As mentioned in my last post, the final week of the Learning 2.0 programme was about virtual worlds and gaming.
If you have a look at the games I listed in the previous post, you can see that although I flirted with adventure type games in the past (and as a teenage nerd, I played ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and other role-playing games, but not on a computer), my more recent games history does not include any ‘immersive’ games like World of Warcraft.
This means that joining a Virtual World such as Second Life is essentially a new experience for me. I joined Second Life sometime ago, and went in, did the ‘orientation’ etc. and after flying around for a short while, not talking to anyone, and getting bored, I logged off. My overall feeling was that SL and the like were vaguely interesting developments, but they really didn’t do anything for me – you can see my thinking at the time in my comment on the efoundations blog
Apart from leaving comments like this on various blogs I didn’t really do anything with SL, and when I came back to it about 6 months ago, I had to create a new account, having lost all my previous details.
So, at the ‘hands on’ session it was really the first time I’d actually gone into Second Life and interacted with anyone. This (unsuprisingly!) made it all seem a bit more worth while. I found the fact we were working under our SL names a bit problematic – since I didn’t know who I was talking to, which might not have mattered so much except for the fact that I actually knew most of the people in there – that is, it was more frustrating than it would have been if I was just interacting with ‘strangers’.
I followed up my experience in the session by attending a Second Life ‘event’, about using Second Life to support events. This was part of a JISC ‘skills day’ called Illuminating event management, and Andy Powell from Eduserv spoke simultaneously in RL (real life) and SL (where he is Art Fosset).
I found this worked well. Although it wasn’t the same as being there in person of course, it was I think better than just looking at the slides while listening to an audio stream from Andy.
What the SL venue definitely offered was a ‘backchannel’ – i.e. a way of talking (using SL chat in this case) about what was being said while it was being said. I tend to use back channels at RL conferences – either ones that are provided by the conference, or via Twitter or other 3rd party services – and always find they add to the richness of the experience. They are by nature always mixed – relevant and irrelevant stuff, both serious and for fun.
I’m not sure how much the ‘immersive’ nature of SL is a factor here – you might be able to achieve something similar with various text based tools, but my guess is that there is a feeling of ‘place’ that SL offers that subtlely changes your relation to the event and the others attending. Getting sound from the RL delegates (esp. laughter) was also interesting, and combined with the SL venue made me feel much more ‘part’ of the experience – something we were sharing rather than (as so often with online events) something I was ‘looking at’. The fact that Andy was obviously showing the SL venue space to the RL participants also helped I think, as they could react to things happening in the SL venue.
So, where am I on SL now? I definitely can see more value than I had previously, and to some extent I am more of a ‘convert’. I suspect I’m never going to spend enough time in SL to really form a ‘relationship’ with my avatar, or others, and I’d really prefer to appear as ‘myself’ rather than my alter ego (Owain Blessed). On the otherhand, for attending ‘virtual events’ I can definitely see SL or something similar as a useful tool.
Finally, several blog postings from the Learning 2.0 programme have questionned whether there is a role for Imperial College libraries in SL. It is worth noting that if you wander around the Imperial College Virtual Hospital you will find ‘virtual library materials’ – journals which if you click on them show you the URL for the e-journal. This is a pretty limited function, but I think it shows that the users creating this space see the need for some interaction here. I’m not advocating us building an SL branch of the library, but I do think we should be looking at how we can build systems that can be exposed in SL easily (by us or our users – see my comments at http://yadayada20.wordpress.com/2008/08/21/put-the-facebook-down-and-step-away-slowly/ for thoughts about how we can make it easier to embed library services in a variety of environments)