Broadband in NZ– VLENZ Update, No 181, March 13, 2011

The  New Zealand Broadband network

Rural Kiwis  probably wont see

‘true’  Broadband  for decades

… will Christchurch quake slow implementation

of 2nd-best  RBI solution

Telecom's Dr Paul Reynolds ... rebuked for honesty.

With the government concentrating on the post earthquake resurrection of Christchurch – and the money needed to rebuild that city – one wonders whether the Rural Broadband Initiative which has been badly fumbled, will quietly fade into the woodwork.

And will  New Zealanders outside the main centres and Telco hubs continue to be left in the 20th Century with less than adequate Broadband?

Of course, it is understandable that the contract, which has been awarded to the old-style,  not-likely- to-deliver the Broadband needed for the nation, Telecom/Vodafone consortium with its outdated backward-looking technology, may  go on the backburner.

But one has to ask is  even  the  out-of-date solution to be thrown out with the demolition rubbish from the Christchurch earthquake.

Not that it really matters I suppose because one has to wonder whether the  Government and its advisers on the RBI  ever really wanted to have a competing future-oriented Broadband network outside the main cities.

‘Marketing carrot’

This was made clear by Telecom chief executive  Paul Reynolds, who earned a rebuke for his honesty from the Government, when he  forecast (before the tender was awarded) that it could take two decades for consumers to upgrade to ultrafast Broadband. Dr Reynolds said, although it is clear the Government intends the network should be completed by 2019, it would take at least as long again for all households to start using it. “Twenty years is the number for the progressive uptake of fibre services,” he said.

His remarks mirrored those of the Telstra-Clear NZ chief executive of a few years ago who  said he saw no need for fast broadband  in New Zealand.

FX Network's Murray Jurgeleit ... RBI future-proof solution rejected.

Despite  remarks like these the  major Telcos are still promoting  and selling Broadband throughout New Zealand  at exorbitant rates which they cannot deliver  at consistent Broadband speeds.

Even Telcom’s latest television promotion for its Broadband service fudges the fact that if you join without contract – a “marketing carrot” – you still have to pay $NZ90 to leave, exactly the same  as you would have had to pay if you had a contract, even if  the organisation cannot deliver consistent Broadband speeds.

The worst part of it is that, as the promotions attract more people to Broadband in provincial NZ,  the more the telcos’ services  degrade, particularly outside the main centres and the less reliable and consistent it gets at times of high bandwidth usage such as school holidays, after school and on wet, miserable winter weekends, the times when the average man, woman and child wants to use it.

The Government did have the option of future-proofing Broadband services for the country but failed to take the chance  apparently accepting the Telecom/Vodafone  solution which basically is slow 3G wireless and fast DSL over copper. This was probably because it was advised by those whose hearts have always been with the big players.

The major alternative was and still is the fibre and 4g wireless solution put forward by FX Networks with Opengate (Kordia & Woosh) which would have delivered much faster Broadband to far more rural users than any alternative.

Simply put  the OpenGate/ FX Networks  solution would have delivered a $NZ285m,  10 Mbps or more Broadband connection to 83 percent of rural New Zealand – a third of the country’s population which generates two-thirds of its export income – for as low as $NZ60 per month, with access from within two years – not six as posed by the Telecom consortium.

‘Choice, innovation, competition’

In a press release last month FX Networks Managing Director Murray Jurgeleit said, “In addition to the low prices, we have proposed to deliver extensive new infrastructure for our rural communities. We are committed to delivering guaranteed performance through the latest technology to put us ahead of our international trading partners.

“We can create an environment of choice, innovation and competition to ensure rural New Zealand is well served in Broadband technology for years to come.”

And Kordia CEO Geoff Hunt  who expressed disappointment at the outcome of the tender process, said that OpenGate would have connected a customer at full speed 40 kms from a wireless site,  a significant advance on what could be achieved with copper.

