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.”

Life Games, VLENZ Update, No 169, April 17, 2010

Harnessing the power of play

Can   games-based learning

‘players’ save  the  world?

Jane McGonigal  thinks they can …

Jane McGonigal, who  directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a US nonprofit forecasting firm where she developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MORPG) in which players organise society to solve the issues that will confront the world in 2019,  asks why the real world doesn’t work more like an online game.

In a recent  TED presentation,  above, the games designer and futurist says her goal for the next decade is to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in on-line games.

Based on her research over a decade, she says she plans, over the next decade, to  convince more people to play bigger and better on-line games.

Noting that currently people spend an estimated  three billion hours a week on on-line games, she says, her research has  shown,  counter-intuitively, that this is not nearly enough  to  save the world from its real life problems.

In fact she believes if the human race wants to survive into the next century on this planet  “we need to increase the total time spent on-line gaming  to 21 billion hours game playing every week “by the within 10 years.

It’s worthwhile spending the 20 minutes it takes to watch to TED video to find out why she believes this, and why  her argument is eminently reasonable and probably something we disregard at our peril.

In the best-designed games, she says, “our human experience is optimised” and, when  “reality is broken, games designers can fix it.”

Jane McGonigal

“We have important work to do, we’re surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment,” McGonigal says, believing that the world’s gamers are an important resource for changing the world we live in for the better.

In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. She believes her game-world insights can explain — and improve — the way human beings learn, work, solve problems, and lead their real lives.

McGonigal masterminded World Without Oil, which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis and inspired players to change their daily energy habits.

She says, “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.”

The link to her  presentation was provide to me by Owen McCall, of the New Zealand Life Games Project.  Another supporter of that project, John Eyles, research and alliances leader at Telecom New Zealand, director at Eyles and Associates Ltd and chair at EON Foundation, provided another worthwhile link from a game-based learning conference he attended recently in the UK

The link, which should prove a valuable resource for all those involved in games-based learning,   Engage Learning, is an EU-sponsored initiative  which among other things,  provides information about general rating of games and quality criteria for evaluation of games as learning resources.

VLENZ Update, No 163, February 16, 2010


Video games can change

the way people behave

THE NEW ZEALAND CONNECTION …  Real Life Auckland Meeting,  Wednesday, February 17

Although highly critical of some aspects of video gaming, Frida Castillo, the author of the report “Playing by the Rules,” produced by two Swiss Human Rights organisations,  suggests  that properly-designed video games  can be beneficial for players and actually change behaviours.

She recommends that game creators weave in elements of international law to draw players into more realistic, immersive situations.

“Games could actually be more creative if some of these rules were incorporated,” she said, in a report quoting her, in Time Magazine mid January.

“It’s an idea that’s already catching on. We’ve long known that video games have a unique ability to promote a message; now designers are creating games built not around destroying worlds but saving our own,” she says.

“Games are growing up,” says Suzanne Seggerman, president of Games for Change – a group promoting games with a positive impact – in the same Time Magazine. “People are realizing that they can do a lot more than entertain.”

This is something that  New Zealander Owen McCall (Pictured right), CIO at New Zealand’s “Big Red Sheds” (The Warehouse) and co-founder, with consultant Ian Howard, of the New Zealand Life Game Project   strongly believes.

The  Life Game Project, which was launched last year,  has invited  a number of  people to the  4th Life Game Project Gathering at  6 pm (New Zealand time) tomorrow,  February 17, at Gen-i, Level 17, Telecom House, 92-94 Albert Street, Auckland

The Gathering is taking place as the Life Game Project  “gathers steam”,  “is in the process of delivering stuff, ” and is well positioned to play a bigger game …”, according to  McCall and Howard in a general  invitation issued to  those interested in the Life Game Project concept. The invitation’s  RSVP was to “to assist us with the room set-up and catering.”

The Life Game Project’s purpose is to support “New Zealand as a place where everybody is safe and loved by harnessing the power of immersive games technology to foster the development of life skills and positive lifestyle choices.’

