Linden Lab acquires experimental game studio LittleTextPeople

Spotted this little snippet on Gamasutra:

Second Life developer Linden Lab has acquired the experimental game studio LittleTextPeople, which specializes in exploring the emotional possibilities of interactive fiction.This marks the first acquisition for Linden Lab since former Sims developer Rod Humble took over as CEO in 2010, and falls in line with the comapny’s new strategy to experiment with game design and develop products beyond Second Life. LittleTextPeople, founded by writer Emily Short and Maxis veteran Richard Evans, has so far focused on the development of software that replicates complex social interaction. For instance, among its internal technology is a simulator that models social behavior and individual personalities.

The article goes on to talk about it’s great use in interactive novels. I can see a lot more usefulness beyond that – particularly in the education and simulation sphere. I doubt that’s the direction LL will take it however. You can also view the full press release here.

The pic on this post is from Botgirl Questi’s blog – check the brilliant pic out in full there.

28 Australian Tertiary Institutions in Joint Paper on Second Life

If you were in any doubt on the level of cooperation in Australia amongst educators, this may clarify it for you just a little:

28 Australian higher education institutions released a joint paper at the ascilite 2011 Conference between the 4th-7th of December at the University of Tasmania in Hobart.The paper, titled, “How are Australian higher education institutions contributing to change through innovative teaching and learning in virtual worlds?”, was a landmark event bringing together all these institutions and was made possible in part by the close cooperation forged among Australian institutions of higher learning via the Australian and New Zealand Virtual Worlds Working Group.

I’m a member of the Virtual Worlds Working Group, albeit a very inactive one at present – if you’re interested in getting involved drop them a line.

Via uwainsl.blogspot.com.au

Jibe platform walkthrough

I spent some time in recent weeks with John “Pathfinder” Lester, formerly of Linden Lab and now Director of Community Development at Reaction Grid. The purpose was for a walkthrough of the Jibe platform, which is a merger of Unity3D and other technologies to make a more comprehensive learning experience. I hooked up with John for a tour as I’m actively looking for a platform on which to base my upcoming research.

To say the walkthrough was a revelation was a bit of an understatement. I’d made the decision more than a year ago that I wouldn’t be using Second Life as the platform for my proposed simulation environment. My reasons for that are numerous but it basically came down to fine detail – I’ve seen a few demos of the Unity3D engine in action and for what I’m looking for it’s a markedly superior option, even factoring in Second Life’s potential development path over the coming 2-3 years. So, I was working under the assumption of a Unity3D only option – until I checked out Jibe.

So what is it? I’ll quote the official blurb as it summarises it pretty well:

The Jibe platform is an extensible architecture that uses a middleware abstraction layer to communicate with multiple backend systems (currently SmartFox & Photon) and frontends (currently Unity3D)

For the layperson, it means that aside from the 3D environment you’re interacting with, Jibe can bring in data from other systems. Whether it’s web content, 3D or other graphical content, it can be integrated into the viewing experience. Here’s a graphic demonstrating it:


(Click on the picture for full size)

For the educator / clinician wanting to create an immersive and realistic simulation, all this is essentially technical information that doesn’t need to be known. Which leads me to what impressed most with Jibe: the interface itself. Although I’d argue the overall browsing interface could do with some input from a designer (read: it’s not pretty), it does intrinsically work and removes a lot of the downsides research to date has shown about using Second Life or OpenSim on its own. Let’s use an example:

(Click here for the full size version)

What you’re seeing here is my avatar standing in front of a model of a virus. In this case it’s the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). I can rotate the virus, check out all it’s aspects and when clicking on it, related information (in this case simple Wikipedia entry on HIV) opens in the same browser window I’m using. Obviously it doesn’t have to be Wikipedia – the sky’s the limit. Above the Unity window are a bunch of social media buttons allowing you to share information you’re interacting with.

If you refer to the Jibe graphic further above, remember that essentially anything can be bolted into the Jibe platform. If I were to use this platform I’d be looking at some sort of database connection that allowed me to have common clinical pathways viewed step by step as an avatar completes the task. You can also choose to have key content networked or local, meaning you could ‘phase’content for people progressing through the simulation at different paces. It’s all doable, it just takes time to set-up. As far as creating content, any pre-fab stuff from the Unity3D store can be pulled into Jibe.

If you’re interested in finding out more, this introduction to Jibe is useful. As far as pricing goes, check out the ReactionGrid Shop for options.

