Second Life – Simulations#1: Watch the monitor my darling while the gentlemen go by…

Five and twenty ponies trotting through the dark,
Brandy for the parson and bacchy for the clerk,
Laces for the ladies and letters for the spie,
Now watch the wall my darling while the gentlemen go by.

(Rudyard Kipling. The Smugglers Song.)

The virtual world can be used to train people in customer service, managing conflict resolution, science, architecture, medicine and much more.

Probably the most well publicized simulation was created by Ken Hudson of the Loyalist College’s Virtual World Design Centre for the Canadian Border Services Agency. Post 9-11, the agency could no longer send student border guards to the actual border crossing to gain first hand interviewing experience. Due to heightened security concerns students had to role-play interviews within the college environment. The students were struggling with this aspect and the pass rate for students dropped. Instructor Ken Hudson decided to recreate the border crossing in Second Life. The students then ran interview simulations in the virtual world. The result of this role-play interviewing caused a dramatic improvement that could be measured. In 2007 student’s interview skills (without the Second Life simulation) had the average grade of 58%. In 2008, after the use of the simulation, student’s interview skills averaged 86%, showing an improvement of 28%. (See New World Notes for the original story).  Check out the following YouTube video (also shown on Wagner James Au’s blog) this provides a sense of the simulation conditions for the students:

Two thoughts intrigue me about this simulation. One is the thought about smugglers attempting to carry illegal goods across so-called ‘real world’ borders. Smuggling has changed from the days featured in the romanticized Rudyard Kipling poem above. An example of this is the ‘Cocaine cast’ story’ where a man tried to smuggle cocaine compressed into a plaster cast for a broken leg.

The second thought revolves around using Second Life to create a virtual border post, intriguing when one of the wonders of Second Life is that it is multi-national and has no border controls… But then, perhaps the new ‘mature’ sims will have controlled border crossings? And then, that begs the question what would a virtual world smuggler smuggle?

‘Second Life -Why would you go there?’#4 Foul Whisperings

Skull and Copy of Macbeth
‘Foul Whisperings and Strange Matters’: Macbeth in Second Life

Q: Second Life, why go there?

A: To understand Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

I wonder how many people know what Second Life is? Of those who know what it is how many think it’s just a game? How many others think it’s a seedy sex place on the Internet? How many people visited this page because they wanted a voyeur’s window into the much publicized, yet little understood shadowy behaviors of avatars? How many people immediately left when they saw this post was going to be about Shakespeare’s Macbeth?

Silhouette of ruins
Macbeth Island: Silhouette of ruins

The virtual world of Second Life maintains layer upon layer of synthetic realities, and it is intriguing to see how some people extend understanding of humanity through ‘virtuality’. I was introduced to ‘Foul Whisperings and Strange Matters’ when I went to a Gronstedt Group meeting organized by Anders Wildcat. Over 25 avatars met on this small island that lies nestled deep within the virtual world of Second Life. Our Macbeth Island guide was an avatar named Anya Ixchel (Angela Thomas) who was up at 4:00 am in the morning (pre-dawn in Australia) to tell us about the virtualmacbeth project which she helped to create. I returned to the island a few days after Anya’s talk to explore on my own and take a few pictures (see below).

cyberloom in macbeth installation
Enlightenment at Foul Whisperings & Strange Matters?

Foul Whisperings and Strange Matters takes a new approach to understanding Macbeth. You do not land upon the island to watch the drama unfold, you actually become part of the action. Throughout the installation you can find copies of Macbeth, and when you touch the book note cards are activated on your screen. These pose questions, encourage you to look around where you might be standing, and deliver short speeches for your contemplation. In effect you become Macbeth experiencing his descent into madness. However, the full drama comes alive when your avatar falls under the control of unseen hands, and voices intrude upon your thoughts…

Cyberloom and Spit-Wrath sitting on the throne - Macbeth
cyberloom seated on Macbeth’s throne. (Note my avatar’s pursed lips and sinister stare!)

As I was drawn deeper into the maze of Macbeth’s mind I saw no other avatars, I was alone in the drafty castle corridors with only ghostly apparitions for company. I was intrigued by the thought that I was using the social platform of Second Life, yet here I was wandering the imaginary space in isolation. What struck me most about this is that my usual experience of Shakespeare is a social experience, plays are social creations that require a cast and aim to be realized on stage. Yet, here I was on my own and because of my virtual isolation in the Thane of Glamis’ castle I was, perhaps, a little closer to Shakespeare? Closer to the images Shakespeare saw in his imagination? This thought caused me to then wonder what Shakespeare himself would have made of 3D virtual environments?

Curio cabinet - Mabeth Sim
A wunderkammer holding items (with sound effects) that symbolize Macbeth’s ambition and psyche

The virtual environment of Macbeth Island is a fascinating place to visit and wander around, there are many intriguing details to see, and some macabre surprises (which I won’t reveal here). I do share one object of interest that is to be found in the throne room, the wunderkammer (see above) this is a cabinet of curiosities, used to symbolize Lady Macbeth’s influence on Macbeth’s mind. Each item on the wunderkammer produces a sound effect, but some of the sounds don’t match the object, a technique used by Anya Ixchel to unsettle visitors.

The Path of Temptation
The Path of Temptation

Anya Ixchel designed the island in 2 hours, and the NMC (New Media Consortium) team took 6 weeks to carry out the build. However the project itself did not reach completion for 6 months as it took that long to develop the brief, build, tweak and test everything. The result is a simulation that provides a vivid glimpse into the future of education through simulation.

For more information about Macbeth Island

Visit Macbeth Island: http://slurl.com/secondlife/Macbeth/44/51/54/

Visit virtualmacbeth Wiki for more information: http://virtualmacbeth.wikispaces.com/Island+Guide

See more photographs on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/virtualmacbeth/