“The combination of fibre and 4G wireless technology enables us to very quickly deploy high-speed broadband to many more rural Kiwis,” he said.
The OpenGate/FX Networks consortium offer was based on the same advanced technology (4G LTE) that’s being installed in Australia, the US, China and India as an upgrade to aging and congested 3G networks.  Hunt said that this technology meant that any individual tower could be scaled up to deliver more than 1.7 gigabits per second, enabling hundreds of users to have ultra-fast Broadband off a single tower without slowing down service.

Geoff Hunt, Kordia ... an opportunity lost

“They (the Government) say they’re going to a proven technology with copper – it’s so proven that it’s being replaced by fibre everywhere,” said Kordia ceo Geoff Hunt.

“The opportunity to deploy much better broadband has been lost. It is really disappointing,” he said.

He claimed the Government decision, and I agree,  has effectively condemned rural communities to suffering from same old duopoly services that continue to under-deliver and hold rural New Zealand hostage.

“The government had an opportunity through the RBI to provide a technology step-change in services for rural New Zealand that would have laid a future-proof and highly competitive foundation for the next 15 years.

Not an “up-to” speed offer

He pointed out that the OpenGate/FX broadband network would have delivered 100 Mbps to rural schools, 10 – 20 Mbps to 83 percent of rural New Zealanders and an impressive 20+ Mbps to 67 percent of rural Kiwis.
“We can support a lot of people on the internet at these impressive speeds at the same time … we are offering 10 Mbps at better prices than in the cities today – not an “up to” offer,” he said earlier. “New Zealanders are sick and tired of high contention ratios and actual performance that bears no relation to advertised “up to” speeds.

I can concur with that having argued with both Telecom and  Telstra that the speeds they were and are delivering Broadband –  even in provincial centres let alone rural areas – is often more like dial-up than Broadband despite them charging  outlandishly for the service.
The OpenGate/ FX Networks’ infrastructure would have been separate and distinct from the existing copper and 3G networks, and it would have fostered much needed head-to-head competition with the moribund Telcos.

Now sadly it looks as though many of today’s rural New Zealanders probably will not get “real” Broadband at their homes in their lifetimes, even with the latest advances in copper wire technology.

This will only serve to place  rural  residents – adults and students – at an even greater disadvantage to their city cousins in a world where consistent, reliable fast Broadband is becoming a necessity rather than a luxury, especially in the area of distance education.

OpenSim Grids Growing apace – VLENZ Update, No 180, January 24, 2011

Is SL fading?

The ‘Top 40’ OpenSim grids

gain 529 regions in month

Latest figures from Hypergrid Business

OS builds are now as good as if not better in some cases than SL builds ... Rommena at Rom20 at julpet.ath.cx:9020 (local http://slurl.com/secondlife/Rom20/183/212)/30 (HG 1.0) built over 16 sims by Nick Lassard is a case in point.


The top 40 OpenSim grids gained 529 regions since mid-December, to reach a new high of 15,623 regions on January 15 of this month, according to  Maria Korolov  in her latest article in  Hypergrid Business.

The full Korolov article is a must read for those involved in virtual worlds.

Maria Korolov, editor, Hypergrid Business

The burgeoning growth rate of the OpenSim movement  follows the Second Life Linden Labs’ decision to end discounting of education sims. Other reasons for the growth, in my opinion are that the builds on some OpenSim grids (See pictures) are now as good and as interesting as the best builds in Second Life with build numbers, content creators and residents now reaching a tipping point which will see the OpenSim movement grow even faster.

Although the monthly growth rate, 3.5 percent, was down, possibly for seasonal reasons, Korolov noted that the total downloads of the popular Diva Distribution of OpenSim grew by 18 percent over the previous month to a  new high of  3,707 downloads. The Diva Distro is popular but it is only one of a number of OpenSim distribution channels. The others do not provide statistics.

