Which comes first: Warcraft or Second Life?

I’ve been thinking more about why I would not take teachers into virtual worlds. A minor clarification, is that this line of though relates to some research work I’m doing, around cyberculture, and how it is reflected in under and post graduate education. I been particularly thinking about live classrooms online, and where, conceptually, the types of learning experiences that I would build into the professional development of teachers.

My view is that virtual worlds, are not somewhere to take teachers, but somewhere to meet them, and I kicked up a rather bizarre post about that yesterday. Why does this matter? – Well, because there is increasing interest in using ‘live’ classrooms generally, and greater opportunity to do so (despite Linden canning Teen Second Life). I absolutely believe that virtual worlds and games are great places for teachers to learn – about learning in this century. What I’m yet to resolve are the terms under which I see that happening.

There are three general spaces under the ‘live’ classroom concept to me – Second Life (or other open, non goal-directed world), Games (Aion, Starcraft2, World of Warcraft type goal directed MMORPG) and the various Webinar offerings (Adobe Connect, Elluminate etc). All of which to me, disembody the teacher as a human in favour of being a cyborg.

Personal identity in virtual worlds, is a beautiful fiction. The absence of your own life narrative allows exploration of new meta-personas and shape their story to be as real or imagined as you choose.

When Linden chose to call their technology, Second Life it evoked a sense of post-humanist existence. When Adobe called their platform ‘Connect’, there was never any intention to do more than create much more than an information appliance. When Blizzard created Warcraft – is was was going to be an epic experience, based on lore.

Connect etc.,, from my experience, places the presenter in a personal, direct position of responsibility and pressure – to perform for the assembled audience. If you are working with students, this performance often gravitates to the tools the information appliance offers – powerpoint, polling etc.,

Physically, it requires two monitors to even begin to cope with presenting and interacting and at least 10% of everyones time is spent dealing with its habitual tendency to throw people out, cut their microphone or simply hang up, should you be foolish enough to have browser add ons, or any other instslled application. That doesn’t happen Warcraft, there is no presenter, no technical microphone support – just other players.

Second Life, is a world, the experience is quite different for student and teacher. It is no more complicated to operate, but much more complicated to conceptualise or explain, if your cognitive worldview sees it as no more than a field trip to the freaky side of cyberculture. It too suffers presenter-pressure over microphones, movement and connectivity. It is way better than 5 years ago, however, it is less than seemless.

While there is little arguement that teaching and learning ‘in-world’ is part of the landscape, it takes a brave soul to attempt it live. Crashing out of an Adobe Connect room several times in and hour is frustrating, as each time, it is a personal hit. Your personal identity, which for most of us apart from Gary Stager, is kind of fragile. An avatar is far more resiliant, and the environment lacks the two-way radioness of Connect, but is still the single biggest ‘issue’ new people have – often at the detriment of what it is you hope to do with the world itself – assuming it is social-engagement.

I wont take teachers into a virtual world on the same terms as Adobe Connect. Second Life is socially engaged theatre, Connect is functional, broadcast radio.

I see Connect etc., – in mass teaching, as radio – and radio has a purpose, so I’m not saying don’t use it. Provided it works, it does allow ‘classroom’ type activities – essentially are born of print and radio culture. They do provide access to ‘live’ teachers and peers, but are not ‘virtual’ is the post-humanist sense.

World of Warcraft (game worlds), I see as an almost perfect learning environment – to learn about immersive environments – and would argue to have it included as a core element of under-graduate experience of virtual worlds. Second Life (open-worlds) I see being a post-graduate experience, requiring a deeper sense of what it means to be a resident, and how that resident would create experiences, knowledge – and spaces that would build community and meet contextual objectives – based upon what is evident in MMORPG – and perhaps why many in Second Life are also gamers.

So, if I was to try and rapidly show teachers what online learning is, who are just beginning to think critically about online and cyber culture – then I’d run it out of Warcraft as a ‘live’ classroom. If I wanted a group of non-connected people to connect, I’d use it too. Only then would I step into Second Life.

The problem is – how would I get them to do either, when most people are still listening to the radio. More thought needed obviously.


2 thoughts on “Which comes first: Warcraft or Second Life?

  1. I’ve noticed an interesting thing with my twin boys (age 9) who both play WoW.

    I remember being a kid and play-acting characters from Star Wars. Now, my boys are play-acting their own WoW toons.

    Looking at it from the perspective of a kid, WoW isn’t just what’s in that virtual world. Rather, the characters, storyline, and lore of that virtual world are dragged out into the real world. And whereas as a kid, I could emulate Han Solo; for my kids, they are emulating their own virtual selves — characters they’ve created and adventured with in one realm and characters who they naturally extend to physical space.


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