A previous post focused on getting one’s feet wet in a basic virtual world. Open ended virtual worlds like There, Active Worlds and Second Life provide free initial memberships and are not overly demanding in terms of computing power. They function well as simulations of real world environments for social, entertainment, educational, and business purposes.

In this entry we’ll look at the process of exploring the theme based “gaming” worlds called MMORPGs (Massive Mulitplayer Online Role Playing Games) or MMOs. These worlds have the largest number of members world wide (15+ million), and while not used as widely for educational purposes, they have a number of potential applications. Among their participants are a significant number of educators who play for fun, challenge and connections with others. It’s not uncommon for real life friends, family members and colleagues to spend time adventuring together in these worlds. They have also been the subject of a number of research studies which investigate their social aspects, virtual economies, cultural dimensions and skills developed in the process of playing.

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Worlds of Wordcraft

At Vanderbilt University a first-year writing course entitled “Worlds of Wordcraft: Narrative Forms in the Digital Classroom” makes use of a variety of media to engage students in the learning process while enhancing their writing skills. Games and virtual worlds that are used in this course include Lord of the Rings Online, Dark Age of Camelot and Neverwinter Nights 2.http://sitemason.vanderbilt.edu/vanderbiltview/articles/2007/11/01/learning-in-a-digital-age.48427

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. Continue Reading »

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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Predicting the Future

A friend just sent a link to a presentation by computer scientist and visionary Alan Kay on the topic of predicting the future. It’s a great piece with a lot to consider. There certainly are significant implications in Kay’s observations in terms of education and the use of some of the technologies that are the focus of this blog. Here’s the link along with a few quotes of interest from the presentation:


the best way to predict the future is to invent it.

“Humans beings can’t exist without communication. It’s one of those basic human traits, and we’re always willing to pay more for a better communications amplifier.”

“McLuhan had a great line about the 20th century. He said, ‘the 20th century is the century in which change changed.’ ”

“In some sense our ability to open the future will depend not on how well we learn anymore but how well we are able to unlearn. Can you imagine a course at Stanford on unlearning? That would be revolutionary.”

“I think the weakest way to solve a problem is just to solve it; that’s what they teach in elementary school. In some math and science courses they often teach you it’s better to change the problem. I think it’s much better to change the context in which the problem is being stated. Some years ago, Marvin Minsky said, “You don’t understand something until you understand it more than one way.” I think that what we’re going to have to learn is the notion that we have to have multiple points of view.”

Virtual World Reading

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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