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Merged realities: events and issues for virtual worlds

1. The latest Second Life Education in New Zealand blog has an interesting update on a NZ-based Second Life creative project that\’s exploring issues around public urban spaces.

2. Volume 3 of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is now available and as usual contains a range of interesting research. A glimpse of some of the peer-reviewed research papers:

Spectacular Interventions of Second Life: Goon Culture, Griefing, and Disruption in Virtual Spaces
Burcu S. Bakioglu
Abstract  |  PDF
Knee-High Boots and Six-Pack Abs: Autoethnographic Reflections on Gender and Technology in Second Life
Delia Dumitrica, Georgia Gaden
Abstract  |  PDF
Jigsaw Worlds and Avatars – Puzzling Over Property and Personhood. New Challenges for Intellectual Property Law.
Norberto Nuno Gomes de Andrade
Abstract  |  PDF
On the Dark Side: Gothic Play and Performance in a Virtual World
Mikael Johnson, Tanja Sihvonen
Abstract  |  PDF
Analyzing Social Identity (Re) Production: Identity Liminal Events in MMORPGs
Javier A Salazar
Abstract  |  PDF
Gorean role-play in Second Life
Tjarda Sixma
Abstract  |  PDF
“Because it just looks cool!” – Fashion as character performance: The Case of WoW
Susana Tosca, Lisbeth Klastrup
Abstract  |  PDF
Things you can do in a virtual game world, when you are dead: collective memory constitution and identity of virtual refugees.
Anthony Papargyris, Angeliki Poulymenakou
Abstract  |  PDF

3. The Virtual Worlds: High Performance or Hype? discussion paper is still available as a free download.

Weekend Whimsy

1. Gravity of Love – Second Life

2. mini second life adventure

3. Annasue & Robert69 Dancing Through Second Life

Video review of Metaplace

The MP Insider blog has a video review of a particular gaming area in Metaplace – Zoo Escape!. For those who haven\’t seen Metaplace in action, it\’s a useful heads-up on its form factor and its content creation options:

As stated previously, being web-based and having good content creation opportunities should prove an enticing package.

The Internet, video games, virtual environments and social networks: The new Demon Drink

\"tan-interconnected\"

An Engineering student at the University of Texas Austin murdered his wife and his mother at their homes, then shot and killed 14 people (and wounded 32 others) at his school, before being killed by police officers.

A Japanese woman who had been dumped by her Sappporo boyfriend destroyed some of his property and records.

A Houston woman believed her husband was having an affair, ran over him three times and left the car parked on top of him, killing him.

A North Carolina woman whose relationship broke up with a Delaware man stalked him and attempted to kidnap him.

A Canadian man\’s wife who also thought her husband was having an affair, was killed with a sharp object and the murder disguised as a car accident.

A British man killed his estranged wife for concealing her marital status and pretending to be single.

Now three of these stories have something in common that the other three don\’t. Can you guess which?


Three of these stories involve computers, technology and online networks and the other three do not.

The Engineering student was not imitating or influenced any violent video game. Indeed he had never been online and never played any video game. His name was Charles Whitman and the school shooting took place in 1966.

Likewise the cases of the Houston Woman and the Canadian man had nothing to do with computers, the Internet, virtual environments, online social networks, Second Life, or Facebook. The other three did. Just not very much.

The Japanese couple broke up on Maple Story and she deleted his account. The British woman changed her Facebook marital status to indicate she was single, and her husband murdered her. The North Carolina woman met her Delaware boyfriend in Second Life, but things only went wrong after they\’d met in person.

Some people will tell you that technology is destroying society and civilization, that virtual worlds and social networks are distorting our perceptions and making us lose touch with reality. Stories like these are cited as examples.

Bullshit.

Technology may ultimately be the cause of some social and societal problems, but these aren\’t those problems!

If Whitman had performed his school shooting in the 21st century, there would be people lining up to claim that violent video games were responsible, perhaps Grand Theft Auto — a commonly named villain. That\’s not a difficult correlation to make — hundreds of millions of people people have played violent video games. Statistically, you have probably done so yourself. It\’s obvious, however, that they cannot have been involved in Whitman\’s killing spree, or in countless others which pre-date them.

What should be obvious from the brief selection of cases above, is that they all have something in common. People. It helps to remind us that people react to other people and to the circumstances in their lives exactly the same way without technology, the Internet and virtual environments as they do with it.

Like the demon drink, Reefer Madness, even demonic possession — isn\’t the problem here that we\’re focusing attention away from the motivations and choices of people and foisting the blame off on something else? Does that not do more to obfuscate and confound any attempts to address the real problem? That\’s just lazy and irresponsible.

And the real problem is us, isn\’t it? People are still people, wherever you go and whatever year it is.

On the Internet, as is commonly repeated, everyone knows you\’re a dog. You\’re still exactly the same person, regardless of your avatar or your handle.

If you\’re cheating on your partner, or lying to people about being a highly paid executive, it doesn\’t matter if you\’re doing it on the Internet, or in a bar in the city. The devil didn\’t make you do it. You did — and you\’ve only yourself to blame, however much you wish you could shift the blame onto the Internet or your avatar.