After spending around an hour being shown around Jibe, it really struck me how far advanced it was as a tool for educators compared to Second Life in particular. That statement is very dependent on the type of education occurring, but for more intricate work, the Unity3D interface combined with the use of well recognised standards for better interoperability, makes Jibe a very tasty option indeed.

Channel 7 jumps on the Second Life bandwagon: 5 years late

You’ve got to love tabloid media. Hot on the heels of Tuesday’s radio feature on Second Life, Channel 7’s Sunrise program has run a story called “Second Life Controversy: Is the online community ruining our reality?”.

No, you haven’t missed anything, this is the same ‘controversy’ that got so much media attention during 2006. There’s no new issue that’s led to this media coverage – it’s just the sad reality that someone on the Sunrise show was listening to the radio on Tuesday and decided they’d better do a story.

Now before you think I’m sounding too cynical, I do have to give credit to Sunrise for attempting some balance. Psychologist Les Posen is given some good airtime to give an overview of some of the great work going on in Second Life. Rhett Woods from Linden Lab doesn’t get much chance to say anything really aside from emphasising the creative basis of SL. Anyway, have a look for yourself:

Given this same mainstream media focus has been going on for over five years now, you have to wonder when things will move to a more nuanced perspective?

Over to you: would love to hear your thoughts.

Rod Humble (and I) talk SL on Australian radio about Second Life

An interesting morning, with Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble and myself being invited to appear on the Kyle and Jackie O show.

For Australian readers, you’ve probably heard about Kyle Sandilands in particular, so I went into the interview with eyes wide open on how balanced the interview would be.

As expected it was a predictable angle, paraphrased as “Hey, look at those freaky people who give up their life to go into Second Life”. That said, Kyle Sandilands was the comparative voice of reason out of the two hosts, at least keeping an open mind.

It’s worth a listen to hear how Linden Lab’s CEO deals with a tabloid approach to Second Life. Not surprisingly the piece opens with Sissy, a self-proclaimed SL addict. Have a listen for yourself and here’s a link to 2Day FM’s podcast of 17th January. It did make the cut – as predicted, sex pose balls make for good listening in the tabloid world.

Linden Lab’s take on 2011… and 2012

Whilst catching up on news around the place, I noticed this post from Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble:

As we head into the new year, I’d like to share some highlights from 2011, as well as a glimpse of what’s to come in 2012.

First, if you haven’t already, I hope you will explore our recently launched Linden Realms, the Lab’s first-ever game prototype. For newbies, it is a very simple way to earn L$, so hop on over and start collecting gems.

One of the key goals of Linden Realms was to learn more about what tools Residents could use to develop richer experiences in Second Life — and boy, did we learn a lot! In Q1 2012 , we will be releasing new tools used to develop Linden Realms, which will allow Residents to create even richer original experiences in Second Life. To prevent abuse of these tools, we will introduce a “creators” program in which verified members will be given access to these very powerful capabilities.

In 2011, we also made strides to improve usability in Second Life. We launched a new version of the Viewer, which allows you to customize the user interface for a more flexible workspace with drag-and-drop buttons, among other key new features. The new Viewer also makes it easier for new Residents to discover essential, basic functions — so, with the simple click of a button, you can change your appearance, go to a new location, find inworld merchants or head on over to the Second Life Marketplace.

Speaking of customization, since we deployed Mesh earlier this year, we’ve seen more than a 16 percent adoption rate. I expect this to continue to grow at a strong pace as more and more Residents take advantage of all the features available to allow you explore Second Life and create even more engaging, exciting experiences.

This past year, we also improved the customer experience with expanded Premium subscription benefits that include virtual gifts, as well as exclusive areas where you can go and create. One of the other benefits of being a Premium member is ownership of a Linden Home, which I’m pleased to report has reached an historic high. For those of you who have enjoyed owning a Linden Home and are looking for a little more real estate, you can check out what is available on the Second Life Land Store and through private-estate purchases and rentals found through Second Life Search. In 2012, you can expect to see more value added to Premium in the form of additional features and content. If you are not yet a Premium member, you can sign up here!

In 2012, the primary engineering focus of Q1 will be server side performance and fixing bugs. In fact, you may have noticed one upgrade deployed this week which should reduce the number of restarts and increase performance for all regions. This kind of work makes for a poor headline, but has enormous payoff for the customer experience. We will also continue to invest in and focus on our customer support, reducing response times and increasing satisfaction.

