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.

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‘Full Perms?’ – VLENZ Update, No 178, January 18, 2011

p

Arcadia Asylum's Mission ... "free" to do anything with except sell.

Virtual World Commerce and transport

Second Life: where you can

pay through the nose  but

never ‘own’ your skin …

I have never had a real problem with individual creatives who protect the intellectual property in their product: Just with  those who want to regionalise the real world and the virtual worlds so  they can force me to buy things twice or pay through the nose for it a second time in another place.

In the real world this goes for software developers,  record and book publishers, and film producers who have “regionalised” the world and licensed different markets even though with the internet there are no actual trade boundaries any more  … or at least there shouldnt be. I should be able to buy a product (Film, CD.  recording, e.book) anywhere and use it anywhere, without the problem of “regionalised”  playback technologyor other manmade hindrances.  In fact I feel the world’s consumers should boycott anything that prevents  free use creative products  once purchased … but,  by that, I don’t mean illegal “replication” for sale.

I know it is a hobby-horse of mine, but as a writer and a journalist of almost 40 years, I’ve written/worked  so that people will read my work – and hopefully appreciate it  – rather than to make money.  I don’t mind even if  others  use parts of it as their own – in fact,  I would consider it a compliment, in much the same way  16th and 17th Cenutry artists, writers and musicians did.  For me immitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If someone can further an idea I have they  should go for it.  The same goes for my builds in Second Life and other virtual worlds, as meagre as they are. They are free to anyone who asks for them, but they cannot be sold. If I had wanted to be a scam artist selling the same thing over and over again to the same person I could have become a banker.

A number of Second Life residents include in their profiles a parody of the Credit Card ( which shall be nameless) “Priceless” promotion. It goes something like this: Your membership  of Second Life ,  Free;  Your avatar skin and shape, $L5000; Your hair, $L1200; Your shoes, $L1000;  Your avatar’s clothes, houses, boats, planes, animations etc, $L50,000;  Linden Labs and Second Life own all your assets – you own nothing, Priceless!

Yes  that’s right, even though you make use of the pixels in your assets, and have bought and paid for them, you cannot legally take them out of Second Life or do what you like with them, even if they are labelled “full permissions”. You cannot even back them up on your own computer, so you won’t lose them  if Second Life closes down or there are glitches in the Second Life software… and there are plenty of those.

There have been those in Second Life who have fought against  the Linden Terms of Service strictures over the years but most of them have come off second best or worse.

Arcadia Asylum’s credo

The first I knew of was Arcadia Asylum, a clever builder,  now possibly dead in real life, whose works are remembered, adored and used and altered throughout Second Life and a myriad of OpenSim virtual worlds. The have possibly been exported/transported illegally – in the eyes of the Lindens – from Second Life via the reviled SL Copybot or viewers which at one time  allowed export of legally bought full permissions assets. The Lindens have since made sure they have closed these loopholes.

In everything she created  Arcadia Asylum included the note card (see picture above): “All Objects created by me (Arcadia Asylum) are FREE and opensource. you can coppy(sic) and modify and pass around to anyone anywhere, the ONLY stipulation is:  *YOU CAN NOT RESELL ANYTHING WITH MY NAME ON IT FOR EVEN ONE LINDEN DOLLAR* That sed (sic), you may distribute in any way you like, you may use the things anywhere and even blow them to bits if thats your thing. I only don’t want the stuff sold.  As FREEBIES theres no warentees (sic) or product suport (sic).  Thats it, KIS (Keep It Simple) :D

Her  credo lives on in many virtual worlds. In Osgrid for instance Fred Huffhines, of   wardrobe, wardrobe (131, 60, 48), has an enviable collection of Arcadia Asylum works among  his magnificent.multi-storey Freebie Collection. His is  one of the best Arcadia Asylum collections I’ve seen in any virtual world. Others in Osgrid who follow the  Arcadia Asyulum credo, sometimes less, sometimes more, are  those who distribute their wares at Wright Freebie Plaza under Creative Commons license, something I think all virtual world builders should use. There are too many of them to name here.

Klarabella Karamell’s notice at Freebie-Heaven in Dorena’s World

Another who follows the Arcadia Asylum credo is Klarabella Karamell, of Freebie-Heaven, on Dorena’s World (OS vers 7, HG 1.5), who is putting together  what is a burgeoning collection of “orginal” freebies for all virtual world users (picture of sign left) and seeking “original contributions from virtual world builders.

