Disability and MUVEs – VLENZ Update, No 175, August 10, 2010

“Forget what you can’t do … virtual worlds are about what you can do.”

Disabled can have a new  ‘ real

life’ in  a virtual world …

The entrance to Virtual Ability Island - a new "reality" for the disabled

The ability of virtual worlds such as Second Life to  provide new experiences as well as  “a real life” to those  with disabilities  has to my knowledge not  really been explored in New Zealand  although well publicised overseas. It  also has not been used to make the lives of  the aged, infirm and shut-ins more meaningful, something  that it has almost miraculous possibilities for doing.

But overseas,  particularly in the United States,  the ability to create a cyber version of oneself has been embraced by people with disabilities stemming from arthritis, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, autism, wartime injuries and other debilitating conditions,  and their carers. According to a recent issue of the Philadelpia Enquirer the disabled can log on to virtual worlds  to do things they cannot, or are afraid to, do in real life.

Carolyn Davis, an Inquirer Staff Writer, points out that already the disabled can in some ways emulate the feats of  the lead character Jake Sully, the paralysed military veteran in the New Zealand-created, James Cameron-directed movie, Avatar, who uses a virtual body to “live”  in  and infiltrate another “real” world, Pandora.

“Can’t go places without a wheelchair?, “Davis asks, before noting, “In Second Life, you not only can walk, you can fly.

“Is your speech slurred? In Second Life, text chats can let out your inner Shakespeare. “Forget for a minute what you can’t do. In virtual worlds, it’s all about what you can, ” she says. And she is correct. World Second Life can be a boon for those  with physical and even mental limitations.

“I’m building a house on Second Life right now,” she quotes  James Parcher, 85, of West Philadelphia (SL: Huber Grantly), as saying. “For an old guy like me, I can’t get around very well with the arthritis problems I have. On Second Life, you’re young again.”

“People identify in a very intense way with their avatars,”  according to  Sherry Turkle, professor of social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and director of the Initiative on Technology and Self..

Inglis House computer lab coordinator Dawn Waller sets up equipment to let Stu Sanderson, 55, an Inglis House resident, work and play Second Life. Picture: Clem Murray/Philadelphia Enquirer

Noting that disabled players, however, often need adaptive equipment to use a computer and to interact with virtual worlds such as  Second Life, Davis  visited West Philadelphia’s Inglis House, which offers services and housing to people with severe disabilities, and which has a computer lab stocked with such gadgets and is filled with residents using computers for writing, playing games, and sending e-mails.

Her article is worth reading  just to see the possibilities in this area although  a pilot project to see if residents and day-program participants could benefit from Second Life, especially by taking continuing education classes from schools with a presence in the virtual world, has wound down with the participants finding it too hard for too little return.

Davis also details Virtual Ability, a nonprofit group based in Colorado, which  was founded by Alice Krueger, 60, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 10 years ago. Her group’s mission is to help the disabled use Second Life, and its Virtual Ability Island is tailored to welcome disabled players, with tutorials and areas to practice manipulating their avatars.

On the island virtual sandwich boards advertise the ALS Association, the Arthritis Foundation, and the Autism Society (Autism Awareness Centre).

Boon for the aged?

For me the Davis article, along with other articles I have read over the years, points to the boon of virtual worlds  for not only the disabled  but for those who are shut-in (and shut-out of society)  through age or other infirmities but still have all their faculties.

Although  Linden Labs may not see the aged as a lucrative  part of their target market  – the aged not being so hip – I feel that is  one direction in which virtual worlds are going to move with extraordinary vigor once the interface becomes more transparent.

I have met numerous avatars whose creators are over 70 in real life   who appear to be repeating and enjoying  the mistakes of their 20s  without a lot of the anguish and angst associated with  that in their real life. There already is a Silver Fox organisation within  Second Life, whose members, despite the real life age of the membership, still appear to have the fun of youth… doing the things they  possibly can no longer do in real life.

Age is not a barrier in virtual world. In fact it is one place that it is often an asset where life experience can be helpful.

Finally, I see a time when, rather than just sitting staring to space those who inhabit our old people’s homes  or live alone and lonely  will be able to move, interact and socialise in virtual worlds just as easily as they once could in the real world.

