I have gone by many names online. Each time I create an avatar I take on a different identity. That is the liberating freedom of these games, their ability to let you slip out of your reality and play someone else in a world far removed from everyday life. My history with playing computer games dates back 25 years, and I’ve been playing MMO’s for the past 10 years.
In 1981 I got my first computer, an Apple II+. I can still remember my first glimpse into a virtual world. I had just booted up a copy of Apple Adventure from a 5.25″ floppy disk, it actually took two floppy disks to load the game. It was late at night and I was sitting in my parent’s living room bathed in the green light of my monochrome screen. A line of text danced across the screen:
“You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully”
The blinking cursor on the screen awaiting my instructions had a hypnotic effect on me as I fell head first into the world of computer games. I played everything I could get my hands on in those days. When I went off to college I was introduced to multiplayer games on the mainframe computer. Some of these games simulated graphics with screens of text. The Apple II+ saw the introduction of graphical games soon after those early text based games. When the IBM PC came out a few years later the screen resolution increased with the processor speeds. Graphics got better, stereo sound was added, and multiplayer games used dial-up modems to connect players.
In the early 90’s the Internet made it’s way out of the universities and into the homes of computer enthusiasts. With the Internet came multiplayer games that often connected 2, 3 or 4 players. Throughout the 90’s games evolved and got more and more realistic with better sound and high resolution graphics (CGA, EGA and then VGA). It was during the mid-80’s that online MUD’s (multiuser dungeons) came online. Graphical MUD’s followed close behind. In 1995 the Worlds Chat Space Station was launched into virtual space. This was my first experience with a virtual world inhabited by other human beings connected via the Internet. Each person had a cardboard looking cut-out that represented them in-game. You could explore the space station and chat with other players, even chatting with several players at once!
I remember finding my way to a window in the World’s Chat Space Station and looking out into open space. There was nothing there, just a bunch of bright dots representing stars. But I knew that even better worlds were waiting further out in this void. MUD’s went through the same evolution as computer games. They got flashier and faster while adding music and sound while increasing their audiences. It was in the early 90’s that I started writing for Computer Gaming World magazine. I wrote reviews for the printed magazine and online editions for Prodigy and other services. I continued to write freelance until the mid 90’s.
In 1999 I was invited to Beta test a new type of game, Everquest (EQ). It was supposed to be a role playing game taken online with hundreds of people able to be online at once. This was the next big thing in computer games. If I have ever been truly addicted to a computer game, it was during my intial explorations of Everquest. EQ created the genre of Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG’s). Over the past 7 years there have been about a dozen popular MMO’s, one even taking on the Star Wars universe. I have had the pleasure of BETA testing most all of these MMO’s. I was really excited to be a founder of The Sims Online (TSO). Founders helped to BETA test the game, and were given nice little statues/simmies to display on our virtual real estate lots. Mine sat out in a nicely landscaped yard by a virtual pond in the front yard of my house. It was rumored that Maxis, the creators of TSO, consulted with Neal Stephenson (of Snow Crash fame, and father of the metaverse) on the design of their game.
Several years ago a company out of the Bay Area in California, Linden Labs, introduced a game that broke away from the cookie cutter MMO’s genre. Instead of providing a fully realized fantasy world for the player to explore and conquer, they developed a virtual world where EVERYTHING was created by the user. This world had a rich set of ingame 3D tools and a scripting language to add intelligence to user created items. They named their world Second Life. If any game has truly approached the vision of Neal Stephenson’s Metaverse, it is Second Life.
Universities have been using Second Life for the past few years to build virtual learning environments. Only now are a few K-12 educators discovering these worlds and testing the waters to see how they might be used in their classrooms. We are now at the bleeding edge of education and virtual worlds. What seems strange today may be the classroom of the future.
Pull up a keyboard, create an avatar, and come explore this brave new world. You’re likely to have some fun along the way, and your “cool quotient” as a teacher will spike when the kids find out you’re going to be teaching them in an MMO like Second Life.