Interacting with Immersive Worlds Conference II – registration open

The second edition of Brock’s Interacting with Immersive Worlds Conference is taking place this summer. Registration is now open. I was able to attend last year, and it was the highlight of my conference season. Unfortunately I won’t be able to attend this year, so I’m going to miss out on some brilliant sessions.

Interacting with Immersive Worlds
An International Conference presented at
Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario
JUNE 15-16, 2009

Register to attend at: http://www.brocku.ca/iasc/immersiveworlds

Focusing on the growing cultural significance of interactive media, IWIW will feature academic papers organized along four streams:
-Challenges at the Boundaries of Immersive Worlds features creative exploration and innovation in immersive media including ubiquitous computing, telepresence, interactive art and fiction, and alternate reality.
-Critical Approaches to Immersion looks at analyses of the cultural and/or psychological impact of immersive worlds, as well as theories of interactivity.
-Immersive Worlds in Education examines educational applications of immersive technologies.
-Immersive Worlds in Entertainment examines entertainment applications of immersive technologies, such as computer games.

The IWIW conference also features 4 keynote speakers:
-Janet Murray, Director of Graduate Studies, School of Literature, Communication and Culture, Georgia Institute of Technology
-Espen Aarseth, Associate Professor, Department of Media and Communication, IT University of Denmark
-Geoffrey Rockwell, Professor, Department of Philosophy and Humanities Computing, University of Alberta
-Deborah Todd, Game Designer, Writer and Producer, and Author of Game Design: From Blue Sky to Green Light

Visit the conference Web site at http://www.brocku.ca/iasc/immersiveworlds

Organizing Committee:
Jean Bridge, Centre for Digital Humanities, Brock University, jbridge@brocku.ca
Martin Danahay, Department of English Language and Literature, Brock University,
mdanahay@brocku.ca
Denis Dyack, Silicon Knights, Catharines, Ontario, denis@siliconknights.ca
Barry Grant, Department of Communication, Popular Culture and Film, bgrant@brocku.ca
David Hutchison, Faculty of Education, Brock University, davidh@brocku.ca
Kevin Kee, Department of History, Brock University, kkee@brocku.ca
John Mitterer, Department of Psychology, Brock University, jmitterer@brocku.ca
Michael Winter, Department of Computer Science, Brock University, mwinter@brocku.ca
Philip Wright, Information Technology Services, Brock University, philip.wright@brocku.ca

SLOODLE v 0.4 available: educational tools in SL

Get your Moodle and Second Life mashup tools, make your LMS immersive!

From Serious Games Source

Founders of the SLOODLE project have announced the release of SLOODLE version 0.4, a toolset that will assist educational presentations in Linden Lab’s virtual world application Second Life. The project integrates Second Life’s classroom areas with Moodle, an open-source e-learning environment.

Report on the Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age Conference, Trondeheim, Norway

From Andrew Reinhard, a report on the recent short conference detailing the nascent Classicists-discover-computer-games movement:

A revolution is happening now and the flashpoint is Scandinavia. Both Sweden and Norway have fought and won to keep Classics as a vital and viable subject of study at the secondary school and university level. Activist bloggers like Moa Ekbom in Sweden (see her Latinblogg), and activist students like Magnus Eriksson in Norway have been responsible for rescuing canceled Classics programs while at the same time finding ways to resuscitate Classics, promoting and publicizing both Latin and Greek as important for contemporary audiences, not just relating to scholarship, but also to popular culture, stripping the stigma of elitism from Classics and proving that Classical Studies is indeed essential for anyone.

The Greek and Roman Games in the Computer Age conference was organized by Classics professors Thea Selliaas Thorsen and Staffan Wahlgren, both of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology just outside of Trondheim, Norway. The first of its kind, this conference sought to survey Classics in computer games and virtual worlds as presented by fifteen speakers from Norway, Sweden, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Full report here. I note one of the games mentioned is Caesar IV, which I’ve written about a number of times on this blog. Another series of blog posts from the conference floor live here. I look forward to future iterations of this conference, and hope they come to this side of the pond so I stand a chance of attending.

Virtual Excavation in Second Life Has Found a New Home

My thanks to Colleen Morgan, who has found a lovely corner of Anteater Island, an island in SL associated with the AAA/American Anthropologist and UC Irvine, for me to re-establish my virtual excavation.

I hope to have it up and running within the next month, at which point I’ll give the exact  slurl and invite feedback and criticism.

Thank you very much Colleen!

Excavating Second Life

When I was a grad student, I remember coming to the common room to find a friend of mine, tearing out his hair. Apparently, someone in his native Norway had just published a substantial article on the exact subject of his MA thesis, meaning he had to change his direction.