I, for one, would rather spend my old age, if I live that long, interacting in a virtual world, than slowly devolving into a vegetative state.

Perhaps a MUVE membership and Broadband access might even become part of a pension cheque.

A better option ...spending old age in a virtual world?

MUVE Research – VLENZ Update, No 173, June 08, 2010

1. ‘Turning’ boys into girls, virtually speaking

Transferring body ownership

to  your virtual avatar …

The real Avatar: body transfer turns men into girls – video 85429678001 – life – 13 May 2010 – New Scientist.

Second Lifers or World of Warcrafters, who have become fully immersed in those environments,  would be unlikely to doubt  that one’s sense of self can be highly malleable and that they can easily believe – for  moments at the very least  if not hours – that their avatar, no matter how different in gender, species or age,  is “really” them.

But people, who have  not experienced MUVE immersibility either in a virtual world like Second Life, or a MMORPG  such as World of Warcraft,  might  be very sceptical about the possibility.

However,  researchers at the University of Barcelona, according to the New Scientist, have now shown that, facilitated by a  “young girl body image” view with virtual-reality headset and some brief arm-stroking, men in their mid-20s can react as if the “avatar” body is their own. They feel that way even when they subsequently move outside the girl’s perspective and watch her being attacked.

Professor Mel Slater, who led the team that carried out the experiment,  told  Wendy Zukerman, of the New Scientist, “This is the first experiment to show that body ownership can be transferred to an entirely virtual body.”

Mel Slater

The finding, Zukerman said,  highlighted how far one’s sense of self and body image could be manipulated, and could lead to therapies for conditions of body-image distortion such as anorexia and might be applied to entertainment – to make video games more immersive, for example –and also to psychology.

On average, the men in the experiment reported medium-strength feelings about the girl’s body being their own, and strong feelings that the woman was touching their body: the researchers recorded physical responses such as increased heart rate when the avatar, they were later viewing as a third person, was slapped.

The experiment demonstrated the strong connection the volunteers felt to their new, virtual bodies,  Slater told Zukerman, suggesting that the familiarity of looking down and seeing one’s own body “is so overwhelming” that even dramatic changes in body won’t override the influence of vision.

Slater’s principal areas of research are  in helping to find out what makes virtual reality work for people – in the sense that they can engage with one another in virtual environments, and also interact with virtual characters. His research, the study of ‘presence’ in virtual environments, is also explored in the context of psychotherapy for social phobia and other related applications.

2. Learning to control your nightmares the vid-gaming way

Nightmares - can you control them?

Video “gaming serves some of the same society functions in today’s world as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures” through meditation-like absorption, according to  Professor Jayne Gackenbach,  of Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, and Professor Harry T. Hunt, of  Brock University, St Catherines, Canada, in a paper  on “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption”, presented  at the Science of Consciousness Conference.

Gackenbach,  a  psychologist with the Department of Psychology at Grant MacEwan,  who has focused her research  on the effects of technology, especially video game play, on consciousness, believes video gamers learn through gaming to have more lucid dreams than non-gamers, to control  their dreams and nightmares and dull the stresses of real life.

Her research, which  suggests gamers suffer fewer nightmares and are more likely to turn their nightmares into fun, video-game-like challenges, could aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, of which nightmares are a common symptom.

Jayne Gackenbach

Noting in their paper that research has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game,  Gackenbach and Hunt said, “… gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures … these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous re-engagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.

“… It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989).”

By comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, Gackenbach and Hunt concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasised the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video-game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.

“To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness,” they argued. “Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalised ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function.

“Specifically it is an externalised absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations,” they said.

Gackenbach’s research and views on dreaming,  which  she presented recently at two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies, have gone viral on the net with good reason. They are an important adjunct to explaining the ways MUVES – whether in video-gaming or virtual on-line environments – can work in changing both perceptions and  people’s lives and how they can be used.

Harry T. Hunt

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities,she told LiveScience Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu, noting, however, that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” she said. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

On the question of mastering nightmares,  Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, which found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

SLENZ Update, No 159, January 19, 2010

Now the summer holidays are over…

Back  to Broadband and the

virtual worlds …

‘Reality exists in all worlds’

One world: The reality of vacation land…

Sitting on a golden sand beach near Splitapple Rock, in Tasman Bay, New Zealand, being warmed by  the late afternoon summer sun, I wondered about virtual worlds and what they have to offer me  – or anyone else.

