Archives for June 2009

Proposed ISP filtering allows surveillance of journalists, citizens, politicians

Should Senator Conroy’s proposed ISP filtering come to fruition, it concentrates extraordinary powers on whoever is to actually run it. It allows the surveillance of the Internet activities of Kevin Rudd’s children, the journalists at News Limited, or the government’s perceived political opponents (or its own members), or of anyone.

At will. Without cause. Without warrant. Without oversight.

Whether or not you agree with the filtering plan’s goals, this one thing should give you pause: your web-browsing history, and the web-browsing history of every Australian is available to some as-yet-unknown party, from the moment mandatory ISP filtering is switched on.

Sure, the contractor who provides the filtering service, and who maintains the systems will doubtless have all sorts of NDAs. But if someone in Rudd’s family browses porn from The Lodge, for example, then there’s considerable potential for leverage and extortion, because the contractor could obtain that data at will, even if government officials themselves could not, by law, obtain it.

Because filtering systems are logged. Filtering providers are, in fact, very keen on logging. Whether a request is blocked or allowed, the fact of it is recorded. Filtering providers use it to assess how well the system is performing. Individual user addresses are at times monitored from the logs, and some of that data is processed by humans to identify new things that should be blocked, or to see how people are attempting to defeat the filtering.

Whoever is providing and controlling the filtering gains unprecedented political power. Want to know what the journalists at a particular newspaper are up to? Scan the logs for their network addresses and check out what they’re reading on the Web. Ditto for other politicians. Or for anyone of interest, from parliamentarians to cleaners.

The potential for abuse here is absolutely appalling.

All you have is the word of people that these secrets won’t leak or be abused. Won’t they? The preliminary filter lists have already leaked, and contain quite a number of things that are far beyond what we’ve been told would be there. Our trust has already been violated even during the trial phase.

It’s only a matter of time before someone uses this data for their personal or political advantage.

And we, as a nation, are making it all too easy for that to happen.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. TechRadar (UK) – The evolution of virtual worlds. “Stitching Facebook and MySpace into a 3D environment might not seem like the most exciting project in the history of gaming, but a handful of intrepid gaming companies are wondering if social gaming is going to be the next huge, very profitable thing. The logic is simple – not everyone enjoys blowing up friends and enemies when they go online, or obsessively assembling a vast arsenal of ultra-weapons and superhuman skills. While World of Warcraft and its medieval and science fiction beat-’em-up and shoot-’em-up siblings have questing and wizarding locked down, the popularity and momentum of social networking suggests that there’s serious money to be made from friends and fans. But is this really gaming? And does it matter?”

2. The Economist (UK) – The avatar will see you now. “THAT people undergoing medical procedures should give their informed consent might seem simple and uncontentious. But what if a patient has a mental impairment and his doctor does not have time to ensure he understands the proposed treatment? Those who try to look after the interests of such people say that, in practice, hard-pressed hospital staff often ask leading questions and the “consent” obtained is thus far from informed. A team of researchers led by Suzanne Conboy-Hill, a psychologist at the Royal Sussex County Hospital in Brighton, England, reckon virtual environments could provide the solution. ”

3. Revolution Magazine (UK) – UK start-ups out to prove virtual worlds are back in fashion. “NearGlobal and RealLife could be among the next wave of virtual worlds to receive hype of Second Life proportions after securing venture capital funding from Ariadne Capital. The two UK companies have received unspecified amounts of funding from one of the UK’s largest digital investment firms. Ariadne’s cheif executive Julie Meyer said that the company became convinced of the potential of virtual worlds only where the user has a purpose, rather than several existing virtual worlds where the experience is casual.”