There are others in Second Life today  who  stick  with the Arcadia Asylum credo,  like skin designer Eloh Elliott, who allowed her “$L6 million” products to be “uplifted” via LoL-Iota Heavy Industries, GmbH from the SL online shopping mall and used in any virtual world.  The Lindens, however, have now curbed this activity – the “samples” are no longer freely available for evaluation – and made the task of  distributing full perms freebies  increasingly difficult. I have no doubt they will continue to do so as they attempt to close off their world from competition, particularly now  Blue  Mars looks to be going down the gurgler, and OpenSim activities are surging.

The latest to recognise the inevitably of a myriad of virtual worlds needing transportable creative products that an avatar doesn’t want to buy twice is  longtime, period piece and whimsical  furniture builder and texture creator, Aamiene Despres (she is in the process of setting up websites, http://www.Purplepixiedesigns.com/ for  SL stuff; and http://www. blackcatsgraphics.com/ for her freelance/contract graphic work) of Purple Pixie Designs (formerly known as XoticKreationS).

Aamiene Despres … her textures will travel.

Recognising a “buy once” credo she recently adjusted her Terms of Use for her textures to allow them to be used “in any world or platform you choose … this includes any virtual world and the real world.” She, however, wisely retained her restriction on reselling or giving away or distributing the textures as is, either packaged or separated in any virtual world or platform or in the real world. “They are only to be used in your creations and not sold, given away or distributed in any full perm form as textures,” she said.

My hope is that one day it will be normal  to transport one’s assets between Grids. As I’ve said before I don’t mind paying once. I do mind paying twice or three times for the same item.

OpenSim Worlds– VLENZ Update, No 177, January 09, 2011

OpenSim Grid worlds are spreading

But do you want to pay

‘twice’ for your skin?

… and  everything else just because you

want to ‘travel’ the worlds

The Hypergate …one simple way of “jaunting”* around a myriad of Virtual Worlds.

Well it’s the New Year and everything is well in Virtual Worlds? Or is it?

Anyway before I start griping. Happy New Year to everyone, in every world and every universe.

And sorry for the four-month hiatus between blogs. It’s not that I havent been looking at virtual worlds or even living in them – its just that doing things in those worlds and “jaunting*” by any method – hypergridding or hypergating (www.thehypergates.com) – has taken precedence over writing.

There is no doubt that the OpenSource Universe/s is/are rapidly expanding, propelled not only by the Linden Labs’ withdrawal of its discounts  for educational institutions operating within Second Life and its “closed shop” mentality,  but also by the fact, that according to some women I know in Second Life, the male sex idiots seem to have taken over many regions, despite adult activities being limited to specific zones. One only has to look at the Welcome Areas, particularly Ahern, to watch and listen to males behaving like teenage, test0sterone-driven, predatory lunatics, in voice and text.  The Linden’s should take note that for most women and for many men these sort of crass advances outside “adult” zones -and often even in adult zones – are totally unwelcome, and probably result in a large portion of the estimated 80 percent plus female noobie drop-out rate. Once they are lost they wont come back.

Those aspects aside Second Life is still the virtual world of choice – even beyond the great graphics and effects of Blue Mars, the quest and teambuilding addictiveness  of World of Warcraft and the advantages of Playstation Home or Kinect Xbox 360 ( Microsoft has plans to make the system avaiable on PCs) –   along with the Opensource OpenSim lookalike worlds which are burgeoning and  fast catching up to Second Life, especially with the Havoc physics engine reportedly becoming freely available to educational insitutions.

Second Life still has the people!  That’s the fact, however.  It’s people who matter in the long run. And its a wonderful place to relax or  virtually network.

But the OpenSim growth (Especially OpenSim Version 7 and HG 1.5 and V6.9  with HG 1.0),  alongside the development of Hypergating has created new excitement for virtual world tourists akin to the early days of Second life. This  has led me to the conclusion that if Linden Labs don’t allow “jaunting”* – hypergating or hypergridding – from Second Life into other similar, compatible worlds  in the not-too-distant future  the Linden Grid is going to stagnate and then eventually fade if not die.

And then the mainstream users will start to leave as many of the first adopters already have.

