The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Abeceder (UK) – Virtual world experiences increases racial bias. “They say you should walk a mile in a person’s shoes before judging them. Virtual reality technology offers this possibility by allowing us to control a digital representation of another person. Unfortunately, the first ever investigation of racial perspective-taking in an immersive virtual environment has found that assuming a different racial identity leads to increased racial bias, not less. Victoria Groom and colleagues invited 98 participants, half of whom were of White ethnicity, to view a photograph of either a Black or White person of the same gender as themselves, and to imagine they were that person. Next the participants donned a virtual reality headset which transported them to an empty room where they were interviewed for a job, still playing the role of that other person. Crucially, half the participants could see their new identity in a mirror in the virtual room, and as they answered some introductory questions they spent at least a minute observing their adopted selves in the mirror.”

2. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Weblin Closes, Users Transitioned to Club Cooee. “Layered virtual world Weblin is ceasing operations, according to a company newsletter sent to registered users today. Media reports attribute the closure to a lack of funds. Weblin users are being invited to transition Club Cooee, a site run by the former Weblin principals Jan Andresen and Christine Stumpf.”

3. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Virtual Worlds and MMORPGs: The Best and Worst of Humanity. “The three years Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza spent making his MMORPG documentary Second Skin were a bit of a wild ride, as he saw how much good these worlds could do for people, and just how badly they could spiral out of control. Juan Carlos Piñeiro Escoriaza was a life-long console gamer until a friend introduced him to the MMOG space via SOE’s Star Wars Galaxies. Though Escoriaza would eventually quit SWG due to the time investment, the experience – and the idea of real people choosing to take on virtual responsibilities – stuck with him. The seeds from that eventually blossomed into his feature-film documentary, Second Skin, which premieres tonight.”

4. Newsweek (USA) – The Sound of One Hand Clicking. “Luis Figueroa lives down the street from UC Merced, the newest campus in the University of California system. So it’s not surprising that the 21-year-old studies from the comfort of his own home. But he’s not enrolled at Merced: from his living-room computer, Figueroa is earning his bachelor’s degree in business administration at Columbia College in Missouri, some 2,000 miles away. At $630 per course—about $1,800 per semester—his online degree will cost far less than even in-state tuition at UC. Not only that, Figueroa is able to continue working full time in a management-training job with AT&T in Merced, a job he feels lucky to have in the current economic climate. “Once I realized I had time constraints, I knew the traditional classroom wouldn’t work,” he says. “Courses online are open 24 hours a day, and I’m able to go there any time I want.”

5. PSFK (USA) – Digital Immortality and Death 2.0. “Without coming across as too macabre and curmudgeonly, we’ll simply say that with dawn of the internet, the business of death has gotten a lot more complicated these days. Consider that wills once existed for the sole purpose of ceding ownership of physical objects, and quests for immortality – things like cryonics, transhumanism, fountains of youth and religion (ahem) – remained firmly planted in the realms of fantasy, but as the lines between our real and digital worlds continue to blur, these customs have changed. The things we leave behind, from virtual businesses to entire online lives, now have an immaterial existence and longevity all their own.”

6. CNET (USA) – Second Life for returning veterans. “Veterans are often reluctant to seek therapy for service-related conditions, but rather than write them off, scientists are creating a virtual online community where servicemembers can find the camaraderie and resources to ease their return to civilian life. The “Transitional Online Post-deployment Soldier Support in Virtual Worlds” created by the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) will be ensconced within a corner of the virtual landscape of Second Life, a popular online 3D grid where people interact through avatars (PDF). Also known as Coming Home, this world will contain three main areas: one for social activities, one for competitive and collaborative gaming, and one for resources. The resources area will be staffed by artificial intelligence-driven virtual characters available 24-7 to steer veterans to the appropriate support and therapies.”

7. Times Online (UK) – The top seven social networking sites for kids. “How do you know when a social networking site isn’t cool anymore? The day that your dad joins up. A new study has found that young people are turning their backs on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, the number of 35 to 54-year-olds using such sites has rocketed by 25 per cent in the last year. So what can you do if you don’t want to be poked by your mum or added by your gran? Here’s a round up of the coolest sites and virtual worlds for children – just make sure you hide this page from your parents.”

8. Mass High Tech (USA) – Viximo seeks to turn virtual goods into real profit. “It’s hard enough for online retailers to get consumers to spend money on real goods and services — but one Cambridge company is betting that sites will want to get into the business of selling virtual goods. Venture-backed Virtual Goods Market Inc., which does business as Viximo, provides a white-label virtual goods store with gifts and personal accessories designed to complement online identities and messages. When Viximo launched in 2007, the company’s founders thought publishers of virtual worlds like Second Life and massively multiplayer online role-playing games would be among its core customers, said co-founder Brian Balfou.”

9. IGN (USA) – Artificial Emotions at Gamescom 2009. “The future of computer games in all facets awaits visitors at the trade show “gamescom 2009″. Held in Cologne for the first time, Europes leading games industry gathering draws not only the interested public, but first and foremost, experts and professionals from across the globe. At the Artificial Technology GmbH booth (Hall 4.2, Booth K27) the heads of the company, Frank Gwosdz, Serein Pfeiffer and Daniel Renner, will shed light on the inner workings of EKI One 2.0, their new full-version modular middleware for emotional and artificial intelligence. ”

10. Wired (UK) – Does a healthy virtual life mean a healthy real life? “pparently having a slim avatar encourages Second Lifers to get healthier in real life. Researchers at RTI International have published a report in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, which reveals that a healthy virtual life can impact attitudes towards fitness in real life. The team interviewed 29 Second Life residents. According to Science Daily: “Half the participants were interviewed by a thin avatar and half the participants were interviewed by an obese avatar.” They were then quizzed about their levels of physical activity both in the virtual and real worlds. “

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