I was reminded of him when I opened my in-box this morning to discover that somebody has beaten me to the punch re the archaeology of second life. This is, actually, a good thing. For one, it shows that I’m not out to lunch with this project, and two, that archaeological journals (or at least, the Journal of Material Culture) will publish such work.

So congratulations to Rodney Harrison of the Open University, for his paper:

Excavating Second Life

Cyber-Archaeologies, Heritage and Virtual Communities

Rodney Harrison The Open University, UK, r.harrison@open.ac.uk

While the anthropology of online communities has emerged as a significant area of research, there has been little discussion of the possibilities of the archaeology of virtual settlements, defined here as interactive synthetic environments in which users are sensually immersed and which respond to user input. Bartle (in Designing Virtual Worlds, 2003: 1) has described such virtual settlements as `places where the imaginary meets the real’. In this sense, an examination of the role of heritage in virtual settlements has the potential to shed light on the role of heritage in both `real’ and `imagined’ communities more generally. This article develops the concept of `cyberarchaeology’ (originally devised by Jones in his 1997 article, `Virtual Communities’) to study the virtual material culture of the settlement Second Life, and in particular, its explicit programme of heritage conservation. A survey of heritage places in Second Life suggests that the functions of heritage in virtual settlements may be far more limited than in the actual world, functioning primarily as a structure of governance and control through the establishment of the rationale for (virtual) land ownership and the production of a sense of community through memorials which produce a sense of `rootedness’ and materialize social memory. Such functions of heritage are consistent with recent discussion of the role of heritage in western societies. Nonetheless, this study of heritage and cyber-archaeology provides insights into the ways in which the notions of heritage are transforming in the early 21st century in connection with the proliferation of virtual environments, and the challenge this provides to contemporary society.

Key Words: community • cyber-archaeology • heritage • Second Life • virtual settlements

I look forward to reading this!

EJA Review Piece, ‘Second Lives: Online World for Archaeological Teaching and Research’

A small review piece of mine, on Second Life & Archaeology, is now available from the latest issue of the European Journal of Archaeology:

Special Reviews Section: Second lives: online worlds for archaeological teaching and research: Linden Labs, Second Life, http://www.secondlife.com
European Journal of Archaeology 2007 10: 77-79. [PDF]

Archaeology in, and archaeology of, Second Life

Right now, it’s 6.17 am, EST, which makes it about 11.17 am Dublin time, and 3.17 am Second Life time. No doubt, there’s a wild party going on somewhere in Second Life, but here at the RWU virtual excavation prototype, all is quiet.

I’m waiting to give my presentation to the folks at WAC6 in Dublin, but last I heard, there were some technical issues on their end – so a good thing I made a video of the presentation!

Youtube, in the end, could not handle my video because they have an upper limit of 10 minutes – my talk clocks in at 13. Google video doesn’t have a length restriction, so I went with them (but seeing as how they own Youtube anyway, I wonder why the distinction). It took forever for the thing to upload – I had to leave the computer running over night. I uploaded as an AVI file – Camtasia makes excellent SWF files, but for reasons unknown to me, it truncated my video – after nearly two hours of rendering – to 4 minutes and 32 seconds! Anyway, the quality is a little blurry, but I never said I was Fellini…

The argument of the talk, in brief: SL for archaeology: a place to ‘do’ archaeology’, a place for archaeological VR, and a place for archaeological teaching and outreach.

  • SL as a place to ‘do’ archaeology: Virtual worlds have always existed – from the caves of Cro-Magnon, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli, to Disneyland, SL just the latest in a long line of virtual worlds. Indeed, since SL is a world of imagination and flights of fancy, it has more in common with the virtual worlds of the past created by historians or archaeologists in their reconstructions. How do we understand SL then? Think of games: what do games teach best? Not what they are ostensbily about, but rather, how to play them. The rules of the game might correspond with various historical epistemologies (think Civilization franchise): the rules of the game make a kind of argument for how the world works: a procedural rhetoric (in Ian Bogost’s felicitous phrase).
  • What are the rules in SL, in this world where ‘anything’ is possible? The rules are best expressed through how SL allows objects and scripts to be built: so to understand the rules and their implications means casting the same kind of archaeological eye over this virtual material culture and landscapes as we would in the ‘real’ world.
  • therefore, if millions of people choose to spend their time and money in SL or other similar worlds, archaeology has a role in uncovering and studying the procedural rhetorics of this new frontier.

That’s strand one. Strand two:

  • traditional archaeological VR: clean, antiseptic, disembodied: you can only experience it by looking at the pretty pictures. In SL, since you are embodied in an avatar, you can explore the experience of the space; space-syntax in the real world explores how interconnected spaces give rise to certain kinds of experiences, so it should be possible to use SL to explore interconnected, re-created ancient spaces with space-syntax tools…. also, SL tends to clean up after itself (if you drop something, it gets returned to you) so in the presentation we take a  side trip to SL dumpster to explore how one artists’ collective uses SL to collect others’ trash to study the lives of residents.

