Monday, November 24, 2008

And then there is Second Life..

Went to the reLIVE conference at the Open University last week, and got my first proper introduction to Second Life, in the company of people who spend as much time there as the real world. For anyone interested in 'space' - and our everyday social and spatial interactions - Second Life is an extraordinary place. It is huge, an enormous world of islands, events and networks. It seems to be a complex mixture which both replicates real world social relationships/spaces and enables surreal, parallel and re-invented ones. So the basic landscapes conform to gravity and people tend to make their avatars face each other at an 'appropriate' social distance when text-talking. But then these figures might have bushy tails, or be dressed in extraordinary costumes, or (if you building skills are good enough) are in the shape of something else like crows or fish. It is quite strange to have a conversation with a fish rotating around your stomach.

With nearly 50 million people globally who are SL members, it feels like we should be understanding what is going on. For people interested in learning in Second Life, the key explorations currently seem to be around simulations (disaster scenarios, historical enactments) and 3D social networking/informal learning. But I think what stunned me the most was the huge amount of creativity going into making artefacts, spaces and developing social (including sexual) connections. From choosing, finding or designing clothes; to creating buildings; to generating events or objects to sell; to playing a game based on having a child and it growing up; personal, social and commercial creatvity is central. And I don't even know how to begin mapping or analysing what is going on.

image from Lars Wieneke workshop entitled 'cultural tinkering', reLIVE conference workshop. OU, 20th Nov 2008

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