Older Gamers (Level 50+) & Summer Gaming MOOC

I have signed up for this summer’s Games Based Learning MOOC which is examining the use of ‘gamification’ in educational settings. I have been thinking about running a class that looks at online gaming for ‘older gamers’ as well as the many wild and wonderful claims that are being made about the benefits of ‘brain fitness games’.

To launch this post here is a short definition of Gamification as supplied by Wikipedia:

“Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, return on Investment, data quality, timeliness, and learning. The word was coined by Nick Pelling.”


I taught Second Life for several years to small groups of 6 people at a time. these classes ran in sessions of 2 hours a week for 8 weeks. Student’s ages ranged from 50 to 90+ and the average age was around 72.

The classes were enormous fun to teach and sometimes quite challenging. I touched upon what I perceived were the positive implications of playing Second Life for brain health back in a 2010 blog post titled: Second Life – Why Would You Go There? #8 – To be a dancing banana. The classes were arranged with everyone sitting at a PC in the computer lab snd my instructor PC screen was projected in front of the class. This often caused an initial ‘perception-in-a-swirl’ moment for people, a visual shock that required conscious deconstruction and (if all went well!) perhaps even a speeded up ‘learning moment’. This was because many in the class were more used to TVs and their single viewing vantage point on screen. In class students saw each others monitors revealing various angles of the same scene generated by each avatar’s own camera view.

Two avatars sitting on the roof top drinking herb tea
Two avatars (students of Second Life) sitting on the roof tops drinking herb tea

So the students sat side by side in a room full of monitors which in turn simultaneously portrayed each student as represented by their avatars in a parallel virtual world. They collaborated with each other and shared many funny moments together. Students had to accept that everything was somewhat unpredictable and out of control. Technical glitches and quirks would cause us to suddenly have to adapt our declared plans for the day and see us switching destinations and activities in-world at the last minute. Despite the technological balancing act students appeared to enjoy and feel safe exploring the virtual world together. They helped each other to problem solve and remember repetitive actions (important for older gamers) while I assisted anyone who was more challenged by the activities in hand. Beyond providing basic technical training and assistance; I saw myself as their guide in a foreign land, helping them avoid the tasteless and rather daft and dubious ‘adult’ areas whilst seeking out educational, beautiful and fun locations.

It was a ‘happening!’
Over time I began to see the class had more in common with a ‘happening‘ than anything more traditionally educational. Students tended not to go ‘in-world’ from home. I did set up two times a week when I was available to meet them online but only a small number of students ever found their way into Second Life by themselves. The majority clearly enjoyed the classes with the group and guide and did not see themselves going off and exploring alone.

Those few who managed the computer set-up, online connection, application download and virtual world login did become independent virtual world citizens in their own right. Unfortunately, Linden Labs proceeded to make a number of peculiar business decisions that ultimately deterred most of these adventurers from using Second Life. In particular the SL viewer went through a wide range of updates and changes (ironically aimed at making the application more user friendly…) that meant people had to keep relearning the dashboard and menus. Perhaps if Second Life had kept support up for the older standard viewer with upgrade and downgrade options they would have sustained interest? Google allows this upgrade/downgrade option for its products and keeps this option for some time before fully switching to its new (thoroughly tested) dashboards. An approach like this would have dramatically helped my students (and no doubt other Second Life users?)

Golden Oriole freebie TV created by Oriolus Oliva
Watching TV in the virtual world. Golden Oriole freebie TV created by Oriolus Oliva

What next?
Eventually, Linden Labs cut their subsidy for educational institutions and educators packed up their inventories to migrate to new smaller worlds. There are now so many virtual worlds available in the educational virtual world universe that it is comparable to making a choice on what to watch and where to go on American cable TV. This seems to be an exciting, yet somewhat unstable period for virtual worlds and education. Technological stability is a necessity for educational settings and often the best applications require powerful up-to-date computers. As I look at options for the those who have leveled 50+ years in the area of fun, educational and challenging games it is important to stay in touch with the fact that many are using computers that are more than 3 years old.

Working on Kunst Himmel's iMak 3.0 computer
Working on Kunst Himmel’s iMak 3.0 computer getting ready to launch WOW

This is just a quick summary of my experience of working with Second Life and older gamers, this is my stepping off point into new learning. This brings me to one of the aspects that intrigued me about this summer’s Game Based Learning MOOC and that is that it appears to be particularly geared towards World of Warcraft (WoW). This seems to be a highly structured virtual gaming world. However, I cannot judge this virtual world / game without finding out more about it first. Inevitably exploration in WoW will cause comparisons to be made with Second Life and before seriously contemplating introducing this game to a class of older learners/gamers I need to play it myself. So wish me luck!

