Back to SL

We revisited Second Life this week for an informal tutorial about the course. Some interesting discussions about what counts as gaming and play:

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Does SL count as a game? Lots of people would think it does, even after you explain what it is.

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: How does it work in Minecradt Noreen?

[03:50] Simone Carlberg: I don’t think it does

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Agree with better than minecraft, the little I’ve seen of minecraft

[03:50] Simone Carlberg: Not that I’ve discovered yet

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: Good question.  It is not a game.  It is just an environment.

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But then that is preference isn’t it

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): ?

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: In which games *could* be played, of course.

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But people perceive it to be one when I say waht I doing.

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: I find I can’t make an impact on this environment in the way I can in Minecraft

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Bit like WOW

[03:51] AMAPnotwithabrush: i went on an archaeological dig once…it was a sort of game

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: The building is too complex

[03:51] Kimberley Pascal: Games need rules.

[03:51] AMAPnotwithabrush: (in SL)

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But the world has rules

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: Even if they are just material ones like where you can place blocks?

[03:51] Kimberley Pascal: Oh yes.  There can be games *in* SL.

[03:52] Kimberley Pascal: And you don;t *need* to play in WoW.  You can just hand out.

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: Maybe ‘play’ is the key word there

[03:52] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): I like the profession side of WOW

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: If you can ‘play’ in any sense it’s a game

[03:52] Kimberley Pascal: But the “game”(WoW) will kill you if you don;t respond to the challenges it throws at you.

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: Building stuff in Miencraft is playing for me

[03:52] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Pottering round mining, ignoring all the weird monsters and sticking to the edges

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: Yes, that’s me

[03:53] Kimberley Pascal: I guess.

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Fishing

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: That’s why I like to play in Creative mode – so I don’t get killed as Hamish says

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Ahh

[03:53] AMAPnotwithabrush: you can be killed?

[03:53] Kimberley Pascal: But yes, trying to define “game” and “play” is key here.

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): haven’t tried that

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: We’re in creative mode in Minecraft in this module Rob

[03:53] SilverbackGrump: I’m looking forward to playin WoW – havn’t tried it yet. I have a reference point from childhood – used to play Dungeons and Dragons ON PAPER!

[03:54] AMAPnotwithabrush: do you “get more lives next time” or if you’re killed, that’s it?

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


Mixed reality

When I was still teaching, we introduced augmented reality (AR) into our Academy. The physical fabric of our learning spaces was overlaid with digital information: if you scanned parts of the French classroom, you could experience audio and visual French overlays; our Yearbook came to ‘life’ with a range of multimedia content which was generated, edited and embedded by the students; we had school knowledge hunts where we searched for the hidden AR content; Year 11s worked to make year 8 text books interactive using AR.

The students loved working with AR; it was a technology which still excited them. One Year 7 referred to it as ‘Harry Potter magic’. (1)

With regard to the presence which was effected by AR, we were creating presence as ‘it is here’: bringing the virtual into the real; yoking it to the physical.

We also used 3D – we worked with Gaia Technologies – and our students could ‘walk through’ a range of 3D immersive environments, from the rainforest to the trenches, from a slave ship to a submarine. They could also see inside the body, witness and replay complex chemical reactions and explode and reconstruct the mechanics of a tractor. 3D offered a different type of presence, a presence as immersion, what Lombard and Ditton refer to as ‘perceptual and psychological immersion’ (1997)*.

WuH.-KWu, H.-K., Lee, S. W.-Y., Chang, H.-Y., & Liang, J.-C. (2013), explore the status, opportunities and challenges of augmented reality in education.  In outlining and summarising some of the key educational benefits which AR affords, they note four principle possibilities (p.2):

Benefits of AR

Defining AR, they use Klopfer’s definition (2008) ‘any technology that blends real and virtual information in a meaningful way’, what they term a ‘mixed reality’ (ibid p.4).

Citing Brosnak (2011), WuH.-KWu, H.-K., Lee, S. W.-Y., Chang, H.-Y., & Liang, J.-C. highlight that AR as a mediated experience affords learners a sense of  presence, immediacy and immersion (p.8):

AR presence

They posit that AR ‘could provide a mediated space that gives learners a sense of being in  place with others’ (ibid, p.8) what Lombard-Ditton would define as ‘we are together’.

Milgram et al (1994) proposed a ‘Reality-Virtuality’ continuum, ranging from a completely ‘real’ environment to a completely ‘virtual’ one. AR and AV (augmented virtuality) are the two elements which comprise the mixed realities which form this continuum. In a few weeks, we will, via Second Life, be inhabiting a virtual world with our peers on the course. It will be fascinating to experience how ‘present’ we feel within this virtual world. Karen has already got me worried…

Karen Second Life