The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sky News (UK) – Woman Divorces Over Virtual Lover. “Amy Taylor, 28, cited unreasonable behaviour in the court papers, describing how their three-year marriage came to an end when she twice walked in on her husband pretending to have sex in an online game. Her estranged husband is now engaged to one of the women he had an ‘affair’ with on Second Life – even though they have never actually met in real life.”

(more than 500 publications have run this story in the past week)

2. China Digital Times (China) – China: Too Much Time Online? You’ve Got Psychosis. “On a update of an earlier post on CDT, China has become the first country to list internet addiction as a mental disorder as stated by the Ministry of Health. According to one of the definitions in a manual by Chinese psychologists, anyone who spends over 6 hours on the computer with a mouse has the disorder, and a guideline is expected to head to hospitals soon.”

3. The Times (UK) – Open Minds: Caught in the Net. “The medium is the message, Marshall McLuhan famously said. And by changing the message we change ourselves. Never has this observation been so relevant as it is today, when many people spend their days at the computer, conducting friendships through Facebook and MySpace, posting videos on their websites, going into real society shielded by an iPod, or simply sending their avatar across the Grid in Second Life, looking for virtual relationships, virtual excitement and even virtual sex. Some welcome this, as a form of liberation. Shy people used to go trembling into society, hand in mouth; now they can go boldly into virtual society, hand on mouse.”

4. i09 (USA) – What Happens in Virtual Reality … Probably Won’t Stay There. “Cross Reality, Dual Reality, X-Reality: all of these terms describe the recent work of an MIT Media Lab team to bring the virtual into the real and vice versa. So far, the X-Reality group has focused their attentions on Second Life; last year, its Shadow Lab project allowed the game’s users to virtually check out real-life activity inside the Media Lab building in Cambridge. Later this month, the next X-Reality project goes live — and they’ve got big, wormhole-tunneling, reality-crossing plans for it.”

5. The Guardian (UK) – Art, music, gossip – it’s (virtually) all there in my parallel universe. “It has been quite a week for virtual worlds, the three-dimensional sector of the internet where people can live a parallel existence with their own avatar or alter ego. The world’s most profitable virtual game, World of Warcraft, which has more than 11 million paying participants, released a long-awaited expansion that generated midnight queues as enthusiasts vied with each other to steal a march in the new version. The Chinese government, realising that virtual worlds are an unstoppable phenomenon, announced it was planning to impose a 20 per cent tax on profits earned within them rather than, as hitherto, banning such virtual transactions. And a British couple who got married after meeting in Second Life are divorcing after the wife caught her husband chatting up another woman in the virtual world.”

6. Gearlog (USA) – Hands On: Disney’s Pixie Hollow Clickables. “If your daughter is one of the many girls obsessed with Pixie Hollow, then this year’s gift list will probably feature Techno Source and Disney Consumer Products’ new Clickables Fairy Collection featuring Disney Fairies. Pixie Hollow is Disney’s newest virtual world, and over 7.5 million Disney Fairies avatars have already been created. Girls can escape into Tinker Bell’s world to help bring about the change of seasons by meeting friends, playing games, and collecting items in nature.”

7. The Telegraph (UK) – Second Life infidelity is no less real. “A man and a woman fall in love and get married. The man’s head is turned by another woman. The marriage breaks up, and the man becomes engaged to the new woman, while his wife goes on to find a new partner. Nobody’s a villain here. It’s a sad story, the break-up of any marriage. There’s betrayal, sure – but there may also be the beginning of two separate love stories, and the end of something that was causing neither partner happiness. It’s the second-oldest story in the world: the one that comes right after “boy meets girl.”

8. The Herald (UK) – Sinister reality of fantasy game. “At 4pm on a Thursday in central Edinburgh, Aaron Campbell is beating the traffic with an armoured wolf. The shaggy creature leaps across a wooden bridge and through a market-place unimpeded by the assortment of gnomes, dwarves and orcs milling around. No, it’s not Lothian Road on a fancy dress club night, but the virtual world of Northrend, a newly released continent in the hugely popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Aaron, 20, and several other members of his playing “guild” have met up at the Ministry of Gaming cafe on Bread Street to try out WoW’s hotly anticipated expansion set, Wrath of the Lich King, which was released at midnight on Thursday. Three of them went as the clock struck 12 to pick up their pre-ordered copies at Gamestation on Princes Street. The shop sold out the same night.”

9. Eurogamer (UK) – Blue Mars gets beta, launch dates. “Avatar Reality has let Eurogamer know that its massively multiplayer virtual world Blue Mars will enter beta testing at the turn of the year, in January 2009. The first-time developer expects this to last for around three months, before the full game launches in April. And perhaps there will be time for some tea and biscuits if all goes well.”

10. Ars Technica (USA) – Snowy game, VR goggles take burn victims’ minds off of pain. “You’d think being seriously wounded on the battlefield would be the most painful thing a soldier could go through, but the recovery from burns can take months of agonizing physical therapy that prolongs the suffering. In some cases, healing can be more painful than the original trauma. What if you could take patients away from their immediate surroundings when cleaning their burns or stretching the skin during physical therapy? A virtual reality game created to help patients deal with pain hopes to do just that.”

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