Inside the Rabbit Hole

I started using Second Life (SL) about 8 months when I first saw Gilly Salmon demonstrate it (via a series of PowerPoint slides in her keynote speech) to a bemused audience at the Learning Futures Conference 2007 which was held at the University of Leicester. Gilly was offering it up as a possible virtual learning space; and like everyone else who was exploring SL for its’ potential for teaching and learning – the jury was still out.

My rather basic knowledge of SL, at the time, amounted to the fact that people were, apparently, making a lot of money out of it and there were a number of news stories concerning some rather seedy and sordid going ons. I’ve never been a great one for computer games, favouring board games and role-playing games like “Call of Cthulhu“, so it never really registered on my radar.

Wray BourneHowever, Gilly Salmon’s enthusiasm for her subject is highly contagious – so much so that it should come with a Government Health Warning – and as a result I created myself a Second Life account and Wray Bourne was born. The basic avatar mechanics of moving, flying and teleporting I had got the hang of quite quickly. I even bought Wray some new clothes. In many ways, Wray was created to represent my ideal self (Bessiere, Fleming Seay & Kiesler, 2007), largely inspired by my love for all things gothic and, in part, by the characters that have appeared in Anne Rice’s novels.

I wasn’t really much interested in the shops and night clubs that permeated this rich and beguiling metaverse; and by the time I got online to visit those “islands” of education and learning, there was hardly anyone to talk to about their experiences. But last night (19-09-07), I got to talk to some of my classmates around the campfire which was utterly brilliant whilst sipping some virtual champagne (I much prefer the First Life version tank you!). I am so looking forward to those sessions taking place in Second Life and exploring those potential teaching and learning opportunities that could come from that experience.

Whilst I accept that SL isn’t, strictly speaking, a computer game; it is a world full of addictive possibilities in the form of avatar relationships; making money; building objects and magnificient virtual architectures and ecosystems (the detail that has gone into designing and coding of the ducks and the fish in Holyrood Park is pure poetry in animation); gambling and avatar sex. My use of the word “addictive” is a cautionary concern for people losing a grip on their “First Life” identities. Dreyfus (2001) and Turkle (1997) have had plenty to say about digital identities and how malleable they can be.

It’s not only the educationalists getting excited by the opportunities that can be afforded by SL, but the sociologists, psychologists and the tax man are getting very excited by it to!

Whilst SL is rather computer resource and bandwidth heavy, I do note that MetaPlace is going to release some free tools that will allow everyone to create their own virtual world and, so they say, it requires no programming expertise whatsoever. So runs the news item:

In contrast, Metaplace is entirely web based and connections can be made between all of the different worlds.

‘We modelled this on the web,’ said Mr Koster. ‘You can think about each world being a webpage and every object within in it is a link.’

Users can create the worlds using different methods.

People with no programming background can use the graphical interface and choose worlds from a number of templates, such as a shop or a puzzle game.

They can also clone worlds developed by other Metaplace users.

More competent visitors to the site can build a world from scratch using the tool’s own programming language known as metamarkup.

The language is ‘platform agnostic’, according to Mr Koster, which means that it can be used to create worlds which can run on anything from a powerful PC to a mobile handset.

I can’t wait…


Fildes, J., (2007). Virtual worlds opened up to all [online]. London: BBC. Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2007].

BBC News, (2006). Online gamers addicted says study [online]. London: BBC. Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2007].

Bessiere, K., Fleming Seay, A. & Kiesler, S., (2007). The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft. CyberPsychology & Behavior [online], 10(4). Available at: [Accessed 20 September 2007].

Dreyfus, H.L., (2001). On the Internet. London: Routledge.

Turkle, S., (1997). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. London: Phoenix.