Monday, August 27, 2007

Better than reality?

A couple of weeks ago I was catching up reading posts on a list that I am on (which has nothing to do with autism). While doing so, I followed a link to an article about the virtual world, Second Life.

This article intrigued me, for a number of different reasons. Buddy Boy, over the last 4-6 months, has gotten interested in playing computer games. For now this has been limited mostly to a "Monster's Inc." game where you basically roam around, gather energy, and smash things, or a couple of "Game Boy" games that we have gotten for him. Occasionally he'll branch out into other online games, but the Monster's Inc. and Game Boy have gotten the bulk of his attention. As his interest and time has expanded we have found it necessary to limit his time on the computer somewhat, otherwise he would gladly spend upwards of 8 hours playing on the computer.

Another reason that I was intrigued by this is that the small amount of research I am involved in involves validating simulations as testing tools in medicine. Most of our simulations utilize computer controlled mannequins, but there are other research groups that are starting to explore simulations in virtual worlds. I have worked with simulations for more than 10 years, and I have seen people learn things during simulation that they then carry over into the real one.

Finally, the thing that got me hooked and following other links to read more about Second Life was a reference to an "island" created in Second Life solely devoted to Aspies and their caregivers.

But back to basics. "What's a virtual world?" you ask. At it's most basic level, it's a bunch of servers hosted by a company called Linden Labs. It's not really a game, as there are no points to be gained, or declared winners. Second Life has an introduction on its web site that says the following:

Welcome to Second Life. We are a global community working together to build a new online space for
creativity, collaboration, commerce, and entertainment. We strive to
bridge cultures and
welcome diversity. We believe in
free expression, compassion and
tolerance as the foundation for community in this new world.

Sounds good so far. One can join for free, but if you want to "own land" in Second Life, or start a business there, then you need to pay a fee (upfront costs as well as monthly maintenance). People make money there (commerce is carried on using "Linden dollars", which can be exchanged with U.S. dollars. As this article reports, companies such as IBM have a presence there, and some universities are teaching classes there.

John Lester, a researcher at Harvard University, has started a private island in Second Life called Brigadoon. This island is a place for those with Asperger's syndrome and their caregivers. My impression is that Lester is using this as part of a research project.

Basically I have mixed feelings about Second Life (and granted, I have not signed up and visited there-like I need another thing to take up my time). On the one hand, I can easily see any kid getting so involved in a virtual world that they ignore their responsibilities in the real one. On the other hand, having seen how skills learned during simulations can carry over into the rest of a person's life, I can see where a person might pick up socialization skills in a virtual world that could carry over. On the third hand, I'm sure that for people that are much more comfortable communicating via computer rather than f2f (face to face) it can be nice to have some online friends that share your outlook and interests when you might not find that locally.

So I'm soliciting opinions from others as to what they think about virtual worlds. Let me know what you think.


Daisy said...

I'm curious. I haven't looked into this sort of virtual reality at all.

mcewen said...

I heard an article about this on a radio a while back and how addictive it can be. For the time being I think we'll stick with the addictions we already have, and sim city isn't so bad.

Patrick said...

A number of spectrum organizations have groups that you can join on Secondlife, i.e. AFF (aspiesforfreedom)

I have only logged on a couple of times and there wasn't much chat going on when I was there.

I too remain undecided at this time.

But I definitely have had more social interaction on Everquest. (Though the adult language can be bothersome, luckily they have a bad word filter, but some folks are creative about spelling things to get around that.)

By the way I have seen rather explicit/exotic locations/adv ertisements on second life that are probably not suitable for the young too.

Joeymom said...

I used to MUD- once upon a ime when i had time- which is a text-based virtual Dungeons and Dragons game. Played with folks from all over the world. Met my now-husband. And here I am. Geek? Absolutely.

Club 166 said...

Evidently Second Life is limited to those over 18. They have a separate island for those under 18, though I don't know how much, if any, autism related stuff they have.

I suppose at some point I'll go check it out, but for now I think I'll let it mature a bit on its own before I go there.


Sarah said...

I've spent some time in SL - curiously, I've found it a little too much like real-life interaction, as opposed to posting comments on blogs like this one: other people can see me, if they talk to me I have to make polite chit-chat in real-time without time to carefully compose my responses. On the other hand, I've heard many people do find it very helpful. I would recommend it for the 3-D object creation aspect - you can assemble objects out of "prims" (primitive shapes), skin them and place scripts in them to make them do stuff.

Club 166 said...

Thanks, Patrick and Sarah, for your personal accounts of what to expect at Second Life.