Borgo Antico ... another example of an OpenSim builder's skill and a great place to visit. (HG 1.5)

Korolov said that  OSGrid, which currently has more regions than all other top-40 grids,  gained almost 500 regions to a new total of 9,009 regions.

In second place in terms of growth was the new role-playing grid Avination, which gained 172 regions in just one month, for a new total of 324 regions.

MyOpenGrid was in third place, gaining 63 regions, giving it a new total of 200 regions. InWorldz came in fourth in growth, gaining 47 regions for a new total of 766 regions, in the Hypergrid Business statistics.

Korolov said, “At Hypergrid Business, we expect to see both closed and open grids continue to grow through 2011. However, new hypergrid security features are currently in development which will allow content creators to lock down content so that it can not be moved off-grid. As these features are rolled out, we expect more grids to turn on hypergrid and allow their users to freely travel around to other grids for events, meetings, shopping, and exploring. She noted also that as the OpenSim world has burgeoned  Second Life, according to data from Grid Survey, continued to hemorrhage regions during the month losing 132 regions, for a new total of 31,413 regions.

The Titanic memorial in OpenSim … the ship, built to scale, covers three sims and is as detailed inside as the famed Bill Stirling-built SS Galaxy of Second Life. (HG 1.5)

... and part of the historically accurate Titanic interior.

NZVWGrid Upgrade – VLENZ Update, No 179, January 24, 2011

NZVWGrid  news

Auckland  U Portal ‘upgrades’

OpenSim  hardware

Will host 30-50 sims

The water-driven sawmill on Avalon (akl.nzvwg.org.8002.Avalon 2)

The  “virtual world team” at the University of Auckland will be “productionising” its  Opensim installation – Hypergrid address: akl.nzvwg.org.8002.aotearoa – over the  the next couple of weeks which should see the university’s portal on the New Zealand Virtual World Grid ready to accept more tertiary institutions.

Announcing the move,  Dr Scott Diener (SL: Professor Noarlunga),  the Associate Director, IT Services,  at the University of Auckland, said the university  would now have separate servers for Development, Test and Production.

“The system will have four grunty production servers, which should host 30-50 sims, along with a separate database server for it all,” Dr Diener said. This  would add further stability to the user experience on the opensource OpenSim Version 7, HG 1.5 portal, he added/

The Auckland Portal now has voice working with Freeswitch, but the team is investigating licenses for Vivox as well. It also is investigating the use of the Havok physics engine which when and if implemented should further enhance the NZVWGrid experience, making  it near if not eqaul to the Second Life experience.

Dr Diener said  it  planned to subdivide  sims and “sell for $0 of course” the parcels to individuals  on the Auckland portal, which already includes Auckland University  and Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology sites as well as a SLENZ site  which will include the SLENZ Project builds from Second Life. There are also plans for a Virtual Life Education New Zealand  entry point.

The gateway point for Auckland Portal will become the Aotearoa sim which  also includes a Hypergate point to the hundreds of virtual world OpenSim  grids already mounted around the world.

Scott Diener, on Aotearoa, with Combat System sword

Dr Diener has written a gaming system that includes a battle meter and weapons scripts that works well  in Second Life (0n sale at Academe), and appears to work  in the Opensim environment “….not great…but okay,” he said.

“I will be refining that as well, and intend to use it with some of the projects I laid out last year (eg involvement in the Life Games Project), he said, adding he was seeking other interested participants for this project.

Meanwhile the SLENZ project developer and wellknown Second Life builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman) has been given a commission to build some facilities for the University of Otago on the Otago portal (www. nzvwg.org) and he has also secured design work with the Manukau Institute of Technology, an orginal participant in the SLENZ Project, which is still determining whether to go with  Second Life, JokadyiaGrid or  the NZVWGrid for its current year foundation education work.

At

 

Academe in SL ... where the Falcon gaming system was developed and is on sale. The Falcon system sale site in SL pictured above.