Confessions of a failed vampire

View of Les Roches Noires
View of Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys created by Sabine Creber

I  discovered an excellent article about Second Life photography (thanks to a tweet from Gridjumper).

“What I like # 79” by Cajsa Lilliehook, the Shopping Cart Disco columnist, spotlights a range of wonderful photographs taken in the virtual world of Second Life. Cajsa thoughtfully analyzes what it is she likes about each picture and also provides links to each photographer’s photo stream on flickr.

Suitably inspired by Cajsa, I thought I would depart from my ‘realistic as possible considering this is all virtual’ approach. Instead, I decided to switch over to something more moody. I also thought I would be rather more daring than usual and step onto a role play sim. Role play areas in virtual worlds allow visitors so long as they agree to comply to the list of visitor/observer rules. In some ways, this is the closest I will ever get to being Doctor Who; after all, he travels through time endeavoring not to effect events, as that would in turn alter history, and that would cause a great bucketful of squirming, unknown, consequences to spill out across the universe. Obviously, people who don’t know what they are doing can be quite distracting to both role players and historic moments in time.

Les Roche Noires in moonlight
Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys in moonlight

I decided I would visit a vampire role play area thinking this would provide me with atmospheric gothic scenes appropriate for my new photography. I landed in the vampire welcome area (there’s an intriguing concept) and conscientiously read the rules before acquiring my observer’s badge. I even invested in some medieval attire though I felt my avatar looked much more like a Sunday school teacher than a vampire. (Note to self, it takes work to look sinister however I let myself off with the easy approach as intentional moody photography seemed quite enough change for one day.) I then wandered through a string of boutiques designed to cater for the style conscious vampire who might be tempted to impulse buy on their way to the blood bank. Eventually, I found a gondola moored at the edge of a mysterious lagoon and proceeded to follow the instructions for entering the vampire realm. As I understood it, I was to click on the gondola wearing my badge and then I would be whisked off to join the vampires. No such luck! I probably tried for a good thirty minutes to put my avatar’s soul in jeopardy but all to no avail. A sinister chap walked by at one point but I was much to timid to address him. He had an air of intense purpose, obviously thirsty for virtual blood and much too polite to sup on a visitor hanging around the shops. After he was gone I returned to my task; I sat in the gondola, I stood up, I re-read the instructions, I re-visited the list of rules, I clicked on the gondola yet still nothing happened, my soul stubbornly remained terribly safe.

Les Roches Noires
Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys

I did wonder a few times if I had fallen for vampire humor? But then, I reasoned; visitors must be permitted as, just like bridge clubs and choirs, there must always be calls for new blood? In the end, I accepted that sitting in the gondola wearing an observer badge was the closest I was ever going to get to vampires. A day later, I figured out that the real reason I could not visit the vampires was because I don’t have an ‘Adult’ rating set up for my avatar. Good thing really, I don’t want to go there anymore!

All this reminds of the time I decided to get a tattoo (a ‘real’ one that hurts not a virtual one). I headed out with my tattoo design drawn up nicely. I felt ready to be embossed in insoluble ink only to discover that tattoos were illegal in the state of Massachusetts at that time. The next day i realized I really did not want that tattoo after all imagining how it would look when I was in the care home at 95. So… becoming a vampire is now equated in my mind to my tattoo near miss.

Chateau Medieval Garden
Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys garden

I dug deep into the Second Life destination guide looking for an alternative atmospheric setting. As you can see I picked upon Chateau Medieval, Dreams of Maelys a very sunny, airy castle nobly haunted by a display of famous French feminists. The castle was created by Sabine Creber, a French woman dedicated to fighting violence against women in both real and virtual worlds. It was just luck that brought me to the castle and the work of Sabine Creber but it had a sweet synchronicity following my failed attempt to enter the realms of inevitable aneamia.

Log Rolling Avatars and Virtual Identities

I think of avatars as vehicles, a means of travel within virtual worlds. They are frozen fragments of our kaleidoscopic self-image(s). Avatars as vehicles cost a lot less than a car and are capable of taking us to outer space one minute and far beneath the ocean in the next. Mosaic pieces of self spinning through the electric hum of cyberspace.

Log Rolling at Armageddon
A log rolling self portrait ? Lady Fog avatar on the island of Cocoon.

Visitors to different virtual world locations often adapt their avatars to blend in and belong. (Avatars tend to be rather conformist, but don’t tell them that.) Creators of both whimsical and educational locations in virtual 3D worlds encourage tourists to kit out their avatars according to the relevant theme. By encouraging visitors to ‘dress’ appropriately they can become more fully immersed in the experience of their visit. For example, if you visit the *1920s Berlin Project in Second Life it is suggested that you wear the (free) 1920s clothing provided. This helps avoid the faux pas of wandering around pre-war Berlin dressed as a medieval knight or a Nasa astronaut (basic considerations for experienced time travelers).

