The SLENZ Update – No 106, June 29, 2009

Addendum  to SLENZ Update, No 105:

Hysteria over Australian SL-block

rumours: fear-mongering or worse …

The Sydney Morning Herald  journalist, Asher Moses, who wrote “Web filters to censor video games” – the story which led to “mass” Second Life hysteria – has disclosed to SLED-lister, Second Life resident  and PhD candidate in the  School of History, Philosophy, Religion and Classics,  at the University of Queensland, Morgan Leigh, that Second Life was never actually mentioned by Australian Senator Conroy or his spokesperson,  just “online games”.

Moses told Leigh that the story was based on a question the Green’s senator for Western Australia, Scott Ludlam, had asked of the government.

The question was “(13) Will computer games exceeding the requirements of the MA15+ classification be RC (refused classification) and potentially blocked by ISPs on a mandatory basis for adults; if not, what other exceptions to RC would be similarly permitted.”

Leigh told  SLED-listers this information, and other information on Ludlam’s questions on filtering and censorship,   could be found at  http://scott-ludlam.greensmps.org.au/content/question/further-details-about-blacklisted-items-and-urls

Leigh said Moses had “expressed surprise at the resultant hype regarding Second Life”.

Leigh, however, also told SLED-listers, “The latest (Australian) Government should have learned from the previous attempts  ( to filter internet content) that unless it wants  to turn Australia into  China it cannot widely block access.

“I for one am totally not worried that I will wake one day soon to find Second Life unavailable to me,” he said. “I am, however, worried by the broader issue of governments seeking to decide for adults what those adults can and cannot do.

“Australia is sadly lacking any kind of bill of rights. Our constitution apparently ‘implies’ we have certain rights, like free speech etc., but beyond that we are still just subjects of  Her Majesty.”

The SLENZ Update – No 105, June 29, 2009

ANOTHER TABLOID BLOG FRENZY

Hysteria over Australian SL-block

rumours:  fear-mongering or worse …

CENSOREDLooks like bulldust to me …

I haven’t commented on the latest round of histrionics and hysteria fomented by “tabloid” bloggers about the Australia moves … but as one of the most authoritative writers on virtual worlds,  James Wagner Au (pictured), has pointed out in NewWorldNotes it’s more about smoke than substance, with Second Life and video games bloggers implying a lot more from the Sydney Morning Herald story than is actually in it.WagnerJAu

I say this  despite the fact that  the Christian Today Australia, an online Christian “tabloid”,  in a blatent, unattributed lift from one of the more rabid bloggers, Duncan Riley,   said today that  Second Life was to be “banned in Australia” and that this had been confirmed by a spokesperson for Australian Federal Minister  Stephen Conroy  that “under the (Australian Rating System) filtering plan,  it (censorship) will be extended to downloadable games, flash-based web games and sites which sell physical copies of games that do not meet the MA15+ standard.” [The MA15+ means restricted to those people ages 15 and above.  Games for 18-plus “adults” are classed as RC (Refused Classification) because of pornographic, illegal material,  certain forms of ‘hate speech” and  copyrighted content, despite some Australian States having legalised brothels and a large  “adult” porno industry both in real life and easily accessed on the net]

The story just grows like Topsy: the interpretation of one trenchant critic of  Australian Government filtering of internet content, quoted by The Sydney Morning Herald as referring to the possibility of Second Life being blocked, has become fact. But  whether true or not it’s important to New Zealand residents of Second Life because it gives more “ammunition” to critics in New Zealand even if that “ammunition” is more akin to bulldust than reality.

But one thing that seems very common among Second Life residents is the propensity to have panic-attacks and anxiety complexes and to find rumour and innuendo nutritious.

The possibility of an Australian ban/block  on Second Life has been canvassed off and on for months in various media – but there has never really been anything more than a little smoke.

And, anyway even if the Australian Government does receive “complaints” and goes ahead with a “ban” it need have no effect on educators.

Zindra Alps_002Adult Zindra – virtually another  Second Life game which could be
blocked without harm to Australian educators …

With the creation of Zindra, Linden Labs have virtually created two “games” – to use the Australian reference – and it should be easy enough under the current filtering regime being trialed by Australian ISPs for any Federal Government agency to block the “adult” potentially more raunchy game while continuing to allow access to the “PG, Mature” Second Life without the raunch.

Although not on line this has been done with video games sold in  real life shops in Australia, such as Grand Theft Auto and Fallout 3, with a special edition being created for their Australian audiences.

Given this, for teaching purposes, “blocks” on the “Adult” game should not affect Australian educators because they have no reason to go into Zindra (for education purposes) and so should have little effect on the real life education and business uses of  Second Life  in Australia – unless, of course, the main reason for some Australian “educators” being in the game is “adult” content.

I also wonder whether the Australian video games industry is not promoting this issue and the Second Life connection to it in a bid to deflect criticism and draw Second Life and other virtual worlds into their bed, as it were, to obfuscate the real issues of violence and violent sex  in many video games.