For landowners, existing land tier pricing will not go up in 2012. In addition, our service and quality focus in 2012 also means that we will be delivering features and policies that we believe will significantly assist merchants and landowners in running a business more profitably.

For creators our first new feature for 2012 will be pathfinding. Because worlds feel most vibrant when they are full of life, one of our next focuses for Second Life is the ability to make high-quality “life” within it. So in 2012, we will be rolling out more advanced features that will allow the creation of artificial life and artificial people to be much smoother. For starters, in Q1, we’ll unveil a new, robust pathfinding system that will allow objects to intelligently navigate around the world while avoiding obstacles. Combined with the tools from Linden Realms this will make the polished creation of full MMORPG’s or people/animal simulators within Second Life easier and of high quality.

In addition to delivering new features and increasing our support for Second Life, we will be launching some completely different products next year not related to Second Life. Some of them will be very experimental, but all will fit within our company’s proud history of enabling creativity, which I hope may interest some of you.

Thank you again for being a customer have a great holiday and a Happy New Year!

So overall, some interesting stuff on the horizon including some non-Second Life products from Linden Lab. I’d be pretty happy if even half of the Second Life changes above were implemented, so here’s hoping.

2011 virtual worlds predictions review

Star Wars: The Old Republic - not a WoW killer, yet

Another year, another look back at predictions made a year ago. It’s been quite a year in some ways and a little stagnant in others.

More on that in reviewing the predictions, but first here’s my hit rate over the years – some of the predictions themselves are good for a laugh at least:

2010: 4 out of 9 correct

2009: 7 out of 10 correct

2008: 5 out of 7 correct

Onto 2011, here’s the predictions made and the actual outcomes:

1. Second Life

It’s fair to say that Linden Lab had a mixed year during 2010 with Second Life. 2011 is likely to be even more turbulent. I’m not going to fence sit on this one too much: the next 12 months will see Linden Lab finally sold to a big tech player based in the US. Whether it’s bought out or not, expect some more significant user-interface improvements but an overall decline in number of hours in-world per user. That decline will be driven primarily by diffusion as dedicated content creators, educators and long-term residents increasingly spread out to OpenSim grids, Blue Mars etc . Second Life might see an increase in concurrency, coming from the more casual / social users attracted by an easier to use interface. That seems to be Linden Lab’s strategy anyway. Oh – and legally compliant gambling will be provided in-world by Linden Lab.

Giving myself a half-pass, based on the user hours and user-interface improvements, but totally missed the mark with Linden Lab provided gambling and concurrency increases.

2. OpenSim

The safe prediction here is ongoing growth, but beyond that it’s a pretty murky picture. Consolidation is one of the clearer trends: a handful of grid providers will probably hold some dominance, with a skew of smaller / solo grids running. Hypergrid protocols are ever-improving, but for wider-adoption the larger providers will play a key role assuming they can keep delivering good service with a growing userbase. So overall: continued growth and emergence / consolidation of larger grid providers.

Pass – this was an easy prediction anyway, but I’m sure all would agree growth has continued, albeit at a slower pace than some would have expected.

3. Blue Mars

Over the past year Blue Mars has been continuing to evolve and has picked up a cohort of Second Life content creators. Assuming the funding keeps coming in, that growth is likely to continue although it’s doubtful that 2011 will see Blue Mars reach full launch and if it does, expect a slow but promising level of uptake by new users. Unless Second Life has a major stumble, Blue Mars won’t be in its league as far as content or user numbers during 2011 – 2012 may be a different story though depending on how things pan out with both camps.

Fail – Although Blue Mars is still pumping along as a predominantly mobile platform, from what I can see progress has remained slow and development of the PC client was discontinued.
The final sentence of my prediction remains pretty pertinent however.

4. The casual phenomenon

The casual worlds on platforms like Facebook will continue to fragment. Numbers will continue to grow but at a much slower rate. Fatigue with the limitations will also grow as people debate the merit of these worlds versus more traditional casual games (think Bejeweled etc). Not surprisingly there will also be a lot of underperforming worlds that close – exacerbating the fatigue with the genre from more experienced users.

Pass – growth has continued, with more offerings (including the launch of Sims Social on Facebook) and plenty of under-performers.