4. IT Business Edge (USA) – Catty Thoughts on Job Recruitment via Second Life. “Like many folks, I find it tough to focus on work on Fridays. It’s an even bigger challenge than usual today, thanks to the Goverment Technology story sent to me in response to a call for sources for an article I’m working on about job recruitment via social channels like Facebook and Twitter. The story, datelined September 2008, describes how the state of Missouri hired a developer for its Department of Natural Resources via a recruiting area it created in Second Life. Have trouble seeing the humor? The money quote, from Missouri CIO Dan Ross: “He came to our job fair as a tiny cat with a red bow tie on and expressed interest. That was followed by an in-person interview.” So many questions. Was it the red bow tie that helped put this developer over the top? Did other applicants apply for the position and, if so, what kind of avatars did they use? Are they going to pay the developer in Linden Dollars? Thank goodness a personal interview also was involved.”

5. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Scottish University First in UK to Teach Virtual World Development. “Glasgow Caledonian University, a school based in Glasgow, Scotland, is actively creating a 3D Web project and a major component of this project is a “complete, integrated module” that will teach students everything they need to know about 3D virtual worlds. The course will teach students all the elements required to get a VW up and running. These include hosting, managing and creating real estate, and user interactivity. The course will be taught for now in class but could also be supplemented by elements in Second Life and will also use OpenSim.”

6. Troy Media (USA) – Second Life’s founder responds to criticism. “Philip Rosedale, the mastermind behind virtual reality phenomenon Second Life (SL), predicts that SL technology will make great strides in the near term. If “near-term” is typically defined as under a year, this means users will find that it’s a lot easier to master SL and get into its virtual world, according to Rosedale.
At the moment, Rosedale says it takes about five hours to understand and get your bearings in SL. With software and hardware refinements, he says that it will take only five to 20 minutes to get the lay of SL’s virtual terrain. That’s about as close to user-friendly as any technophobe can hope for.”

7. Massively (USA) – Linden Lab releases Snowglobe 1.0 for Second Life. “A while back, Linden Lab’s Philip Rosedale announced a new Second Life viewer development project. That project ultimately grew along lines similar to that of third-party viewer project, Imprudence, breaking down many barriers to user contributions, and adopting a more agile methodology. After only a couple of release-candidates, the result is already available. One of the biggest developments you might see in the Snowglobe viewer is that the map is now an order of magnitude faster to load, rather than taking several fractions of forever, as is traditional. This is the start of a new texture-transfer pipeline, which we can reasonably expect to become standard in future viewers, and to encompass more kinds of textures, however there’s a new caching architecture which should benefit all textures.”

8. Express Buzz (India) – Senior citizens in second life. “As we entered, we were greeted with a cheerful smile from Bessie, a small old lady with a crop of snow white hair, exuding an infectious enthusiasm. Once you are in the restful premises with its lush green gardens, you will feel like you have been transported away from the city. This is the Little Sisters Of The Poor on Hosur Road, a home for the aged and the infirm. Well, if that makes you think of a place bereft of liveliness, of a place where people just bide their with nothing much to do, think again. Expresso paid a visit to see how the elderly come together to form a community and go through their daily lives.”

9. Destructoid (USA) – Sony: Home to be ‘essential’ for all PS3 games. “f you close your eyes and get everybody to be quiet, you can almost hear my soul dying a little bit. That’s because Sony has stated that its eventual goal for PlayStation Home is to make the horribly dull poor man’s Second Life an “essential component” of the PS3 experience. Excuse me while I am sick into a little bag. “Home is the starting point for PlayStation 3 online, and that’s something that gamers are going to expect as more games support Game Launch from within Home,” promises SCEE’s Peter Edward. “This will become an essential component for all PS3 games.” Edwards states that Home is not going anywhere soon, stating that the company is “in it for the long-term.” He also boasts 7 million users of the service worldwide. 6 million virtual items have also been downloading, leading me to believe that the world is full of incredibly bored people. ”

10. AdAge (USA) – Twitter Is What Second Life Wasn’t: Light, Cheap and Open. “I run into many skeptics who believe that Twitter is rife with the sort of hype associated with the ascent and crash of Second Life. This is not true. Twitter is suffused with hype, for sure, but it is a much different and more sustainable hype than Second Life. Here’s why: Twitter is light, cheap, open and permanent, whereas Second Life is heavy, expensive, closed and ephemeral. Twitter does things right where Second Life failed. Second Life is amazingly heavy, requiring lots of computer, lots of bandwidth and a commitment to client software. Second Life is a closed system, a walled city, completely invisible to serendipity and coincidence. Second Life is greedy, pushing avarice and commerce. Second Life is ephemeral and anti-textual, meaning that all of the work and energy one spent on Second Life invariably went away the moment people stopped investing time and money into the platform. While there was a programming language, a scripting language and lots of room for creativity, Second Life was not nearly as agnostic and open a platform as it could have been.”