MUVE education at NMIT– VLENZ Update, No 176, August 11, 2010

New Zealand  MUVE activity

NMIT launches  course covering

3d immersive environments

Class of 2010: The first NMIT class in 3d immersive environments.

The Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology  has successfully launched and is into the fourth week of an online course on multi-user three dimensional virtual environments (MUVEs) and their relationships to other multi-user technologies.

The 16 students, enrolled in the course (A&M624, Immersive 3D Environments), based on  the  NMIT Second Life islands  of Koru and Kowhai, are being tutored on-campus by Dr  Clare Atkins  (SL: Arwenna Stardust) and online by former SLENZ developer and New Zealand’s most experienced virtual world builder, Aaron Griffiths (SL: Isa Goodman).

Dr Clare Atkins

The course has been designed to  develop knowledge and understanding of using current generation commercial software as well as providing in-depth knowledge of specialised processes, techniques and media, according to Dr Atkins.

While the course includes explorations of other virtual environments, most of the classes  focus on the use of Second Life.

The course will take 60 hours class time,  with at least  half the classes in a virtual world, mainly Second Life.

Dr Atkins and Griffiths are known in New Zealand for creating and championing the successful $NZ500,00 Second Life Education New Zealand (SLENZ) Project,  which  over an 18-month period created and established two pilot  education programmes, one with Otago Polytechnic in midwifery, and the  other  in Foundation (Bridging) Learning  with Manakau Institute of Technology.  The  Foundation Learning course, under  the leadership of MIT lecturer Merle Lemon (SL: Briarmelle Quintessa), has now become a permanent course within the MIT structure, with a large number of students participating in it.  Otago Polytechnic, however, decided at the conclusion of the pilot programme not to take the midwifery course any further.

Aaron Griffiths

Commenting on the first couple of NMIT classes Griffiths said that although the students  had appeared reluctant at first they had  quickly realised the potential (of Second Life) “… that it’s more than a game” with the student blogs starting to show their realisation of this.

” I am well pleased with this class…. most seem committed to learning ,” he said.   “Building  is slow, of course(and its) a HUGE step for many of them. I guess I am rather passionate about these environment … hopefully that rubs off on some.”

” The hardest part really is the limited time I have with them …  (there is) one hell of a lot to get across in such short spaces of time.”

Griffiths and Atkins  are detailing  the class’ activities  in a  blog, Immersive 3d environments, which also links into the student blogs:   this blog gives an interesting glimpse into how the lessons are constructed and are proceeding as well as student reactions.

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?

Games that teach – VLENZ Update, No 174, June 28, 2010

An image from one of Caspian Learning's military training simulations

For video click on this view of "Thinking World's" military checkpoint simulation

Thinking Worlds puts ‘reality’

that works into  simulations

A  military simulation in “Thinking Worlds,” a browser-based, 3D virtual world technology,  had reduced – by more than 50 percent –  the need to carry out  remedial or  “Brought Up To Speed” training in one cohort that trained on the UK Navy’s Maritime Warfare School simulation,  according to Graeme Duncan (pictured right), the CEO of the award-winning Caspian Learning organisation.

This reduction was when  the cohort of 100 was compared to a similar size control cohort which went through a more traditional normal “onboarding” training process.

Graeme Duncan

But, he told online blog Defence IQ, that it was  “clear is that there is no one, and never should be, simulation or games engine that solves all of our learning ills.”

“There is a need for different simulation technology, both authoring platforms and delivery platforms to deliver different types of learning experience,” he said. “And that could be the difference between single player scenarios and multiplayer scenarios.”

Caspian Learning is the developer of the Thinking Worlds’ 3D authoring tool and software platform that enables users to engage in a 3D virtual simulation designed to train and teach, particularly in the military realm and in my view has demonstrated that it is  up with the game if not ahead of most of those doing education simulations in virtual worlds such as Second Life, OpenSim and others.

