World Shaker in Second Life

World Shaker is a book by Richard Harland, set in an age of steam-punk when vast mechanical monsters roll across the continents, competing for trade and power amongst rust, iron and imperial ideology. It’s supposed to be for 13+ audience, but don’t let that fool you. I’ve started reading it with my kids (8 and 4), who listen and at the same time like to flick though steam-punk images with Cool Iris. This has led to scrounging junk and a trip to the shops to buy lots of gold paint.

World Shaker is a tale of rebellion in a dark, steam driven age. It has all the elements that game story-telling oozes, and utterly enjoyable. Judy O’Connell put me onto the book, and has her own tale to tell about having the author work with her students. It really made me think just how perfect this books would be within Teen Second Life.

Second Life has a big steam-punk sub culture and many visual artists and designers have been able to explore the amazing mechanical and romantic ideas. These objects can be purchased in Second Life and immediately allow students to create shared reality to do all sorts of tasks around the novels narrative, using a range of online tools. They can use the ‘set’ to create alternate plot lines; characters; inventions; conversations … without having to create them.


At times I am asked, why Teen Second Life and not some other virtual world (in high school). Resources and maturity seem to be the obvious reasons. These images from Second Life scream quality and investigation – just as Myst (enjoying classroom revival) did to Gen X.

The difference today is that we can shape learning outcomes to adapt and change the resource AND share the immersive experience. The quality of the images, interaction and storytelling is critical to motivation and engagement. This can be achieved in Teen Second Life, though instructional design and learning objects – though game-based-activities.

It seems utterly facile for anyone to deny this approach and attempt to convince teens that ‘virtual worlds’ are cool; with a shared reality any less. This is what makes Ramapo so outstanding – Peggy understands how to lift the experience and motivation – while at the same time align it’s use to outcomes and assessment. Similarly with Quest Atlantis; the narratives and activities are purposeful from the outset – with a clear vision and passion. Other attempts often fall flat, as they are an idea, looking for a purpose. Content may be king, but motivation is God. This is why Quake was always such a great game and why Warcraft has a subscriber base greater than the population of NSW. (sorry I probably lost a few on that last sentence).

World Shaker, in my view is a sim worth creating for high school as a pilot. Rather than try to create a world and find a purpose, World Shaker is a book seeking further augmentation with technology. It would be great to see an instance created where students could undertake a series of activities both in the classroom and online. The online simulation would see students interacting specifically with a role-play, perhaps including a collaboration between University drama students and pre-teachers, where the author plays a key role in dropping in new narrative or tweeking the experience. We have to think about virtual worlds as story telling – and forget seeing them as places to complete ‘units’ of work. They are a place to immerse yourself in a new kind of learning experience.

Inside the sim, we can provide ‘teacher areas’ – perhaps in the officers quarters, we can cast students as Filthies or Menials. Students can take rooms on the Upper Decks. Teachers can request students to present themselves to the Northumberland Rooms for a briefing. We can crate virtual school – inside the novel and do what we like. That’s the point to me for a High School Virtual World – to take a compelling back story and use it to motivate curricula in multiple directions.

The problem with Virtual Worlds in the hands of bureaucrats and pilots is that the reason they are there is to explore a technology to which a purpose is added. It is completely the WRONG approach to engaging students and teachers with technology in today’s Xbox live world. Story Telling is the BIG DEAL and is reshaping narratives. Ask the games industry what the ‘hot job’ is going to be in the next decade – writers.

What the World Shaker Sim needs is a Librarian, a Virtual World facilitator, an instructional designer, creativity and an author willing to turn the book into an experience though curriculum. There will be some minor ‘Lindeness’, but rest assured the World Shaker sim would make a fantastic basis for some ‘brave’ Australian Educational System to develop in conjunction with a certain University and a Virtual World Community.

But you can’t own it … as World Shaker would be owned by the inhabitants. In fact it would be more than Wonderwall. 🙂 and really, if kids access it outside the bubble; are teachers not already working at night? I must go talk to the Jokaydians.

Teen Second Classroom Nomination

Wow, I was amazed to see Teen Second Classroom, get nominated for an Eddie.

