SL Macbeth

When I first started teaching English years ago, Kartouche was available in my school. This was a virtual environment which allowed you to construct scenes from various Shakespeare plays and control the characters within them, manipulating their voices and their actions. It was clunky and difficult to use and the students didn’t really enjoy working with it; the UI was difficult, at times impenetrable. The product’s still around but it appears to have moved away from its Shakespearean focus.

Although Kartouche wasn’t a successful execution of a virtual, interactive Shakespearean environment, I have always liked the concept of using VWs to teach English. When I was a teenager, Shakespeare only came alive for me when I finally made it to the theatre to see King Lear. Film adaptations get close but  I think it would be interesting to explore whether VWs get closer to evoking a sense of immersion within the action of the play.

I decided to see if such environments were available in Second Life.

Googling brought me to the Metaverse Shakespeare Company (previously the SL Shakespeare Company) which looked wonderful. They staged virtual performances of Shakespeare’s plays within an in-world Globe Theatre.


However, further searching revealed that the company had folded due to funding issues and their virtual Globe no longer ‘existed’.

Gone Globe

What a shame that virtual realities are affected by real-world economics.

I eventually found Macbeth, a space inspired by and evocative of the play. It’s an exploratory world, rich in ambient sounds and imagery; quotes from the play whirl around the space, snatches of songs are heard. Upon arrival, you find yourself above the witches’ cauldron and the words of their spell can be heard and seen.

Arrival Macbeth._001

It’s a bleak space to arrive in and it is always night – even if you adjust the time of day within SL. Walking away from the cauldron, I felt a sense of tension. I know the play, its horrors and its violence, and I was concerned about what I might find. The space was coherent in terms of mood: it was dark and echoed the tones of the tragedy throughout.

Arrival Macbeth._007

Arrival Macbeth._003
Useless boxes
Landing not allowed

My first visit threw up some anomalies within the space. There were some boxes which
didn’t appear to do anything and a modern building which was definitely not in the original play; I later realised that this was located on a nearby island onto which I wasn’t permitted to land. Exploration of this space by secondary age pupils would require careful scaffolding and direction: the teacher would need to be an effective tour-guide.

I also found some interesting learning ‘artefacts’ within this domain. Leather-bound copies of the play were scattered around the space and, when opened, presented me with a number of tasks and activities to do ‘in-world’ and ‘out of world’.

Macbeth resource

In certain spaces I was encouraged to interact with the objects and in others, my actions invoked responses: when I sat on the throne, for example, there was cheering which quickly gave way to sobbing.

Touch the objects * Listen to the soundscape * What do you notice? * What can you hear?

It is an evocative space filled with shadows, ghostly figures and hints of chaos.


When I discovered the dagger, I quickly found myself in the ‘Chamber of Blood’ and was asked to think about what it felt like to be in this space but also to reflect on the particular SL experience of what it felt like to lose control of my avatar.

chamber of blood

There are also playful and engaging  moments of accidental agency; by mistake I sat on a crow and ended up flying in the night sky.


SL Macbeth offers a virtual environment where you could explore the play with students; it is by no means a ‘complete’ space – I have yet to discover the banquet or Birnam Wood – but it is consistent in its rendering of the atmosphere of threat which pervades Macbeth.


It would be an interesting activity to take the students there and explore the micro spaces, discussing with learners, what happened here, who is this and who says this? It also offers a rich space for (re)enactment, with the students’ avatars fulfilling the roles of the characters within Macbeth. The students could, potentially, build within this domain, creating other scenes, vignettes and echoes of the events, themes and characters within the play.

It is, above all, a compelling and immersive place, suggesting the dark tones of the tragedy and offering a creative space within which to explore Macbeth.


A thought snippet: all by myself

It has been interesting to spend time alone within Second Life this week and to explore what my identity feels like when not ‘with’ ‘others’ within the space. Fornäs’ notion of ‘identity-producing interactions’ (Fornäs et al. 2002, p.34) suggests, on first reading, that my virtual identity is heightened when interacting with other avatars within the space. However, the whole of Second Life is a construct, a space designed for avatar interactions and thus identity-producing.

My first solo journey was to Sparta where I was looking for the God of War of the treasure hunt. I was relieved to find that the space was deserted – of avatars – but I was in a constructed space filled with a sense of human agency and humour (more anatomically correct ‘bits’ had been added to the statues in the virtual museum for example). I was interacting with others, with the objects they had placed there and with the spaces they had created.


My second journey was to a space created in response to Macbeth. I have detailed information about this journey here.

