Ready for your first ride in Second Life?

A Second Life Field Trip

I was quite looking forward to our Museum Informatics class that was going to be completely held within the Second Life space – it would be a virtual school trip.  I hadn’t been this excited since I went on a school trip to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.  To prepare, we were told we had to sign up for a Second Life account, create our personified avatar that we operated as in their virtual space, and practice in the Second Life.

Second Life’s Wild Wild West

Once I had built my avatar and entered into Second Life’s public intro spaces, I was exceptionally naive to what would be taking place in those spaces… and to me!  I’m just an innocent lamb in virtual space and I had come to the virtual slaughter so to speak.

Some Second Life areas felt like being in the "Wild, Wild West" of a Star Wars Cantina.

I was appalled that in the SL Intro area there were an extraordinary amount of XXX avatars, activities and experiences that I was assaulted with.  When I was in the intro training area in SL, I thought I was in an orgy setting – avatars were picking each other up, exchanging XXX comments and activities, and I was propositioned and accosted several times – this in the introductory learning SL space!  Needless to say, even though virtual,  I felt fear and disgust. From what I learned in class, SL is an ADULT community, with all its connotations.

I wonder if there are any papers (or guides) on the preparation of the “assault” one can experience in the virtual space.  Our ever-faithful Teaching Assistant Ingbert Floyd even spoke about being “assaulted” by virtual drive-by shootings.  Egads!  All I wanted to do was to go into LAM (Libraries, Archives and Museums) environments that in the physical world you don’t have to worry about being propositioned, attacked, or even bothered.  I mean, has anyone really been cornered by a lout in front of the Mona Lisa, whispering, “How about coming over to my Second Life pad?” or chased by a gang of virtual hoodlums in the British Museum?  I tend to go to LAMs to get away from the intrusion of our crazy world.

So, here the rub… We want to extend the LAM experience but can the LAM experience be now distorted in the virtual world by social assault and improprieties.  I understand that one can set ratings such as G or PG to Second Life sites, but my question is, if one can do that, will it stop it?  There are no virtual security guards protecting us virtual visitors from virtual nasties.

This brought up interesting issues – in a library or museum setting, none of these XXX and violent activities would take place, but in the virtual world – it’s the Wild West.  I’m not a prude but if I go into a library or museum, I’m not interested in prostitution or XXX activities happening there.  Aren’t libraries and museums third spaces where these activities are not allowed?  If anyone can comment on this further and what SL spaces are “safe” and if there are SL libraries that are set up for safety, I’d appreciate it.It’s a point to think about and address.

Our Much Needed Tour Guide

We truly needed a guide during our 2-hour SL museum class tour experience.  Graduate student and SL impresario Richard Urban was a life-saver and he highlighted key places to look and investigate – thanks to him a few of us got to explore the planets in our solar system.  Comparing it to real life, it was more like taking a group of 1st or 2nd graders on a field trip – pure chaos and organized fun.

Second Life Wayfinding Exhaustion?

Copyright by Chia Ying Yang (http://www.flickr.com/photos/enixii/)

Everyone roamed around, the guide attempted to gather us together but some of us (me!) were uncontrollable or lost our way, and I spent most of the time bouncing walls, swimming in the ocean, flying, and navigating versus learning from the objects.  Nicolleta Di Plas and Paolo Paolini observe this in their Museums and the Web 2003 paper “The SEE Experience: Edutainment in ED Virtual Worlds.”  They state that “interest wanes from enthusiastic beginnings… the attention curve drops sharply as the users find the space either too difficult to naviagate or not satisfyingly engaging” and success relates directly to the ability to “hold a critical mass of users in real time.”

Well, I was literally exhausted from all the navigation, “teleporting,” wayfinding, etc.  Again, I was a newbie.  It was also very fascinating to see all my classmates’ sub-personalities through their avatars and avatar names.  I actually met a couple of twins of my avatar.  I have to say, it felt a lot safer and conducive being in an organized class group in SL.  I think tour guides and organized groups are an excellent idea (as in real museum spaces) to introducing visitors to the virtual museum (that means real people as guides still!).

Does and should Second Life emulate the Real World?

The Matrix vs. the Real World?

It is really amazing what worlds and LAMs have been created in Second Life.  For me, though, I still need to feel that I am in a virtual world that feels somewhat real, and it still feels too artificial for me.  I’m sure this will continue to develop.  Blass, Gobbo and Paolini discuss how important creating a virtual presence is in their Museums and the Web paper 2005 “3D Worlds and Cultural Heritage: Realism vs. Virtual Presence.

Their findings related in how to make a virtual presence effective include the following.

  1. Understanding how a real place is or was.
  2. Conveying the emotion of being in a real place.
  3. Creating the illusion of being in a fantasy place.
  4. Creating an immaterial situation.

And they highlight that a virtual presence is not truly achieved by “reproducing a virtual copy of a real-life place, but rather by focusing on what goes on in the situation, and trying to put users in the pest position to feel part of the situation.”

Urban, Twidale and Marty write how Second Life is not the real world in “A Second Life for your Museum: The Use of 3D Collaborative Virtual Environments by Museums” (Museums and the Web 2007), and that “what is intutive in the real-world does not always translate into SL settings.”  I think that helps to define “reality” needs in a virtual world – which are real indeed.

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