Merged realities – events and issues for virtual worlds


1. Looking for alternative to the now Linden Lab-owned online shopping option? has launched and has a fair sized inventory already. Given the ever-improving integration of the incumbent in Second Life, it’ll be interesting to see how much support there is for a competitor.

2. Metaplace have been focusing in a big way on enhancing the community aspects of the platform – earning coins for visiting other users’ worlds was a big step in that direction. Founder Raph Koster talks about the introduction of the Golden Egg.

3. Tateru Nino has a superb summary of why media releases get passed over.

4. Camp Pete is a new kids world aimed at USA-based juniors given the use of the work ‘football’ all over the site in context of their version of the game. It may be quite a fun world, though i always get nervous with statements like this:

University of Southern California Head Football Coach Pete Carroll has been called the ‘coolest 57-year-old kid in Los Angeles.’ He’s more in touch with technology than most teenagers. He was one of the first head coaches with his own Web site, the first to embrace Facebook, the first on Twitter, and now, Coach Carroll is the first Coach to have his own Virtual World for Kids.

Obviously the proof will be in the experience itself as to how kid-centred it is.

Weekend Whimsy

1. Relay For Life 2009 in Second Life

2. U2inSL U2 tribute band Second Life gig for War Child

3. Second Life – Dream Scene – The Roman Bath

Net filtering and virtual worlds: reactions

After last night’s story on the Australian Government’s internet content filtering legislation and its potential impact on virtual worlds, the response has been astounding. Today has seen the largest ever traffic on The Metaverse Journal. Like any issue, there are a few camps of thought:

1. Those who have significant concerns that environments like Second Life will end up being banned.

2. Those who have significant concerns, but cannot believe the Australian government would be so misguided as to oversee such a ban.

3. Those who believe the whole idea is hype and/or scaremongering and that the Federal Government will not take such a scattergun approach.

4. Those who support the proposed legislation.


A resident of Australia sim in Second Life unhappy with proposed net filtering plan

I tend to fall in the second camp, because there are innumerable examples of governments making policy that has unintended consequences for individuals not intended to be targeted by a new law. In fact, most legislation does that, it’s just that this proposition particularly stands out for its gaps in logic and potential to harm some really good work going on within Australia.

There’s certainly a chance that the final legislation, if passed at all, will have taken into account the intricacies of virtual worlds. I’m not holding my breath on that though, unless there’s some concerted efforts by Australians on the issue. Telstra and the ABC have plenty to lose and it’s both those organisations that could make a difference in sanity checking the final legislation. The hundreds of thousands of virtual environment consumers in Australia also have a large voice, if there’s a timely response in the event a ban does seem embedded in the legislation.

There’s plenty of time for these issues to be teased out – determining the Minister’s willingness to do so is the biggest unknown. We’ve contacted Senator Conroy’s office but unsurprisingly there’s been no response. What are your thought? Is it all a storm in a teacup, a call to action or a big yawn?

An open letter on virtual worlds for Senator Conroy

Today’s coverage by Asher Moses in Fairfax newspapers on the latest saga with content filtering in Australia, alludes to virtual environments such as Second Life being added to the list of content not suitable for viewing in Australia. Essentially, the issue is that online ‘games’ like World of Warcraft and Second Life have not received an Classification rating and therefore under the proposed content filtering would be blocked.


The government funded ABC island: collateral damage through bad policy?