If  you are interested in Games for Learning  and want to learn more it is also worthwhile accessing  the Microsoft-associated Games Research Institute, a first-of-its-kind, multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional gaming research alliance that will provide the fundamental scientific evidence to support games as learning tools for math and science subjects among middle school students.

SLENZ Update, No 152, November 23, 2009


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 146, October 27, 2009

Australasia’s first “complete” virtual school

South Island  schools  to take  trade

training to  the world – virtually

schoolscreengrabs_01A New Zealand Virtual School classroom developed by SmallWorlds.

A group of  South Island, New Zealand, secondary schools, with training partnerships and associations nationally,  is to establish Australasia’s first  virtual,  online school,  New Zealand Virtual School.

To open in 2011 it will  cater for Year 9 to 13 children and adults from across the country and around the world.

The group,  which is already running a “pilot” virtual aviation programme with students from across the country and as far away as Africa,  has been named by the Minister of Education, Ann Tolley, as one of five  successful applicants from a field of 113 to become  New Zealand’s first trade academies. The other successful trade academy applicants were: Northland College; the Wellington Institute of Technology; the Taratahi Agricultural Centre; and a partnership between the Waikato Institute of Technology and Cambridge High School.

The Catlins Area School’s bid in  conjunction with  South Otago High School, Tokomairo High School, Blue Mountain College and Telford Rural Polytechnic,  was the only application accepted from the South Island but it  will provide the only fully virtual, computer-based “trade academy” service throughout the country, using Skype, specifically-developed 3D graphics from New Zealand -based SmallWorlds – a  virtual world that runs inside a web browser; combining media, web content, and casual games, created by  Auckland’s  Outsmart – podcasts, video conferencing, specialised MMORPGs and other online features.

Others associated with the New Zealand Virtual School include 10  Industry Training Organisations (ITOs), among them AgITO, ESITO, ATTTO, JITO, MITO, Creative trades iTO, GlobalMet, InfraTrain NZ, and EXITO, as well as Enterprise Clutha and Air Fiordland.

New Zealand Virtual School  project  manager Allan Asbjorn Jon,  the Deputy Principal, eLearning and International Student Director at the Catlins Area School told the Southland Times “We now have the opportunity, here in Southland and Otago, to be at the forefront of the virtual movement in New Zealand. It could become a very big educational project in Australasia.

“We are trying to put together a platform to assist young people more towards trade training and trade careers with greater ease.”

Funding on per student basis

Noting that the project, which he has spent many months on, was still evolving Jon said that the governance, structure and  final funding  decisions would be made during discussions with the New Zealand Education Ministry  scheduled to take place on November 4. It is presumed funding would be on a per student basis.

Under the NZVS programme students will get three days virtual study and work placements  for up to two days a week so they can also learn “hands-on”. They will also be able to participate in “block camps” likely to be run at RNZAF bases in both the north and south islands. The RNZAF, according to Jon, has been very supportive of the project.

Jon said programmes were being developed across a wide range of subjects including aviation, tourism, travel and museum studies, joinery and glasswork, stonemasonry, painting and decorating, automotive, mining and drilling and civil engineering. Courses will also cover entire NCEA qualifications including  English and maths.

The virtual school (Facebook link here), he said, had the benefit of being able to cater for the needs of an individual – programmes could  be designed specifically for them.

Classes begin 2011

Although a pilot programme has been running with  about  70 students, enrolments for the new school will be opened  towards the end of next year with the first classes to  begin in early 2011.

Announcing the virtual school choice as a trade academy, Mrs Tolley said every student should have an education system which worked for them and met their needs: the New Zealand Virtual School based in the Catlins would help deliver that.

“Trades academies are part of the Government’s Youth Guarantee programme,” she said in a statement. “They’ll provide more career choices for 16- and 17-year-olds and give them greater opportunities to develop their knowledge, skills and talents through trades and technology programmes.”

Six other proposals from around the country are still to be developed with a view to them also becoming trades academies.


The NZVS team: Front: Gavin Kidd, Principal, The Catlins Area School, Allan Asbjorn Jon,
Deputy Principal and Project Manager,  NZVS; Wayne Edgar, Principal,  Tokomairiro High
School; Nick Simpson, Principal,  South Otago High School; Back: Dave Evans, Aviation
Industry Training Advisor, ATTTO; and Kevin McSweeney, Principal, Blue Mountain College.