The shivers of teleportation

Navarathna’s shot film. ‘A journey into the metaverse’ playfully and powerfully explores the concept of identity and the supposed boundaries between the ‘real’ self and the ‘virtual’ self, between the real world and the virtual world. It offers a response to Boellstorff’s question, ‘Can the avatar speak?’ (Boellstorff, 2008, p. 149). The narrative focuses on an avatar, abandoned by his creator in Second Life who sets out to find his ‘God’. The avatar initially becomes the master but the film real and virtualexplores how boundaries between virtual and real identities are mutable and shifting; the notion of separation is a false construct and, for the avatar/real ‘self’, ‘chance, reality and virtuality (lose) all sense of definition’. The film blends real world and virtual world footage, further blurring the sense of boundaries between the two domains.

Sannyasin: a religious ascetic who has renounced the world by performing his own funeral and abandoning all claims to social or family standing

Set in part in India, the film draws some interesting parallels between the fate of the central avatar/self and the Sannyasin, who renounce the material world. Further, meditation, and its power to ‘free the mind and lose ego’ is also referenced. Navarathna thereby alludes to the key concept of what our smeditationelf, our identity is. Where does it lie? What is it? Is virtuality a way of accessing our true, more authentic self? Is the self without place, without fixity, a concept explored by Dennett. In drawing parallels with meditation which requires us to separate from thought, from ego and develop a different sense of what it is to ‘be’, Navarathna posits exploration and immersion within the virtual is also ‘freeing’ – our self can ‘slip through the crack.’

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Personhood. In Coming of Age in Second Life (pp. 118-150). Oxford: Princeton University Press.

Me, myself and I

This week we have again been exploring notions and experiences of identity through immersion within Second Life. I have spent more time ‘there’ this week: engaging in the treasure hunt, exploring learning spaces, having a ‘voice’ tutorial and dancing. The strong sense of presence I experienced in Week 7  has been consolidated and extended this week through further virtual adventuring and through more interactions in Holyrood Park. Although I don’t identify with the physicality of my avatar (I haven’t yet got round to altering ‘her’) I do have a strong sense of being present through her: for example, I visited Echo Beach to test my sound and, when a large, muscular, scantily-clad avatar also arrived, I quickly left, feeling a sense of threat and inappropriateness. Marshall/Pancha’s refrain ‘it’s only pixels’ rang in my virtual/metaphorical ears as I teleported out. I did enjoy dancing later that day though and truly felt a sense of ‘presence enacting itself as an embodied activity’ (Taylor, 2002, p.44), an embodiment powerfully linked to vision (M. White, 2006)’ (quoted in Boellstorff, 2008 p.134) and, in this instance, sound (George Benson…)

Silverback's new avatar
Silverback’s new avatar

We explored this sense of connectedness with our avatars further in Thursday night’s tutorial. Paul/Silverback appeared as a Gorilla: he had spent 600 lindens (£4) on this as he had such a strong reaction against the set of default avatars which Second Life offers. He mentioned that, when his avatar initially appeared, he felt like he was ‘lying’ and so was willing to invest real money to change his virtual self. He had invested in  his ‘projective’ identity, projecting his own ‘values and desires onto the virtual character’ (Gee, 2003, p.55) and seeing ‘the virtual character as (his) own project in the making’ (ibid, p.55). As Boellstorff notes, avatars are ‘the modality through which residents experienced virtual selfhood’ (2008, p.129); if I end up spending more time in Second life beyond this week, I too will invest more in developing my avatar and, probably, changing its sex.

Like all of our learning on the course so far, because we are engaged with the spaces we are reading about and exploring, loop input methodologies were at play this week. This was strongly felt when our tutor Rory/Algernon Twang.asked us to explore Gee’s concept of virtual spaces offering a more risk-free environment: a ‘psychosocial moratorium’ (p.67). In the discussion which followed, I highlighted that I felt that our interactions within this virtual world and in our other tutorials felt more risky that real-life more sustained interactions as they were irregular and therefore more imbued with a sense of import. This was, I felt, especially true where voice was concerned as this felt more like the ‘real’ me spilling into the carefully curated, virtual ‘me’. Cultivating a community of inquiry through ordered and controlled discussion forums is different to ‘exposing’ a facet of one’s identity through voice. I certainly feel more comfortable, as I have touched on before, with an identity constructed from text. As the virtual opiniontator showed, I wasn’t the only one to feel like this. The gorilla disagreed.

Voice tutorial_009

This is of real interest to me at the moment as I am currently devising and delivering a sequence of webinars for teachers at the schools I work with. They will be asked to interact with me and with each other via voice through Skype for Business and I will now be attuned to how unsettling this can potentially be. To have a facet of yourself, of your identity disembodied can be disconcerting, even if it is re-embodied within an avatar.