Being without Broadband for three weeks – and Second Life  for that period – made me  wonder whether immersion (should I say addiction) is all its cracked up to be.

First off I must say I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. I did, however, read nine fairly  big books; swam every morning; hiked for  a couple of hours over the hills and through the bush every day; listened to bird song throughout the daylight hours; drove  an open-car (Jensen-Healey) frequently and enjoyably on winding coastal roads;  went to bed at about 10pm and woke between 4 and 5am; and I had a lot  of conversations with fairly ordinary people about fairly innocuous things, most of which – like the books – I forget the detail of now.

It was a holiday in the same beautiful place I’ve been vacationing for 20 or more years. It’s a place I love.

I was totally immersed in  the reality of my environment – I have the brown skin and more tightly cinched belt to prove it – but the memories are little different from those I have got from the virtual world of Second Life. The memories now I am back at my desk  are like my memories of being 30 years continuously on the road as a working  journalist all over the world  – little different from scenes viewed in a television travelogue or out a tourist bus window.

Of course, being there I could feel the sun and wind, the sand under my feet, and smell the sea and the ‘honey’ smell in the native bush. I also could feel the strain in my lungs and my legs climbing a steep hill, or over rocks, and feel the initial coldness of the water on that first early morning swim. But that was the only real difference.

One world: The reality of virtuality

Sitting on that beach though I came to the conclusion that for most purposes virtual worlds provide a similar experience with fewer hassles than those of the real world. I know all – yes all my friends – will disagree with that statement,  or consider me demented, but I think it is true. There is no real  difference in the quality of the experience despite  what the naysayers, who claim virtual worlds are not real life,  might argue.

I wouldn’t change my holiday venue for all the world – and I don’t think I would ever want Broadband there – but  for times when I want to travel without spending five hours in a car, or  a similar number of hours on  an aircraft; at times when I want to talk to people about real things from around the world or even just banter, without the mind-numbing, lubricity of alcohol which many need to free their tongues in a real life environment; at times when long winter evenings, weather or other circumstances keep me indoors;  or at times when I choose to play in another real place I believe  interactive virtuality offers a real alternative to what people call “real life” unlike non-interactive television, or other non-interactive entertainment mediums.

But what  most people in the so-called real world – and especially in education and business – have missed is that  like the “real” world virtual worlds are all about people. They are not about scenery – even though I spend hours exploring the scenery of new and old simulations in virtual worlds –  or scripting, or buildings,  they are about people, real people, who really exist in virtual worlds, just as they really do in the so-called “real” world, despite their appearance as avatars and/or roleplayers.

Strangely that was the only thing  I missed on my real life holiday: being able to talk to the real friends I’ve made in virtual worlds over the last five years. Some I only talk  with infrequently,  others on a daily or weekly basis.  But even though most are from thousands of miles away and I will never feel the touch of their fingers in a handshake they are as real to me as anyone I have met in the real world.

And unlike my local real life tavern – in a small, provincial town in rural  New Zealand, where conversations range from the weather, Rugby, cricket, racing, beer, girls and Rugby and did I say Rugby, but “don’t get to heavy” – my conversations in Second Life with  both men and women  from all ethnic backgrounds cover  a world of ideas and dreams, from art to the universe, from medieval shipping to  teleportation, from history to present day politics, and from lifestyles to  other world cultures.

For me, and millions like me, virtual worlds provide a doorway out of the world we choose to inhabit, perhaps not permanently, but for a certain number of hours each week: I can step through my screen into a place where I can find people – perhaps in a reality  10,000 miles away – who think on the same wave length as me or who I can learn from, or who I can laugh with, and even  those who I can cry with.

For me reality exists in all worlds:  it’s just one world, whether virtual or not.

Perhaps for some reading this, that is sad.

However, for me with virtuality and Broadband I find I can live in one of the best places on earth, a million miles from anywhere, and still be anywhere in the world  when I want to be with the people I choose to mix with. That’s what Second Life has given me. The world.

It has opened another door for me.

Both worlds: it’s all about people.

SLENZ Update, No 152, November 23, 2009

A TALE OF TWO WOMEN

Can avatar appearance  have  an

effect on  your Real  Life?