Given the amount of social networks out there, getting noiced is one thing, getting kids to use it another – but to get nominated, just fantastic. Judy O’Connell and I created the space last year, together with Second Classroom. The later, we hoped to gather 100 members by the end of the year, which I noticed we achieved this week. The aim was initially to just connect educators who are looking at virtual worlds, MUVES and games.

Teen Second Classroom we thought would be a place for students involved with this in classrooms, could come to connect and reflect on what they were doing, in an authentic and informal way. One challenge in introducing virtual worlds into a school time-table, is that it has to be accountable.

This is hard to do in Skoolaborate, given that adults can’t go and have a look around.

We felt that reflecting on the experiences was important and develop their fluent use of ‘making and collaborating’ in TSL and reflecting in a blog. A place for students to share development tips as they saw them, and to reflect on their own work.

Consider that students only had 1 hour a week in class, all 9th graders, and apart from being given the ‘problem’, had to work out just how to go about using second life to create a 2 minute Machinima film, based on a Shakespeare play. So this was a huge challenge for them, how to go about doing everything.

The students did spent more time in world, at home, at lunch etc., – and it was interesting to see how their need to ‘learn how’ led them to collaborating with other Skoolaborate avatars. This I guess was a kind of experiment on my part. They knew other people were in there … would they turn to ‘network knowledge’ as a solution – is that how they learn? – and yes, that is exactly what they did. The need to learn, make and do led them to forming relationships with others in Skoolaborate, but wasn’t explictly outlined.

In doing that, they needed to solve a number of problems – how to screen shot, how to write reflectively – what kind of writing would show their progress etc., So the work in there is all self-directed. We purposely keep well out of they way, and it was interesting to see how they started to use it. In the classroom, students worked in-world, but also checked the community for video clips and what others were doing.

The future of it? Well I really hope that some of the educators in Second Classroom, will form student groups in the Teen community – and that students will work to mentor and help each other in these environments.

As I’m not in the school now, Lucy Gresser will pass on my congratulations and continue to work with the students.

At the end of the day, the site is not mine, or Judy’s, but belongs to the students. Its important in all out ‘love’ of SL, that we hear students reflect on what they do, not just report on it as teachers.

Click here to vote if you feel so inclined.

Sony homes in PS3 based Social Power


It might not be news to some, but Sony has been inviting the hardcore faithful into Beta tests of ‘Home’. 

Sony claims Home is comparable to Second Life, as a virtual community of PS3 owners living together in both public and private environments.

Users will be able to login, chat with both text and speech and play casual games together such as pool, bowling and even embedded arcade machines. And when the old stand-bys grow stale, users can invite one another into other PlayStation Network titles outside of PlayStation Home.

Every user will have their own virtual apartment to decorate with furniture, their trophies from various games (see: achievements) and content from their own PS3s. Since the initial limited showings, but a fair amount of talk, this ‘world’ is certainly aimed at ‘pull’ technologies. The user has some ability to decorate and move around, however unlike Second Life, Sony decides what is in, out and what you can do with it at this stage.

The proposed interface for navigation is not suprisingly a virtual PSP. Sony claim to be selling 280,000PS3s  a month. At this point Home is supposedly ‘free’ for PS3 customers.

The gamer hardcore (who hnd out in forums) are however a little unconvinced, as recent ‘sneek’ peeks still don’t allow gamers to meet in themed areas. So if you are into Call Of Duty, then your ‘sim’ is not likley to be themed as per the game. Instead, a central plaza offers bollwing and pool.

Jack Buser from Sony commented

“The real reason for the game space being there is to give you an excuse to do something to meet people,” he said. “Take pool. It’s just like playing pool in real life. You do it to hang out with friends. Maybe one out of 10 times you play pool it’s actually to get better at your game.” 


The graphics are going to be slick – the PS3 is a very powerful machine, but how much ‘free’ content will exisit and how much ‘paid’ content remains a mystery. How and financial system works is not clear, nor any mention of connection speed – and the curse of Second Life – lag.

