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Second Life Group Presentation Experiences

Air Seat FinalI held off on writing this post as I wanted experience first-hand presenting in Second Life before providing feedback on the other groups presentations. I felt I needed to better understand the challenges and limitations within the space that could affect a group presentation before I could feasibly comment on my experiences with the other groups. Having attended all the presentations, I’ve provided brief commentary about the positives and negatives I experienced in each groups work, including my own.

Stars Hollow
I thought this group touched on a very interesting application for the virtual space. I definitely feel that there is a lot of room out there for authentic spaces capitalizing on successful TV and movie shows. This would be a great benefit to companies specifically as they can tap into a larger market at a time when many are switching to pirated or web-based methods like Netflix to experience shows. There is room to even provide real-time experiences while users watch their shows on the computer.

Some of the struggles I noticed at the building level were little things like the roofs being so low it messed with camera angles and some floating furniture. The presentation was alright and I liked the concept, though I feel the group could have explored a little further how it would apply to the virtual space and spent less time discussing the details of a specific show. Otherwise, it was a very interactive presentation and clearly a lot of planning went into the set, costume, and script design.

The Marriage of Culture and Virtual Worlds
I felt this group was the most organized and prepared group of all four groups. Their history of cultural weddings was interesting but not overwhelming and they tied all of it back into Second Life which made it that much stronger. The user engagement component was not burdened with being too long or too rushed. It felt well planned and thoughtful of the points being presented. The invitations were a great touch!

Being a participant in the presentation it was hard to focus on the details being presented while waiting for my queues. That was my only issue really as I’d have loved to have been able to focus more on the material. The build was beautiful and I liked that the group modified purchased items into the build, tweaking them rather than simply placing them in a spot untouched. It showed thought and consideration for the project as a whole.

Second Life in the Jazz Age
This presentation was interesting but I struggled with the first half due to the lengthy discussion about jazz with little tie-in to the virtual space. It was clear the group did extensive research on the topic, though, so that is to be commended. The build was fun, though I couldn’t get some of the instruments to work. It felt as though the group had put some thought into creating an atmosphere rather than simply a space which I loved. It was an authentic club on the inside and the little details like the lighting and furniture only served to augment the theme even more. I’d have liked to have skipped the trivia as most of it did not apply to the virtual space so much as the actual world material presented in the beginning.

Virtual Nostalgia Amusement Park
Bungee JumperThis was my group’s presentation and I would say we were the weakest group in terms of overall builds though our presentation information was about average when compared with the other groups. We did a good job at providing many motivations and considerations with virtual amusement parks with strong examples in most of the areas of research. I felt as with the wedding presentation, we were able to speak to the virtual world benefits thoroughly and we made sure to bring each point back to the virtual space rather than splitting our focus with actual world counterparts to our space.

The building is where we fell short. I do commend some of my group for taking on the challenges of scripting and building functioning objects in the space. Time was definitely a factor in most cases and I am confident that had these projects been started at the time of the proposal in March, my group member’s builds would have functioned as desired as they showed significant progress over the last 24 hours.

Of my own builds, I am quite proud of what I accomplished since I had never scripted, created animations, or used sculpted prims before. These presented an array of new challenges for me which I loved to tackle. My goals were for authenticity to the carbon originals on which these rides were based as well as creating experiences that would have lasting impressions on the users. I feel both the bungee jumper and carousels succeeded in that. I only wish more of the class could have attended the presentation as we only had 4 non-group attendees besides our professor.

 
 

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The Anatomy of a Virtual Research Project: Construction & Launch

Previously, I discussed my research project proposal around identity tourism in the virtual space. Continuing along those lines, I wanted to explore my experience and project consideration while preparing this project for launch. If anyone wishes to visit the space in-world, here is the SLurl: http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Western%20University%201/117/154/208. It is open to any and all residents of Second Life. All I ask is that if you use any items, to please complete a survey and leave it in one of the dropboxes around the build. Thank you!

Second Life Building
Dress-Up Box 8For the overall appearance of the space, I wanted the area to be familiar to visitors in terms of layout. Most stores have a certain design that facilities the selection of items for purchase. Working on a limited Linden$ budget, I was creative in the use of textures, but overall, I wanted present a similar experience to what one would find while out shopping for clothes or other avatar commodities. The layout of the building was planned in advance as part of the proposal, though the final display of the various items changed slightly out of necessity for grouping similar offerings together. I did still want to offer positioning stands to allow avatars the option of adjusting the items if need be. This was most important in the cases of the packaged costumes offered on the lowest floor.