University of Texas Study

Exhibit 1 – can an avatar appearance change your real life?

This is partially the tale of two women*. But it is also a story of how avatar appearance can affect one’s experience of  Second Life and  cross-over into Real Life.

I personally know a number of women, both in Second Life and in Real Life,  who have had the experience  I want to talk about.  There are many others who talk in places like  “Hey Girlfriend” about their considerable weight losses since entering Second Life. However, for reasons of anonymity I have combined some features of these women’s lives into the two women I’m discussing. They are  both in their 40s,  highly educated and have executive positions with the organisations they work with.

One, however, although her  Australian organisation is involved in  researching  business uses of virtual worlds, uses  Second Life almost exclusively for social networking, spending two to three hours a day on-line, time which she once spent as a couch potato  in front of the cable television. She now has  what she calls “real friends” from around the world in Second Life. She has been, what she would claim is ” fully immersed” in Second Life for about four years. Her experience there has run the gamut from role playing to building  and doing  most of the things she  could  and does in Real Life.  Her avatar is  slim and very attractive, although not of the barbie-doll favoured by many  users of  Second Life, and it wears high fashion clothes ranging from fairly skimpy to more conservative.  Although she obtains most of her clothing free, she has a staggering number of high-fashion, high quality items in her inventory.

The other, although she was  not press-ganged into visiting a virtual world,  chose  to become part of  Second Life as  part of her work three years ago, although skeptical of the benefits. Outside of  the “immersion”  required for her work  she seldom visits Second Life preferring to spend time  in the evenings working, sitting in front of television  with her husband. Her avatar reflects what she considers her real life; overweight and frumpy with few  attractive features.  Her clothing inventory consists  of a few  real life-style, work related but  serviceable items such as slacks and a sweaters, but nothing which could be even remotely be regarded as fashionable let alone fantasy.

Both were considerably overweight  when they started in virtual worlds.  One could say the first women perceived and still perceives her virtual life  as wish-fulfillment and fantasy, the second woman perceives her’s as  career-enhancing “drudgery.”

But the most interesting thing about these two women for me  – and this  is not a scientific study –  is that:

  • In four  years the first woman – the one with the slim, attractive avatar –  has lost about 100 lbs in weight, taken up gym three to four days a week,  started to learn  salsa and tango with her husband,  changed her wardrobe, and through her own efforts gained a number of promotion rungs at her work. Where she was  previously depressed about her future, she is now a livewire and  enthusiastic about her work. She has also long-term cut her calorie intake in half.
  • In the three years  since the  second woman entered Second Life – the one  with the overweight, unattractive avatar –  her life  has changed little. She still sits watching television most nights with her husband – he much prefers it that way – and although still ambitious feels  her career in a US academic institution  is  either  depressingly at a standstill, or at a cross roads.  Since joining  Second  Life  her  weight has ballooned – she wont disclose by how much –  she still gets little exercise and obviously has not cut her  calorie intake.
Exhibit 2 – can avatar appearance change your real life?

Of course, there may be many other reasons why these two women’s Second Life experiences may have led to vastly different Real Life  experiences but I was reminded of them by an article in  a fairly  recent issue of    ScienceDaily under the headline,  “Avatars Can Surreptitiously And Negatively Affect User In Video Games, Virtual Worlds.”

Quoting Jorge Peña, assistant professor in the College of Communication at the  University of Texas, at Austin,  the on-line magazine said that although often seen as an inconsequential feature of digital technologies, one’s self-representation, or avatar, in a virtual environment could affect a user’s thoughts. The study was co-written with Cornell University Professor Jeffrey T. Hancock and University of Texas at Austin graduate student Nicholas A. Merola.  It appeared in the December 2009 issue of Communication Research.

The study ” demonstrated that the subtext of an avatar’s appearance could simultaneously prime negative (or anti-social) thoughts and inhibit positive (or pro-social) thoughts inconsistent with the avatar’s appearance even though study participants remained unaware they had been primed,” the article said.

“In two separate experiments, research participants were randomly assigned a dark- or white-cloaked avatar, or to avatars wearing physician or Ku Klux Klan-like uniforms or a transparent avatar. The participants were assigned tasks including writing a story about a picture, or playing a video game on a virtual team and then coming to consensus on how to deal with infractions, ” Science Daily said.

