The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Virtual drag a thorny issue for employers. “In recent years, companies have begun using virtual worlds such as Second Life, OpenSim, Forterra and Qwaq to hold virtual meetings — and employees have begun using avatars, or cartoonish animated online characters, to represent themselves in these meetings. Some companies and employees pick avatars that reflect their real identities — but other avatars are fantastical, whimsical, or gender-bending. As virtual worlds become serious business, however, corporate dress codes are being extended to the virtual worlds in a variety of ways — some more controversial than others. For example, in many jurisdictions, a company may not discriminate against employees who are in the process of changing their gender, or who have already done so. The laws do not cover casual crossdressing by non-transgender employees, however.”

2. IGN (Australia) – Planet Calypso Launches Into Space. “First Planet Company, the developer and publisher of Entropia Universe, has announced the launch of its much-awaited revamp of its game Project Entropia, now known as Planet Calypso. The new version, which has been in development for a couple of years now, utilizes Crytek’s CryEngine 2, possibly making it the best looking virtual world in existence. Because the game’s new graphics will be such a far cry from the original, pun intended, old players will be given an opportunity to remake their characters when they first login.”

3. Wisconsin State Journal (USA) – Massachusetts man arrested for Thursday night incident in Madison. “A Massachusetts man was arrested Friday afternoon after he allegedly drove Thursday night to Madison, impersonated an officer and pulled a gun on a woman whose son he had met playing the online role-playing game World of Warcraft. Trevor L. Lucas, 21, of Gloucester, was arrested by Massachusetts State Police, Madison police said. Lucas had been out on bail for several felony firearms and ammunition violations in Massachusetts, according to a criminal complaint filed Friday in Dane County Circuit Court charging him with second-degree reckless endangerment and impersonating a peace officer to aid in commission of a crime, both felonies.”

4. VIrtual Worlds News (USA) – Sulake: Bobba Confirmed for September. “Habbo’s new boss, Sulake Chairman of the Board Mika Salmi, has confirmed that Bobba, the company’s upcoming attempt at a virtual world for mobile devices, is on track for a September launch.”

5. The Daily Mail (Pakistan) – The paradox of the Jia Junpeng phenomenon. “et’s call it the “Jia Junpeng phenomenon.” What is it? It’s actually a sensation out of nothing or a demonstration of collective boredom. No one knows who Jia Junpeng is, but this name became famous in less than 24 hours due to a forum post that in effect said: “Jia Junpeng, your mother is calling you home for dinner.” It attracted more than 4 million viewers and nearly 200,000 comments in one day. The post appeared on the World of Warcraft (WoW) forum on Baidu, a Chinese portal. A WoW server outage in China has lasted for 40 days. Some 5 million WoW players, who have been angrily waiting for the operational return of the servers, have interpreted the post as a call for the service to start back up as soon as possible. Game experts have said that online players are bored and that the post provided them an opportunity to get away from this boredom. ”

6. The Independent (Ireland) – An abstract issue that suddenly became seriously real. SEBASTIAN Faulks has good reason to feel wary of people wielding tape recorders. So far, the promotional round for his latest book, A Week In December, has proved to be rather trying. Last Sunday, in an interview with a British broadsheet, he stumbled head on into the most incendiary ideological debate of our times. As part of the research for his book, which features a would-be suicide bomber, he read the Koran, and then gave a critical appraisal of it, which included the description “the rantings of a schizophrenic”. Commentators from all backgrounds had a field day, accusing him of causing grievous offence to those of Muslim faith. Faulks doesn’t seem to be the sort of man who would deliberately court controversy in the interests of creating noise and generating publicity.”

7. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Latest Second Life Surnames Include Unfortunate Slang. “In an effort to ensure unique names for each of its inhabitants, the developers of Second Life regularly add a new batch of user-selectable surnames to the open world game. The latest batch however, includes a rather unfortunate piece of slang.”

8. Brand e-Biz (UK) – Brands, charities heading to Habbo, Poptropica et al. “Virtually young. Forget Second Life. Brands are increasingly turning to virtual worlds aimed at younger consumers. One of the most active of these sites is surely Habbo, the hotel-themed virtual world which has played host to a raft of integrated campaigns for brands and charities, featuring everything from treasure hunts to branded discos. Perhaps one of the more unusual campaigns involved the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and its annual Earth Hour event. Habbo incorporated Earth Hour into its environment, representing the themes of the event – which aims to raise awareness of climate change – by dimming the lights of the hotel, encouraging users to get involved in the process.”

9. Foreign Policy in Focus (USA) – The Iranian Opposition’s Second Life. “On July 22, a week into Iran’s foreign media reporting ban, a group of Iranian protesters gathered on a grassy hill to speak out against Supreme Leader Khamenei’s continued support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some wore black T-shirts with a blood-spattered slogan: “Where Is My VOTE?” By midday, the protest had attracted several hundred attendees. One woman arrived wearing little more than a thong swimsuit and a pair of purple angel wings. Iran’s security forces, however, were absent. In a nation with a frighteningly effective intelligence service, Supreme Leader Khamenei was entirely unaware of this protest because it took place in cyberspace.”

10. (New Zealand) – Virtual world teaches skills for real life. “Preparing for a job interview can be extremely nervewracking and time-consuming. Decisions need to be made about what to wear, what questions to ask and how much research to do. But a group of students at the Manukau Institute of Technology are taking part in a pilot project that’s come up with a novel way to combat job interview jitters – by roleplaying in a virtual world. The foundation learning students will spend time in Second Life – a virtual world with its own currency and about 15 million registered users – practising their interviewing skills and critiquing their performance.”

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