The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Wired (USA) – Geeky Gamers Build Working Computers out of Virtual Blocks. “Ben Craddock has been busy gathering Redstone. He collects blocks of the virtual material from deep within the game world of Minecraft, then pulverizes it into a powder and sets to work. For most Minecraft players, Redstone might wind up in a virtual torch that will light their way when the sun goes down or open doors to underground traps in the game. But Craddock, 21, who goes by the handle ‘theinternetftw,’ has something else in mind: He’s trying to engineer a single bit of memory that’s small enough to snap onto a 16-bit arithmetic logic unit, or ALU, a key component in a working computer that he’s already built out of virtual stone blocks inside the game. “We have lots of programs designed to [help us] learn to build chips,” says Craddock, an undergraduate student in computer science at the University of Georgia, whose Minecraft computer simulation video rivaled Britney Spears in popularity on YouTube last week. “All of them are very clinical. In a game, it becomes a challenge to overcome the limitations. It’s a visceral, engaging reaction.”

2. Escapist Magazine (USA) – Second Life Study Focuses on Real-World Addictions. “People seem to keep on coming up with new, bizarre, and fascinating uses for Second Life. The latest, created by a UCLA PHD candidate, was to use the digital world to study how virtual drug paraphernalia would affect the cravings of a meth addict. Chris Culbertson was inspired to create this experiment thanks to “reports of alcoholics and smokers developing cravings while visiting virtual worlds devised by addiction researchers.” So he created a virtual meth house and then invited seventeen meth addicts to navigate the construct while under observation at UCLA. Aside from filling out questionnaires while they proceeded through the house, the addicts’ heart rates were monitored to study their cravings.”

3. Hypergrid Business (Hong Kong) – Initiative: free land for educators migrating from Second Life. “The Immersive Education Initiative, a Boston-based non-profit coalition, announced today that it will offer free land, and free migration services, for educators working in Second Life’s Teen Grid. The Initiative currently provides thousands of OpenSim regions to members around the world through its Education Grid project, Aaron Walsh, founding director of the Immersive Education Initiative, told Hypergrid Business. “The Immersive Education Initiative has approximately 3,000 members worldwide and continues to grow at the rate of approximately 100 new members a month,” he said. About 75 percent of those members use virtual worlds provided by the Education grid, and the majority of those are private, secure OpenSim-based worlds, he added.”

4. WoW Insider (USA) – The Lawbringer: Real money transactions and some eBay history. “eBay and massively multiplayer online role playing games have a deep, rich and occasionally sordid past. As social beings, we’ve been bartering, trading and selling our time and goods for the entirety of human history. The internet just made things even easier. Hell, buying some gold or an item off of eBay isn’t the first time you’ve probably spent money for a work-around in a game. Ever heard of Game Genie? We paid money for that at one point in our lives. This week, The Lawbringer delves into the past, remembering the good ol’ days when the internet came in three varieties: 28.8k, 33.6k and 56k v.90. Also, 14.4k, but only losers had such weak baud. Please don’t make me go back further in time. You’re probably making modem sounds right now, pretending to go ksshhhh ksshhhh bee doo be dooo wha wha wha wha wha wha wha beeboobeeboobeebeeboobeep, so we should probably start this up. These were the days when you could browse eBay for a Silver Sword of Vanquishing for Ultima Online or buy plat in EverQuest. These were the homesteading, Wild West days. Eventually, companies either went the EverQuest route and sold stuff themselves or the Star Wars Galaxies path of banning accounts up for sale. ”

5. Marketing Week (UK) – The responsibility of brands engaging with children online. “As brands turn to online environments, social networks and virtual worlds to engage with a younger audience, the responsibility they have to keep them safe within those environments is becoming increasingly clear. Teenage brains are still developing and, according to a study by Laurence Steinberg, professor of psychology at the US Temple University, this lack of maturity results in an ’underdeveloped sense of responsibility,’ ’impetuous and ill-considered actions and decisions’, and a greater likelihood of being subject to peer pressure and negative influence.”

6. CNET (USA) – Nukotoys aims for next-generation toy empire. “To hear Rodger Raderman and Doug Penman tell it, one of the biggest shortcomings of the modern toy industry is that it has little in common with Silicon Valley. And the two are here to remedy that situation. Raderman and Penman are the co-founders and co-CEOs of Nukotoys, a San Francisco-based company that is aiming to take the best elements of the Silicon Valley startup–rapid prototyping, interactive technology, nimbleness, financial efficiency, and scalability–and apply them to the business of making fun, engaging, and educational toys worthy of the second decade of the 21st century. For sure, that means a mixture of offline and online presences, but Nukotoys hopes to win over millions of kids–and their parents, of course–by bringing a special blend of mixed-media and online and offline interactivity to a series of games that are tied in to some of the most popular franchises and media properties in the world.”

7. (USA) – Farmville: Not Just Fun And Games. “Farmville, Mafia Wars, Restaurant City. All Internet games that can be played on sites like Facebook. But click on the wrong places in these virtual worlds and players could lose real money without even knowing it. Some third-party advertisers are preying on the popularity of games on social networking sites. Farmville has more than 60 million users. CNN reported in September that it may be the most widely played video game in existence. Deceptive Internet ads offer Farmville currency by just filling out an IQ quiz. To get the results, users are asked to send their cell phone number and enter a code–and the scam is complete. Then a fee, $10 a month or more, starts appearing on their cell phone bill.”

8. ZDNet (USA) – Gartner: 3DTV, 4G, cloud, activity streams at peak of hype cycle. “Gartner is out with its 2010 hype cycle and 3DTV, 4G, activity streams and cloud computing are at the peak of inflated expectations. It’s doubtful any of those items will be all that surprising. More interesting are the technologies headed toward the “trough of disillusionment,” an area where virtual worlds resides. E-book readers, telepresence and microblogging are also on the slippery slope to disillusionment, according to a statement.”

9. The Detroit News (USA) – GM’s high-tech scanner puts vehicles on virtual roads. “Buick is tackling the world’s roughest, most challenging roads — with a 3-D scanner. A team of engineers at General Motors Co. have created a high-tech scanner that can record all the bumps and grooves of a road’s surface and digitally replicate them on the computer screen. The goal is to use them in vehicle testing without having to put the cars and trucks on real world roads. Of course, a virtual road requires virtual tires and a virtual vehicle, which engineers are creating at GM, said Mine Tasci, one of about 10 members on the development team. “This helps us avoid a lot of late changes in the vehicle’s development,” Tasci said. “It definitely helps with identifying problems early on.”

10. Virtual Worlds News (USA) – MuniGov Launches GovGrid Project. “MuniGov has launched the GovGrid, an OpenSim-based virtual world designed for use by local government agencies. Land in GovGrid is priced at $25 per month per region with a $50 setup fee. A four-region “mini-grid” costs $75 per month, with a $220 setup fee. From 10 to 15 avatars can occupy any region at the same time. Full estate management tools will be available, as well as the ability to connect to other grids. MuniGov’s creation of GovGrid was prompted by an announcement that land prices for non-profit organizations in Second Life would double beginning in January. At the time, MuniGov was holding meetings in land donated by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). Following the announcement, NOAA announced that it would have to close down the sim that MuniGov was using. This forced MuniGov to begin organizing a move to OpenSim. ”

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