The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Big Think – Learning in Virtual Worlds – not a Child’s Play. “Thanks to high speed Internet and flat rate pricing virtual worlds saw a tremendous boost over the past years. This is unsurprisingly true for online games like World of Warcraft but also for virtual worlds like Second Life and Twinity which are now able to deliver more and more realistic graphics and a better user experience for their audience. All three of them are used in education but today I want to focus on the two more “realistic” approaches of Second Life and Twinity.”

2. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: Avatar rights as expectations. “Last week, I introduced the concept that the denizens of a virtual world may have gained, over time, the right to rights within that virtual world. Raph Koster, the lead developer of Ultima Online, explored the idea over 10 years ago when the MMO genre was in its developmental infancy. These rights synced up with a world where there was a distinction between free-to-play MUDs and for-pay subscription worlds in the U.S. and European markets. Today, the MMO has transformed into a new beast from the close-knit communities of MUDs and the relatively forgiving user base of EverQuest and Ultima Online. The people who made WoW are the contemporaries of Raph Koster and children of the MMO genre that EverQuest cemented as important. How then, in over 10 years, has Koster’s declaration of the rights of avatars held up to the incredible growth of the industry and Blizzard’s own impressive growth? The short answer: The code of conduct you follow in World of Warcraft is pretty lenient, all things considered. The long answer: Well, there’s always a long answer”

3. The Guardian (UK) – Fantastic Pets – review. “Microsoft’s Kinect may not yet be able to cope with hugely complex movements and graphics, but the hardware is already proving perfect for a younger audience. Fantastic Pets makes excellent use of the system’s strengths by letting kids explore virtual worlds free from the controllers and wires that constrain imaginations. Fantastic Pets offers a choice of buddies from a selection of animals including cats, dogs, lizards and ponies. Whereupon there is much fun to be had styling, feeding, washing and training your pet, who quickly learns to respond to voice commands.”

4. The Baltimore Sun (USA) – Learning by gaming. “For those of us who are first-generation students of video games, two words can take us back to another life: Oregon Trail. Remember? In school, we’d play Oregon Trail on a sticky PC, naming our intrepid video travelers after classmates so we could laugh at their fates. Through us, our characters made choices: Ford the river, or try the mountain pass. Sometimes they lived, sometimes not. The point is, some kind of learning was going on. Oregon Trail is now nearly 40 years old, but games in the classroom are still considered an unusual teaching choice and are rarely fully integrated. I was lucky enough to grow up with virtual tutors like Spooky, the ghost who taught typing, or Rodney, a raccoon whose endless quest was powered by solving math problems. Students today are even more used to being surrounded by digital environments, immersive worlds and devices that give them instant feedback and access to worlds of information — in their pocket. Why don’t we do more to harness that?”

5. Computerworld (USA) – Intelligence agencies hunting for terrorists in World of Warcraft. “The FBI raided the apartment of two University of Michigan students to investigate “potentially fraudulent sales or purchases of virtual currency that people use to advance in the popular online role-playing game World of Warcraft.” Two students, a sophomore and a junior, share a University Towers apartment in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but claim the feds have the wrong people as neither of them even play WoW. Records show that “laptop computers, hard drives, video game systems, credit cards, a cell phone, paperwork and other computer equipment” were seized. The college sophomore told AnnArbor.com, “They thought we were involved in some kind of fraud. I’m pretty sure they have the wrong people, but they took all my stuff.”

6. Massively (USA) – The Game Archaeologist plays with MUDs: A talk with Richard Bartle. “From talking with Richard Bartle, reading his blog, and looking over several interviews that he’s done, I’ve concluded that the co-creator of the first multi-user dungeon is, in many ways, a card. A smart one, a perceptive one, and an outspoken one, but a card nonetheless. I say this in a good way, of course, because for all of the verbal pussyfooting that often goes on in this industry, it’s refreshing to hear the voice of someone who knows what he thinks and isn’t afraid to say it, even if it goes against the grain. Dr. Bartle’s name often comes up in discussions of both MUDs and MMORPGs. His designs, work and scholarship have influenced MMOs in substantial ways, and it’s possible that if our children end up learning about massively multiplayer RPGs in school some day, Bartle’s name will be mentioned once or twice. While he’s sometimes polarizing, it’s hard to deny the incredible work he’s done, which is why I was excited to get to talk to him about this month’s subject on the Game Archaeologist. So hit that pesky jump and let’s pick the mind of a guy who really earned the right to post “FIRST!!1!”

7. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Clouds help propel OpenSim growth. “The top 40 public OpenSim grids gained more than a 1,000 new regions since this time last month, propelled partly by low-cost cloud-based regions from a new hosting provider, Kitely. There are now a total of 14,529 regions on these grids alone, an increase of 7.5 percent since this time last month. Total users increased 3.4 percent to 183,360, a gain of 6,059 new registered users. These totals do not include numbers from the SpotOn3D grids, which did not report their results this month, so actual grid region and user totals may be higher. These numbers also do not reflect land and users on the hundreds of private OpenSim grids run by schools, companies, and individuals.”

8. WKMS (USA) – Fort Campbell Soldiers Game to Train. “Thousands of 101st Airborne Division soldiers deploy out of Fort Campbell. Before they ship out, they run drills with some of the military’s most advanced vehicles, weapons, and gear, under situations that simulate real war-time experiences. The base’s latest training site isn’t a field on the Back Forty. It’s a non-descript brick building. As Angela Hatton report, inside soldiers use computer simulations based on video games to train for war. In a plain and windowless classroom, a crew of young soldiers sits a few feet away from each other at laptop computers. They’re all logged-in to Virtual Battle Space 2, or VBS2, the military’s computer training program. In the game, the group navigates a convoy along a dirt road in a patchy desert landscape, digitally rendered to look like the topography of Afghanistan. They communicate via headsets.”

9. New Scientist (USA) – Putting the DIY in DNA. “WHEN her dad was diagnosed with the hereditary disease haemochromatosis, 23-year-old Kay Aull did the natural thing, at least for an MIT graduate in bioengineering. She went online and bought a used thermal cycler for $100. She also ordered several custom-made DNA sequences, designing each to bind to a different mutation of the gene responsible for the disease. Then, using other second-hand equipment she had acquired, she set up a simple lab test in her closet and determined the likelihood that she would inherit the condition. Aull’s wasn’t the sort of achievement that earns grants or tenure. Doctors already have an effective haemochromatosis test, and most of her lab techniques were way behind the times. Aull’s test was remarkable because she did it herself, getting accurate results for a fraction of professional lab costs. As Marcus Wohlsen writes in Biopunk, “Aull’s test does not represent new science but a new way of doing science.”

10. North Country Public Radio (USA) – How To Save The World, One Video Game At A Time. “Every week, people across the globe spend 3 billion hours playing video games, but that isn’t enough for Jane McGonigal. She says video games can help solve some of the world’s biggest problems — and we really should be playing more. “If we want to solve problems like hunger, poverty, climate change, global conflict, obesity,” she said, “I believe that we need to aspire to play games online for at least 21 billion hours a week by the end of the next decade.” As the audience broke out into chuckles she told them, “No, I’m serious. I am.”

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