The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Virtual pigs and chooks see payday for crooks: NSW Police. “Virtual worlds like FarmVille and World of Warcraft are being used by criminals to launder money, say NSW Police, who have discovered that buying and selling virtual items and currency is a growing new way of cleaning dirty money. NSW Police Detective Superintendent Commander Colin Dyson said the “relatively new” trend provided an “emerging opportunity for criminals”. “Any opportunity that is present on the internet for criminals to use they’ll obviously exploit it [and] take advantage of it” he said in a telephone interview today. “It’s certainly something we’re looking at.”

2. The Times Leader (USA) – Virtual worlds bring about ‘e’conomy, but where is it all headed? Tech Talk NICK DELORENZO. “You’ll never get anywhere in life if you sit at home and play games. So the wisdom goes. Unless, of course, you’re really good at it — and you happen to be playing in the brave new online world. The younger generation can tell you all about World of Warcraft, EVE Online, and the like — the so called Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games — or MMORPG for short. People play these games obsessively — spending hours or even an entire day immersed in a virtual world where they fight demons, pilot spaceships, embark on quests, and perform other arcane tasks, all in pursuit of a bevy of achievements, badges, and rewards. These games also feature another aspect: a virtual economy.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Back to Basics: Linden Lab Releases a Basic Viewer. “There are a number of themes that keep recurring when you discuss Second Life specifically, and more generally, virtual worlds and Internet business itself. One is “How do you capture and retain new users?” This has been an especially large challenge for Linden Lab over the years, and more and more time and resources have been devoted to meeting that challenge. The latest effort on the part of Linden Lab comes in the form of a new viewer, simply called Basic.”

4. USA Today (USA) – 3D Voice comes to ‘DC Universe Online’ on Sony PlayStation 3 and PC. “3D is all the rage now. Nintendo’s 3DS handheld is in stores. Games such as Crysis 2 and the upcoming SOCOM 4: U.S. Navy Seals are playable in 3D on compatible TVs. Now coming to games: 3D voice. Voice technology company Vivox, which already provides 3D voice to virtual worlds such as Second Life and games such as APB and Bloodlines Champions, is bringing the technology to DC Universe Online on the PC and, for the first time, the PlayStation 3.”

5. Education Week (USA) – Games and Simulations Help Children Access Science. “Want to know what it’s like to stalk elk, or a mate, from the vantage point of a wild animal? Educators at the Minnesota Zoo, located in a suburb south of the Twin Cities, created just such an online game a few years ago that has proved immensely popular—and educational. Called WolfQuest, it allows players to learn about wolf ecology by exploring Yellowstone National Park as that creature.”

6. (Canada) – Nintendo’s 3DS portable game system as groundbreaking as the Wii console. “Heavens to Murgatroyd – the images are jumping right off the screen! Nintendo Inc. has done it again. Discounted by many as a has-been prior to its groundbreaking Wii gaming console, Nintendo now is ushering in a new era of three-dimensional (3D) video gaming with the release of its 3DS portable gaming console. The most appealing part of the technology? No glasses are required to see the video game characters leap to life. The 3DS, which is similar in size to the company’s popular DS console, uses something called “parallax-barrier” technology – a thin film coating the device’s screen does the work of a pair of polarized 3D glasses. The 3D effect is crisp, clean and superior to almost all of the 3D televisions on the market today.”

7. Bloomberg (USA) – Electronic Arts, Sony Use Crisp Thinking to Fight Cyber Bullies. “Adam Hildreth was a 14-year-old in Leeds, England, when he and six friends started Dubit, a virtual world for other teens, in 1999. The site, which makes money selling advertising aimed at kids socializing in cyberspace, grew quickly to 250,000 users. Dubit struggled to hire enough moderators to keep cyber bullies and other troublemakers in check, at one point needing 50 monitors a day. Human moderation “was never going to scale,” says Hildreth, now 26. Hildreth, who left school at 16 to run Dubit full time, began working on software to detect bad behavior in the game world. The idea became his next company, Crisp Thinking, which he co-founded in 2005. Crisp’s software analyzes users’ language and actions to identify harassment, spamming, or predators who may be “grooming” potential victims. The system can react in real time by automatically warning or banning people who violate a site’s terms of service, or referring them to human moderators.”

8. New Scientist (USA) – How will you cope, living with your avatar? “Hello, future. Gaming systems that drop you into another world, such as Microsoft’s Kinect or Nintendo’s Wii, are just the beginning of what virtual-reality technology has to offer. Get ready for virtual immortality, teleportation, time travel and the ability to be in two places at once. But everything comes at a price. There are those who already worry about how this technology is affecting our brains. And once the digital versions of us become indistinguishable from our real selves, what might this do to our societies? Two of virtual reality’s most prominent researchers have come together to sketch out the landscape of an emerging field I call psychotech – the place where psychology and technology collide to produce something new and exciting. Social and cognitive psychologists Jim Blascovich and Jeremy Bailenson detail the current research – primarily their own – and pose some fascinating questions, which have surprising and important answers.”

9. The Daily Mail (UK) – Number of college students having casual sex on the rise…but virginity makes a comeback too. “Rising numbers of college students are having casual sex – but more are remaining virgins too. Some 72 per cent of both sexes said that during their studies they had at least one ‘hookup’, or one-night stand. But at the same time a quarter said that they were saving themselves for the right person, up from 19 per cent in 2002. Experts said that young people were leading such busy lives they either wanted to wait for the right person or just have a throwaway relationship. But in a worrying twist they also suggested that even the chaste could be going online to have hundreds of ‘virtual partners’ – and still claim to be a virgin in real-life.”

10. Escapist Magazine (USA) –Man Let Son Suffocate Because He Was Playing WoW. “A bad situation is even worse than it sounds: A man on trial for the death of his infant son couldn’t tear himself away from WoW to keep the boy from suffocating. A sailor from King’s Bay is currently on trial for his son’s death because he neglected to notice that the infant was suffocating under a pillow. However, the reason for the father’s neglect is being laid at the feet of popular MMO World of Warcraft: the man claims that he was so engrossed with the game that he couldn’t be bothered to remove the pillow.”

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