Dress-Up Box 9Although not originally part of the plan, the bottom floor proved the most challenging of the entire build as well as the most engaging for both me as the creator and for my guests thus far. My experience in various shapes as I adjusted items was challenging at times, especially when shaping the Man of Steel character. Spending significant lengths of time looking at my avatar as a male was disruptive to my connection with my avatar.

Dress-Up Box 2On the building side of things, I was out of my depth in many ways with these avatars but I love a challenge. This project forced me to explore the world of alphas and sculpted prims for the first time in addition to scripting. I’d have very little experience with scripts before, but coming from a programming background found this the easiest to pick up of the three new skills I had to learn. Alphas are definitely something I’d like to explore further but the labour-intensive crafting experience of building sculpted prims is the skill I felt gave me the most difficulty and yet the most proud accomplishments. It took many back and forth trips with the texture uploader to get each sculpted texture right but overall I’m extremely proud of what I was able to accomplish. Each of the offerings on that floor presented a new challenge and I loved every minute of it!

Launch & Further Development
The biggest stress of this whole project was getting it all set up and ready to go in time to have it open to students in class. As each of the above challenges came into light, it seemed like a never-ending task. It was launched on April 2, at long last, and so far the responses have been 100% positive. The only concern I have is that I may not be able to gather enough data to make any significant conclusions about virtual identity play. Ideally, I would like to continue to develop this project through the addition of more items as well as incorporating socialization spaces to explore the external impacts on avatar modifications. In my proposal, I touched on Ulrike Shultze’s view that the interpretation of a user’s virtual identity by others in that same space compromises a significant portion of that identity (Embodiment and presence in virtual worlds: a review). I address this a bit through some of the survey questions, but given the hesitation many users would feel to explore outside of the dress-up box in their modified avatars, I think including a safe space to explore avatar-to-avatar engagement while experimenting would yield interesting survey results.

 

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Virtual Activism: What Is Its Purpose?

Recently, I met with an avatar in Second Life who had previously organized and participated in activist activities to bring to light issues surrounding the representations of rape and abuse in Second Life. The user provided me with an article that I found intriguing along with relaying some of their own experiences as a protester in the virtual space.

Together, we discussed the nature of anonymity in the virtual space and how it can lead users to be more vocal towards each other. This avatar had received calls of violence against them for having participated in these events. This resonated with my experiences of abuse within and outside of Second Life which is part of why I chose to write on it for my blog.

During my experiences in the virtual space, I was stalked, attacked, caged, threatened (both in Second Life but also against my real world person), and received other various vitriol towards me. The veil of anonymity empowered these users to say and do these hateful things because they were able detach the avatar from the person on the other side in some cases. In others, it was clear that they most likely would have said or acted this way in person.

It is with this in mind that I considered the article provided to me. I realize in most cases, the area being protested against involved consensual adults. The avatar I met with even indicated that the owner found no issue with the protesters and welcomed them to protest as it drew attention to his sim. It is rare that Linden Labs would be involved, though it has been known to happen, especially in the case of the outright banning of age-play in Second Life. So it really does fall to the users to shape the world that is available in this space. If someone does not speak out against abuse in either space, the voices here will be one-sided and not represent a balanced discourse on the subject.

Additionally, it’s often the case that the vocal minority actually represents a larger group than is identified. Many users may not feel compelled to speak out due to a variety of factors such as fear or writing it off as not affecting the actual world’s social norms. It is on this last point that I disagree. I feel that the only way can ensure a balanced conversation is to enable those with something to say to speak and be heard. In The Radio: An Apparatus of Communication, Brecht talks about the benefit of societal media to allow the masses to finally outspeak the powerful few. In this case, I feel we can extend this argument to virtual spaces as much as social media. I say that demonstration in virtual spaces has its place as much as it does in the actual world, though each serves different purposes.

In the actual world, the idea is to not only draw attention to an issue but to actively effect some sort of change of an event or societal norm. In the virtual space, where there are often governing bodies such as developers and corporations delineating what is allowed or not allowed, virtual activism is representational more so than effectual. It provides a balance to the space between opposing parties and enabling users to experience both sides of the discussion. With user-generated content representing the overwhelming majority of content available on the platform, the necessity for balance is key to make sure that those with the power, the vocal minority, are not the only ones being heard and seen. Whether either side is right or wrong, there needs to be equal access of information. Virtual spaces and social media represent the new media of the populace and it is on their platforms that future debates on topics like women’s rights will take place. If virtual activism did not exist, the media of the people would be skewed and biased towards a particular side, leading to a skewed representation of information. Brecht had it right and we need to be sure that balance is maintained across all forms of communication.

