Thursday, April 15, 2010
Living, playing, learning and working in virtual worlds
So you think that adults who participate in virtual worlds are silly, geeky, and more than a little weird. And those avatars…they look like cartoon characters. Who would want to do that, you ask? A Second Life is not something you seek – right? Well, think again. Your world is becoming more virtual by the day, and just because you don’t notice it or feel it, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. It is in this way that culture sneaks up on us. To put it another way: culture is something we take for granted. And, you need to recognize there is a generation coming up behind you that is already participating in immersive environments in play and in school. If you don’t get with the program, you’ll be left behind (out of this cultural shift), and you will become part of a generational rift. You know how your parents take issue with you regarding your media consumption? Well, this is potentially where you become the critic of the children of the next generation. Join them or be left out in the proverbial cold. Just to emphasize the point of the growing use of virtual reality in realms beyond play, The Wall Street Journal reported this week on the use of virtual reality in training nurses to deal with disasters. The article describes a scenario that might be too costly to simulate in authentic reality, but one that can in a more cost effective manner be created in virtual reality. I’m talking about medical training in Second Life.
What about the hi-tech company where half the employees who may live in different parts of the world don’t come to work, but meet in a virtual environment, or administrative meetings among the deans from nine campuses at a southern university that take place in a virtual world, because of the cost savings derived from not having to travel long distances. While virtual worlds may look like something that should be relegated to the world of play, play in fact is one of the ways in which we learn. So whether it is training for a potential disaster or collaborating with colleagues, virtual worlds have potential beyond the world of entertainment, although there’s nothing wrong with that. When you think about the future of virtual worlds, think 3-D or perhaps holography, as this will bring new meaning to the word “immersive” which characterizes the experiences we have in virtual worlds. Instead of thinking about how cartoonish those avatars look, think about a realistic replication of your self. And, think about not having to create an avatar for each virtual world you inhabit, but a single avatar that travels through several if not many virtual worlds. Think about whether this is silly, geeky, and more than a little weird, or whether we are in the early stages of experiencing a major cultural and technological shift.