“Consistently, participants represented by an avatar in a dark cloak or a KKK-like uniform demonstrated negative or anti-social behavior in team situations and in individual writing assignments.”

Previous studies, ScienceDaily said, had demonstrated these uniform types to have negative effects on people’s behaviors in face-to-face interactions. For example, Cornell researchers Mark Frank and Tom Gilovich have shown that dark uniforms influence professional sports teams to play more aggressively on the playing field and in the laboratory. Peña’s research has now demonstrated how these effects operate in desktop-based video games, and sheds light on the automatic cognitive processes that explain this effect.

“When you step into a virtual environment, you can potentially become ‘Mario’ or whatever other character you are portraying,” said Peña, who studies how humans think, behave and feel online. “Oftentimes, the connotations of our own virtual character will subtly remind us of common stereotypes, such as ‘bad guys wear black or dress up in hooded robes.’ This association may surreptitiously steer users to think and behave more antisocially, but also inhibit more pro-social thoughts and responses in a virtual environment.”

“By manipulating the appearance of the avatar, you can augment the probability of people thinking and behaving in predictable ways without raising suspicion,” said Peña. “Thus, you can automatically make a virtual encounter more competitive or cooperative by simply changing the connotations of one’s avatar.”

Reading this I wondered about the two women I referred to above.    Has one, the American, inadvertently reinforced the depressingly, negative  image she has of herself by making her avatar appearance worse than  she actually appears in Real Life? And has the other, the Australian,  done the reverse to achieve striking Real Life benefits?

It’s obviously another question for virtual world scientists.
But on the other hand, in my experience,  it doesn’t have quite the same effect on some males.  I haven’t become the 6ft 7in  All American Don Juan that my avatar suggests I  could be and my wishful thinking suggests I should be. My real life  personna and appearance  has remained. I’m still just a little nerd who is boringly ordinary.

I, however, don’t doubt there are men in Second Life who have lost weight too.

* Some details have been altered to protect their identities.

SLENZ Update, No 128, August 16, 2009

THE SLENZ PROJECT

There is a difference between

immersion and  activity …

foundation_utdsom2Learning in Dallas …  Snowflake Lannock has a giftbox  for Aotearoa-NZ learners.
foundation_utdsom6Learning in Dallas  … virtually  speaking. [All Pictures: Merle Lemon]

Sometimes one listens to the  presentations  and reads the publicity  about  a person’s role in the world – any  world, real or virtual – and fails to  see  the difference between commitment  and involvement, between  being immersed in life  and just being active … and often noisy.

Those who play a full role in life – real or virtual – might  identify with  the old story of the breakfast plate  loaded  with bacon and eggs: the pig who “donated” the bacon was committed, the fowl  who laid the egg might have been active, but was only involved.

I believe there  are many “involved” in  virtual worlds –  builders, technicians, academics  and educators, making names  for themselves as “experts” and who appear to be able to talk-the-talk  and use the right jargon – who are not “immersed” and not committed to virtual worlds and in actual fact never will walk-the-walk of real virtuality, and do not understand  what being “immersed” in a virtual world really means.

They only pay lip service to the idea of  virtual immersion – only entering virtual life  for “work”, rather than “learning” to live  within it.

They are there because they see that being on the virtual world band wagon provides a career-enhancing opportunity. They will invariably move on to the  next career-enhancing fad as soon as it comes into their view, and is greeted with wonder by the chattering classes. They will then become the critics, the doom sayers of the old wave, and the “promoters” of another new wave.

foundation_janedaughterGetting into a virtual world  … educators Jane Field and daughter.

Manukau Institute of Technology lead educator for the SLENZ Project, Merle Lemon (pictured  right) (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) is not like that: since joining the SLENZ Project team less than 12 months ago she has quietly immersed herself in Second Life and become one with it. For her the suspension of disbelief is part and parcel of immersion and  an integral part of learning, and the best way of providing the best learning opportunities possible in a virtual world.Lemon, merle2

It is very difficult to get her to promote herself or her role but  tomorrow (Monday)  she will launch a Foundation Learning programme which will  eventually see  about 150 New Zealand students, ranging in age from 18 to 45,  “virtually” acquiring some of the skills needed to get a job or further education and training in the “real world”.