Third strand: SL for teaching

  • if the argument about procedural rhetorics is correct, and that the only thing games teach you is how to play them, then I make that a virtue by translating archaeological metaphors into the basic building blocks of SL. Demonstration of the RWU virtual excavation prototype, integration with Nabonidus on-line recording system.

And so, without further ado, the video which should make much the same argument as above:

Archaeology in Second Life – WAC6

I was originally supposed to be going to Dublin for WAC, to give two papers. Unfortunately, life intervened and I’m not able to go. However, I will be giving one of those presentations anyway, via Second Life in the Art, Archaeology, and Technology: Current Experiments in Interpretation session.

Abstract for Electric Archaeology: Archaeology In, and Archaeology Of, ‘Second Life’

Archaeology is about material culture, about exploring the human condition (not necessarily in the past) through how we create and manipulate objects & landscapes. In recent years, the power of computing has opened up new universes for exploration, places where individuals create the worlds around them. This paper discusses my archaeological explorations in the current leading virtual world, ‘Second Life’. This world deserves archaeological study – perhaps even needs archaeological study – in that it is nothing but pure construction of will and imagination. ‘Virtual Worlds’ are in themselves nothing new: from the Haning Gardens of Babylon, to Hadrian’s Villa, to Disneyland in Florida, humans have been creating fantastical worlds for many different purposes, with simple entertainment not necessarily the prime motivation. Building on these observations, the paper discusses my own attempts to alter this world for archaeological outreach: a re-usable archaeological excavation.

It will be a live presentation from within Second Life, if all goes according to plan. If not, I’ve already recorded a video presentation to be given in case of emergency, and I’m just waiting for Youtube to do its magic. It turned out to be much more difficult to make this video than I anticipated.

Firstly, you need to do screen captures in Second Life. I followed the directions here to make that work.

Then, I downloaded Camtasia studio (trial version) to do the movie editing. I spent a fruitless day stitching together my stills and clips and then trying to match the audio to the video. I found it easier (relatively speaking), to do the audio first, and then the video.

I used audacity to record my stream-of-consciousness lecture, and then imported that. (Is there anything more cringe-inducing than listening to your own recorded voice? At least when I speak live, I can react to my audience; speaking to a recorder makes everything into a monotone…).

I will make the video public after the talk, which is on Monday, 11-ish am (an early start at 6am EST!). If you’re interested in being in SL while I do the talk, let me know and I’ll send you the coordinates. I want to use the voice-chat feature, but for some reason I can’t get the microphone to work right yet. If I don’t get that fixed, I’ll be doing a mean amount of typing…

My virtual excavation prototype is coming along nicely. It has several contexts/layers, salted with artefacts from around the archaeo-web-o-sphere.  I have a large media projector loaded with the Nabonidus webpage; when students touch that, it opens a browser window allowing them to log into Nabonidus and to do their recording. Picture below:

Virtual Excavation Site, RWU in SL

In my preparations for the talk, I’ve been visiting many different sims, and I came across an amazing temporary build, A Cruise on the Nile:

A Cruise On the Nile

It was part of a fund-raising effort for breast cancer research, in the ‘Duchy of Greystoke’.  Worth a visit if it’s still up.

Archaeorama and the Amduat

I confess, I am not very aware of what’s going on in Egyptology – but visitors to Rossella Lorenzi’s new space in Second Life certainly will become so!

Rossella is a reporter for the Discovery Channel, and maintains a blog about the latest happenings in the world of archaeology. Recently, she’s been crafting a ‘Chamber of Secrets’ that recreates the passage from the world of the living to the world of the dead – or at least, how that was conceived in the ‘Amduat – the Book of the Secret Chamber’ and ‘the Book of Gates’. These funerary texts were thought to contain, according to Rossella, the secret to eternal life. Her posts about the creation process are here:

Yesterday, Rossella took me on a guided tour of her new zone in Second Life, and guided me through the Secret Chamber. It was most impressive, and struck me as an excellent example of how the ‘good-enough’ virtuality of Second Life can be used archaeologically. As I travelled through the Secret Chamber, I was reminded of caves, mithrae, and other secret places used for initiation rites in ancient cultures. It was quite a visceral experience, actually! Certainly, experiencing an Egyptian conception of the afterlife (or the road to it) carried much more force than simply reading about it…

Here’re a pic from my journey to the afterlife…

And here’s the link to a video Rossella made to give some of the flavour of the jouney.

Finally, cheers to Rossella for a well-done build in Second Life!