5. Media and societal acceptance

The coming year will see increasing focus on how we interact in virtual environments. The Microsoft Kinect is already receiving a lot of attention, and the media are likely to latch onto the theme of improving physical activity whilst highlighting the odd case of severe addiction/injury. Nothing new there really – the difference over time however is the growing acceptance that these developments need to be incorporated into society’s thinking on a range of issues. Key educators and policy-makers have known this for years but that widespread acceptance (if not understanding) is certainly taking a big step during 2011.

Pass – although measuring this one is difficult. The Kinect certainly did create a lot of interest and acceptance and overall media coverage of virtual environments as a novelty has decreased dramatically. The continued growth in use of social gaming worlds and rapid uptake in smart phone usage has further embedded virtual worlds into the developed world mindset in particular.

6. Government

The momentum with virtual worlds at the US Government level is significant, driven primarily by intertwined military and health-care needs. Beyong that 2011 seems a pretty arid zone on the government side. Although there are potential cost-savings in the longer-term, most European governments aren’t in a financial state to invest heavily in ‘cutting edge’ work. In the Asia-Pacific I’m always surprised at the lack of overt work in the area and don’t expect 2011 to be any different. On the home front, the national political scene is favourable only from the viewpoint of the National Broadband Network rolling out. Government 2.0 initiatives are at a fairly early stage and virtual environments aren’t playing any active role in that anyway at this stage.

Pass – the US Government continue their predominantly military focused work in the area, but most other governments haven’t progressed dow the road far, if at all.

7. Browser-based evolution

Like it or not, people want the ease of a browser-based virtual world without losing too much of the complexity. This year will see that trend continue with some good new options emerging. Using Second Life as an example, development is well underway both at Linden Lab and externally. What you definitely won’t see this year however is a browser-based experience as good as the standalone offering. That’s well over 12 months away but it is coming.

Pass – excellent progress has been made, but still lots more work to do. Kitely was one offering demonstrating that this year., but there are plenty of others.

8. Gaming Worlds

2011 is actually a huge year for MMOs. The key event will be the launch of Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). We’ve been following it pretty closely and so far it’s looking like it’ll be successful. There’ll be a lot of talk about SWTOR being a World of Warcraft killer. That’s a lot of hyperbole (for 2011 at least) but expect it to pick up a very significant user base in a short time. To be more specific, by end of 2011 I’d expect subscriber numbers to be sitting between two and three million minimum.

World of Warcraft itself will see fairly steady or slightly declining numbers maintained by the recent Cataclysm expansion, with continued dominance of the market for the coming year.

Pass – World of Warcraft has dropped some subscribers but easily maintained its dominance. Star Wars: The Old Republic launch just this month instead of April, but has already hit a million subscribers a week after launch.

9. Business

Absolute status quo: there will be no increased level of traction with business beyond some further acceptance of virtual meeting solutions. The ROI equation for business till isn’t clear enough, making adoption of virtual worlds technologies an exception to the rule. Good research (see Point 10 below) will be crucial for this to change.

Pass – sadly.

10. Research and Development

The number of virtual worlds research projects will continue to increase, with a particular focus on areas such as simulation and the neuropsychological aspects of virtual reality. The simulation research will be pivotal in building solid cases for business, non-government and government adoption of the technology. In an environment where more and more human services professionals are needed in an ageing population, simulation makes huge sense and will be a key driver in the medium term.

Pass – virtual worlds research continues to grow in a range of areas. I can personally vouch for this with my own studies, as I monitor weekly any new research and its frequency continues to increase.

———-

8.5 out of ten this year, although a couple of the predictions were pretty safe ones. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the year that was, or to post links to your own review of predictions!

We’re still here! A quick update

Just a quick note to update on three things:

1. Apologies for the less frequent posting over the past month or so – work and study have combined to limit my time. The frustrating thing is my study is 100% virtual worlds related so I’m coming across lots of great information that I haven’t had time to write about. Which leads to point two:

2. As I come across information I’ve decided to use Scoop.it to publish interesting pieces from across the web to this site. It’ll be no more than one or two a day, but as always I’d appreciate feedback on whether you find this useful. You can also view our full Metaverse News magazine on Scoop.it as well.

3. I’ll be continuing to write regularly myself on the field, so thanks for sticking with the site. We’ve got some interesting posts in the works, so keep on reading.

Grand Finale: UWA 3D Open Art Challenge

Once again the University of Western Australia’s Second Life presence has pulled off a brilliant Art Challenge, and for the second year in a row I’ve had the privilege of being a judge. This year there were a lot more entries, making the judging both more challenging and more fun. It also showcases the improvements to Second Life as far as the detail of art works submitted.