To this end  she staged an all-day  face-to-face training exercise for the  Foundation Learning team in the Learning Technology Centre at MIT South Campus early this month and has written about it, albeit probably reluctantly, on her blog, Foundation interviewing with SLENZ.

foundation_teresusietaniaSomewhere in a world … Terry Neal, Dr Susie Jacka and Tania Hogan.

The training workshop which began with a Karakia  (traditional Maori prayer that both welcomes and brings everyone together) was attended by SLENZ Project co  leader Terry Neal (SL: Tere Tinkel),;  Maryanne Wright (SL: Nugget Mixemup), and Tania Hogan (Tania Wonder) from MIT; Jane Field (Morgana Hexicola) from Otago Polytechnic with her daughter; Vicky Pemberton (Sky Zeitman); Martin Bryers (SL: Motini Manimbo) from Northland Polytech; and Dr Susie Jacka (SL: Littoral Farshore) from Unitec.

The presenters from around the world included:  Jenny Wakefield (SL: Snowflake Lannock) of the Dallas School of Management at the University of Texas,  who gave instruction in communication skills, use of contextual menus, handling the inventory, more complex movements, location and SLurls, camera controls, and security issues;  Second Life’s Pacifico Piaggio, a faculty member from the University of the Pacific, and Second Life resident Doran Horngold, an elementary school librarian from Houston, Texas, who  passed on her collection of note cards with teaching resource SLurls and information.

“The workshop provided a great opportunity to gel as a team, to learn skills and to share ideas, ” Merle says. ” The day was tiring but rewarding. It provided all collaborators with the reassurance that they would never be on their own, and that there is a support structure soundly in place.”

Merle could have added that she, with her  hard-won knowledge of virtual world immersion, is one of the major  foundations of  that sound support structure.  But that is not something she would say.

foundation_vickymartin

What was the  question?- Martin Bryers  listens to the real world
answer from Vicky Pemberton

SLENZ Update, No 125, August 11, 2009

FEEL THE RAINDROPS

Holographic images with

touch of  reality …

SLENZ Project joint leader Dr Clare Atkins (SL: Arwenna Stardust)  alerted me to this touch of reality in the comments at left. For those of you who don’t read comments *grin* I thought it was worth more prominence as a follow-up  to out-of-body experiments.

Displayed at SIGGRAPH 2009, which has just taken place  in New Orleans, touchable holography  was only one of  five “cool” futuristic interfaces  described by Will Knight in  Technology Review.

Knight detailed how a team of researchers at the University of Tokyo led by Hiroyuki Shinoda has developed a display that lets users “touch” objects that appear to float in space in front of them.

The virtual objects appear in mid-air thanks to an LCD and a concave mirror. The sensation of touching the objects is created using an ultrasound device (displayed at SIGGRAPH 2008) positioned below the LCD and mirror.

Now what could something like this do for virtual worlds?

But there’s  something  more …

A team from INRIA and Grenoble Universities in France demonstrated a new hyper-realistic virtual reality system called Virtualization Gate that tracked users’ movements very accurately using multiple cameras, allowing them to interact with virtual objects with new realism.

The user wore a head-mounted display (HMD) and moved through a virtual space while several cameras tracked his movement. The video shows a guy kicking over virtual vases and pushing around a virtual representation of himself. At the moment a cluster of PCs is needed to perform the necessary image capture and 3D modeling.

Thanks Arwenna for the heads-up.

And there’s still something more from SIGGRAPH for all of us who weren’t there. This preview video shows some of what we missed. *sigh* Check YouTube for further videos. Its worth it.

.

SLENZ Update, No 124, August 8, 2009

Bringing your  avatar to ‘real’ life …

Out-of-body experiences may

provide the  ‘real’ answers

FOR PARALYSED AND  VIRTUAL GAMERS

more about “Out-of-body experiences help bring av…“, posted with vodpod

The dream of many of paralysed people and  computer-game designers is one step closer to reality with the demonstration of a technique that allows people to physically identify with a virtual body, according to  the New Scientist.

The achievement builds on previous work, reported previously in the SLENZ Update,  in which Swiss neuroscientists created similar to out-of-body experiences in healthy volunteers when they  used movie cameras and tricked people viewing their virtual body into feeling that body being touched.