Right now the limted Beta testing is leading Sony Forum types to talk about Home as ‘vapourware’ – as there is little more than a few screen shots and a promotional video to go by – and that has been around for a while – there seems no rush to announce a date. But that is not common in this sector of the market.

Given the endless console wars – this is however an area that Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo are all exploring. However, content – as Linden Labs know, is king.

Developing an experience that adds to the gaming experience is the product to be sold here – and that is directly linked to commercial interests or not just Sony Playstation and it’s developers – but also it’s wider interests in music, film etc.,

It ‘s not clear how Home will be rated in terms of ‘age’ and ‘safety’ so again hard to suggest where it might fit into the spectrum of virtual worlds right now. Once again, this is very much the challenge of all online communities right now.

PSPs and PS3s are very powerful machines, and have a solid following. This further illustrates how ‘big entertainment’ (Sony pulled out of buying Club Penguin, leaving Disney to do so) – are actively hiring bright thinkers, gamers and social networkers to talk about and develop their product.

The media age is creating new opportunities – and game developers learn about social aspects of gaming – over and above providing a 2D web portal to ‘join a game’. We can’t really tell kids anymore that ‘you can’t make a living out of video games – as quite clearly – you can, and a very good one.

As one forum post commented on Home’s dribble feed of information

Among my worries- people generally don’t “behave”. If you’ve played WoW, Second Life, or to an extent XBox Live you probably know what I mean. Also, ads? This looks like a *very* expensive system to maintain, and if it’s (mostly) free, that means I foresee a lot of ads, possibly to the point of pushing users away. Only way to avoid that would be really expensive add-ons, like the clothes and furniture, and then you don’t get as many buyers, and you’re back to square one. So we’ll see about that.

Commercial advertising or click throughs are the lifeblood of the internet. One advantage I think Second Life has always had is that the user owns the IP, and in that regard to choose to take or leave anything they see, and in that regard you can make a living out of Second Life. Perhaps more significantly for students, they can break into Second Life Development – far easier than they can Sony – and on their own terms.

Nintendo is rumoured to be getting social. Animal Crossing for the Wii will be an MMO/social networking title. It’s no great surprise – in a few short years, Animal Crossing has become one of Nintendo’s most-loved and top selling franchises (over seven million copies sold) – mostly sold in Japan. And Nintendo is quick to talk about it as a ‘communications game’ – will pull technology being used to draw users to it.

The cross-over between console, mobile computing, mobile phone, laptop, desktop, plush toys, action toys has happened.

 Its a convergence that has been made possible by read/write technology over TCP/IP – and is spilling over into all devices that can push out a wifi signal. It is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘how much’ and ‘where’ these things will be accessible from. Everything and everywhere seems to be a reasonable assumption at this point, But there is a snag for society. As Beth commented on an earlier post -“ it further divides the have/have nots – the tech savvy and the not.”

Consoles are pervasive with Australian school age children.

While PS3 is expensive, XBOX360 is also another LIVE console – and as supply issues get sorted out towards the Christmas season – both Sony and Microsoft will wage further price and feature wars – inching ever closer to the console being a ‘social’ experience – as the price point falls.

As we debate – media literacy  and global citizenship s – I think that running a private Teen Second Life Island looks like very simple thing to do in light of what is fast arriving from the commercial sectors. Developing re-useable ‘teen’ content in online spaces has to happen – as teens will be using these spaces after school.

But as many adults don’t play games – and are not used to putting out personal information with ‘strangers’, then there is a huge void between what ‘we’ think and what ‘they’ think. Adults often have no idea of using a 3D Graphical User Interface full stop, and when using a computer – monotask. Kids don’t.

Music, social trends, social networks, video games, movies and fashion have blended into ‘life’ – and that life is online – in a continual conversation – that can be remixed, re-packed and re-used.

If schools and teacher think that some ‘tenure of authoriity’ based on decades of autocratic classroom management will maintain ‘school values’ then I see a very worrying time ahead – for students as their classroom ‘learning’ drifts further and further from their social learning – but at the same time, access to this is based on having, as Beth said, Tech-savvy parents that can afford it.