The debate, however,  as noted above is obviously not about pornography because some of the most raunchy pornographic picture and video sites on the web originate from Australia, and have only rudimentary age checks (answer what date you were born before accessing this site) and so are, in reality, open to anyone of any age: as they are not” games” however, they appear not subject to the debate in the on-line games context.

Finally, as an afterthought, I think money could be well spent on doing research on Second Life residents and Second Life bloggers to see whether they have a higher propensity for hysteria  and paranoia than the average person who doesn’t get “addicted” to SecondLife. *grin*

The SLENZ Update – No 104, June 24, 2009

CYBERPSYCHOLOGY

The Virtual World challenges

facing mental health research

The challenges health professionals face in using virtual worlds have more to do with the commercial cost of developing serious games or health purpose virtual worlds rather than with the quality of the environments being delivered over the internet or through off-the-shelf games,  according to  Dr Andrew Campbell, an Australian researcher  in Cyberpsychology.

In a wide-ranging interview with  Lowell Cremorne, of  The Metaverse Journal, the director of the Prometheus Research Team at the University of Sydney,  said that in addition to this, research, looking at how  immersive environments could be used to tackle problems  in health, behaviour and education, was  facing a health professional vs tech industry challenge in trying to effectively harness the ideas for scientifically-based delivery of health interventions.

“In short,” Campbell (pictured left) said, “the health professionals need to learn more about the tech industry and vice versa. Once this bridge is finally built, I believe we will be entering a new error of technology consumerism – games for wellbeing and ICT for personal health management.”Campbell, Dr Andrew

Campbell’s primary job is an academic researcher and teacher in the field of Psychology, particularly Cyberpsychology, which is the study of how technology is impacting human behaviour, both in good and bad ways. Secondly, he is a general practice psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent mental health and behavioural problems. His clinical work is focused on treating children with ADD/ADHD, anxiety and depression, conduct problems, as well as parental counselling and family therapy.

His fascinating interview with Cremorne covers gaming and violence and addiction and  the often-hidden benefits of  video games – “parents themselves do not know anything about the games their children are playing” .

Based on his experience he is dismissive of the anecdotal direct causative link between the regular playing of violent games and violent real-life behaviour.

“Playing a violent game is no more likely to trigger someone’s violent behaviour than eating your favourite food is going to motivate you to become a chef,” he told Cremorne.

Conversely a  number of studies of gaming, he said, had shown wonderful results through helping people to ameliorate either behaviour or, in some cases, the management of pain.

This is only a very limited taste of the full interview which you should read  here.

The SLENZ Update – No 103, June 24, 2009

SLENZ PROJECT PROGRESS

‘Machinimas’ show the benefits,

comfort in learning  virtually

It’s often difficult for an outsider – especially one with little experience in virtual technology –  to get a real impression of what happens in an education environment in Second Life and just what the benefits can be.

As part of the on-going SLENZ Project, Midwifery Pilot lead educator Sarah Stewart (SL: Petal Stransky) and Foundation Learning Pilot lead educator Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa) have attempted to show  those benefits  with the recent release of  two machinimas, which are worth looking at.

The first, Te Wahi Whanau 2 ( the second video from the Midwifery Pilot team) demonstrates  the benefits both in Second Life and Real Life of building  and using an architect-designed “ideal”  Birthing Centre like that  on the SLENZ island of Kowhai.

Uploaded to YouTube by “Debdavis5” (Dr Deborah Davis, principal lecturer in Midwifery at Otago Polytechnic, Dunedin, New Zealand)  the machinima displays the build  of “Te Wahi Whanau: The Birth Place” by Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) .   “The Birth Place” is used in the Bachelor of Midwifery programme at Otago  and also aims to inform Second Life residents about the importance of space/place in facilitating physiological birth. The machinima is also on the SLENZ Project website here.

The second video,  Bridging Education: Interview skills @ SLENZ,   by Merle Lemon, of the Manukau Institute of Technology, is somewhat different in that it is designed specifically to show Foundation Learning  tutors why  their students will benefit from the use of Second Life to improve their interview skills.

The video, which is also available at the SLENZ Project website,  illustrates the difference between a real life practise interview situation and a Second Life interview situation.

The SLENZ Update – No 102, June 19, 2009

An invitation to  another

happening on Koru …

Stanford

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology’s Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime) will be presenting a paper at The Society of Dance History Scholars Conference 2009 at Stanford University, California, USA, from Wellington Railway Station on the Second Life NMIT island of Koru [Koru: 81,57,21 (PG)] at 3:00pm SLT/PDT on Saturday,  June 20 (10am NZT Sunday,  June 21.

He has issued a special invitation to SLENZers and others to participate in the event in Second Life   and hear his paper, “In the Company of Strangers – Negotiating the parameters of Indeterminacy; a study of the Roaming Body and Departure in Urban Spaces”.

There will be a notecard-vendor  in the station proper which will, once touched, give participants instructions for the presentation, one of a number which Baker has been invited to do this year at universities and conferences around the world.

Baker, who specialises in improvisational contact dance,  is currently completing a Masters  in Art and Design, majoring in dance and video,  with  AUT, Auckland, New Zealand.

