Hanging out in virtual worlds -- 01/22/08

I've always had an intellectual curiosity about virtual worlds, worlds that exist only in cyberspace. Places like Second Life and Active Worlds and Metaverse... and a number of others... but currently Second Life is the largest.

Second Life (and the other virtual worlds) is an MMORPG -- a massively multiplayer online role playing game -- where lots of people get together in an online virtual world. Some of them are combat games, like the stand-alone first person shooter games, except in the MMORPG combat games you are not playing against your computer, but are engaging in combat against other players and teaming up with other players. (For example World War II Online.) My daughter is a major fan of World of Warcraft, where she spends many hours each week, going on quests and adventures with other members of her guild in a semi-medieval fantasy world.

Second Life is one of the virtual worlds where combat is not a main theme. Violence is prohibited in much of Second Life (although there are sections -- all of which must be clearly posted -- where the anti-violence rules do not apply and players can have at each other). Second Life is filled with night clubs and stores and and art galleries and coffee shops and lecture halls and furniture showrooms and private homes and condos and business centers and beaches and... Well, you get the idea.

Last night I visited an art gallery in Second Life to look at an exhibit of photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge. (When I was looking at a list -- a very long list -- of events and activities, the notice about Brooklyn Bridge photography caught my eye. Yes, probably because of this.)

That's me -- or, rather, my avatar, Lawrence Gymnast -- in the art gallery, looking at the large black & white photographs of the Brooklyn Bridge.
(In Second Life you have to pick your avatar's last name from a list provided by Second Life, which from time-to-time retires some names and adds new ones. My name is a rather obvious pun on my real life name.)

For more than a year I had a clean faced avatar -- an avatar that I didn't use very often because I didn't spend very much time in Second Life -- but my employer is interested in the possibilities of virtual worlds and I have joined a group that is exploring some of the business possibilities of virtual worlds, including Second Life. So now that I'm using my avatar more often, I added a beard and mustache and then glasses. (My hair doesn't look grey in the art gallery picture, but that's just a trick of the lighting.)

My employer has constructed a large business center in Second Life which is used for holding meetings and conferences. The picture below was taken at a "live" interview program -- Boris in Wonderland -- imagine a 15 minute version of something like the Charlie Rose show on PBS, except there are avatars sitting around chatting in a virtual world rather than two people chatting in a television studio. Boris in Wonderland goes out live on our corporate intranet and the host also posts it on his real world Internet blog (Note: it seems as if one of these shows will begin playing as soon as his blog opens in your browser.)
As you can see, there was a "live" studio audience of twenty or so avatars -- each one representing an actual person signed into Second Life (I'm the leftmost avatar in the second row) from all around the world. "Boris" our host is in his office in England and his guest is (I think) in California.

My professional interest is in the educational possibilities of virtual worlds -- using them for meetings, conferences, lectures, seminars, or even just one-on-one mentoring, as well as the possibilities of running computerized tutorials, simulations, and "hands-on" labs.

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