continue to innovate, but the Second Life we use today is not _markedly_ different than the Second Life I logged into in 2003.
Perhaps whatever they’re going to announce will prove that statement wrong, but if my long experience in Second Life has taught me anything, it’s not to get my hopes up too high.
Having said all that, I still give them all due credit for what they’ve accomplished, and for what they’ve made possible for people who have had the patience and foresight to understand that this is still very, very early days for the metaverse indeed.
Scoble promises an announcement tomorrow at Building43, I plan to tune in and see what’s got him so excited.
Be sure to set up your Tivo/DVR to record the PBS premier of digital_nation: life on the virtual frontier this Tuesday, 2/2 at 9PM EST.Â Besides knowing some of the people in the show, I’ve been watching the submissions and postings on their website for a good while and I think it’s going to be interesting.Â I couldn’t get the nerve to submit a video myself, but I look forward to seeing other Second Life residents in the mix!