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Personhood. In Coming of Age in Second Life (pp. 118-150). Oxford: Princeton University Press.
Gee, J. P. (2003). Learning and Identity: What does it mean to be half-elf? In What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (pp. 51-71). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

I like the way you MUVE

We had our tutorial this week within Second Life (SL) a multi-user virtual environment (MUVE). Prior to the tutorial, we had an orientation session and undertook some key readings by Warburton (2009) and Dawley and Deede (2014).

Warburton’s exploration of the ‘profoundly immersive experience’ of SL and his assertion that one has ‘a feeling of being there and a strong sense of co-presence when other avatars are present’ (p.419) echoed my experience within the orientation session. I felt like I was an extension of myself (p.417) and experienced a stronger sense of being ‘with’ my peers and my tutors than I have in previous weeks via the other media we have explored. As Warburton notes, co-presence is a central tenet in Garrison and Anderson’s definition of successful learning transactions within a community of inquiry. The tutor ‘Frank’ asked us at one point during the orientation session to follow him to one of the tutorial spaces; the sense of following him and walking next to my colleagues enhanced and extended my sense of shared presence.

The tutorial session started in the same way as the orientation session: we gathered near the fountain and there was time for trouble-shooting questions and casual discussion. Dolly Mix taught ‘me’ how to dance and I chatted one-to-one with Sarah Roguish about the readings.

We then moved to the tutorial space and, sitting around the camp-fire, we began to discuss the readings.


Superficially, this IM chat discussion could be argued to have  offered the ‘same’ experience as the chat in Skype however it did feel different; the mood and tone was more relaxed. This might be because we all ‘know’ each other a little better now or maybe it was because of the SL environment and the more ‘natural’ modes of interactions; as Warburton notes, ‘avatars behaved very much like their real-world counterparts’ (p.419).


The playfulness of the media, the ability to add visual gags – such as Dolly Mix eating her popcorn throughout the tutorial – all helped to make this environment one which was less formal and more absorbing; I was focused and present throughout.

As Warburton outlines, some of the many affordances of SL include ‘extended and rich interactions’, ‘immersion’ and ‘community presence’. My experience of what Dawley and Dede term ‘situated embodiment’ (p.728) meant that I felt psychologically present within the discussion and within the space.

Warburton, S. (2009). Second Life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 414-426.
Dawley, L., & Dede. C. (2014). Situated learning in virtual worlds and immersive simulations. In J.M. Spector, M.D Merrill, J. Elen, & M.J. Bishop (Eds.), The Handbook of Research for Educational Communications and Technology (4th ed.). New York: Springer.

My double Second Life

I joined Second Life last Saturday as ‘MollyBloom7’. It was an isolating and unsettling experience. I found ‘myself’/my avatar on a virtual beach, the sound of waves was unexpected, as was the presence of other avatars around me. I was reminded of ‘Lost’.

The interface was confusing at first and I didn’t know what to do or how to interact with the ‘Others’ on the shore. It was not a pleasant birth; I would have preferred to have been born into a closed white space where I could have learned how to interact before deciding to go out and join my Second Life.

Via Moodle, I followed the link to Holyrood Park/Vue South and felt immediately different. There was nobody there but that was fine. The space felt structured and familiar; the virtual (v.) objects helped: there was a v.noticeboard, a v.bench, a v.fountain: familiar items which suggested civilisation and which connoted safe public places. The sound of the fountain was also calming, much more so than the waves on a bleak beach. There was a cat there too – Nora.  Given my own Joycean name choice, this felt reassuring and serendipitous. A gift had also been left for me – a welcome pack: I put on the t-shirt which was in it. This was an agreeable and ordered place to ‘be’.

Molly Bloom in Holyrood Park

Before the orientation session the following day, I decided to change my avatar; having read about harassment in SL, I decided that I wanted to adopt a gender-neutral name and a male avatar. Like others in the group, I was also underwhelmed by the limited, limiting and sexualised range of female avatars.

second life sexism

So Ariel McBloom was – almost – born. Unfortunately, he appeared only as red mist which wouldn’t form or bake. So I spent the session – somewhat appropriately – as a disembodied swirl of crimson cloud.

The orientation was such good fun. I was genuinely excited to see the others from the course arrive: a ragbag collection of monsters and weirdly adapted avatars: ‘misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!’*


We learned to fly, to take photos, to interact and to use the maps. Some others also went on to learn how to dance to. I found it an engaging, playful experience: I was fully present within the virtual arena. I was ‘there’.

This playfulness of SL is what has captivated me this week; I was surprised that some others didn’t respond in the same way:

What's the point

But a number of us did:


It will be interesting to see if we actually learn through play: I suspect that the ice-cream van full of treats which has arrived in Holyrood Park will have something to do with that:


*Romeo and Juliet, I.i.169