The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Little big online world. “Sydney’s Bubble Gum Interactive has built a colourful new online world for kids they describe as a “virtual playground”. Screen Play recently caught up with Paul Gray, director of marketing and community management at the studio to chat about their new venture and issues like the challenges of raising funds for such an ambitious project, the difficulty of convincing parents that it is a safe space for their kids, and the balance between entertainment and education.”

2. She Knows (USA) – Virtual World Games Tweens and Teens Love. “If your child has outgrown Club Penguin and Webkinz, consider some of these popular virtual worlds suited for tweens. You should always check out a virtual world website before letting your child participate and use parental controls if available and necessary.

Ty Girlz — Geared toward tween and teen girls, this virtual world site is unlocked with the purchase of a Ty Girlz doll. Inside Ty Girlz, your daughter will find cool apartments, clothes, makeovers and games.

Wizard101 — Kids who love Harry Potter adore Wizard101. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) allows players to start as a novice wizard and then accept quests, collect gold and gain equipment as they aim to save the Spiral.

Stardoll — Based on the concept of paper dolls, Stardoll is a virtual world where players dress up dolls, participate in games, create clubs, socialize with friends and more. This popular virtual world website features over 124 million users.

SecretBuilders — Players immerse themselves in virtual lands, undertake quests, maintain a home, play games and interact with friends. SecretBuilders features stories, themes and characters (both historical and fictional figures) from literature, art and the humanities.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Mixed Signals in Second Life & Virtual Worlds: Buzz is All Over the Map. “There’s been no shortage of news and buzz in the past two weeks as regards Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Usually, though it all tends in one direction. It’s either good, or bad depending on what’s going on. Interestingly, though, this time, it’s all over the place. I guess if you average it all out it’s the same as it ever was, which is probably not the worst thing in the world. But hey, let’s just lay it out there and you decide.”

4. The Drum (UK) – Dramaforum appoints Dubit to create virtual world. “Finnish publisher Dramaforum has appointed virtual world development studio Dubit to develop a virtual world for its Petra’s Planet franchise. The virtual world will be based on children’s book series Petra, which follows a young girl transported to different countries – such as Senegal, Sri Lanka, Samiland, and Jordan – through her mother’s magical theatre wardrobe.”

5. Huffington Post (UK) – Virtual Worlds and ‘Intimate Computing’: the Future of Digital Play. “The recent story of human-digital interactions is one of steadily increasing closeness: we are moving from merely ‘personal’ computing to something that you might call ‘intimate’ computing. Modern smartphones and tablets, with their touchscreens and their constant presence in our lives, are extensions of our selves in a way that no digital device was even a decade ago. They are the channels through which we interact with even the most important people in our lives. They are where we work and play; where we hang out with friends. They are the first thing many of us touch when we wake in the morning and the last when we go to bed at night. Our relationship with technology is, it seems to me, one that’s increasingly governed by the dynamics of leisure and play. We have an incredibly satisfying sense of control when we are plugged into the best digital tools – and, increasingly, a gnawing sense of anxiety when we are unplugged. There is the pleasure of the most serious kind of play: the agency that comes from transforming the world into a kind of game, full of achievements, progress and certainties.”

6. PopMatters (USA) – Is Virtual the New Reality? “My Second Life avatar walks unsteadily across the screen. She moves in stops and starts as I clumsily direct the keys. I’m new at this game, unsure what I’m supposed to do with her and where should I go. I scan the suggested destinations in the Second Life universe and head over to “London”, where I once studied abroad in my real life. As my avatar navigates the somewhat familiar streets of this virtual London, I wonder about the reality of what I’ve entered. I am an outsider here, a novice explorer in this virtual realm. Though I sit alone at my computer, in the game I’m surrounded by others. Dispersed across the digital sprawl, these gamers are all invested in the shared reality of Second Life. What is this virtual world I am entering into all about? Am I simply playing a game, or am I entering a new reality?”

7. Wired (USA) – Army Wants Virtual Training to Really Hurt. “The military’s newest digital training system is gonna open a can of whoop-ass on new recruits. And maybe a sonic blaster, too. The use of gaming technology, from first-person shooters to virtual worlds, is quickly becoming the military’s mode of choice for training the troops of this generation. But those digital proving grounds come with one major disadvantage: They just don’t hurt enough. That could be about to change, according to a new request for proposals issued by the Army last week, which calls for technology to “create an impulse force that simulates the feel of debris… or bullet strikes.” The request, called “Haptic Feedback for a Virtual Explosion,” certainly sounds like fodder for a new videogame blockbuster. At least until you find your virtual self on a mysterious, dark road, abandoned buildings to both sides, the wind whipping your hair and — KABOOM! — owwwwwwww, getting shot hurts! That’s kinda the idea: Make training as realistic as possible, by giving soldiers a taste of exactly what they should be bracing for in combat. Bombs and bullets, unfortunately, need to be included.”

8. Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand) – Kiwi company gets Disney backing. “A mix of serendipity and word of mouth turned out to be the catalysts for Disney to invest in a virtual-world company founded by a couple of Kiwi blokes. Mitch Olson and Darren Green weren’t actively looking for investment in their start-up Small Worlds, when they attended a virtual worlds conference in San Jose at the beginning of 2008. But by chance, Olson bumped in to a Disney executive who was looking to invest in companies. Olson and Green explained their vision to him and six months later the world’s largest media group had injected funds in to their virtual baby, and Small Worlds was born.”

9. Delaware News Journal (USA) – Unlock your virtual potential. “Basked in the glow of the computer humming quietly in her living room, Kimberly Winnington is creating worlds limited only by imagination. Within those worlds, people can fly effortlessly, explore endlessly. They can discover new experiences, learn things they never knew, all without leaving their chairs or stepping outside of their homes. Winnington is in the business of bringing people — and other businesses — into a digital world that she believes has been largely ignored. Working with partners located in faraway states, she has the capability of creating three-dimensional programs that allow real-world people — students, or even a business’s customers — to walk, talk and even interact.”

10. Sky News (UK) – Investigation: Paedophilia And Second Life. “Five years ago it seemed as if the whole internet might be swallowed by virtual worlds. Imagine: you can change your age, colour and sex. Avatars can buy clothes, own houses purchased with money convertible to currency in the real world, and yes, have virtual sex with each other. Eight million people inhabited one virtual world called Second Life. The possibilities for wrongdoing were very real. So when my editor asked me to create an avatar and investigate crime in this virtual world, it was not long before one user contacted me with a disturbing tale. Her avatar, called Harmony, was a winged angel. We met on a virtual island where she told me about the Second Life place called “Wonderland”. “It’s a paedophile ring,” she said. “They do all sorts of dreadful things.” Wonderland was a candy-coloured children’s playground with a mix of child and adult avatars. The adults were tall and domineering, the children petite but sexually attired in mini-skirted school uniforms.”