It’s difficult to know where to begin to pick the flaws in the logic of the approach, but I thought it may be worth writing an open letter / tutorial to the obviously misinformed Minister in question, Senator Conroy:

1. Virtual worlds do indeed contain adult content such as sex of pretty much any type, simulated drug use and plenty of violence. That said, just like going to the R-rated shop located in most suburbs, in environments like Second Life you can’t partake of the goods unless you’ve provided proof of age. So Senator, are you going to mandate the Australian Federal Police to ensure every ‘bricks and mortar’ adult store customer has to go through a government check before entering? Will you also be closing down other social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, as they too are not rated and also contain graphic content?

2. Second Life, OpenSim grids and gaming worlds like World of Warcraft are three examples of environments that have highly valuable and empirically demonstrable educational benefits. Just talk to the dozens of Australian educators who have undertaken postgraduate research in the area. Can you explain what alternative means of immediate support the Rudd government will be providing to those people who utilise such environments for immediate health support around issues as diverse as mental health, physical disabilities and chronic disease support?

3. Given a range of virtual environments are used for the purposes of expressing free speech or engaging in activism in a much more visual way, does the Australian Labor party commit to not using emergent technologies for political purposes? Why should Gaza protesters not be able to get their message out via Second Life to Australians whilst the ALP spams YouTube with Kevin Rudd informercials?

4.On the child protection thing. Any normal person doesn’t want their kids exposed to undesirable influences – it’s called parenting. If parents cannot be trusted to screen virtual world content, then is the government also committing to a full ban on R-rated magazines in newsagents, a blanket ban on all legal drug consumption in public and zero tolerance on swearing or violence. And if so, how will this be funded and implemented?

5. Can the Rudd government outline how Australians will maintain their competitive advantage in a global economy where virtual worlds are increasingly adopted as a means of communication? Will books be distributed with vetted pictures of said technologies and will this be enough to make our children competitive?

6. This to me is the most important question of all: have you, Senator Conroy, received any substantive briefing on the opportunities virtual worlds provide for educators, health professionals and businesses? I don’t mean Steve Fielding showing you a picture of two avatars going at it in Second Life. I mean a real briefing covering demographics, trends, research and evidence-based success stories. I can point you in the direction of half a dozen great people locally off the top of my head. Hell, I’ll come too to report on your newfound open-mindedness. I promise I’ll behave.

Of course, Senator Conroy is no more likely to read the above open letter than he is to request the substantive briefing mentioned. To be fair, no definitive statement has been made by the government on virtual worlds but the signs certainly aren’t encouraging. Like the wider issues with content filtering, the baby looks like being thrown out with the bathwater, and we won’t know it until it’s too late. If this does come to pass, Australia will be up there with North Korea in developing its population to be tech-savvy competitors in a global economy. Now THAT’s an education revolution.

Postscript: this afternoon I spent some time discussing the issue with Tateru Nino (who’s written on the issue here and here) and she made a really good point: by creating its adult-only continent in Second life, has Linden Lab forced the hand of ACMA to provide a rating on Second Life’s content. Having everything conglomerated in one place makes a rating easier. The trouble is, under the proposed regime it could also spell the end of Second Life access for Australians, or at least some significantly pared down access to PG-areas only.

A detailed map of Stormwind vendors and trainers



A fireman is polishing his fire engine outside the fire station when he notices a little girl next door in a little red cart with little ladders hung on the side and a garden hose tightly coiled in the middle.

The little girl is wearing a fireman’s helmet and has the cart tied to a dog and a cat.

The fire-fighter walks over to take a closer look: ‘That’s a lovely fire engine,’ he says admiringly.

‘Thanks,’ says the little girl. The fireman looks closer and notices the little girl has tied one of the cart’s strings to the dog’s collar and one to the cat’s testicles.

‘Little colleague,’ says the fire-fighter, ‘I don’t want to tell you how to run your fire engine, but if you were to tie that rope around the cat’s collar, I think you could probably go a lot faster.’

The little girl pauses for a moment, looks at the wagon, at the dog and at the cat, then shyly looks into the fireman’s eyes and says:

‘You’re probably right, but then I wouldn’t have a f@cking siren, would I?’

