The golden era of video arcades ended in the early nineties. Not because we became bored of them, but because the needed too much space. They resembled theme park rides – as you sat on horses, rode motorbikes and at one point, actually drove a Mazda MX-5 (though it never actually moved).
The ultimate experience however were the dark-rides in really big theme parks, like Star Wars and Pirates of the Carribean. Space became the over-riding issue for game designers – their desire to immerse players out stripped the physical space that they could put them in.
The advent of LANs and the Internet became the new playground they needed to expand. Today players are immersed in digital theme parks that dwarf early conceptions in movies such as Westworld. The problems being solved are on an equally epic scale.
Today, virtual space is infinate. We can create open worlds, connect entire continents of sims with godlike power. We can put people into spaces, give them hard work to do and they’ll complain if there isn’t enough.
Our imagination expects to experience the vastness of space – in three dimensions (Cameron’s Avatar) but also in satisfying, re-assuring story. Most recently Disney’s fairytale remake Tangled, which was a masterful 3D feast of animation and characterisation. Sadly, films often cash in on revenue, producing poor games. Avatar being a prime example. If any game ever wanted to be a MMORPG it was Avatar, but sadly no.
The reality of our physical space – our familiarity of unsatisfactory objects and arrangements can be escaped. That which is too big, too expensive and impossible to fit into real spaces we find in virtual ones. We demand to be not just actors in a role play, but find identity and do important work. This is not wasted time, but happy-down-time.
Text and teleconferneces have limited value beyond ‘work’ and ‘school’. We love to beat the tyranny of physical space, time and money – but if we can’t, or don’t need to – our virtual friends and co-participants play an important role in our lives.
So when As I sit down to think about virtual spaces — and how to use them productively for education, I imagine them to be far too big for their own boots.
Not a classroom, but a kingdom, not a class, but a race, not disciplines but talents. It’s not about whether Second Life is a viable learning space, but whether those using it are creating more viable experiences for a generation growing up on Xbox live.
Virtual school should (and could) be as engaging as Hogwarts, as dangerous as the Hunger Games with students as facinating Gracelings. The only this stopping this is the insistance that online space and technologies must be ‘integrated’ into school as personal learning environments. I, like millions, don’t actually want to create my own reality all the time, I want to escape into spaces that someone else has imagined, to do things that would otherwise be impossible. Whats wrong with setting learning inside a dark-ride, to be a character in a novel.
We do kids an injustice of we limit our efforts to moving writing from the desktop to the cloud, while the game designers and entertainment imaginators of this world are working hard to offer them more exciting ones. – in a curriculum that is centered around transmedia. It may well be that teachers don’t create these things – which begs the question, who will – or what happens if they don’t.