Second Life, The Metaverse and just about everything else…

Five years from now a social networking site without a 3D universe will look like a dinosaur.
Mark Kern, President of Red 5 Studios. March 2007

I went along to the Tuesday evening induction session for Second Life that was conducted by Fiona and Sian. This was followed up by a session on how to build objects. Despite having a Second Life account for just under a year, I have to confess that I haven’t done a lot with it. In my role as a Learning Technologist, I need to keep an eye on what is piquing the interest of the H.E. sector and what tools and technologies may interest my academics – we also have the contentious issue of not allowing Second Life to run on University desktops; bandwidth being cited as the main problem.

The world of the metaverse is something of a hot potato at the moment. The BBC announced in January 2007 that they were planning to build a child-friendly environment called CBBC World. Metaplace are planning to offer free tools for non-techies to develop their own virtual worlds. In March 2007, Sony unveiled it’s offering to Playstation 3 owners called Home, where the rich, games quality graphics would give Second Life a huge run for its’ money as well as attracting a much younger, trendier market to the already overcrowded fora of World of Warcraft and Star Wars Galaxies. The Sony publicity machine went into overdrive and released this statement:

‘Home’ is a real-time interactive online world much like Linden Lab’s ‘Second Life’ and other so-called ‘metaverse’, except it’s designed for PlayStation 3, Sony’s newest home console. Millions of people now enter ‘Second Life’ on personal computers, moving avatars, or computer graphics images of themselves, in a virtual universe. Major companies are also setting up shop in ‘Second Life’, and analysts see great potential for such virtual worlds as a communication tool and real-life business.

Have a look at the trailer that Sony released to see what all the fuss is about; incidently they are offering this as a free download. However, this enterprise has subsequently been delayed until 2008.

Despite the competition, Second Life goes on by putting on live music concerts; degree shows; demonstrating what mental illnesses look like; continuing to promote the application of education; and anything else that makes a thriving community tick. Virtual Worlds are going to be an important tool in the future for the likes of role-playing; language acquisition and running simulations (like modelling diseases) that can advance our understanding about different ideas, concepts and working in dangerous environments or situations. IBM are also doing their bit for the metaverse by developing assistive technologies to help blind people traverse these worlds. Whilst Moveable Life provides a web interface to access your Second Life personae – not that I have been able to get it to work!

Whilst the teenagers of the Ipsos MORI (2007) report would consider University’s who would use technology for technologies sake as being “sad” and “tragic“. The EduServ Foundation, on the other hand, has been funding a series of reports looking at the take-up of Second Life within the UK Higher and Further Education sectors.

This to my mind is still a fun, addictive and emergent technology. I am looking forward to next week to explore how Second Life, or indeed other virtual worlds, can be used to support teaching and learning and to discover the opportunities and pitfalls that it may bring. Such questions that spring to mind include:

  • What makes a classroom? Is it walls, desks and books? or can we think and teach outside of these physical constraints?
  • Do we take our tutors more seriously if they are depicted as a human avatars? or can they “command” the same kind of respect if they adopt a non human one?
  • How will our choice of gender be perceived?
  • How will Gee’s (2003) three personalities: physical, virtual and projected come into play? How do they inform and shape our digital identity? (digidenity?)
  • Will Taylor’s (2001) notion of group, affiliation and social dynamics be easy to spot in Second Life as they do in real life?
  • What kinds of unacceptable and inappropriate behaviours will emerge in the virtual world which would not normally manifest themselves in the real world (being bound by social mores, etc.)?


DiGiuseppe, N. & Nardi, B., (2007). Real Genders Choose Fantasy Characters: Class Choice in World of Warcraft. First Monday. 12(5), 7 May 2007. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 November 2007].

Gee, J.P., (2003). What Video Games have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Ipsos MORI, (2007). Student Expectations Study: Findings from Preliminary Research. JISC [online]. Available at: [Accessed 08 November 2007].

Rymaszewski, M. et al, (2006). Second Life: The Official Guide. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Taylor, T.L., (2001). Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds. In: Schroeder, R. (ed.). The Social Life of Avatars. London: Springer-Verlag Ltd. pp. 40-61.