Interview: Andrew Campbell – Director of Prometheus Research Team, University of Sydney

(Published earlier today on Metaverse Health)

Over the past couple of years I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Andrew Campbell on a couple of occasions. As Director of the Prometheus Research Team, Andrew is heavily involved in the area of mental health and technology. I’ve always been struck by Andrew’s objective view of gaming and virtual worlds, which he rightly sees as simultaneously providing significant opportunities and challenges.

I caught up with Andrew to discuss his work and perspectives on mental health, gaming and immersive virtual worlds.

DH: Can you describe the main focus of your clinical work?

AC: The main focus of my clinical work is divided into two categories. Firstly, research. My primary job is an academic researcher and teacher in the field of Psychology. I conduct research particularly in the area of Cyberpsychology, which is the study of how technology is impacting human behaviour, both in good and bad ways. Secondly, I am a general practice psychologist who specialises in child and adolescent mental health and behavioural problems. My clinical work to date has been focused on treating children with ADD/ADHD, anxiety and depression, conduct problems, as well as parental counselling and family therapy.

DH: What led your career to the stage it is at today – what got you into the issue of mental health and technology?

AC: In 1997 I was finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and Education at The University of Sydney and decided to spend some time in the United States working as a teaching assistant at a few universities. I became captivated with work being done by a handful of academic psychologists in the US at the time who were focusing on how the internet was going to be a revolution to impact human behaviour and society at large.

I read everything I could get my hands on at the time to do with online relationships, virtual societies and even gaming communities that were developing international reputations and new cultures in cyberspace. I asked myself at the time ‘could this be the start of a new movement in human enrichment?’ and set forth to find out the good and the bad (and the down-right terrible) aspects of spending a lot of time engrossed in an online world, be it chat, gaming, shopping, finance, politics etc. Thus, my interests turned toward career aspirations to develop psychological research and an applied track record in the use of information communication technology and the use of other technologies in helping the ‘human condition’.

DH: Arguably the number one and two areas of broader public interest with mental health and technology is gaming and violence and addiction. What percentage of your work is spent dealing with actual or perceived issues in those areas?

AC: To date, my clinical work as a generalist psychologist in child and adolescent mental health has only touched lightly on these issues. I have mainly dealt with traditional mental health concerns of parents over their children, but of those clients I have seen about gaming violence and addiction, I’ve noted that the parents themselves do not know anything about the games their children are playing. They tend to have a view that all games are violent or addictive. Given this, I normally direct parents to learn more about what their kids enjoy about their game in order to learn more about behaviours they may be modeling from the game. For example, two of my client’s parents had no idea that strategic games such as ‘Age of Empires’ actually have huge cognitive and historic learning benefits. The game is akin to modern day chess, with historical lessons of ages past. Other games that promote team play
increase problem solving skills in a collaborative environment, therefore promoting team work and clear communication strategies.

Adversely, some team playing games are based on a violent theme, such as the popular game ‘Counter Strike‘. Overall, through my work I’ve found that parents do have concerns about violence and addiction to games, but really do not have an understanding of games themselves. This is troubling in an age where gaming is increasing in popularity across generations and content is still not regulated well by Government or other ‘watchdog’ agencies. As such, parents need to be cognisant of the types of games out there – their pluses and minus points – and be involved in selecting and learning about the titles with their children in order to curtail negative behaviours related to certain genres.

DH: The issue of technology and its influence on behaviour has been around for decades, with the TV / Film and violence link being hotly debated for most of that time. Before we get onto gaming / virtual worlds, is there yet any empirical agreement on TV/Film and violent behaviour?

AC: As surprising as this may sound, no, there is not any empirical agreement on TV/Film and violent behaviour in contemporary society. Incidents such as the Columbine School Massacre and more recently, the Virginia Tech shooting have led psychologists to argue for renewed policies censuring violent films and TV shows from minors and suggestible personality types. Although games are becoming a popular target for connecting atrocious violent crimes to the perpetrator, TV and Film are still front runners in the causation of violent behaviour in, not just the younger population, but the population in general.

