Ok, another post on virtual worlds and immersive learning environments. Sorry, but this is a huge focus of my work these days, and I’m going to be pit bull-esque on this topic, for a while.
I just came off of a couple of days this week filled with meetings and discussions having to do with 3D virtual worlds. In fact, I had the pleasure of meeting Chris Melissinos, Sun Microsystems’ Chief Gaming Officer on two occasions this week. I think Chris would describe himself as a gaming parent raising gaming children.
In my attempt to understand the differences among the existing 3D gaming engines, I think I finally have a handle on what distinguishes Sun Mircosystems’ new MPK20 (built on top of the Project Darkstar server infrastructure) from Second Life or the Croquet Project. Although the latter two are considered Open Source, whatever is built in those platforms, stays in those platforms. Conversely, Sun’s MPK20 (geez, that’s a techie name) will use open API’s which means any assets you want to work with (e.g., objects, tools, buildings, your own avatar) will be importable and exportable.
One thing you will be able to do with MPK20 is use other applications right in it. So distributed teams of people, for example, can gather ’round a kiosk showing a Visio flow diagram or a 3D engineering model. The team can then work on building the model together in this virtual space, talking to each other via VoIP. You might say, well, we can do this presently in existing Web conferencing tools which offer desktop or application sharing, so why do we need to do it in a virtual space?
I’m not sure I can answer this yet, but Chris would say, the virtual world is a train with no brakes - you can either get on the train or stay on the tracks. That the developers are adding the functionalities we already value, I believe is a good thing. But whether 3D worlds hold positive prospects for you or not, one distinction is worth noting. Instead of being an observer of what’s occurring in one dimensional software programs, with 3D worlds you actually become part of the environment momentarily forgetting about the physical space you occupy. People who are comfortable in these worlds likely will have a leg up on future careers.
The push of the 3D applications among other things, is proof that people are looking for a deeper means of approximating real connection with each other in the digital world. What’s is likely to occur once practiced in multiple 3D spaces is a blurring between one’s real self and one’s virtual self, as people seamlessly use one of their “selves” to meet up with people, transact business, or teach or take courses. Die-hard gamers may already know this phenomenon.
Chris envisions that sooner or later, we will have access to virtual world (VW) identities where we only have to create one avatar which will be universally recognized after logging in. Applications will have layers of security, just as commercial sites have now via https (or the padlock) so we can choose when to render personal information or more importantly, when and how to share information and products such as course curriculum, that we build inside the VW.
Here’s another Sun video, well-worth watching. It’s their new MPK20 virtual workplace demo video, fresh off the virtual cutting floor. (October 2007).
You’ll need Quick Time V7.0 to view it.
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