For the last few months, I have been part of a grant program with the University of Wisconsin to explore the uses and application of video games and simulations to learning. In addition, I am also studying with Kurt Squire, a participant in the discussion as well as one of the organizers for the GLS (Games Learning Society).
During this time exploring educational environments, a great interest has been formed around the Second Life environment. To explain it simply, Second Life looks like a 3-d video game, except everyone is a real person, also connected to Second Life. Unlike a game, there is not a narrative or a reason for participating. Instead, the purpose of spending time in second life is based more around the community. Communication takes place by walking up to another person in Second Life and typing. This creates a text based chat session with anyone within a close distance. Objects in the world can be edited collaboratively as well, so a number of people could work on a document or a building. Video and Audio streaming is also possible which has led to the popularity of live music events inside of Second life where you watch a virtual character or band on the screen while hearing the live audio from their performance somewhere completely different.
There was something about seeing a hundred people gathered around the stage, moving around and talking to one another that made the show seem more “real” and personal than a simple web-cast.
Now what makes second life different that some of the online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft is that the players also are the creators of the world. Other than a few specific places, everywhere you go has been created by another user. This leads to a virtual economy.
Since users can build and own things such as buildings, environments, vehicles, dance move programs, clothing, etc, clever ideas create a demand and therefore a price. Virtual goods in Second Life can be bought and sold for Linden Dollars (L$) with an exchange rate to US$ at about 270 L$ to 1 US $. The market is large. Millions of real dollars change hands each year in a currency that is virtual but can be exchanged for real money.
Instead of concentrating on the economy however, many of us are interested in the way a 3-d social space like Second Life may influence the field of Education. I thought these two videos would explain what some people are working on:
This video is from Ohio Universtiy
The New Media Center Campus
The University of Wisconsin is interested in creating a Second Life island, which will be a private space where researchers and teachers can build their own educational environments and a number of professors are already building spaces on their own.
Personally, I think Second Life is interesting because it is a shadow of a world to come. It is the Virtual Reality that we read about in the 80’s starting to take on a real life. SL as it is right now is an infant, but the same way Web 2.0 brought a voice to the people to birth to things like wikipedia and flickr, The 3-d web will allow people to communicate and create even more amazing things.