DH: The popular media perception of gaming is that there is at least an anecdotal link between the regular playing of violent games and violent real-life behaviour. From your work, have you seen any evidence of this?

AC: Unequivocally, no! To say that violent games or even violent TV/Film is causation for a violent crime is ludicrous. I won’t go so far to say that violent games, TV or Film have zero impact on violent crimes, but to look at it as a sole causation does not address the pathology of the individual to begin with, let alone motive to carry out the behaviour that may lead to a crime. Ergo, playing a violent game is no more likely to trigger someone’s violent behaviour than eating your favourite food is going to motivate you to become a chef! In my private practice, any child who has presented with conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder, or even anger management problems, may or may not have been a gamer – however – all have had pathology and environmental problems that
have led to their disorder that are more consistent and pervasive than just playing a violent video game a few hours a day.

DH: Is there actually an argument that gaming can have an ameliorating effect on real-world behaviour and if so, is there research supporting this?

AC: Yes, a number of studies have shown wonderful results helping people to ameliorate either behaviour or, in some cases, the management of pain. My own research has looked at how biofeedback video games that encourage the player to control a task on a screen using their breathing technique, has led to improved attention and relaxation strategies in ADD/ADHD children. Other research has shown that virtual reality games that are immersive can actually help in the treatment of PTSD. One of the best breakthroughs in serious games has been the treatment of burn victims from the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. These patients have to undertake pain dressing changes and skin grafts. During these procedures, the patient plays a game called ‘Snow world’ which immerses them in an environment that triggers their subconscious into believing they are in a cool and calm environment that distracts them from the pain of the treatment they are receiving. The research in all these examples is very new, but compelling. It is beginning to influence the game developers in entertainment to consider the market for ‘serious games’. This has already commenced with popular programs such as the Nintendo Wii releasing Wii fit and associated sports programs to tackle obesity.

DH: In regards to addiction and online gaming or virtual world environments, what’s your overall take?

AC: My overall take on addiction is that it is possible in either the virtual world or gaming environments online. What needs to be clarified is what aspects of these activities and functions are ‘addictive’. To say we are addicted to the Internet is like saying we are addicted to shopping – what items are we addicted to? The internet houses many areas of interest. It is obvious to posit that sex addiction offline could also be met online, as could be gambling. But gaming offline vs gaming online has different stimulus effects I would theorise.

Also, virtual worlds – what do we gain in socialising in these worlds that we don’t in our offline world? Is there such a thing as addiction to socialising?! Most likely not, because socialising is part of being human. Therefore, what is the attraction to these worlds that stimulates us highly enough to spend hours online engaging with strangers vs. meeting strangers in the offline world? The answer probably lies somewhere between the functions of pursuing anonymity, creativity, cerebral connections and/or reducing the chance of being socially awkward – all reasons one person may prefer the online world.

DH: If addiction is only quantifiable in a small component of the population, is that component larger or smaller than other behaviours such as substance use, gambling etc?

AC: I think if we look at gaming addiction in comparison to substance use, for example, we can quickly conclude that substance abuse is both physically and psychologically damaging and perhaps more wide spread globally across ages, genders and cultures. But the damage of gaming addiction is growing in certain cultures, such as in Asia where gaming is an accepted pasttime for all ages and genders and thus could be on the rise without society realising it since it is not an illegal behaviour or even an invasive or obviously destructive past time compared to drug taking.

prometheus However, it is psychologically damaging both in psychosocial relationships, employment responsibility and accountability and can even affect our general health to a large degree. You might therefore say that although substance abuse and gambling are faster and
harder-hitting addictions, gaming addiction is fast becoming a contemporary societal problem that is slow to build in destructiveness,
but easier to ignore.

DH: For those who do require actual treatment for addiction, what’s your take on the use of online treatment when the issue is related to online behaviour i.e. addressing the traditional view that you can’t use the mechanism for facilitating addiction to treat the addiction itself.

