I am under the impression that there is quite a bit of research being carried out in Second Life, and so I was surprised not to find one single abstract mentioning this platform at the 40th HICSS conference which I recently attended. I visited a couple of presentations on World of Warcraft, but also this platform was surprisingly scarcely represented.
One good quality presentation on WoW was Bonnie Nardi’s “Learning conversations in World of Warcraft”. During a one-year ethnographic study, Nardi and her colleagues investigated how new-comers learnt how to play the game through interaction with other players. They conclude that learning takes place in the areas of fact-finding, tactics and strategy, as well as game ethos, and argue that the emotive aspects of the conversations seem to have an important effect. After the presentation there was a discussion concerning the compelling qualities of WoW, and a question was raised about what might make a game such as WoW more attractive than SL. Nardi argued that an explanation could be the narrative driven game engine in WoW where social interaction is complemented by a general story-line exemplified in quests. On the negative side, as one participant pointed out, it is more difficult to design specific learning experiences in a narrative driven game, and platforms such as SL might be better suited for this.
In the educational projects we have conducted in graphical virtual environments here in HUMlab, we have focused on social worlds, allowing for construction of objects and learning spaces (as in Active Worlds) and focus on communicative interaction (as in Traveler). It would be interesting to learn about educational projects in narrative driven games not designed specifically for educational purposes, and to think about how we might take advantage of the compelling aspects of these games also in a learning context.
You can read more reflections from the conference in my blog.