Thursday, June 19, 2008

Why reproduce buildings in a virtual world?

When first exploring Second Life, I asked that a lot. Here we have this fully scriptable, three dimensional virtual world and we are doing everything we can to reproduce the limitations of the first world (there is an old Zen master who laughs everytime I refer to Second Life as the "virtual world"). After working with instructors in Second Life and participating is some classes, I find that there are some bad reasons to create buildings and some good ones. The wrong reason is to re-create the brick and mortar classroom. Some hold class sessions in Second Life but using it as a virtual meeting is limited by the high tech requirements. Students often have to be on campus to take advantage of this as a meeting space. But creating assignments that utilize the familiar in different ways transforms a virtual meeting is to something more akin to theater. While working as an instructional designer on a courtroom simulation, I began to work and see the space more as a set designer than an instructional designer. I had been looking for courtroom furnishings in SL for months and there just does not seem to be much call for that. Harvard uses a virtual courtroom. I finally was satisfied that my own building skills would allow me to create rudimentary furniture. I have created a courtroom now that looks like it is made entirely from Ikea furniture but it is functional. It does not have to be perfect. I can get people in the right places and they get the idea about how it is supposed to work. The students will participate in the fiction with a willing suspension of disbelief because that is how they tend to approach all media, especially an avatar-based virtual world. Virtual space=theatrical space.

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