AC: One of the earliest therapies provided online by Psychologist, Dr Kimberly Young, was treatment for online addiction. She began this service, online, in the early 1990’s. Although it has been a growth industry for Dr Young and others who believe in her treatment modality, I personally find it to be flawed therapy and lacking in best-practice evidence. Addiction, be it to specific functions of the internet, gaming, substance abuse, gambling etc, is an extremely difficult pathology to treat, let alone treat well. Therefore, all scientific practice indicates that addiction therapy should be done in a face-to-face or group counselling environment. It requires ongoing resource support utilising mentors, friends and family. It is something that may (but only in very specifically suitable cases) use the internet as a support tool, but in all other regards addiction, especially to internet functions and gaming, should be done away from the primary stimulus.

DH: With growing immersiveness in gaming and in virtual worlds more broadly, what do you see as the mental health challenges and opportunities?

AC: Research right now is looking out how we can harness immersive environments, be they virtual worlds or games, for tackling problems in health, behaviour and education. The challenges we face at the moment are actually not to do with the quality of the environments being delivered to consumers over the internet or through off-the-shelf games, but more through the cost of developing serious games or health purpose virtual worlds by the commercial sector. In addition, we are facing a health professional vs tech industry challenge in trying to have these two expert bodies effectively harness the ideas that are scientifically based delivery of health interventions. In short – the health professionals need to learn more about the tech industry and vice versa. Once this bridge is finally built, I believe we will be entering a new error of technology consumerism – games for wellbeing and ICT for personal health management.

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Report: Virtual Worlds Growth to Skyrocket. “Market research firm Strategy Analytics today released its forecast for growth within the virtual worlds sector and to say it sees growth would be an understatement. Overall, the firm said it sees the global population of virtual world users growing from 186 million today to almost 640 million by 2015 — that’s almost one hundred million new players a year, a nearly 25 percent compounded annual growth rate. The fastest growing demographic is kids between the ages of 5 and 9 which the company predicts will grow 27 percent; the current largest segment of virtual worlds players, tweens and teens, should grow by some 21 percent, according to the company.”

2. UQ News (Australia) – Virtual worlds and video games explored at teaching conference. “Not all academic conferences include sessions on the Nintendo Wii, but an upcoming UQ event is happy to explore new boundaries in the name of better teaching. Taking place on June 18 at St Lucia, the Blended Learning Conference will link researchers from Australia and abroad to discuss innovative approaches to education. Among the participants are Caroline Steel and Dr Helen Farley – two UQ researchers who are helping establish virtual learning environments in the realm of Second Life. Dr Farley, who holds joint appointments with UQ’s Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology (CEIT) and the School of Philosophy, Religion and Classics, said the applications of virtual learning were endless.”

3.VentureBeat (USA) – Intel Labs prototypes virtual world for scientists. “Intel is showing off a number of cool research projects today at its research day event in Santa Clara, Calif. But the coolest of all is a project called ScienceSim, which is an effort to create interconnected 3-D virtual worlds that scientists can use for experiments. The worlds will be able to connect to each other as needed, says Intel chief technology officer Justin Rattner. The company will debut the effort, in concert with university researchers, at the SuperComputing 09 conference later this year. The idea is to create a prototype of what Rattner says will become the “3D Internet.” The research platform will focus on immersive scientific collaboration and will be based on the OpenSim technology.”

4. OC Register (USA) – ‘World of Warcraft’ quest leads to Laguna. “Get your orcs, trolls, elves, dwarves and Forsaken ready.
The “World of Warcraft” has descended upon a museum near you. The Laguna Art Museum has recently opened a new exhibition, “WoW: Emergent Media Phenomenon,” which explores artwork created for and inspired by the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game. The show runs through Oct. 4. For those of you who don’t play video or online games, “World of Warcraft” is a highly graphic computer-based experience with an intensely loyal following – about 11.5 million subscribers. Created by Blizzard Entertainment, which is headquartered in Irvine, “WoW” (as it’s known) has spawned its own art, action figures, board games, comic books, manga and novels.”

