Today we had a mix of people filtering through our lab at the Modesto City Schools Technology Center. We had most of the participants in the PacRimX Island project come by for questions, tips and tricks, and demos at various times throughout the day. Above you can see one of the teens giving a tour of the GlobalKids.org Island volcano. The four students were there sharing their knowledge and experiences with the adults.
We had a professor (Matt George) from Stanislaus State University drop in to see what all of this was about (his campus is just down the road in Turlock, CA). He has taught classes in Asia in the past, and was facinated by the dynamics of this project. He’s also interested in ways to integrate this into his classes at the University level. He is currently being challenged by the restrictions being placed on his campus network, and trying to get Second Life to run in his office for demonstration purposes. This will likely be one of the biggest challenges with educators, to get their sys admins to open up the required ports and pages to allow Second Life to run properly.
We finally figured out our avatar issues this morning. Last week everything was loading fine, except for the avatars. The one obvious sign that something was wrong was missing avatar eyes and messed up textures. Yes, we all looked like extras for a “Children of the Corn” sequel. This morning, after endlessly fiddling with the Internet filter, we finally figured out that we needed to update the drivers on our ATI cards. Once updated we were off and running, eyeballs and all!
The newest addition to our teen group said today that at first Second Life really did not appeal to her much. She installed it at home last week, got on the teen grid, poked around and shrugged. She’s a huge fan of The Sims 2, so this seemed like a logical next step. She observed that the graphics of SL are somewhat of a step down from The Sims, strike one. But she said that once she started meeting people it got a whole lot more interesting. She intereacted online with the other three students, and was also introduced to one of their friends from up in Oregon. Now that she has a small circle of friends in-world, she likes it a lot. Her island account came online today, and she is in with one of my boys loading up on clothing and avatars right now as I type. While we were chatting with Matt George over pizza at lunch, he all of a sudden said that it was really wild to be sitting there talking to all of us in person. He’s been following the blog and reading posts to the listserv, and that now he had the opportunity to actually sit and have a real life conversation with us all.
I think this is a very important dynamic with virtual environments like SL. This is not a scripted game like World of Warcraft, or other MMO’s. With respect to the PacRimX project, this is not a role playing environment. This is not a single user experience like The Sims 2 (even though there are passing simularities between the graphic styles). In these worlds we project ourselves into these virtual spaces using an avatar (or avatars) of our choice. We are literally there in avatar form building relationships, communicating with others, sharing our interests, and learning from each other. It’s much more than a game, or scripted series of stories and quests to work through. And as each new person comes to this project the experience grows richer, and the friendships deeper. Some of the people hitting the blogs, and publishing stories in mass media publications that create an avatar and take a quick 20 minute tour for a story are completely missing this important dynamic of Second Life.
See more pictures at our Flickr Album for this workshop