Thursday, July 03, 2008

Is Dubya secretly an online gamer? Nah, I'm kidding.

This week, someone with a "sociologist" tag logged into Second Life and teleported to my daughter's virtual coffee house to check out Open Mic Night for live musicians. It's interesting to note how someone would announce so publicly that he was there for research. I felt a little under the microscope, but after the first performer started to strum his guitar and sing over the streaming audio channel, I forgot about my odd guest. After an hour, "the professor," as we jokingly called him, logged off, presumably to share his findings about online 3D communities with his academic colleagues.

No matter what your interest, there are plenty of reasons these days to tap into the growing world of 3D virtual reality:

  • Non-profits like the American Cancer Society are cashing out virtual dollars for real dollars. The 2007 Relay for Life of Second Life "raised more than $118,000" in real money "and attracted more than 1,700 avatar participants" to its main event, reports the official RFL of SL Web page. A slew of charitable entities are making their presence known in the virtual space, thanks in part to the efforts of the Non-Profit Commons, a collaborative group of folks who provide virtual office space for non-profits.

  • Entertainment companies continue to migrate from TV/films/radio to the Internet, and now to virtual worlds. This week marks the debut of Mini Match, a new kid-friendly virtual world from Cartoon Network. Last month, EMI Music named Second Life co-creator Cory Ondrejka as its new SVP of Digital Strategy. Don't know EMI? Think David Bowie, Coldplay, Korn, Kylie Minogue, Pink Floyd, Joss Stone. Ahhhh, now you get it, right?

  • CNN iReport invites Second Life users to contribute as citizen journalists, and regularly features SL stories on its main page.

  • Harvard University, Stanford University, Ohio University in Athens, San Jose State University and the University of Arizona are among a growing number of educational institutions recreating campuses in Second Life. In-world programs range from social computing research to virtual study abroad to immersive learning of foreign languages.

  • Insurance company Cigna Healthcare announced this week that it has created a "virtual environment in the Second Life virtual world to educate people on how to improve their health."

  • Medical professionals are discovering that patients benefit from involvement in virtual worlds. At Keiko University in Japan, a paralyzed man used headgear with brainwave sensors to control his Second Life avatar and walk it around the 3D game world. Scientists heralded the experience as ground-breaking, citing a potential to alleviate depression among people with disabilities. Researchers and therapists supporting individuals with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are finding virtual worlds are helpful tools for building social skills among participants.

  • ...and if you didn't notice, even H&R Block had fun in Second Life with its DJ avatars spinning tunes for island visitors. It was part of the tax company's overall strategy to dabble in social media this season. A late-comer to the concept of real businesses exploring Second Life as a social media tool, the tax prep company declared this year's digital media experiment successful in redefining its brand. They liked it so much, they're going to do it again in 2008.
But...and it's a big but (tee hee) much as I'm addicted to Second Life for its educational, humanitarian, business and entertainment value, somehow I've mentally drawn the line for certain uses. I know. Emotionally, I'm advocating budgetary censorship. Look, I just don't want my tax dollars in these hard times to fund certain types of virtual world research.

Whoops! Too late.

If you haven't heard, a few months ago, Comedy Central and Jon Stewart had a field day lampooning the Congressional hearing on Second Life. After they found no basis for fearing this Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), I figured, "Good. They're done. Let's move on."

(big sigh)

A-SpaceX is a collaborative project between "the Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the newly-formed Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA)," informs

Translation: The U.S. Intelligence community is developing virtual world analysis gizmos and gadgets on our dime.


At first, I was annoyed that the Bush administration still wants to delve into what two consenting avatars might be doing behind closed virtual doors. But then, the bleeding-heart liberal in me imagined the rhetoric one might hear when this little gem is finally revealed for it's true purpose.
"Mommy! Mommy! I'm hungry."

"I'm sorry, dear. Our food stamp program was cut because our leaders need funding to tip the make-believe strippers in a Second Life nightclub."
Okay, I love social media and online communities as much as the next geek, but this is embarrassingly a horrible waste of money. Even I know that. Oh, well. At least, now that they're busy chasing "toon tail," I can rest easy that they've finally stopped reading my would hope.

1 comment:

Joan Kremer said...

What a hoot!! First they want to ban it, now they want to take it over -- that's our federal government!! Seems they just gravitate to wherever people are, trying to find yet one more activity to regulate! I mean, think about it. The government's only business is to make and enforce laws, so all they can do is continue to make new laws, which means finding out what people are doing now so they can make a law or two to control it (and tax it!!).

Great post, Minced Media!

Alas Zerbino from Second Life