The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. USA Today (USA) – Spending on virtual goods continues upturn. “Spending on virtual goods in games, virtual worlds and on social sites such as Facebook continues to show real increases. About 13% of Americans bought virtual goods in the last 12 months, with average spending of $99, up from $87 last year (a 14% increase), finds a new survey from research and consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates and virtual goods monetization firm PlaySpan. The nationally representative online survey of 2,412 was conducted May 7-14, 2010. (1,955 were aged 18-64; 457 were 8-17). And more than one-fifth (21%) of spenders say they expect to spend more in the coming year. Biggest spenders? iPhone owners, with 43% of them saying they made virtual goods purchases (up from 28% last year). Next came virtual worlds visitors, 41% of whom say they have bought digital goods.”

2. Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (USA) – Caprica, Gamer, & Surrogates: Overlooked Benefits of Virtual Worlds. “In its first season, Caprica has done an excellent job of exploring the ethical issues relating to V-World (the virtual world created by the ultra-rich Daniel Graystone), looking at the dangers of becoming overly immersed in V-World, and whether an avatar constitutes a real person. Also in the past year, we’ve seen Gamer and Surrogates, two movies that explore some common themes with interesting parallels to those in Caprica. In Caprica, Tamara Adama’s storyline is what gives us the richest opportunity to explore V-World. Killed in Zoe Graystone’s MAGLEV bombing, a copy of her lives on in V-World as an avatar. Her father Joseph, although he’d never used a holoband before, becomes obsessed in his quest to find her avatar, neglecting his son and turning to drugs to make himself faster in the game. Joseph says Tamara isn’t dead, because according to him the avatar is his daughter. At the same time, Tamara meets a man who’s obsessed with the game as it finally allows him to be something. Tamara suggests that maybe if he didn’t spend all his time in here he would be something out there.”

3. Federal Computer Week (USA) – Government-only virtual world on the way. “Federal employees and managers will be able to meet, interact, train and learn together in a government-only online virtual world being created in the vGov project. The Agriculture and Homeland Security departments, Air Force and National Defense University iCollege have joined to create the vGov virtual world behind a secure firewall that can only be accessed by federal employees with authenticated identities. Paulette Robinson, assistant dean for teaching, learning and technology at the iCollege, said at the Gov 2.0 Expo today the project will use the three-dimensional immersive experience of virtual worlds to bring employees together from locations worldwide for real-time interactions. People will use avatars to appear in the virtual world, where they can chat with other avatars and interact with the environment.”

4. 3 News (New Zealand) – Like a drug: Videogame addiction. “A lot of us can confess to being addicted to videogames. Whether it’s spending your hard-earned moola on the latest console, suffering sleep deprivation, taking days off work or missing homework in order to get your gaming fix. Plenty of you reading this right now will be familiar with the impact that being a gamer can have on your everyday life. However at what point does an enthusiastic pastime get out of hand? Sadly, there have been many cases around the world where gamers have not only destroyed their own lives, but affected the lives of others as well.”

5. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Paper: Second Life, OpenSim best for education. “The Second Life and OpenSim platform are the best bet for educators, according to a white paper released today by virtual worlds research firm Daden Limited. “It is the only one offering reasonable graphics with in-world building tools, and as a result high levels of flexibility,” wrote author David Burden. The platform also offers the largest user community, he added, and a high degree of innovation. “If the shared hosting of the Second Life main or Teen grid are a blocker to adoption — or there is a need [for] access across the age 18 divide — then Second Life Enterprise … or OpenSim may be a solution.”

6. The Online Journalism Review (USA) – Learning by doing: Seeking best practices for immersive journalism. “Ernest Wilson, the dean of the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism, put it like this: What if, after receiving the home and garden section in the morning, the reader could walk right into the section and visit a garden? This bucolic vision reflects one potential scenario for what we are calling at Annenberg “immersive journalism,” a new genre that utilizes gaming platforms and virtual environments to convey news, documentary and non-fiction stories. As a senior research fellow, I am prototyping immersive journalism stories, hoping to discover and create best practices for a burgeoning filed that can capture audiences increasingly accustomed to experiencing digital worlds. The fundamental idea of immersive journalism is to allow the audience to actually enter a virtually recreated scenario representing the news story. The pieces can be built in online virtual worlds, such as Second Life, or produced using a head-tracked head-mounted display system, or HMD.”

7. ARN (Australia) – CeBIT 2010: NBN will lead to crime surge, expert claims. “Vice-president of IT security group Cyveillance, Eric Olson, has warned cybercrime will surge with the increased connectivity of the National Broadband Network (NBN). Olson’s keynote presentation was delivered during CeBIT 2010 in Sydney. He said the benefits of fast and readily available Internet outweighed the negatives, but told communities and governments to be ready for the rise in crime. Large-scale data theft, wage slavery due to Internet gaming and the number of computers being taken over by bots would sharply increase because of the ubiquitous Internet provision provided by the NBN, Olson claimed.”

8. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Red Dead to revive the Western. “The Western genre, long described as dead, could be set for revival thanks to the most anticipated video game of 2010. Red Dead Redemption, from the makers of the hugely successful Grand Theft Auto franchise, has been released to almost immediate and universal critical acclaim. Set in the dying days of the Wild West, RDR is inspired by such Westerns as 1969’s The Wild Bunch and Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.”

9. Seattle Times (USA) – Displays of the future: Smart, bendy, 3D and more. “Talk about gazing into the future. Imagine ultra high-definition TVs not much thicker than a millimeter. How about electronic books made with plastic screens that flex like a magazine? Or perhaps a display that lets you touch a virtual version of yourself on the other side of the glass? The technology to build these crazy new gadgets is being shown in Seattle this week during Display Week, the Society for Information Display conference. A combination science fair and industry bazaar, the event is drawing 6,000 people from most of the companies developing TVs, monitors, touch screens, electronic books and cellphone screens. Inventors and component manufacturers will be showing their latest creations to consumer-electronics companies, looking for technology and materials to build the next iPad or wafer-thin 3-D TV.”

10. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – Club One Uses Virtual Worlds To Battle Obesity. “The Second Life virtual space Club One Island announced that participants in its behavior modification program had lost more than eight pounds over the course of a twelve-week period. A control group that was attempting to modify behavior using the same methods but without the aid of a virtual world lost, on average, slightly less than six pounds per week. Club One attributes the virtual world’s success in aiding weight loss to certain key features of how people interact with virtual spaces. “Club One Island is a new approach to health that encourages individuals and organizations to rethink how we deal with obesity issues in this country,” said Celeste DeVaneaux, Creative Director of Club One Island, in a press statement. “Program participants are very pleased with their weight loss results and we believe that there are tremendous implications for companies, health insurance providers, and governments looking to reduce the burden of health care costs and improve the lives of entire populations.”

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