Treehouse and balloon
Treehouse and balloon on Cocoon Island (designed by rikku Yalin)

To my mind, this shows how we wear the places we visit in online 3D worlds (just as in our physical apparentlymorerealworld). With this in mind, I have recently been entertained by the idea of donning a Second Life avatar and then giving myself the task of seeing what place the avatar might wear… Hence the post where Lady Fog is liberated from a framed picture in the Meta_Body exhibition and carried away by mechanical flying boat to the island of Cocoon.

Queen of the crows
Animated avatar & possible Queen of the Crows ('Fog' avatar courtesy of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu)

Avatars are playing an ever greater role in our online lives. You do not have to visit virtual worlds to have one. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and a multitude of other social networking sites use avatars nowadays. In fact, at Gravatar.com  you are encouraged to zip up your ‘Globally Recognized Avatar‘  and prepare it for travel across the internet where it can be used on (as they say) a ‘kajillion websites’.  These gravatars are colorful cubes that we can stick in the comments box on sites (strangely parallel to sending letters with a postage stamp on an envelope). WordPress provides free patterned squares of color to those who lack a gravatar thus enabling them to leave a little decorative stamp of individuality in the comments area below posts. (Try it and see, you will be given a colorful cube with a geometric design (that looks surprisingly like a quilting pattern) should you decide to leave a comment below this post… Theoretically, once you have experienced a Gravar first hand you will be so stirred with the hunger to establish your own virtual identity you too will set out to establish your very own cube of portable social presence.

Peaceful view with distant ruins
Peaceful view with distant ruins (Cocoon)

In a way, a gravatar is our digital portrait. The poor person’s land grab in the digital void. The rich and famous commission paintings of themselves; these are highly controlled portrayals designed for posterity, destined to be the lasting record of their lives, forever posed in a good light. Well, whether you use the term avatar or gravatar, these pictorial signatures are cost cutting self-portraits and part of their economical use derives from the fact that they acquire significance from their surroundings. That is, you are saying something about yourself not only from how you depict yourself in your image cube but also in where you place your avatar/gravatar. The location soaks into your little avatar stamp and flavors it with peripheral information about your tastes and sensitivities.

Flying elephant
Cyberloom dressed as in Meta_Body's 'Fog' avatar seated upon a flying elephant.

This seems a good place to finish this post with an important statement about myself. I leave you with a picture of Cyberloom wearing borrowed avatar clothing, traveling through digital space seated upon a comfy cushion on a flying elephant. It really does say a lot about me.

Happy Space Traveling.

Post notes & credits:

*1920s Berlin Project in Second Life is actually a role playing sim in Second Life. This means site-seers are welcome but it is important that they wear the clothing of that period and allow those who are actually role-playing (i.e. imagining themselves in Berlin at this time and exploring their stories) are not interrupted. See the interesting article about this sim written by Jo Yardley, make sure that you check out the comments section as there is additional information posted there as well.

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.
http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Porto/126/113/703 (Please visit the gallery to see more of the avatar creations of Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin

Out of the Painting and into the Cocoon

A tale about a woman who escapes from the trap of a painting where she was held like a dead moth in a dusty case. Where was she from? Where was her home? Who was she? What dastardly magic had caught her and imprisoned her in art ?

Delicatessen and Fog Painting
Delicatessen and Fog Painting

There is a very special art gallery in Second Life, it is a huge shadowy room filled with paintings that glow in a dark cavernous space. It is intriguing to learn that all is not as it seems at the Meta_Body Exhibit found in the Petrified Gallery, for here we discover that these paintings can be brought to life. We the viewers supply that ‘life’… With just a few simple mouse clicks that lightly touch upon the canvas we can become the strange and mysterious beings of the paintings. (Truth be told, if we should ever pause long enough for thought, such activities could be seen as some form of arcane magical practice.)

Fog avatar leaving the gallery
Lady Fog running for the exits

I selected the image titled ‘Fog’ and before I knew it I was the lady known as Fog! It was almost as though the woman in the portrait had jumped down from her gilded frame and was making a run for the exits with my soul in her possession. Her shoes were very thin ballet shoes and they made a light swishing sandpapery sound as she ran across the dusty floor. Her dress was rough to the touch and she smelt of hessian sacking, garlic and hair spray. The next thing I knew I was trying to yodel like an Alpine shepherdess but found (rather sadly) I sounded more like a cheap imported fog horn. This ululating caused a fabulous mechanical flying boat to materialize, the astonishing machine then lifted me right through the gallery roof and high up into the dark skies overhead.