SLENZ Update, No 145, October 23, 2009

Online-gaming: a mind-altering strategy from Big Red Sheds?

Warehouse CIO  launches  “virtual games”

strategy to improve  Kiwi  life outcomes

There is  now a considerable and growing body of evidence that  on-line gaming   and the use of virtual worlds can  be mind altering, leading  to development of  different life skills, either good or bad, as typified by the Proteus Effect, first described by Dr Nick Yee, in  his PhD dissertation, and based on research into  World of Warcraft player psychologies.

Now the baton has been taken up in New Zealand by the Warehouse CIO Owen McCall (pictured left) who is the promoter of the the Life Game Project, which aims to use immersive games technology to “develop life skills and positive lifestyle choices” for New Zealanders aged five to 19.

McCall OwenCIO WarehouseHe has assembled a small group of companies and individuals based on their specific expertise, who are collaborating in getting and creating  the components needed to get educational life games out to children and youths in ‘under-served’ communities.

The life games will be designed to  teach youngsters how to cope with various issues they may have to face growing up in their community, including  physical abuse, exposure to alcoholism, drugs, gang pressure and/or some other problem where education may make the difference between a youth sinking or swimming in life.

Others involved in initial discussions of the  Life Game Project last month included: Aden Forrest, of Salesforce, John Blackham, of XSOL, David Gandar, of Delta Software and Parikshit Basrur, of First Mobile, Nicole Fougère,  of Litmos and a representative of the University of Auckland.

“Big, hairy, audacious goals”

Divina Paredes, writing in CIO New Zealand,  earlier this month, said the group had “big, hairy, audacious goals”  for completion by December, 2012. They included: Measurably impacting  the lives of 2000 Kiwis, their families and friends through the programme; establishing  50 effective games delivery operations; and developing two immersive games for the local communities and for sale globally.

In the short term, Paredes said, the group planned to have at least one such community  centre with six to 10 PCs set up before Christmas this year, in an under-served community.

McCall, who is also a coach for StepUp, a programme  that assists underprivileged teens, says the group chose to harness games technology on the premise that the more immersive and involving the technology, the better the learning experience and learning outcome would be.

“It really springs from a belief that most people will make good choices in their lives if they have the skills and the capabilities,” McCall told Paredes, as many online games were driven by participants’ decisions and their ability to complete specific quests or tasks. “You can teach them or allow them to learn and experience through the games what good choices and what skills and capabilities they require to be successful.”

McCall says his favourite example of helping society’s victims turn their lives around is the Delancey Street Foundation in the US, which has  helped substance abusers, ex-convicts and homeless persons through peer support and mentoring.

“Pretty amazing results…”

“Anything you can do to support that learning at anytime in someone’s life, you get some pretty amazing results,” he told Paredes

Fougère,  general manager of online learning company Litmos, described the initative as “ambitious” but added that the real issue  could be  internet coverage in the areas to be served,  an issue  for most Kiwis accessing virtual worlds anywhere outside of the main commercial centres.   She told  Paredes, however, that  the group also concluded during the initial meeting that putting the PCs in a community house would be preferable, as it would hopefully encourage social interaction and culture around the activities, and better security.Howard,Ian

It is not known whether the ubiquitous Sony Playstation – popular even in  underprivileged areas –  and its Home virtual world and/or other games consoles  were discussed as possible vehicles for the LPG games.

Ian Howard (pictured right) a consultant, facilitator and coach,  who has been appointed team lead for the LGP Project, said the LGP Group was  keen to provide LGP Supporters with satisfying bite-sized opportunities to participate with the LGP.

“As we move forward with various pilots and then into production, there will also be many opportunities for LGP Supporters to join a LGP Project Delivery Team as an Owner, a PM or ‘What can I do to help’ member,” he said. “These are the essential ‘customer facing’ people at the sharp end who will collaborate with the LGP Support Teams to facilitate, drive and support the delivery of the right LGP Games over the appropriate Infrastructure to specific Under-served Communities.”