In the latest experiment, according to  the New  Scientist, vibrating pads with flashing lights were positioned on the subjects’ backs. Virtual bodies were generated by a camera filming their backs and were viewed as though 2 metres in front of the subjects through a head-mounted display. Repeated stroking of their backs, and the sight of the doppelganger being stroked, created the feeling for some of the volunteers that they were outside of their bodies. They reported that the vibrations were felt in the location where the flash was seen on their virtual body.

Because this work confirms that people can be made to feel that a touch on the real body is a touch on the virtual body, Jane Aspell of the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, who led the study, said: “This emerging field has interesting implications for virtual computer gaming, such as making avatars seem more real and increasing presence in the VR environment.”

“This technology, although currently in basic research, seems to have a very promising future for clinical applications in restoring lost motor functions in paralysed people,” according to  bioethicist Jens Clausen, of the Institute for Ethics and the History of Medicine at the University of Tűbingen in Germany. “It’s important to integrate prosthetics into one’s self concept.”

Although full out-of-body experiences in the lab remain elusive, New Scientist said, the group is now aiming to boost the illusion by inducing the subject to identify more strongly with the virtual body.
If ever realised the implications  of the “out-of-body’ sensory perception will be important  for all those who want to engage, for whatever reasons,  more than their visual and auditory senses in virtual worlds.

The SLENZ Update – No 113, July 13, 2009

Case Study: Loyalist College

Big Improvement in  tests, training

outcomes with use of Second Life

Canada’s Loyalist College has often been held up as the benchmark in training benefits  for  the use  of Second Life  – not least by this blog –  but now a case study,  even though done by and being promoted by Linden Lab, the creators of Second Life, presents a compelling case, despite the hyperbole,  for the benefits of Second Life training and teaching and learning.

The latest study, “Virtual World Simulation Training Prepares Real Guards on the US-Canadian Border: Loyalist College in Second Life,”  details how training simulations in Second Life have directly resulted in significantly improved test scores at Loyalist College, near Toronto, Ontario, and have directly applied to real-world on-the-job performance of the student participants.

The college’s move into training in Second Life followed  the post-September 11, 2001, abandonment of  on-the-job training – three weeks seconded to a professional border guard to experience the routine – with the result that traineees moved into the role less well-equipped to do the job.

In a bid to solve the problem the Director of Educational Technology at Loyalist College had a virtual border crossing simulation set up in Second Life.

Key: “Sense of presence”

“The amazing results of the training and simulation program have led to significantly improved grades on students’ critical skills tests, taking scores from a 56 percent success in 2007, to 95 percent at the end of 2008 after the simulation was instituted,”” according to the executive summary of the case study. “The success of the program has encouraged over 650 students and eight faculty to explore Second Life for mixed purposes. It has also generated enough interest and demand from other learning institutions that Loyalist established a Virtual Design Centre that employs former students with Second Life classroom experience to develop new virtual learning environments.”

The case  study notes that  its the “sense of presence” that makes the Second Life training simulation so effective: You actually feel like you’re in a “real” environment when you are in a virtual world, despite the fact that you’re physically sitting at a desk in front of a computer.

Professor Kathryn deGast-Kennedy (Journal of Virtual Worlds Research article here and pdf here),  the Coordinator of the Customs Border Services Program at Loyalist College, said, “Even though I have been a Border Services Officer for 28 years, I felt the same level of anxiety in the virtual border crossing as I did 28 years earlier. That experience made me a believer that working within Second Life was as real as it could get.”

“Second Life is amazing and unprecedented,”  Ken Hudson, managing director, Virtual World Design Center at Loyalist College, said.  “No single technological addition has ever impacted grades at the college in such a positive way. The affordable tools of Second Life allowed us to explore potential applications for education. Loyalist College believes strongly that were it not for Second Life, we would not be involved in virtual worlds whatsoever. The learning in these spaces is amazing, and when we are working with 30% increases in success, there is nothing more memorable than that.”

LoyalistBorder

Cross a border – virtually but in reality too.

The SLENZ Update – No 108, July 03, 2009

ONLINE GAMES or MMORPGs

In an alienated world, a place

to get to know somebody?