You can check out the list of finalists below, but first here’s a few visual snippets that stood out for me during the judging (click on image for the full size version):

Have a look for yourself – it’s a few hours very well spent.

Once again I’d like to thank the UWA’s Jayjay Zifanwe for the chance to play a small role in what remains one of the pre-eminent virtual worlds art installations in the world.

Finalists

FINALISTS FOR UWA 3D OPEN ART CHALLENGE OVERALL PRIZE

(in reverse Klingon alphabetical order):

ONE OF THESE ARTWORKS WILL WIN L$100,000

1. FLY WITH THE WIND by Josina Burgess
2. FOR YOUR VIEWING PLEASURE by Miso Susanowa
3. THE GLOWING SERPENT by Ginger Alsop
4. LAZER BALLS by Betty Tureaud
5. DREAM OF THE COLD SLEEPER by Typote Beck
6. IL PLEUT SUR MON COEUR COMME IL PLEUT SUR LA VILLE (“It’s raining in my heart, as it’s raining in the town”) by Cherry Manga
7. TRAVEL IN THE SHADOW OF TECHNOLOGY by Anley Piers
8. PARANORMAL FROTTAGE by Misprint Thursday
9. THE ILLUSIONIST by Gleman Jun
10. LIGHT TOWER by Betty Tureaud
11. TURNING THE TIDE by Nish Mip
12. CHOOSE YOUR BLOSSOM by Suzanne Graves
13. SYMPHONY IN THE BARREL OF A GUN by Arrow Inglewood
14. PLANET CENSORED by Anley Piers
15. STRANGE PLANT…UGLYNESS & BEAUTY by Claudia222 Jewel
16. THE RHYTHM OF MOOD – Lea Supermarine & Jarapanda Snook
17. DIGITAL GLOVE by Misprint Thursday
18. THE WILD WILD WORLD OF ILLUSION by RazorZ & Olga Soulstar
19. THE MINOTAUR OF CARTON by Typote Beck
20. ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Cherry Manga
21. SHATTERED by Ginger Alsop
22. THE FRAGILITY OF THE SOUL IS NOT A DEFECT by Gleman Jun
23. SPANISH BULL by Silene Christen
24. TROIS PETITS TOURS ET PUIS S’EN VA (Three little turns and it goes away) by Josiane Sorciere
25. JUNGLE CHALLENGE by Dusty Canning
26. THE DOCK SPIRIT by Scottius Polke
27. ULTRA VIOLET by quadrapop Lane
28. THEATRE OF WAR by Miso Susanowa
29. VENUSTRAP by Claudia222 Jewell
30. ONE AND FOUR TIMEBOARDS by L1Aura Loire
31. UNE HORDE DE CORDES by Aristide Despres
32. 5×8 COMPUND CUBE by Wizard Gynoid
33. TIME AS A HELIX OF SEMI-PRECIOUS STONES by Miso Susanowa
34. THE HUMANICAL FROG by Lollito Larkham
35. HERE COMES THE SUN by Sledge Roffo
36. TV MORNING EXERCISES by Dusty Canning
37. PIUME DI PAVONE by Nino Vichan
38. DANGLING NARROW CHAIN DEMONSTRATOR by Emilin Nakamori
39. HARMONIES IN C GREAT (+) by Artistide Despres
40. NOT EVERYTHING IS PLAIN BLACK & WHITE by Fuschia Nightfire
41. LIVING FRACTAL by June Clavenham
42. THE MATTER OF IDEAS by Gleman Jun
43. THE SUPERHEROES BREAKFAST by Typote Beck
44. DOWN ON THE DATA FARM by Miso Susanowa
45. PETITE ETUDE SUR OLIVIER MESSIAEN by Artistide Despres
46. OMNIPOTENT by Pixels Sideways
47. THE CHASM by Oberon Onmura
48. EXCERPTS FROM REALITIES by Glyph Graves
49. THE ABANDONED DAUGHTER by Eliza Wierwight
50. YOU CAN’T TOUCH HEAVEN by paleIllusion
51. AUTUMN by nexuno Thespian
52. THE CROSSING by Nish Mip
53. FANTASIA EN LA SOMBRA by Romy Nayar
54. PRIMSCAPE DREAM by Sledge Roffo
55. 99% by Harter Fall
56. BLACK SHIRT by Misprint Thursday
57. IN DREAMS by Blue Tsuki
58. SWALLOWED UP BY THE CROWD by Fuschia Nightfire
59. L’IMPATIENCE by Josiane Sorciere