SLENZ Update, No 144, October 14, 2009

The Virtual World campus

250+ US universities now  offer

degrees linked to ‘virtuality’

Video game/Virtual World design courses boom …

staftrs… and at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School too. (logo AFTRS)

The fact that more than 250 of the United States colleges and universities in 37 states are offering degree courses this school year, involving video-gaming and virtual world technology, demonstrates just how mainstream computer-based “virtuality” is becoming, at least in the developed Western World, if not quite yet in New Zealand

The figures are up 27 percent over the previous year, according to a recent report by Mara Rose Williams in The Kansas City Star, quoting the Entertainment Software Association, which monitors the US video gaming  industry

According to the  association’s Rich Taylor, video-game design is the fastest-growing industry in the United States. “A generation that has grown up playing video games is entering college. Schools are responding to that.”

At a time when students are graduating into a shrinking job market,  the video gaming industry is flourishing, Taylor told Williams.  Last year, games and game consoles reached US$22 billion in sales, he said, with 68 percent of people of all ages playing video games, with video game consoles in almost 50 percent of US households  and 95 percent of young people playing them. He added that more than 80,000 people today are employed by the video-game industry.

“Schools realizing that video-game design is a viable industry,” he told Williams, a statement which resonated with me when I visited a leading New Zealand University earlier this week, to find it didn’t have wireless on campus, and a session on Second Life on one computer on  the university’s Broadband system had to be booked three months in  advance.

The realisation of the necessity of moving into the virtual age in the US,  if not in New Zealand, was underscored last month with the report in Scientific Computing that   Northern Kentucky University, with a gift of US$6 million, had joined South Dakota State University and St. Paul College in Minnesota – miles from the virtual world hot seats of California and New York –  to create an US$7 million virtual world informatics center complete with a computer assisted virtual environment (CAVE). The facility, scheduled to open in fall 2011, will be named Griffin Hall.

Griffin Hall, designed to be a key real-world virtual-world research unit, will house NKU’s College of Informatics, which consists of three academic departments as well as an outreach unit, the Infrastructure Management Institute.

The US, however, is not the only place where there is considerable movement on the virtual world education front.

In Australia,  the Sydney-based Australia’s Film Radio and Television school has announced it will offer a Graduate Certificate in Video Games and Virtual Worlds next year. The course will concentrate on the development of original concepts for virtual stories, games, social worlds and innovative gameplay.studyataftrs

And with more than  80% of Higher Education institutes in the UK already  users of Virtual Worlds for educational purposes, Glasgow Caledonian University, in Scotland, announced some months ago it was  creating a 3D Web project with a “complete, integrated module” that would teach students everything they needed to know to get a 3D virtual world up and running. The skills will include hosting, managing and creating real estate, and user interactivity. The course will be taught in the realworld but also will be supplemented by elements in Second Life and will also use OpenSim.

The university is already active in Second Life with a number of its schools using the MUVE for such things as visualisation, clinical training, support, and training on a virtual x-ray machine in the Schools of Engineering and Computing, Nursery, Midwifery and Community Health, and Health and Social Care.

“In 10 years it will be as normal to navigate in and between virtual worlds as it is to open a Web site today,”  according to Ferdinand Francino, course designer, on the university Web site. “The new module will ensure our students are at the forefront of technology and are fully equipped with the skills they will need in future.”

Will we in New Zealand be ready for the day when:

Virtuality will permeate all corners of our life …

For instance “retail therapy” …

Well, this is one way  CISCO thinks virtual reality will develop.

SLENZ Update, No 138, September 22, 2009

Why aren’t NZ  secondary schools

using virtual worlds, video games?

or are they …  but just below the radar?

DrFuturityAhead of the game …  Christ’s College, one of New
Zealand’s oldest schools, is in Second Life.

Given the ever- burgeoning popularity of  video games, Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs)  and virtual worlds, or Multi User Virtual Environments (MUVEs) – they are all now mainstream –  and the growing body of evidence attesting to their effectiveness as a teaching aid one wonders why more New Zealand secondary schools  aren’t involved in Second Life’s Teen Grid or other virtual worlds.

