Before this week’s readings and activity of creating a Second Life (SL) account, my knowledge of the 3D virtual world was pretty limited. In fact, I first heard of SL from one of my all-time favorite TV characters Dwight Schrute. Since then, I have only had one other encounter with SL, through an assignment in another other graduate course, viewing Digital Nation. The PBS documentary included an example of IBM using SL to hold meetings and create teams of employees from around the world to work on projects completely through the virtual world. They loved it and hailed it as a huge success. I wasn’t fully convinced. And I am still pretty skeptical.
I had always seen SL as an online arena for mainly online gamers, but as Dwight reminded me, along with our readings this week, it’s not about winning or losing or scoring points, it’s more about providing an opportunity for many forms of interactions. As Boellstorff writes in Coming of Age in Second Life, “What happens in virtual worlds often is just as real, just as meaningful, to participants” (Boellstorff, 2008, p. 21). As soon as I logged into SL, I was immediately overwhelmed. Where am I? Where am I supposed to go? Who is this random man standing near me? I quickly found out via the “chat” option that his name was “Fabian Faux” and he was just saying hello. He offered to help me navigate. Really? Is this how it works? And how easy it is to connect with someone? Within the next five minutes someone else had “given” me a “red rose.” Um… okay? haha Clearly I wasn’t expecting the immediate interaction, but I guess that’s the point of a virtual world, right? For those who had never been on SL before, what was your initial reaction? Did you have an immediate interaction with someone else? Did you have sensory overload like me?
Working in the healthcare industry, I was very interested in reading Learning in a Virtual World: Experience with Using Second Life for Medical Education. Before reading the article, I couldn’t imagine physicians thinking a virtual world could help with their continuing medical eduation (CME) but it did really garner positive results. While only 17% of the 14 phyicians participating felt the experience was superior to face-to-face CME, all felt SL was an effective learning tool for CME and would enroll in similiar online training again in the future. Beyond the physicians experience, I did think the article made a great point of saying SL could provide nursing staff and medical students with virtual training to help learn about new equipment, learn new techniques, and build confidence. While SL does pose technical and security issues, like any online tool it can be beneficial, especially its 3D capabilities for medical training experience. The article mentioned some other industries, such as NASA, which use SL, can you think or any other industries that could benefit from using the virtual world to deliver education/training?
At one point in my initial SL experience, I had to log off and I was surprised that when I logged back in I was in the same spot. Boellstorff made a great point that “the virtual world persists when individuals turn their computers off” (Boellstorff, 2008, p. 12). It makes sense when it comes to creating those online relationships and being able to reconnect with people, whether they live around the corner from you (physically) or around the world. You can all live together in a virtual world and grow those relationships if you want. If not, all it takes is the click of a button to “teleport” somewhere else and start all new interactions.
So as I contemplate buying some new shoes or shirts for my avatar with “Linden dollars,” I’ll continue to explore or “teleport” through this virtual world, that before today I didn’t realize could have real ramifications for business, education, and relationships (as an online relationship could always turn into a real partner). While ou may not agree with Dwight on “everything being the same” in SL, I think we can agree, at least we can fly!