An abstract of his presentation will be available from a dispenser in the wall next to the station cafe in a corner of the concourse.

He has asked participants to select the appropriate ambient lighting for viewing the videos, making sure that their media is enabled  with loudspeakers turned off  to avoid feedback.

He will be responding to questions  from the audience  at the end of the presentation with the real life audience taking precedence over the virtual audience.

Rollo Mike & Fiona

Mike and his partner, Fiona.

The SLENZ Update – No 101, June 18, 2009

Is there really virtual world

promise in peer-to-peer

… at this stage?

As if,  worrying whether the soon-to-be-released Second Life Viewer 2009 will  require educators to completely revamp their techniques and training of students, was not enough, we still have to wonder whether we might not have backed the wrong  horse and that the possible peer-to-peer virtual world competition for Second Life –  both public and behind the firewall – waiting in the wings, might not provide better applications.

We already have Entropia, Forterra(Olive),  Twinity, Wonderland,  Croquet, Prototerra, Kaneva, Hipihi,  and others  in the virtual world arena but just when one might have thought that Second Life and the Second Life-based OpenSim worlds – OpenSim, OpenLife, OsGrid, and smaller players like ONGENS, etc – were holding their own for education purposes,  at least one and perhaps two of  the Open Source alternatives to Second Life appear to be  breaking through, although they don’t have numbers yet.

The latest food for thought on this issue came from Feldspar  Epstein, of  The Metaverse Journal, who  explains the difference between the OpenSim concept, and that of Open Source such as  “Open Cobalt” and “Solipsis”,  as being that essentially while  OpenSim grids are designed to be served from a common point,  Open Cobalt and Solipsis implementations are designed to be served from many points – they are both peer-to-peer technologies.

“Open Cobalt (based on Croquet technology) consists of two parts: a browser and a toolkit,” Epstein says. ” The browser is used to view the 3D virtual workspaces created with the toolkit. Each workspace can live on a separate personal computer. Workspaces are real time and computationally dynamic, and each can host multiple participants. Additionally, individual workspaces can be interlinked into a private and secure network of work spaces.”

Attractive features

Epstein lists a number of  attractive Open Cobalt features, particularly for researchers and  educators, as: Open source licensing (MIT);  deeply malleable, collaborative space; runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux; internet access is not required; it can run over LANs and Intranets;  private and public environments can be created; in-world text, voice and video chat, web browsing (VNC allows access to browsers like Firefox) and annotations; Access to remote applications via VNC; Navigation between virtual workspaces is possible using 3D hyperlinks; Mesh, texture, media, and whole avatar imports.

An alpha phase Open  Cobalt download is available here and further information is available here. The beta release is due this year, and a full implementation is expected to be released in 2010.

Meanwhile the efficacy or on-going  viability of the French Telecom-developed Solipsis is more murky, although according to Epstein it is about to go into beta testing but I would question this.

A search of the net would suggest otherwise.

On Solipsis netofpeers.net  it  is revealed,  in a link from Professor  Shun-Yun Hu, of  the University of  Taiwan, that although Solipsis is a pure peer-to-peer system for a massively shared virtual world with no central servers,  only relying on end-users’ machines, the initial Solipsis project  ended some time ago when the core team left the project. The original Solipsis web site is available here. Although the dowloads are available there appears to have been little real activity since 2005, and the developers’ page is here but a number of the links appear dead.twinverse

More recently, however,  Joaquin Keller, has started TwinVerse – a virtual world based on geography, pictured right- and which seems little more than a glorified video and text chat room overlaid on Google satellite pictures/maps of various world spots, and nothing like the 3D virtual worlds, as presented by Second Life or Twinity or Entropia et al, and less than half as interesting.

Speaking of peer-to-peer virtual worlds Epstein doesn’t go into the much-touted Australian startup, Project Outback (from Yoik) which  folded sometime ago after considerable promotion by one of the former Kazaa peer-to-peer network promoters, nor the most viable other offering VastPark. currently in closed beta (downloads here) and based on the OPeN (Univ. of Melbourne) software funded by NICTA, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Research
Centre of Excellence,  which signed a commercial license agreement with VastPark, in 2008.

Other peer-to-peer possibilities, in various states of array and disarray, include :  Colyseus (CMU); HYDRA (National Univ. of Singapore);  and peers@play (Univ. of Mannheim, Duisburg-Essen, and Hannover).

However, after looking at all the offerings I could find for peer-to-peer worlds ( I may have missed some) I believe that aside from Open Cobalt, which is actually Croquet in another form,  and VastPark, there appears nothing in the peer-to-peer virtual world public domain that is any real threat at this stage to Second Life and open-source Second Life-based products, for credibility, ease-of-use, attractiveness, population, and what I believe is the fundamental key to virtual world success,  immersibility (suspension of disbelief).

So forget peer-to-peer virtual worlds for the moment and concentrate on worrying about  the Second Life 2009 viewer, or perhaps the new adult continent of Zindra.  Just kidding.

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.”