There are a few involved or considering getting involved  – mostly private schools  and at least one, Christ’s College, Christchurch, through  Skoolaborate–  but one wonders whether New Zealand’s digital generation is being left behind the rest of the world. Or are those New Zealand schools using video games  and MUVEs just keeping their heads below the parapet? I know  a number of New Zealand teachers who are very competent in Second Life  but none of them admit to  teaching in virtual worlds.

New Zealand however,  is not the only country whose digital generation  might be missing the virtual education wave.

The South Koreans and Chinese definitely aren’t  but a couple of recent blogs on the situation in US schools would suggest many there are, despite  the increasing involvement of US tertiary institutions in virtual worlds.

US-based Dana Oshiro  recently asked the question, “Shouldn’t Schools Have Embraced Second Life By Now?” in his blog  ReadWriteWeb, and Washington-based lobbyist and virtual world’s blogger Max Burns (pictured left) asked a similar question in his Pixels and Policy blog .Burns, Max

The questions from both of them could easily be applied to New Zealand education where one often wonders whether the neo-Luddites still rule.

Oshiro wondering why, mainstream educators still don’t have the green light to teach in virtual worlds, said: “Many argue that video teleconferencing and instant messaging have replaced the need for virtual world interaction.” He then added though that neither of these offer the same “immersive” experience as a virtual world.

Max Burns, who has apparently been asking the question for some time, after noting that the University of Texas’ has used  $US2.5 million in grants to partner with SecondLife to “road-test” education in virtual world and create  a public resource of the resulting data, asked, “Why aren’t public schools everywhere doing this? It seems primed for inner-city schools where resources are strained and classrooms overflow with bored, disconnected students.

He then quoted a Tufts University report which demonstrated that kids from the digital generation  learn best when they learn in the context of a game – in this case, Second Life and virtual worlds take advantage of this generation’s immersion in technology to teach and entertain.

He detailed the  problem in the US of getting the greenlight to adoption as being bureacracy.

He said: ” It’s everywhere in the public school system, where the average state high school must deal with, in mostly this order: 1. in-house administrators; 2. district superintendent; 3. local school board; 4. city council; 5. local Board of Education; 6. State Department of Education; 7. Federal Department of Education.

In New Zealand, I could have added, that the problem is compounded by the fact that Telecom has appeared to have deliberately worked for competitive reasons  against allowing the quick spread of  high-speed, inexpensive  Broadband across the country, especially into the provincial towns, although the Government  currently might be moving to fill the vacuum  the telco has created. But despite the trumpeting of Telcom and TelstraClear among others, New Zealanders outside the major centres by and large have no idea what Broadband is even though it is being promoted and they are paying for it. Their services are still often little better than  dial-up – if better –  being notoriously slow and unreliable  at the times when most New Zealanders want to use the services, the evening.

CCbannerChrist’s College students … leading the way in New Zealand? (Christ’s College picture)

In the US, according to Max Burns, the education in secondary schools problem is being solved by establishing legal  “virtual”  Charter schools, for instance in Oregon. Charter Schools receive government funding but receive exemptions from the course requirements and bureaucracy of public schools. The only requirement? Show results.

“For those committed enough to buck the bureaucracy, the future of education is increasingly virtual,” Burns said.

In New Zealand and Australia it also  is the private school sector that is apparently showing the way.

But if New Zealand is going to move down the path of virtual education too, New Zealand’s education authorities should be thinking about these questions now. The yshould be asking where are the virtual world qualified teachers  going to come from?  How do we train them? How do we immerse them so they become virtual education champions rather than  negative real world whiners and neo-Luddites? Where are the  future New Zealand virtual education designers and builders going to come from? How do we retrain the digital migrants or dinosaurs  in the teaching profession to handle this new education generation, where in future  just as much mainstream schooling will probably happen in a  virtual world without boundaries as  in the face-to-face classroom?

Or are we just going to bury our heads?

SLENZ Update, No 125, August 11, 2009


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.


The SLENZ Update – No 108, July 03, 2009


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.”