Princess Fog escapes the gallery by skyboat
Lady Fog escapes the gallery by mechanical flying boat (the Morpheus Meriman)

The flying boat flew across the electric night of virtual space and I wondered where Lady Fog was heading as the stars flew past us and I concentrated on not falling out of the flying contraption.  As dawn broke across the digital heavens the flying boat began to descend to a land I later discovered was known as Cocoon. To be continued

Dawn over Cocoon


The virtual experience of the body is not exactly an experience of the flesh. These sensations, albeit having a physical sensorial aspect, continue to be experienced in our bodies behind the screen, not in our avatar body. The virtual body is a metaphorical body, all language, therefore open to experimentation and possibility.
In this new project, Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu invite you, once again, to rethink your bodies through your avatars, making available all kinds of skins, shapes, body parts, clothes, etc. All these items will be fully modifiable, shareable and copyable, thus challenging the audience to become creators and also share their derivative work with us, in the All My Independent Women RL exhibition. While the avatars will be available in the Second Life Sim Delicatessen, the pictures and machinimas of the derivative work will be displayed at VBKOE, Vienna, giving a glimpse in RL of the new creative flux, beyond the concepts of author and work of art, happening online.

The above text is taken from Meta-Body on Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/capcatragu/6175364863/in/photostream

Post Credits:

The Petrified Gallery: Meta_Body Exhibit created by Meilo Minotaur and CapCat Ragu.

Mechanical Flying Boat by Sextan Shepherd

Cocoon at slurl: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Strand/143/125/39/ created by rikku Yalin

Pixel Light Travel

alpha.tribe avatar wearing scuba gear skin
Cyberloom wearing alpha.tribe scuba gear to enable 'Pixel Light Travel' at Burn2

Virtual travelling has its problems don’t you know. Teleporting is great and I wish it was physically possible to pick a location on the other side of the planet and then just be there. One day, maybe this form of travel will be perfected? Perhaps we have already caught a brief glimpse with the recent surprises at Cern where experiments suggest that subatomic particles have traveled faster than the speed of light. (See the BBC article ‘ Speed-of-light results under scrutiny at Cern‘.)

Traveling around Second Life’s Burn2 event on a busy day means dealing with enormous lag. Teleports can be as slow as a wait for a Zone 5 seat on a domestic airline jet in the US. Then, once you arrive at your destination you find your avatar behaving like a random quark as it negotiates digital space. I know I am not the only one having ‘funny moments’ in the digital desert, every so often I see another avatar standing still while their legs run really, really fast on the spot.

The solution is for everyone to reduce their avatar rendering by flinging off their pixel coverings. Better yet, pick up Alpha Auer’s free scuba gear at alpha.tribe. Just wear the wetsuit (without any accessories such as an aqualung or neko ears) and your avatar can achieve the stunning avatar rendering of 100.

Visit the alpha.tribe store in Second Life to pick up your scuba gear created by Alpha Auer.

Best in Hoop

best in hoop
'La Danseuse Du Crazy Horse' with alpha.tribe avatar "Redoute"

Location for image above:  The ‘Art Box’ gallery created by Frankie Rockett and Violet Sweetwater.

alpha.tribe “Redoute” avatar in white created by the incredibly talented Alpha Auer.

Moulin Rouge rooftop
Moulin Rouge rooftop with Cyberloom balancing in the big hoop (wearing high heels for goodness sake...tricky)
Close up of avatar wearing the lovely "Redoute" skin with paris in the background
Close up of avatar wearing the lovely alpha.tribe "Redoute" skin. This shows Alpha Auer's skin design inspired by the Belgium artist Pierre-Joseph Redouté.

Interactive homage to Pierre-Anthony Allard’s ‘La Danseuse Du Crazy Horse’ created by Frankie Rockett and Violet Sweetwater in Second Life.

Visit the alpha.tribe store in Second Life to see more stunning avatar designs by Alpha Auer.

Aviaos Shadowcrawler posing (very gingerly) on ‘Spikeball’

Impale - Avios Shadow Crawler
Aviaos Shadowcrawler posing (very gingerly) on Spikeball

Location for image above:  The ‘Art Box’ gallery created by Frankie Rockett and Violet Sweetwater.

Aviaos Shadowcrawler v.2 (Red Female) avatar created by Flea Bussy (tail detached for photo above).

Interactive homage to Jim Sweet’s ‘Spikeball’ created by Frankie Rockett and Violet Sweetwater in Second Life.

See Cyberloom’s earlier visits to the Art Box: Halo Feels A Little Suspicious… Elephant Girl Pays Homage To Helmut’s Bunny GirlWhistler’s Mother Was a Pirate and Vitruvian Woman.