Second skin

Second Skin DVD Promo … slected theatre release across US,
from August 7,  DVD release August 25.

The video documentary on virtual worlds and MMORPGs, “Second Skin, Alter Your Ego“, which has been receiving  rave reviews on the US Film Festival  circuit,  should gain a larger audience next month as it moves to  scheduled screenings in New York City, Somerville, Mass., and Austin, Texas  as well as into DVD sales, in the US at least

The film is the result of  writer and producer Victor Pineiro,  friend Peter Brauer and  director brother Juan Carlos spending two years “racing around the world following gamers who had fallen in love, become addicted, formed enormous guilds, or made their living playing MMOs like World of Warcraft, Everquest and Second Life.

“From gold farmers to disabled gamers, we tried to get a sense of how integral virtual worlds are to the fabric of life these days,” he wrote on  blogger Cory Doctorow’s   Boing Boing. “We’d love you to check it out – the first five minutes are available on Current TV - here.

Doctorow says  he  was “blown away” by the film when he saw it at the Toronto film festival. ” … (it’s) by turns touching and funny, and always fascinating. This is a loving but clear-eyed look at the relationship of gamers to their games.”

And Randee Dawn, in The Hollywood Reporter”s RiskyBusiness blog, said, “”Another doc generating significant buzz: Second Skin, … a fascinating film… gets audiences who’ve never considered spending 18 hours in front of their computer to sympathize with those who do.”

As one of the expert interviewees in the movie, games director Gordon Walton says,  in today’s world where alienation from your neighbours is a fact of life – in the US it is estimated only five percent of people know their immediate neighbours –  “online games provide a place where it is safe to get more intimate.”

The SLENZ Update – No 100, June 15, 2009

The boy from the future

XBox 360’s Milo  takes virtual

reality into another  world

I’ve been mulling over, for a few days now, whether  Microsoft’s latest offering in virtual worlds, Milo and his virtual friends, is going to prove a greater boon to  video games and MMORPGs or to personal computer-based virtual worlds.

Is Milo the next step along the road  to virtual life becoming mainstream or will he ,being console and television screen-based, kill off the  virtual worlds like Second Life. In other words is he the next step.

The benefits are obvious and the reality of Milo is in many ways astounding. But  I will let you judge for yourselves.

The anonymous blogger (Cv, picture and “occasional” avatar, “Head Teacher”,  but shy about real name) who writes Crossed Wires for Eduworlds.com said the launch of  Microsoft’s Project Natal controller at the E3 gaming conference earlier last  month  appeared as though it would redefine how “virtual and non virtual worlds ( i.e. the real world) interact”.

Project Natal is a hands-free control system for the Xbox that recognises facial expressions and body movements and allows, so it is claimed, virtual characters  to recognise not only voices and even faces but also read moods  [Interestingly, one could pose the question: Is Milo, Microsoft's answer to Eve? Massey University, New Zealand, announced earlier this year it had developed a virtual teacher, Eve (pictured right), who can read and react to a student's emotions].Eve

Head Teacher said, “If anything was ever worthy of the description game changing this is it … Microsoft  may have done for virtual what the Iphone has done for the mobile interface. Others will surely catch up but if Microsoft can really deliver on this, virtual experiences will soon be split between clicking in a make-believe world and apparently walking around something we can almost touch.

“For me,” he said, “the conclusions are that the future of virtual experiences won’t be limited by uptake or not of the current crop of virtual worlds: it is virtual experiences which overlay and blend with our real lives in ways we are only working out now. Virtual worlds will continue and thrive but will not define our experience of virtual reality.”

Meanwhile on the BBC,  film director Stephen Spielberg described Project Natal to journalist Peter Emery as “a window into what the future holds”.

Saying it was an evolutionary step for games, Spielberg said, “It’s like the square screen we saw all of our movies on in the early 1950s. Then The Robe came out in Cinemascope. And then came CinRam and Imax followed. That’s what [Natal] is.

“The video games industry has not allowed us the opportunity to cry, because we were too busy putting our adrenalin rush into the controller, or wherever we swing our arm with a Wii controller to get a result,”  Spielberg said. “Because of that, there is no room for a video game to break your heart. We now have a little more room to be a little more emotional with Natal technology than we did before.”

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.