 

 
 

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The Anatomy of a Virtual Research Project: Proposal

Over the last while, I have worked on a virtual identity research project. I had proposed the idea as an engaging final project for the course. What I wanted to do was to enable visitors to explore the idea of virtual identity tourism. As Zhou et al. note in Identity construction on Facebook: Digital empowerment in anchored relationships, “the disembodied and anonymous online environment makes it possible for people to reinvent themselves through the production of new identities.” The major appeal for many to explore virtual spaces such as Second Life, where there is not goal-oriented experiences like those found in video games, is to explore beyond the boundaries that may limit the user in the actual world.

Proposal SchematicInitial Proposal
My initial idea was a larger than life dress-up box. I wanted to include a number of items that would allow users to change their appearance. Although we can do so in terms of clothing, haircuts, and tanning in the material world, the idea in this virtual space was to take it a step further. I wanted to have the items change the avatar directly. Clothing is only part of our identity in the virtual space and plays even less of a role next to the ability to change aspects that are otherwise difficult if not impossibly immutable in the actual world. I’m talking about specifically gender, physique, species, and other physical attributes along those lines.

The idea was to have a space where the above characteristics were openly available and from which guests would be free to choose as many or as few options as they desired. Just as a child’s dress-up box enables him or her to take on a completely new persona, I wanted that freedom for avatars in this space. The freedom and diversity of options were key because they would allow me to determine the length and impact of identity tourism in the virtual space.

Hypothesis
The hypothesis I presented within my proposal identified that likely users of a virtual space would feel attached to the physical appearance of their avatar to some degree, with more experienced or developed avatars having a stronger aversion to body modifications. Additionally, I anticipated most users would likely identify a few traits which they would refuse to change due to the user’s association with his or her own personality or the identity of his or her’s avatar, though this may be less likely in newer avatars within the space.

 
 

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Actual Self in the Virtual Space

Saylan (Blonde)

My SecondLife Avatar (May 2006)

I struggle with avatar creation. No matter the platform or my intention in the space (gaming or exploration), I take a lot of time considering my customization options and finessing the details of my avatar. I will often spend more time agonizing over the colour of the hair and eyes than I will considering what role my gaming character will play or what purpose my virtual world avatar will serve.

In reading Ulrike Schultze’s “Embodiment and presence in virtual worlds”, I was struck by the author’s proposed discussion on the likelihood of a strong correlation between users real selves and their virtual avatars. I think what struck me most was the initial claim that “[p]eople tend to create avatars that resemble their actual selves”. The author carries forward in the assumption that the above statement is true, inherently, and that it is only a matter of determining which parts the user feels reflects their true self and which parts others feel reflect the user’s true self.

My SecondLife Avatar (circa September 2007)

My SecondLife Avatar (Sept 2007)

While I would agree there is often a disconnect with our self-perception and the ways others perceive us, I feel that there is a preliminary disconnect that the author is missing on the basis of the initial assumption quoted above. I believe that it is not always the case that we create avatars that we feel resemble our actual selves, especially in the cases where we are looking to use the virtual space as an escape from our reality.

Female Draenai (World of Warcraft)

Female Draenai (World of Warcraft)

Female Worgen (World of Warcraft)

Female Worgen (World of Warcraft)

In some platforms, notably gaming, it is not possible to create a character that strongly correlates to our actual self if the options available to users do not include humanoid forms, but I think more often than not, even when a human choice is available, due to the nature of fantasy and science fiction gaming, users opt for the more non-human options as part of the escape aspect that fantasy worlds provide.

The same could easily be said of non-gaming worlds such as SecondLife. With the wide variety of design and customization options available to users, the room for identity play is expansive in such a way that it would be impossible to conclude that all users design avatars that resemble themselves. For many, the virtual world is as much a fantasy escape as more strictly constructed worlds as video games.

How closely we tie our avatars to our psychological self has been considered by Bessière et al. in “The ideal elf: identity exploration in World of Warcraft”. The authors explored the hypothesis that users who had lower self-esteem created avatars that more closely resembled their ideal self rather than their actual self and I feel this is something that Schultze needs to take into consideration when discussing identity creation in the virtual space.

My SecondLife Avatar (circa September 2007)

My SecondLife Avatar (Sept 2007)

Addressing the possibility of realizing an idealized version of ourselves allows us to consider that our virtual selves could potentially bear little to no resemblance to our actual selves, dependent on the purpose for which the avatar is being created, if we felt that our purpose would allow us to realize a self that is impossible in the real world.

My SecondLife Avatar (circa May 2006)

My SecondLife Avatar (May 2006)

If given the opportunity, who wouldn’t want to be able to realize an idealized version of themselves?

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Opening Remarks

This blog has been created as a component of Western University’s Digital Communications 3210G online course. Throughout the Winter term, posts on this blog will explore experiences and readings encountered within the course on the topic of virtual worlds.

 
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Posted by on December 19, 2013 in Virtual Worlds

 

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