FINALISTS FOR THE NON-SCRIPTED PRIZE, UWA 3D OPEN ART CHALLENGE

1. THE COPPER BEECH by soror Nishi
2. LOSS by Gingered Alsop
3. MISS N by Suzanne Graves
4. DAUGHTER OF THE WIND by Fae Varriale
5. GECKO ON THE GEKKO by Yooma Mayo
6. SHATTERED by Ginger Alsop
7. THE FRAGILITY OF THE SOUL IS NOT A DEFECT by Gleman Jun
8. TRIBUTE TO GOYA by Silene Christen
9. MARIONETTE by Haveit Neox
10. HISTORY IN CREAM by Haveit Neox
11. FATA DANZANTE by Daco Monday
12. SPATIAL by Sledge Roffo
13. SPRING BOX by Cherry Manga
14. TRUST by spirit Radikal
15. TUNNEL WITH LIGHT AT THE END OF IT by RazorZ
16. HURDLE by Corcosman Voom
17. BEHIND COLUMNS by Harter Fall
18. BIRDSONG by Cherry Manga
19. YOU CAN’T TOUCH HEAVEN by paleIllusion
20. STILL LIFE by soror Nishi
21. 99% by Harter Fall
22. THE REVOLT OF THE MANNEQUINS by Silene Christen
23. USED PIECES by Secret Rage
24. SMALL PIECE OF HELL, The Suicide Forest Infested by Harpias by Rebeca Bashly

The Watch – virtual worlds in the news

1. Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) – Little big online world. “Sydney’s Bubble Gum Interactive has built a colourful new online world for kids they describe as a “virtual playground”. Screen Play recently caught up with Paul Gray, director of marketing and community management at the studio to chat about their new venture and issues like the challenges of raising funds for such an ambitious project, the difficulty of convincing parents that it is a safe space for their kids, and the balance between entertainment and education.”

2. She Knows (USA) – Virtual World Games Tweens and Teens Love. “If your child has outgrown Club Penguin and Webkinz, consider some of these popular virtual worlds suited for tweens. You should always check out a virtual world website before letting your child participate and use parental controls if available and necessary.

Ty Girlz — Geared toward tween and teen girls, this virtual world site is unlocked with the purchase of a Ty Girlz doll. Inside Ty Girlz, your daughter will find cool apartments, clothes, makeovers and games.

Wizard101 — Kids who love Harry Potter adore Wizard101. This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) allows players to start as a novice wizard and then accept quests, collect gold and gain equipment as they aim to save the Spiral.

Stardoll — Based on the concept of paper dolls, Stardoll is a virtual world where players dress up dolls, participate in games, create clubs, socialize with friends and more. This popular virtual world website features over 124 million users.

SecretBuilders — Players immerse themselves in virtual lands, undertake quests, maintain a home, play games and interact with friends. SecretBuilders features stories, themes and characters (both historical and fictional figures) from literature, art and the humanities.”

3. Search Engine Watch (USA) – Mixed Signals in Second Life & Virtual Worlds: Buzz is All Over the Map. “There’s been no shortage of news and buzz in the past two weeks as regards Second Life and virtual worlds in general. Usually, though it all tends in one direction. It’s either good, or bad depending on what’s going on. Interestingly, though, this time, it’s all over the place. I guess if you average it all out it’s the same as it ever was, which is probably not the worst thing in the world. But hey, let’s just lay it out there and you decide.”

4. The Drum (UK) – Dramaforum appoints Dubit to create virtual world. “Finnish publisher Dramaforum has appointed virtual world development studio Dubit to develop a virtual world for its Petra’s Planet franchise. The virtual world will be based on children’s book series Petra, which follows a young girl transported to different countries – such as Senegal, Sri Lanka, Samiland, and Jordan – through her mother’s magical theatre wardrobe.”

