The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Kotaku (USA) – Virtual Worlds for Fun and Research. “We mentioned Arden, the university-design MMO, a few times; a working paper has just been released that looks at economic behavior in MMOs using the game. The interesting thing here isn’t so much the fact that people replicate real-world behaviors online (in this case, they purchased less of an item when it was more expensive), but that it’s yet another piece of a growing literature explaining the utility of virtual worlds in actual research”.

2. Wired (USA) – Gaia Online Launches zOMG Beta. “The vast virtual world of Gaia Online is expanding yet again, with the just-launched closed beta of — I’m not making this up — zOMG. This latest, free addition brings Gaia into line with more traditional MMO titles. While it has earned nearly 6 million users with a clever, teen-centric blend of social networking and casual gaming in the past, zOMG adds a world to explore, roleplaying elements and semi-real time combat.”

3. The Province (Canada) – Professor who gave acclaimed ‘last lecture’ dies. “The American university professor whose “last lecture” made him an Internet sensation has died at age 47 of complications from pancreatic cancer. In August 2007 Randy Pausch, who taught at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa, was told by doctors he had three to six months .”

4. Gwinnett Herald (USA) – Tradition married to technology in toys. “Kiz Toys is about three things, Moreau said: safety, innovation and education. “What we’ve done is taken traditional toys that parents are comfortable and familiar with, whether cars, action figures, whatever they would be, and introduced… technology. We’ve kind of blended the best of both worlds,” he said. Everything in the Kiz Toys product line focuses on having an educational value. Technology comes in with the online interactive nature of the toys. Children can interact anonymously in secure settings online.”

5. Computerworld (USA) – Intel: Human and computer intelligence will merge in 40 years. “At Intel Corp., just passing its 40th anniversary and with myriad chips in its historical roster, a top company exec looks 40 years into the future to a time when human intelligence and machine intelligence have begun to merge. Justin Rattner, CTO and a senior fellow at Intel, told Computerworld that perhaps as early as 2012 we’ll see the lines between human and machine intelligence begin to blur. Nanoscale chips or machines will move through our bodies, fixing deteriorating organs or unclogging arteries. Sensors will float around our internal systems monitoring our blood sugar levels and heart rates, and alerting doctors to potential health problems.”

6. San Diego Union-Tribune (USA) – At the top of their game . “There’s no mortgage meltdown in Metropolis. Building is booming in Gotham. Everywhere you look, development is proceeding at flat-out Batmobile speeds. It’s true that all this construction is happening in the fantasy world of DC Comics’ new, massive-multiplayer online (MMO) game. It’s also true that to those who immerse themselves in these hugely popular, role-playing adventures, the characters and settings can seem more real than this planet we call Earth.”

7. The Guardian (UK) – Economic petri dishes: there’s social science in them thar virtual worlds. “In Thursday’s gamesblog column, I wrote about the data that companies and academics are collecting on us as we frag, chat and slay. The extent to the collection is pretty awesome, and believe me, so is the analysis; I’ve spent the better part of the last two years trying to make sense of an immense Second Life dataset. But enough about my PhD, here’s someone who’s actually got some results. Economist Edward Castronova, he who famously calculated the GDP of EverQuest back in 2002, and his team of merry men and women have completed their MacArthur Foundation-funded Arden Project in which they built a virtual world, split it into two and played around with the economic principles in each to assess the economic validity of virtual environments.”

8. Gameplanet (New Zealand) – World of Warcraft achievements detailed. “It was confirmed last week that one of features of the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion pack, Wrath of the Lich King would be the addition of an achievements system.”

9. Christianity Today (USA) – The First Church of Second Life. “There is another life beyond this one: a realm where one’s role on earth is a distant memory, where inhabitants have new bodies and can fly anywhere they like. It sounds a bit like heaven. But it’s not. It’s cyberspace.”

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