IMVU and the Victorian Bushfires

I received an email from IMVU\’s PR people, part of which I think is worth re-publishing:

IMVU user PraiseRose is turning virtual donations into real world relief for individuals and communities affected by the devastating bushfires in Victoria, Australia.

A Canada native, PraiseRose has never even visited Australia, but she was so moved by the coverage of the tragedy on the news that she decided to do something about it. She created a virtual sticker in IMVU, an online destination where adults and teens meet new people in 3D, and began to sell it to other IMVU users to help raise awareness about the bushfires. So far, the response from within the IMVU community has been overwhelming. Each sticker sells for 750 IMVU credits (about US$1), and so far PraiseRose has raised nearly 800,000 IMVU credits (almost US$500.00).

\”This fundraiser has brought this community together in amazing ways,\” Says PraiseRose. \”I\’ve made many so new friends, from all over the world. The response, and the trust have so totally overwhelmed me.\” The fundraiser is set to end on March 1st at which time PraiseRose will donate the money she\’s raised to the Red Cross Victorian Bushfire Appeal.

It\’d be fascinating to get a tally of the dollars raised in virtual worlds to date – a conservative estimate would be tens of thousands of dollars.

Enterprise 2.0 and virtual worlds and a free discussion paper download

\"enterprise20shortpaper\" Today, I had the pleasure of facilitating four small group sessions at the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum 2009. The topic was virtual worlds and enterprise, and thanks to the participants in the groups, it turned into a very interesting exchange of ideas. The agenda of the overall forum was much wider: the use of Web 2.0 technologies in business. What\’s impressive about this forum is the breadth of roles amongst participants – CEOs, CIOs, learning and development professionals, marketing professionals and general operational staff were in attendance.

As I\’ve found before at these events, there are a growing number of people in business who see the potential of virtual worlds, but they struggle to get the same recognition throughout the business. That said, Australian business continues to lead the way in the area and it was great to see the level of passion for the opportunities virtual worlds provide.

Some other points that came out of the groups for me:

  • There\’s a genuine acceptance of the potential of virtual worlds as an effective collaboration tool;
  • The awareness around the power of telepresence is growing steadily – close to half of the group members already understood the concept well and most had experienced its superiority over teleconferences or videoconferences first hand;
  • Enterprises want pilot virtual worlds but arguing the ROI case remains the main barrier, along with the significant end-user resistance that occurs;
  • That Second Life\’s interface and the fact it\’s a standalone application are major barriers to implementation;
  • There remains very high desirability for web-based worlds that deliver the level of complexity of Second Life
  • As part of my involvement I produced a four-page discussion paper: Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise – hype or high-performance?. It\’s a bare-bones overview of the opportunities virtual worlds provide for business and a brief summary of five virtual worlds to watch (Second Life, VastPark, OpenSim grids, OLIVE and Metaplace) – there are obviously many more but as an overview they provide a good snapshot.

    Anyone regularly exposed to virtual worlds won\’t get a lot out of the document, but if you\’re one of our readers who\’s just dipping their toe in the water, it provides a basic launch pad for a wider exploration.

    You can download Virtual Worlds in the Enterprise – hype or high-performance? for free by going to this page.

    You only need to provide your name and email address to be able to download a PDF of the paper.

    Virtual worlds: the next online banking

    \"westpac\" Aside from the group discussions on virtual worlds I facilitated yesterday, the only other time I witnessed them discussed at the Enterprise 2.0 Executive Forum 2009, was when Westpac\’s David Backley spoke. As we reported last year, Westpac had trialled the use of Second Life to induct new employees in more remote locations.

    Backley reflected back on the pilot, stating that it \”had worked well and had been a good idea\”. That said, the pilot did not continue due to the departure of the project sponsor – there was no key person to keep the momentum going. The learnings for Backley were that it was a concept ahead of its time, and that until the cost of implementation and maintenance came down, it would be difficult to argue a cost-saving case. Given the tens of thousands of employees Westpac has, it\’s a pretty downcast assessment of virtual meetings as cost-saver. That said, Westpac\’s platform of choice was Second Life. With the growth in alternate platforms, those costs are reducing, but there\’s still a long way to go in that respect.

    Aside from that, Backley provided some very interesting statistics around Westpac\’s internet banking service. Presently, up to 6000 people are logged in to Westpac\’s online banking service at any given time, with close to 700 thousand sessions a day. More value is transacted with online banking per day than is done in Westpac\’s branches or call centres. When it was launched a little over a decade ago, the expectation was that perhaps a few thousand people Australia-wide would use the service. For me, that\’s a key parallel with virtual worlds. It may be a \’niche\’ for business at present, but like internet banking, the public\’s takeup is likely to surprise enterprises in a big way.

    The other similarity is in platform: the original internet banking options tended to be standalone applications, then they evolved to be web-based. That\’s when the rate of adoption exploded. There\’s a very obvious lesson there.