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OK… several years after the launch of Second Life we find Perth’s only Sunday paper announcing it as the latest thing in gaming.  Like many other press outlets, the Sunday paper has opted for a quick pigeon-hole approach.  They refer to it as a game… which it simply isn’t unless you are talking about the “Game of Life”.

This is hot on the heels of a more considered and substantially more journalistic endeavour offered by the ABC’s Four Corners program last Monday.  The documentary “You Only Live Twice” is still available via the ABC website http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/special_eds/20070319/4c_interactive.swf  and the ABC Island inside Second Life http://slurl.com/secondlife/ABC%20Island/128/128/0/ .  The documentary has sparked the imagination of many people and the huge surge of interest has been amazing.  I attended a session the other night by Tom Small from Hitwise (web marketing analysts) who showed figures that growth in visits to Second Life puts it second only to MySpace and a step ahead of YouTube. 

In response to a debate convened elsewhere about the nature of Seond Life and the nature of games-based learning and the nature of role-play….

Interestingly, (to me) my PhD research project is entitled “Drama Teacher as Games Master: developing digital games-based process drama as performance” My goal is to take aspects of process drama, role-playing games and dramatic performance to develop a hybrid model for drama education. 

Notwithstanding all the RL issues I’m facing trying to get institutional access to SL - it offers a platform that is not so clearly delineated that it over-emphasises one or other of the components. I think our old pal Erving Goffman has many useful insights that can be applied to thinking about Second Life - Frame Analysis, Presentation of Self, Interaction Ritual, Behaviour in Public Places - are all touching on the issues we are referring to. 

If we start exploring notions of identity in relation to SL we should be turning to Sherry Turkle’s old book Life on the Screen, and perhaps Judith Butler’s work on gender (as it is performed)… then onto Lyotard (parology), Bordieu (habitus and doxa)…. and so it goes… SL accepts the frames of analysis and perceptions shift to suit…. I shift my framing of Second Life very often depending upon my purpose - I love that it can accommodate multiple interpretations.. 

It can serve as a game world - in fact, I’d say most of the non-academic reportage I’ve encountered seems to find users referring to “the game” It can serve as a site for games activity - SL has many users who create RPG type environments and approach their engagement with SL via that frame. 

It also serves as an alternative meeting place… a site for meditation and reflection…  a social space…  a private place… a stage… an auditorium…  a picture window… a site for deviance… a site for conformity…  …any action or representation I make inworld has the potential of being simultaneously framed - repurposed - something I referred to in a paper as “simultaneous reversioning” (gotta love a good pretentious turn of phrase!!) 

I think debating a definitive functional space for SL is ultimately going to wind back to a position that is based in far more relativism than many are comfortable with… And what’s more - the frames will also be layered - as more users become more comfortable with perceptual position shifts, the more we’ll be reading about multiple simultaneous frames in operation…  our students can see themselves in a classroom, as well as in a game, as well as in brave new world…  

When they discover “alts” they’ll start to multiply these perceptions yet again… they can encounter themselves inworld with conflicting or complimentary world views…  they can be compliant and rebellious…  they can actively demonstrate the partiality of existence… they can live through ambiguity and uncertainty… and they can retreat to the familiar to avoid such complications…  or to create even more layers of purpose…   The fact that Second Life defies ready categorisation - perhaps there needs to be a MUVE taxonomy akin to the “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge” - will allow multi-, cross- and inter-disciplinary approaches that have very blurry edges… fuzzy liminality if you will.  It will also mean that many will veer away from it because it complicates their perceptions…   

…however as others have stated, the 3D MUVE is not all there is to games and games-based learning - I also use MOO and other non-3D spaces…  immersion is more than a visual metaphor…  I suspect immersion is more closely related to “engagement”, which is so often misconstrued as “fun”….   The world of imagined experience is the world of my real-life classrooms - as a drama teacher I regular draw upon thin air and imagination as the basis for my teaching and learning… I work towards an ideal I call “generative play” - playful engagement in a fictional environment where there is an expectation of contextually relevant meaning-making that is both personal and shared but is not predicated by predetermined nor prescribed content… I’m hoping that Second Life will be yet another avenue for that ideal to be realised… 

For the time being, Second Life has the potential to be many things to many people and it can easily find itself included or excluded from many pursuits – academic or otherwise…  in the academic realm we often state our paradigm at the outset and then never revisit it throughout our investigations… constant restatement can be useful in the bigger picture – but often we are working within frames that we take for granted because of the faculty or discipline we are involved with … hardly any wonder then, why so many find the postmodern condition unpalatable… it just gets too hard… or can be seen as a reminder of the basic human functions of Deletion/DetailScope/GeneralisationConnections/Distortion that we use to make meaning…  we have the capacity, if not the will, to be very precise with our linguistic patterning - and we can also find revelry in the constant ebb and flow of unstated paradigmatic shifts…  

Vive la différance!!! 