It has probably deployed the widest range of simulations and 3D immersive learning environments of any serious gaming or learning developer in the UK as well as more than 50 individual simulations  in sectors as diverse as pharmaceuticals and the motor industry, working  with organisations such as IBM, Accenture, Price Water House Coopers, the BBC, QinetiQ and Volvo; the education sphere with the UK Ministry of Education and regional bodies of education. In  the defence sector they have mainly worked with the UK Defence College of Policing and Guarding, creating 3D immersive simulations to enable them to put their personnel into realistic scenarios where they have to go through entry search procedure processes, deciding how to enter the premises effectively, how to search for evidence effectively, and how to go through the process of seizing that evidence and making sure that it is usable if it is needed in a court of law.

In addition Caspian Learning developed a scenario for the  UK Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare School, which won the E-learning Age award in the UK. It was used to give new navy recruits “onboarding” training in preparation for them going onboard a Type 23 war frigate; enabling them to carry out health and safety and weapons rounds inspections.

“We created a fully accurate, Type 23 warship, and created a simulation, but also a serious game in that environment, where there is a saboteur onboard and they’ve got to go and test their knowledge,” Duncan said.

The organisation also has worked with the Defence Centre of Training Support  in the UK, and with the Defence Academy in the UK. In the US, through  licensed technology, it has worked with the DoD, is working in the defence security arena, and a number of police forces throughout Europe as well.

Duncan noted that his organisation attempted to make its simulations and the immersive learning environments as real as they can possibly be while at the same time allowing instructional designers to create fully immersive 3D simulations at costs previously restricted to 2D development.

That means three things, he said. ” We tend to focus on the graphical fidelity when we talk about realism–how does it look on screen, how are the shading and the rendering package making it as realistic to our eyes as possible …” but  …”to create a simulation that is highly realistic you also need to create scenarios and simulations of events in that learning environment that are highly contextual, and highly representative of what happens in the real world.” (Demo Videos here)

“A Planet in Peril:Plagiarism”

Meanwhile Caspian Learning  announced recently that “A Planet in Peril: Plagiarism”,  developed by a small group of Communications Media and Instructional Technology doctoral students  from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) ad  won the Serious Games Challenge launched at the Game Based Learning conference in London.

The challenge, open to both novice and expert users alike, was to create the most innovative serious game using Thinking Worlds’ technology  in  30 days.

Lee Rushworth, Marketing Executive for Caspian Learning, said, “All of the entries we received were of a very good standard, considering that no training had been given to the entrants, but there were one or two that stood out above the others.  A Planet in Peril: Plagiarism was one that really stood out to us as a well-produced serious game built with a great sense of humour and some innovative uses of Thinking Worlds’ interactions that even we hadn’t thought of.”

The game, which is currently in a beta release, follows the story of a student who uncovers the secret of a group of aliens, disguised as academics, at his university campus. The aliens have prophesied the end of the world, which is set to occur due to a student’s excessive plagiarism, and it’s up to the hero to put the pieces of this puzzle together in order to prevent disaster. While working through the challenges players learn about what is, and what is not plagiarism, including ways to avoid it.

The game is targeted at the college and university level but has application for high school students.

The final version of the game will be released later this year.  Ryan L. Sittler, Assistant Professor of Library Services at the California University of Pennsylvania (and one of the lead designers for “Random Precision Studios”) said: “I am working on my PhD at IUP and am an avid game player. My State-System colleague, Dr Kelly Heider, suggested that I create an information literacy game. I knew I could never do it on my own, so I asked some other doctoral students to help get it off the ground. Fortunately, they were interested! It was in our initial conversations that we settled on one information literacy concept – plagiarism – and developed the ridiculous end-of-the-world scenario.”

The  team also  included Chad Sherman and David P. Keppel as the other lead designers (handling the majority of game production) and Dana Covitz Hackley, Chrissy Schaeffer, and Laurie A. Grosik assisting with pre-production and documenting the process for a potential future publication.

The winning game was uploaded to the Internet and is available for anyone to play here.

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.”