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Archive for the ‘Virtual Worlds’ Category

If you’re fairly tech savvy or have spent some time in virtual worlds, this post may not be for you. If on the other hand, you have an interest in getting your feet wet in the virtual waters, but your current use of online technology is limited primarily to email and surfing the web, then this entry is intended to help make this process quite manageable. Some of the earlier blog posts on virtual worlds might be useful as background, but this one will focus on the nuts and bolts of getting started.

When I’ve had a chance to talk with educators about virtual worlds I’ve noticed a considerable amount of interest, but also some concerns or apprehensions. One concern is related to the technology as mentioned above, the other relates to time issues. We’ll address them both below. (more…)

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There has been considerable interest in recent years in the study of virtual worlds and computer/video games. This interest can be broken down roughly into the following four areas:

  1. Pure research
  2. Knowledge and skills acquired while gaming
  3. Games as educational models
  4. Virtual Worlds and Games as teaching/learning tools

In this post we’ll take a look at the first area, pure research, with a focus on virtual worlds.

Virtual worlds with their millions of participants worldwide has drawn considerable interest as a social phenomena. They represent fertile grounds for research and study in such varied fields as psychology, sociology, economics, education and even law. What are the implications for those who spend 20 or more hours per week on average in these spaces and for the future when many more people will be inhabiting these worlds while at work, study, play and when socializing?

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If you’re If you’re interested in taking the leap and exploring a virtual world or two where do you start? Your first decision is to determine whether you want to visit one of the open-ended non-gaming virtual worlds or one of the theme based MMORPGs (massive multi-player online role playing games).

Free-Form Worlds

The first category is most widely used for educational purposes. Second Life is probably the best known of these worlds and offers much to explore. There are also a number of published guides to this world to assist you. However, I have found its interface unique and somewhat complex for beginners.

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You know an area of interest has hit the mainstream when one of the “Dummies” series of books is published on that topic (Massively Multiplayer Games for Dummies by Scott Jennings (2006)). In recent years a number of books have been published that examine various aspects of the virtual world experience, some of general interest while others take a more academic approach. Having previous experience in one or more worlds will certainly provide a more meaningful context for your reading, but it is not required. In some cases the books may encourage you to explore virtual space. Here are two books that I found of particular interest as starting points:

1. Play Money (2006) by journalist Julian Dibbell reads like an adventure novel as it documents his attempt to make “play” his full time job for a year. For that year he sold virtual coins and objects that he acquired while playing the MMO Ultima Online for real money. In the book he raises a number of thoughtful issues regarding the nature of the virtual worlds and their relationship to real life. Here’s an excerpt from his blog that was written prior to the publication of the book:

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Types of Virtual Worlds

Lord of the Rings Online

There are a large number of virtual worlds in existence with memberships that vary from a few thousand to several million inhabitants. For the most part they can be seen as falling into one of two categories, the open-ended, non-structured (sandbox) virtual worlds, and the theme based, game-like Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (know as MMORPGs or MMOs).

“Real Life” Virtual Worlds

The first category has been more widely used for educational purposes. These worlds allow you to create your own environment as well as utilize environments created by others. They often simulate real life surroundings and activities. Academically, classes can be taught in these spaces, meetings or conference sessions held, and experiments and simulations created.

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If you’re new to virtual worlds and are curious about this social phenomena and its educational potential, this post will attempt to introduce you to some basics to get you started. The concept of a virtual world is very difficult to explain in a meaningful way if you’ve not experienced one directly. Most adults over the age of 40 have never visited a virtual world, nor did they grow up with computer and video games. Those of us in this age bracket who have had this experience came to it through our children or as an interest later in life. This post will deal with the more modern worlds that make use of graphics and sounds rather than the early worlds which were text based (MOOs, MUDs, MUSHs).

It’s Not Just a Cartoon!

When first exposed to a virtual world many adults describe what they are viewing as looking something like a cartoon or one of the video games children play. Certainly the graphics employ some of the same technology used in the creation of video and computer games, and the imagery is more like an animated film than a photorealistic environment. The difference is that many of the animated characters you are viewing are controlled by real people.

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For my second visit to the virtual world of Everquest, I created a new character (an elf) and began exploring the surrounding area. I noticed activity on a nearby hill and upon coming closer spotted a group of avatars defending the hill from an onslaught of foul looking creatures (orcs as I recall). The group leader sent me a message to ask if I would like to join them. I was delighted to be invited and for the next hour or so I became a member of the team, using my abilities to help defend the high ground against the “evil” enemy. When we appeared to have succeeded and the number of orcs attacking us became fewer, we decided to disband the group and go on our separate ways. We congratulated each other on our success as a team and vowed to work together in the future. I recall feeling quite energized by the experience and it reminded me of times I had gone on “adventures” with my friends as a child. I was struck by how effectively this virtual world had recreated that experience.

What a Difference a Day Makes

The very next day I logged on and went straight to the same hill to see if any members of the team had returned. (more…)

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