The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Times of India (India) – Amputees could feel artificial limb if put in the virtual world. “Anthony Steed, a computer scientist at UCL, studied how the rubber hand illusion Movie Camera works in virtual worlds. In the standard illusion, a false hand is placed on a table in front of a volunteer whose real hand is out of view, and both are stroked at the same time. After a while people feel a sensation in the rubber hand, even when it is the only one being touched. And now, it has been discovered that people relate to virtual appendages so strongly that much of the set-up work normally needed to pull off the illusion is unnecessary in virtual environments.”

2. The Drum (UK) – Are Virtual Worlds like Second Life still viable marketing tools? “When The Drum received a press release a couple of weeks ago from digital company Corporation Pop describing an online graduation ceremony it had planned with fuel company BP through virtual world Second Life, groans were clearly heard. “Second Life? I thought that was dead,” said one member of the team, thus inspiring this piece. With Avatar becoming the most commercially successful movie in history, it seems odd that the platform which would have inspired much of the film seems to have had its day with the online user. Then again, the Lawnmower man was no advert for virtual reality which did okay for a while.”

3. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – TeamPalz Launching Sports-Themed World. “This Saturday will be heading for a public launch. The new kids virtual world aims at bringing together online socializing with kids’ love for real world sports. There are plenty of sports-themed worlds out there (e.g., ActionAllstars, the NFL’s own world, ToppsTown, UpperDeckU, etc.) that have partnerships or licensing agreements with leagues or teams. While TeamPalz is currently avoiding costly licenses and partnerships, it’s hoping to capitalize on an untapped audience. “TeamPalz is very gender neutral,” explained Co-Founder Kevin Bernadt. “During our research of other sports-themed virtual worlds, almost all of them seemed very male-centric. Girls’ sports are a huge under-marketed force out there, and we’re including sports such as softball, dance, cheer, and make sure our basketball and soccer experiences are friendly for both girls and boys. Volleyball will be one of the first sports we add down the line.”

4. The Guardian (UK) – Living the dream through computer games. “The inspiration for this week’s Observer Conversation is a fascinating piece by the American writer Tom Bissell which will be in this Sunday’s paper. In it Tom describe his life disintegrating as he becomes hooked on the computer game series Grand Theft Auto and then also on cocaine. Here’s a guy who would regularly spend 30 hours straight running over pedestrians and shooting drug dealers, policemen and prostitutes, all the while bleeding from the nose. In the paper’s latest editorial conference meeting, where we shape the weekend’s edition, we also discussed a new game called Smokescreen, which has been a big hit at the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas. It’s a game about life online, on a new social network called White Smoke, containing elements of horror and which frankly I’ve yet to fully understand. Perhaps its like a cranked up version of Cluedo: “Your friend Miffy murdered Bob in the Save 6Music site with a Farmville rotovator”.

5. Newsweek (USA) – Money for Nothing. “If you’ve spent time on Facebook, you might be mystified by all the people tending to their virtual farms and virtual pets. I know I am. Not only does this seem a strange way to spend time, but here’s the even weirder part: a lot of these people are spending real money to buy virtual products, like pretend guns and fertilizer, to gain advantage in these Web-based games. But to Kristian Segerstrale this is very serious business, and not only because he runs Playfish, a maker of online games and a top seller of virtual goods. Segerstrale, an economist by training, says the world of virtual goods opens up a new way to study economics. “You can learn a lot about human behavior, and how people interoperate in an economic environment,” he says. “There are a lot of valuable lessons.”

6. Directions Magazine (USA) – Masternaut Three X Integrates Real and Virtual Worlds with Augmented Reality for Field Service Management. “Masternaut Three X launched an advanced camera phone application that enables digital images to be displayed together with associated business data. This augmented reality (AR) solution is targeted at organizations in need of vehicle tracking and mobile resource management technology for more efficient field service operations. Editor in Chief Joe Francica interviewed Masternaut’s Johann Levy, the research and development manager, about the AR application.”

7. Financial Times (UK) – Corporate learning: Out of body experiences are ‘in’. “Teams operating in a virtual world face the challenge of constructing a bridge across a stretch of water to an island, using a set of blocks. One team spots that some of the blocks are weightless. They quickly string these together, march their avatars across the bridge, and declare victory. The other teams of business school students cry foul, but the winners deserve their triumph because they avoided making assumptions, says Steve Mahaley, director of learning technology at Duke Corporate Education in North Carolina. One way to shed new light on old problems is to take people completely out of their element, he says. “Virtual worlds let us test people’s understanding of the nature of the problem and help highlight their assumptions, such as whether all the blocks are subject to gravity, and if the other teams are rivals or potential collaborators.”

8. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Teleplace focuses on app sharing. “When business users get together for a virtual meeting, they’re not interested in showing off the latest dance moves or hairstyles – they want to share PowerPoint presentations, work together on spreadsheets, and collaborate on documents. At least, that’s the experience of virtual world vendor Teleplace, which counts over 100 corporations as customers – some of them big names, including Chevron, BP, Lockheed, Intel, and Fidelity. In addition, the company has a strong presence in the government and military sectors, counting the US Army, Navy, and Air Force as customers. Teleplace revenues grew 200 percent over the past year, the company reported last month. Teleplace Inc. used to be Qwaq Inc., and changed its name last September, timed to coincide with the release of the 3.0 version of its platform.”

9. Boston Globe (USA) – Tag for the gamer generation. “IT WAS awkward this semester when a zombie and a zombie-epidemic survivor both showed up in my undergraduate creative writing workshop. I’d heard tales of Humans vs. Zombies battles raging on campuses across the country. What was surprising, though, was that this bizarre game struck me as an antidote for the ailments of a generation. Humans vs. Zombies is a massive game of tag. One player starts as the zombie, what we used to call “being it.’’ All others are human. Both wear official bandanas on their arms. Zombies tie a second bandana around their heads. When a zombie tags a human, the human becomes a zombie.”

10. Kotaku (Australia) – Video Games Can Save The Planet, But Only If We Play More. “Only video games can save the world, says Jane McGonigal, but only if we dedicate more time to playing them, some 21 billion hours of game time per week needed to survive the next century. McGonigal, director of game research and development at Institute for the Future and one of the people behind the do-good game Urgent Evoke. presented her theory that playing video games can save the world’s problems – hunger, poverty, climate change, obesity, global conflict – at this year’s TED conference. (That stands for Technology, Entertainment, Design by the way.) Her argument? We’re “better at games than we are in real life”, and are more inclined to do good in video games.”

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