Coincidentally, two emails I received today pointed me to Second Life’s potential as a platform for serious simulations. One directed me to an article on The Register titled IBM’s ‘Secret Island’.
IBM has decided to use the capabilities already developed by Linden Labs for its Second Life gaming environment to build a separate, experimental area within it. Participants – from IBM research and development departments around the world – can contribute whatever they feel is important to create a productive environment in which to conduct and manage “business”.
The story goes on to mention just how sophisticated this experimental sim within Second Life already is – with tools that create other objects in the sim on demand, to a portal to an external business system. Two aspects of this world are of particular interest – one, the possibilities for dispute resolution within a sim and two, the mention of the language translator system, that can add a whole new dimension to avatar interaction in sims. As I mentioned in The Future of ODR:
Second Life has a complex business model, a currency pegged to the US Dollar, vibrant commerce and industry within the game, sophisticated intellectual property rights that govern inventions within the game-world of Second Life, and entire livelihoods that take place in a totally virtual domain. To anyone who hasn’t played the game, the complexity of the virtual world is less than that of the physical world. In reality, the complexity is far greater – since independent from the laws of gravity, physics and to an extent, morality, religion and social norms, the imagination reigns free within Second Life – giving rise to social and commercial transactions that are sometimes far more complex than those in the real world.
Given the complexity of relationships in a sim, the endeavour to create business models inside them need to grapple with new markers of trust, reputation, quality and service. As the article mentions “the experiment is, however, already throwing up areas for serious consideration, not least the complexities that might arise with managing the licensing of the IP behind useful gadgets and add-ons. Less obvious and tangible issues will revolve around the development of etiquette and behavioral rules.”
The availability of a language translator is fascinating development in itself – and is the first that I’ve heard of for Second Life. Coupled with some of my earlier posts on how ICT can revolutionise the way we communicate with each other, the potential of a language translator tool, especially if it is in real time like some translation tools that already are, is that it allows for at least rudimentary conversations to take place between people who would otherwise not have spoken with each other at all. This opens up another world of possibilities – as the technology invariably improves, we may finally be able to envision a time when meeting in Second Life becomes second nature.
Finally, a note on Second Life and peacebuilding, continuing what I wrote here. A blog post today on the Official Linden Blog has generated a lot of debate on how Linden Labs should (or should not) overtly support and address peace. My own submission to the forum highlighted the need to look at SL’s potential in the future as a rich, interactive platform that could bring together groups to exchange ideas even when they cannot (or cannot be seen to) meet in real life.
As pointed out in this interesting research study, MMORPG’s such as Second Life have several interesting characteristics:
Neutral Ground: Individuals are free to come and go as they please. In online games, players are not obligated to play; joins and quits are not significant events.
Leveler: An individual’s rank and status in society are not significant. As in the culture of early video game arcades, “It didn’t matter what you drove to the arcade. If you sucked at Asteroids, you just sucked.” Players on online games use a separate avatar unrelated to their real life person, and social status is rarely invoked.
Conversation is Main Activity: In third places, conversation is the main activity that the individuals participate in. While debatable as the main activity in online games, players would not disagree that conversation plays a crucial role. Often, conversation drifts to real world discussion such as personal life, politics, culture, etc.
Accessibility & Accommodation: Third places are easy to access and accommodating to individuals. Online games allow players to log on and off at will and there are always players online. Activity occurs throughout all hours of the day.
The Regulars: Regulars are those who give the place its character, and attract new individuals. Guild members, who form a clan to play the online game together, and squatters, who stay within an area of the game, are the regulars of the online world.
A Low Profile: Third places are characteristically homely and without pretension. The population of online games follow a parabolic curve; after the onset of players following the release, the regulars remain while many move on to higher profile games.
The Mood is Playful: The general mood of a third place is playful and witty. Players in online games crack jokes during heated battles, perform goofy actions with their avatars, and mock each others’ appearances. Rarely are players overly serious about game matters.
A Home Away from Home: Rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth. Online games possess a homely atmosphere where players notice others’ absenses and makes the overall feel of the game “warm”.
While I don’t agree with all of these points, and certainly don’t believe that the aspects of MMORPG’s as noted above aren’t mutable and dynamic, they are nevertheless interesting markers as to why SL, and competitors such as Active Worlds offer some fascinating possibilities of supporting peace negotiations and cross-cultural conflict transformation in the future.