5. Huffington Post (UK) – Virtual Worlds and ‘Intimate Computing’: the Future of Digital Play. “The recent story of human-digital interactions is one of steadily increasing closeness: we are moving from merely ‘personal’ computing to something that you might call ‘intimate’ computing. Modern smartphones and tablets, with their touchscreens and their constant presence in our lives, are extensions of our selves in a way that no digital device was even a decade ago. They are the channels through which we interact with even the most important people in our lives. They are where we work and play; where we hang out with friends. They are the first thing many of us touch when we wake in the morning and the last when we go to bed at night. Our relationship with technology is, it seems to me, one that’s increasingly governed by the dynamics of leisure and play. We have an incredibly satisfying sense of control when we are plugged into the best digital tools – and, increasingly, a gnawing sense of anxiety when we are unplugged. There is the pleasure of the most serious kind of play: the agency that comes from transforming the world into a kind of game, full of achievements, progress and certainties.”

6. PopMatters (USA) – Is Virtual the New Reality? “My Second Life avatar walks unsteadily across the screen. She moves in stops and starts as I clumsily direct the keys. I’m new at this game, unsure what I’m supposed to do with her and where should I go. I scan the suggested destinations in the Second Life universe and head over to “London”, where I once studied abroad in my real life. As my avatar navigates the somewhat familiar streets of this virtual London, I wonder about the reality of what I’ve entered. I am an outsider here, a novice explorer in this virtual realm. Though I sit alone at my computer, in the game I’m surrounded by others. Dispersed across the digital sprawl, these gamers are all invested in the shared reality of Second Life. What is this virtual world I am entering into all about? Am I simply playing a game, or am I entering a new reality?”

7. Wired (USA) – Army Wants Virtual Training to Really Hurt. “The military’s newest digital training system is gonna open a can of whoop-ass on new recruits. And maybe a sonic blaster, too. The use of gaming technology, from first-person shooters to virtual worlds, is quickly becoming the military’s mode of choice for training the troops of this generation. But those digital proving grounds come with one major disadvantage: They just don’t hurt enough. That could be about to change, according to a new request for proposals issued by the Army last week, which calls for technology to “create an impulse force that simulates the feel of debris… or bullet strikes.” The request, called “Haptic Feedback for a Virtual Explosion,” certainly sounds like fodder for a new videogame blockbuster. At least until you find your virtual self on a mysterious, dark road, abandoned buildings to both sides, the wind whipping your hair and — KABOOM! — owwwwwwww, getting shot hurts! That’s kinda the idea: Make training as realistic as possible, by giving soldiers a taste of exactly what they should be bracing for in combat. Bombs and bullets, unfortunately, need to be included.”

8. Stuff.co.nz (New Zealand) – Kiwi company gets Disney backing. “A mix of serendipity and word of mouth turned out to be the catalysts for Disney to invest in a virtual-world company founded by a couple of Kiwi blokes. Mitch Olson and Darren Green weren’t actively looking for investment in their start-up Small Worlds, when they attended a virtual worlds conference in San Jose at the beginning of 2008. But by chance, Olson bumped in to a Disney executive who was looking to invest in companies. Olson and Green explained their vision to him and six months later the world’s largest media group had injected funds in to their virtual baby, and Small Worlds was born.”

9. Delaware News Journal (USA) – Unlock your virtual potential. “Basked in the glow of the computer humming quietly in her living room, Kimberly Winnington is creating worlds limited only by imagination. Within those worlds, people can fly effortlessly, explore endlessly. They can discover new experiences, learn things they never knew, all without leaving their chairs or stepping outside of their homes. Winnington is in the business of bringing people — and other businesses — into a digital world that she believes has been largely ignored. Working with partners located in faraway states, she has the capability of creating three-dimensional programs that allow real-world people — students, or even a business’s customers — to walk, talk and even interact.”

10. Sky News (UK) – Investigation: Paedophilia And Second Life. “Five years ago it seemed as if the whole internet might be swallowed by virtual worlds. Imagine: you can change your age, colour and sex. Avatars can buy clothes, own houses purchased with money convertible to currency in the real world, and yes, have virtual sex with each other. Eight million people inhabited one virtual world called Second Life. The possibilities for wrongdoing were very real. So when my editor asked me to create an avatar and investigate crime in this virtual world, it was not long before one user contacted me with a disturbing tale. Her avatar, called Harmony, was a winged angel. We met on a virtual island where she told me about the Second Life place called “Wonderland”. “It’s a paedophile ring,” she said. “They do all sorts of dreadful things.” Wonderland was a candy-coloured children’s playground with a mix of child and adult avatars. The adults were tall and domineering, the children petite but sexually attired in mini-skirted school uniforms.”

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