5. Accounting Web (USA) – Taxation of virtual goods is on the drawing board. “The National Taxpayer Advocate has raised the question of whether the tax code should allow for tax-free transactions of virtual goods. Taxpayer advocate Nina Olson, in a report to the IRS earlier this year, said that in 2005, about $1 billion in real dollars changed hands in computer-based environments. Online gamers or social networkers use real money to buy virtual currency, which is then used to buy virtual goods. Those ‘goods’ can be objects, such as virtual birthday cakes posted to social networking sites, or actions, such as the ability to get to a more advanced level in an online game, explained Lora L. Abe, director of marketing for Gambit, a payments engine for online games, in Venture Beat.”

6. CrunchGear (USA) – Interview: Rob Burkinshaw, game designer and creator of homeless Sims. “Yesterday we posted about Alice and Kev, homeless Sims that exist entirely in the world of Sims 3. They are a family. Alice is a girl with the traditional adolescent pre-teen worries but she’s saddled with a father who is high-strung, hates kids, and is generally a misfit in the orderly world of the Sims. They are homeless in that they live in a house with no walls and sleep on park benches. They have no source of food except for things given to them from other Sims or stolen in the course of the day. They can’t get clean in their own home – there’s no bathroom – and Alice’s sleep is interrupted constantly by Kev’s rants. Rob Burkinshaw created the experiment, called Alice and Kev, as an examination of game theory and a test of his in-game photography skills but it quickly morphed into one of the most heart-breaking stories I’ve read in a long time.”

7. Sydney Morning Herald (USA) – Sordid world of razor gangs reborn for virtual tourists. “HE fleshpots of Sydney’s Darlinghurst and the Cross are havens for sleaze, binge drinking and boozy violence. Cocaine dealers, standover men, pimps, junkies and sex workers abound. Tales of vendettas and gang murders are vicariously thrilling law-abiding newspaper readers. The State Government, desperate to curb the escalating violence, is about to enact a law forbidding criminals from associating with each other. What’s this city coming to? The year is 1930, the days of the 6 o’clock swill, when early closing times created a lucrative market in after-hours booze. This colourful period of local history is relived in a new interactive GPS game called Razorhurst, designed by Darlinghurst resident Richard Fox.”

8. ZDNet Asia (Singapore) – Youth Olympics virtual world to debut early 2010. “Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics has been appointed to create and operate a virtual world for the inaugural Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games–the first time such a concept will be used for an Olympic event.
In a press statement Thursday, the company announced its wholly owned subsidiary, ST Electronics (Training & Simulation Systems), was awarded the contract by the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) of Singapore. Dubbed “Virtual World for Education and Youth Engagement”, the three-dimensional virtual world is scheduled to be ready early next year, the IDA said in a separate statement Thursday. The virtual world will help promote friendship and connect youths from the 205 territories taking part in the Games, the Authority added.”

9. (Canada) – Virtually nasty: cybersex is pushing the boundaries of human behaviour. “Was it real for you too? Human-computer sexual interaction – whether using interactive stimulus-toys or engaging your `virtual self’ in fantasy romps with mythical creatures – is slowly gaining in popularity, but as the line between the real and virtual experience blurs, sex educators are faced with some tough ethical questions. Emerging technologies offer individuals greater access to diverse sexual practices, says sex educator and online columnist Cory Silverberg, who spoke this past week at the annual Guelph Sexuality Conference in Guelph, Ont.”

10. Massively (USA) – Second Life moves to 1.23, opens adult continent, allows more content. “Linden Lab has released the new viewer, bringing Second Life up to 1.23 a few days earlier than expected, off the back of a very short release-candidate cycle. The new viewer brings three things with it: The new Adults-only continent (formerly Ursula and now Zindra), user-verification by documents or payment-status, and a new Adults-only content rating that opens up Second Life to more extreme sexual and violent content. At least so long as it is confined to the adult continent and no child avatars are involved, of course. That this was all done as a adult-continent rather than an adult-grid suggests that Linden Lab’s intergrid interoperability isn’t ready for prime-time yet.”

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