In response to some of the recent coverage of Second Life in the Australian press I posted this:

I think there are some unresolved issues about what Second Life is.

Interestingly, many gamers (such as Tim who commented earlier) find that SL does not match their vision of WoW… they find the controls and interface relatively easy to learn and yet when they start interacting the world offers them very little - they seem to have the locus of control posited externally - they need to be driven by some external pressures.

On the other hand, there are people who find that games are not to their taste, but after an arduous learning curve (and frequent jibes by old time SL users who have a total of 3 weeks existence inworld) they find that SL offers them something different.

Social and networking opportunites that supplement nicely with their real life activities. Not everyone is glued to the screen as implied by some comments.

Educators and business people are part of the community of SL, as are thrill seekers and escapists. The strength of the world in my opinion is the diversity of culture that emerges - the model adopted by Linden Lab is one that accommodates difference.

It’s easy to poke fun at early adopters of any new technology. And Second Life is not the only MUVE that exists - we hear little mention of ActiveWorlds, There.com, Entropia Universe, or the emerging open-source Metaverse.

The scope of the discussion is fascinating, although I often suspect that the journalists who drop in for 5 minutes and pass judgement really do miss the point. Like many undertakings, unless you invest something of yourself in the endeavour - time, money, identity, trust, etc - there is often very little in the way of meaningful reward.

SL is still essentially an experimental platform and most of the big players, researchers and businesses are exploring the possibilities. Investment could be seen as R&D. There is going to be a major shift in the way we use the web.. SL may or may not present a window into the future… but is fairly sure to play a major role in defining the metaphors that will be used in shaping new interfaces.

While much of the rankling is ill-informed and amusing on some level, I think some of the reporting needs to rise above hearsay and conjecture and move towards a more considered analysis of the entire scope of activity within such worlds.

In response to an article by Jenny Diski at the London Review of Books and her blog.

Umm.. where does one start with such piously presented ignorance?

Your article may well serve your interests somehow - but it does little to paint a complete picture of what transpires within Second Life - a 3D persistent virtual world or MUVE - Multi User Virtual Environment.

I was hoping I might hear something about the various educational projects that are underway within the environment - or perhaps some of the interesting social research that is happening, or even some of role-playing games that occur, the business undertakings, the programming developments that allow experimentation with virtual eco-systems, the various performances or art exhibits that occur… Did you visit EduIsland, or EduNation or perhaps one of the more literary locales? Did you take time to investigate the projects looking at accessibility issues for visually impaired users? Did you look into the development of teaching and learning tools? Did you seek out islands that are drawing on non-realistic, non-literal metaphors? What of the libraries, the university campuses, the schools? Perhaps the locations run by Harvard, Stanford, NYU, Arcada (Finland), or even the egalitarian Open University from the UK?

…no??

.. I find no mention of any of these exciting and engaging projects - rather you seem to have deliberately sought out the most mundane of activities that are possible within the environment.

Did you talk to anyone working on the Diversity 2007 project? Or perhaps drop by the Transgendered Resource Centre? Or maybe you spent some time with Social Autopoiesis, one of the first fully-formed interactive NPC avatars in Second Life? Did you go to the building tutorials at the Ivory Tower of Prims to learn how to shape the world to create your own wondrous possibilities - or did you simply drop in like a tourist with little regard for local culture and heritage? Did you arrive in a world that draws on social constructivism and expect to be entertained without any investment of your own?

When you visit a new city do you immediately head for the red-light district? Perhaps this is a flawed approach to tourism that you have adopted, perhaps it might be better to visit some museums or art galleries before you go off seeking more base pleasures? Perhaps your predilections were not catered for?

Your review is ill-informed and presents a misguided, partial and misleading representation of activities within the Second Life environment.

I am happy to take you to some of the places you might find more edifying but I suspect your grandiose and supercilious attitude finds greater comfort in condescension than it does in open-minded exploration.

Look me up in world as Kim Pasternak.

(A more polite piece in a similar vein is presented at Beth’s Second Life)