Arrival point in Avination - all you need at at a cost ... for the second time.

The Lindens have rightly been concerned about guaranteeing intellectual property creator rights and Second Life’s place in the sun (Let’s lock in the users to a closed world by not letting them take their purchases/creations elsewhere), but it is possible that “legal” Linden Lab-approved  inter-world “jaunting” with the right safeguards is the only way for Linden Labs to prevent an exodus of core-recreational users, through allowing people  to move  freely between virtual worlds with all their legally-purchased assets and inventory, with all the permissions/limitations intact.

This is the only way to keep Second Life as the core – the home world, the New York, the Rome – of the burgeoning Second Life-style OpenSource environment – a  world which one visits, no matter where one lives virtually, to buy products, to exchange ideas, and to meet  avatars from the next suburb or the world.

I’m a roleplayer in all worlds, and I  am not happy when I have to purchase the same skins, clothes, equipment I  have bought and live with in one world, when I visit another world, be it a Linden World or an OpenSim World. I feel the same travelling in the real world. I don’t wish to buy new clothes, hair, spectacles, toothbrush, deodorant, every time  I visit a new real-world city. The same goes for the things I build. Over the years I’ve paid $US10s for the assets in my Second Life inventory. I wish to carry them with me or  at least be able to access them freely when I travel virtually.

This was brought to mind recently on a visit to  www.avination.com at the invitation of  Jayalli Hawthorn, a consumate  Second Life roleplayer, builder and writer, who is now moving her operations to this world.
On arrival one is given a default  avatar, which in some ways harks backs to the bad old days of SL noobs (one cannot change the size of the hair or move it on one’s skull,  if one wants to alter the shape of one’s head) and is immediately confronted by a Redgrave store selling that  group’s excellent skins  for the local currency ($L999) which one can exchange one’s Lindens to obtain. This is not a world where there are any real freebies except for the default avatar which is limited in both appearance and assets.

Klarabella Karamell's notice at Freebie Heaven, in Dorena's World - a must visit for Virtual World travellers.

I’m not criticising the Redgrave attempt to make money from people who have never bought a Redgrave skin before but I was peeved by the fact that  I have three or four Redgrave skins, among the 60,000 items in my inventories in Second Life , which I will never be able to use in this world.  As a result I wont buy Redgave in Avination  or in any other world for that matter. The same goes for any other vendor who tries to rip me off twice for the same item.

In other OpenSim worlds ( currently excluding OsGrid because of a software glitch) one can step through a hypergate between world’s with one’s avatar and inventory intact. In fact, I can step from my own virtual world on my own home computer through a Hypergate to a MUVE virtually anywhere in the world, and possibly on  a distant friend’s home computer, wearing my skin, my hair, my shape, my AO  and with all my assets in my inventory.

Despite  my experience with avination  I have found through “jaunting”  that there are now a number of competent builders operating in OpenSource MUVEs  who are both selling their products courtesy the Virtex  money exchange system and others, particularly Klarabella Karamel, of Freebie Heaven, on Dorena’s World (HG 1.5), and Eppilonia (HG 1.0), who are giving things away which they are constructing themselves  and guaranteeing that they are the orginators.

And there  are already great virtual world avatar skins in the wild – and on lots of  OpenSim grids – based on Eloh Elliot’s splendid OpenSource, Creative Commons, freebie  works of art as well as many other items which have been created by OpenSource builders like the much venerated but late Arcadia Asylum, of Second life, who was renowned for her run-ins with the Lindens over the OpenSource issue.

The popularity of “jaunting” can be gauged from  the growth  in membership of John (Pathfinder) Lester’s (formerly Pathfinder Linden and education guru for Second Life) Hypergrid Adventurers’ Club based on Pathlandia, in the blossoming http://www.jokaydia.com/, which is attached to http://reactiongrid.com/.

He runs twice -weekly tours (http://becunningandfulloftricks.com/) which are drawing more and more  Second Life refugees who crave the bleeding edge excitement of the early days of Second Life. Check him out. It’s well worth taking one of his tours.

* Jaunting – The method of  travel/teleportation discovered by Charles Fort Jaunte, in Alfred Bester’s 1956 sci-fi novel, Tiger!Tiger!, later published as, The Stars my Destination.

Pathfinder Lester's HGAC members are briefed for a hypergrid tour.

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.”