Virtual Worlds Real Choices

I have been thinking about this post for a while. But what it is actually about I am not sure. Call it a statement on 3 dimensional interactive online virtual worlds. I have been floating around in Second Life (SL) since the middle of 2006. Before that I have experienced both ActiveWorlds and the now discontinued Adobe Atmosphere. But 2007 seems to be the year that 3D online environments bloomed and spread in a way that reminds me of P2P file sharing around 2001-02.

Here in HUMlab we use 3D worlds for a number of applications; teaching, modeling, simulation, meetings, and representation (story telling) being a few. The more I have been thinking about the different platforms there are the less I believe we should commit to a single one. Second Life is very popular at the moment, but I have a feeling that it is the one that leads the charge in the ‘normal’, that is it is the one that establishes the medium as a mainstream web/social application. Starting about the middle of last year (roughly when I got into SL myself, although I had known about it from the middle of 2005 when Professor Mary Flanagan used it in teaching a course I attended at Södertörn college) the number of 3D alternatives to SL have exploded. Here are a few that are approaching on the horizon or are recently online:

Xivio: a community based 3D chat world.

Ogoglio: an interesting project that will cluster 3D worlds (not yet in beta), rather than have them on a single server system as is the case with SL. My world on my computer will co ordinate with other worlds on other computers. A good idea I think.

Outback Online: Some of the more radical elements in SL that I have been chatting to have been speaking about this yet-to-be 3D platform. It has been nominated for a NextWeb award, even thought they have yet to show anything to the public. Could be interesting.

Moove: 3D chat that works on clusters from downloading onto your own computer. Moove seems to be trying to pick up those who want a nice environment to chat with friends, rather than the massive and unpredictable environments of SL.

Forterra: This is from the simulation and education end of the 3D scene with an emphasis on “organizations to train, plan, rehearse, communicate and collaborate just as they would in the real world”.

Kaneva: Although I have not been in here it has real SL feel to it (“Social Entertainment Network”, sculptured avatars, hook up with friends, communities, cool places and entertainment). Done by registering with a server and it is free.

In following the debates going on about Virtual Worlds and everything from sexual predators to educational possibilities, one theme that emerges is their relationship to what we collectively term reality. Henry Jenkins has an interesting post discussing how;

[The] digital world teaches us that the digital world is never totally disconnected from the real world. Even when we go onto the digital world to “escape” reality, we end up engaging with symbolic representations which we read in relation to reality. We learn things about our first lives by stepping into a Second or parallel life which allows us to suspend certain rules, break out of certain roles, and see the world from a fresh perspective.

I agree with Henry’s position. The idea that we are somewhere else in a so called ‘virtual world’ needs to be reconsidered. Such an understanding limits the uses and applications of a 3D environment. The growing popularity of these platforms is perhaps the catalyst for a shift of popular intuition. With such a shift can come opportunities for innovative and creative applications of the tools and experiences 3D worlds provide.

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8 Responses to Virtual Worlds Real Choices

  1. Pingback: east map » Blog Archive » Virtual Worlds Real Choices

  2. Daria Dorosh says:

    Yes, I think it’s time to look at these 3D web based communities with a critical eye. Questions come up – are they filling a need? What is it? Walter Benjamin’s analysis comes to mind in “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. He was concerned that the tools of reproduction distract us with the power to express ourselves but do not allow us to question the property system. Another avenue to explore is that the software itself may be directing what can be stated with it. Does the realism of SL limit what is being explored in this medium?

  3. Jim says:

    I agree Daria. I suppose that much of corporate media industry attempts to create needs as much as fill them. If media tools are given to publics then they decide what their desires and needs are and they act upon it (if the law allows, it remains in the public sphere, if it does not then it moves underground). The fan communities that make machinima may not have been so anticipated by game companies in the early 1990’s. Today the fan communities creating machinima from computer games are directly catered for.
    Second Life is interesting as it is clearly corporate and commercial but they are also trying to give some scope to the users. However, as you say, the realism of SL leaves one asking why? Why not allow the creative process to be a fractal or dialogic network of possibilities? Mary Flanagan spoke about the ascetics of Object Orientated Programming (OOP) when she was teaching in Stockholm in 2005. I quote from my blog entry on Flanagan’s lecture (http://blog.humlab.umu.se/?p=122):

    “[…] that object thinking influences broad cognition, including the idea of place as object. Object thinking fails in regard to fuzzy boundaries and contradiction and in epistemological practice it is rationalistic and deterministic.”

    (More of Flanagan’s thoughts in “Reskinning the Everyday”: http://www.ibiblio.org/nmediac/winter2004/flanagan.html)

    Maybe this is one starting point for change; the development of something beyond modular blocks and instead looking closer at fuzzy and chaos arrangements. Your mention of Walter Benjamin is very relevant. I hold with the idea that the aura inhabits technology as much as it did the icon. The critiquing of technology from the hermeneutic sphere makes me think of the work of N. Katherine Hayles, particularly “My Mother Was a Computer: Digital Subjects and Literary Texts” (2005).

  4. Patrik says:

    This is a nice resource on virtual worlds-like things: http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/. It will be great to have Bruce Damer visit the lab in May, and these matters.

  5. Just a quick note to add a couple of 3D platforms to the list.

    The first is DigitalSpace Traveler, it can be found here:
    http://www.digitalspace.com/traveler/

    DigitalSpace (Bruce Damer is C.E.O.) is a collective of people and resources that come together to accomplish common goals, 3d community is something we do well. Traveler was aquired by DigitalSpace in 2001. It was originally made and marketed by OnLive! Technologies in 1995 and has a lot of users who have been in Traveler for many years. It’s still used to host university language learning classes online.
    DigitalSpace Traveler is free for users.

    The second is There, it can be found here:
    http://www.there.com
    I love this platform. It costs 9.95 US to be a premium member.

    Both of these platforms have voice.

    I hope this helps as I’ve run out of time to elaborate. :D

    Brian Thomasson

  6. Jim says:

    Thanks Brian. I have really been impressed by the few times I have used Traveler. There is something I will have to check out.

  7. rayq says:

    I tried a few and i think most are a little bit too much of a cartoon for me. Ticket4one has a similar thing but atlaest i can see real people from the 3d Virtual Chat Room

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