Second Life Not Overhyped…

An excellent article has been posted on CNN-Money today from David Kirkpatrick (Fortune, Senior Editor). The article is entitled “No, Second Life is not overhyped“. It is an excellent article and worthy of your attention.

With all the recent press Second Life has been getting, it’s easy to think that Second Life might just be overhyped beyond its true potential. Afterall, to really do anything useful in the Second Life you still need to be pretty adept at computers and 3D interfaces. My 14 year old triplets (yes, you read that right, triplets) have no problem making just about anything in the game. When I told them about the PacRimX project, and that I wanted to get them involved in helping with constructing the island, one of them quickly made a samurai suit and sword for his fox avatar.

Samurai Avatar in SL

But if I were to gather up all the teachers and administrators in my school district, or just about any other school district in the country, I think I would be hard pressed to find more than a handfull that could get around inside the game, and even fewer that could make even a basic shape out of a few prims (the building blocks of Second Life). It’s true that most could be nudged gently into understanding how it works, and inside of an hour many could probably join a few prims together to make something useful. But World of Warcraft (subscriber base of over 7 million users) Second Life is not (estimated current subscriber base of 1 million users, still a nice number compared to many of the other MMO’s).  My 8 year old son has been playing World of Warcaft for the past year. 

To quote from David Kirkpatrick’s article, “Yes it’s cartoony, but one of the great things about Second LIfe is that whenever you are doing anything, you can see the other people who are nearby as well. This brings a dimension of social life – so elemental to how we live our lives offline – to the Internet in a way that up to now the Web has not. In Second Life everything you do is done in a social space, though you can get privacy if you want.” Does this sound like any other environment we are all familiar with? Maybe a classroom?

I gave a newbie on Second Life the other day a quick lesson on how to rez a block prim, how to stretch and flatten it out to a screen, and how to select a single surface to apply a texture/picture to. The topper to the lesson was in spinning it around in front of him to demonstrate the transparency of the texture. Second life begs to be a learning environment. If Second Life had built in support for voice, like There.com it would be an even better learning platform.

We, as educators, are tasked with preparing our students for the future. What is more futuristic than a virtual online global society that crosses all cultural and time boundaries? Some are saying that something like Second Life will eventually replace the flat two dimensional world of the Internet. I think we have yet to see the truly creative uses of Second Life for education, beyond just reproducing a classroom setting.  I’ve only seen a few examples that skew reality and go to the very large, or very small scale that are beyond our real world perception.  Instead of sitting in Second Life attending a lecture, or reading books in-game, we need to develop environments where we can take our students into the human body for a physiology lesson, or shrink down to a molecular scale to manipulate atoms, or maybe even modify the layout of a business to optimize work flows.  I hope we don’t just move our current classrooms into pixelated reproductions on the Internet. 

David Kirkpatrick states that: “Every day more big companies turn their attention to this new medium, realizing that it really represents something new. I’m now convinced that one day Second Life or something related to it will become a Google/Yahoo/MySpace-scale company.”  I agree with that statement, and also believe that it will only achieve that scale if it brings something new, different and useful to the playing field.  We don’t need another version of the world we live in, we need to push out beyond our everyday perceptions of reality and break the rules, change the physics and shatter the traditional models if this is to be something truly revolutonary and educational. 

A few years ago, if a parent was told by their high school student that they wanted to design video games for a living they would have instantly lost all access to anything even resembling a video game, and they would have been sent off to military school to be straightened out.  Trust me, I know the look.  It’s the same look I got when I told my parents back in the 70’s that I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.  Game designer is only recently being accepted by parents as a viable career choice for their children.  Virtual world designer is the astronaut of today’s high school students.

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