Editorial note: Of course what everyone wants to know these days is what effect will Zynga have on Second Life? (Readers are encouraged to provide answers.) What follows is a guest blogby John J. Meier, assistant librarian at Penn State‘s Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library providing background on Second Life. This originally appeared in Voices of Central Pennsylvania with the title, “PSU’s Second Life Encourages Students to Get One.”
When I was trying to get a better understanding of the effectiveness of Sonali Kumar’s 3-D model of Blueroof Housing for disabled and elderly individuals, John introduced me to Second Life as a quick and free way of being immersed in a virtual world through the use of an avatar who shares this world with millions of avatars controlled by millions of globally immersed participants. Psychologists and human resources specialists use one of Penn State‘s islands in Second Life‘s 3-D universe to provide counseling to students in emotional distress.
This avatar isSpeedy Przhevalsky.
Speedy is getting ready to change his appearance. I once spent two days trying to decide among a startling number of options regarding the size and shape of his ears, nose, eyes and so on until there was too much to decide and I decided to send him off to walk, run, fly, explore, buy, create, receive virtual therapy, and eventually convince me that he is more real than I am.
Second Life’s Virtual World Includes a Detailed Alternate Reality at Penn State
John J Meier, Science Librarian, Physical and Mathematical Sciences Library at Penn State
The future has made a great deal of promises, mostly through the voice of science fiction films and books, but we have yet to see flying cars or man on mars or The Matrix.Or maybe we do have that last one after all.In the eponymous film, The Matrix was a fictional world generated by computers, a virtual reality where every living person existed and some could fly and dodge bullets.There is actually a computer generated virtual world where anyone CAN fly and interact with other people in another Earth, it is Second Life.
Second Life is a computer program, available for free download, which allows anyone to enter and interact in the virtual world of Second Life via broadband Internet access.Unlike some online worlds, such as the popular World of Warcraft, Second Life has no monthly fees for the basic user.The money used in-game, “Linden dollars,” can be purchased with real money and provides the company behind the game with a source of income.They also lease the virtual real estate to individuals and organizations on a monthly basis.You must be 18 years or older to play Second Life, though there is a Teen Second Life in a similar virtual world for 13-17 year old users.Second Life has considerable “adult content,” which has areas specifically set aside in the game recently.
Each user sets up an avatar to use in the game, which is a representation of them in the game world.These avatars are often human looking, but can be anything such as an animal or fantastic creature or even an inanimate object.The avatar acts as the person controlling them:conversing with other avatars by chat, sometimes known as instant messaging; walking, flying or teleporting around the virtual world; or interacting with other objects in the world, such as chairs or buildings.Objects are created for the world by the users of the game and through a special programming language called the Linden Scripting Language. These objects can also move and operate on their own.This allows for creation of items like cars, clothing with moving images, or almost anything imaginable.
While Second Life could be called a computer game, there is no winner or official goals.Success is measured in some similar ways to real life, such as money and property as well as respect in the community.
Creativity is highly prized and since the cost of creation is mainly time, it is possible for anyone to be successful.Interactions in the game can even be recorded as videos, which spread outside the game as movie shorts or music video remixes.Since avatars can also be customized, the appearance of other users in itself reflects a dramatic diversity and can challenge the expectations of a novice user.Despite the seemingly limitless possibilities, Second Life seems more like the real world than many other virtual worlds and online games.Most avatars look human and objects are often those found in the real world at their normal scale.
Much of the real estate in Second Life is the property of organizations or companies, which often purchase one or more of the standard “island” sized properties.They often use this land to create a virtual presence in the world as a way to engage customers, interest potential employees, or to conduct meetings and informational events.In a global economy and worldwide commerce distance is often the limit, though it has no meaning in a virtual world where travel is instantaneous.
Penn State has a number of islands in second life: an island for the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), an island for the Penn State Berks Campus, an island for the Penn State World Campus and an island in Teen Second Life for the Penn State Admissions Office.
Since almost any object can be created in second life for only the cost of time, it is often used to create a presence for a real institution or service.It can also allow users from across the world to interact in a similar environment to the real world. Research projects in Second Life can also take advantage of the large-scale social and economic interactions going on between the millions of registered users.
Naturally, I begin with myself. The primary theme of my website is based on a scholarly body of literature known as experienced-based design which for the layperson, such as myself, means that I should have a role in the design of the world I live in.
2. My focus. Specifically, I am focusing on two separate worlds (or perhaps world views would be more correct); namely:
Reality: the design of housing for elderly and disabled individuals such as myself
Virtual reality: the tool that makes it possible, economical, and more efficient to create a 3-D model that can be used as a template for the massive construction effort required to house the elderly population here in Rust Belt, PA, and as we age; we “baby boomers” who constitute the largest generation in our country and indeed the world’s history. Stay tuned for more on this demographic reality and its impact.
McKeesport, PA is the unlikely location for a presentation of how the reality of technology currently being constructed should serve as a model for the future. The overriding example presented here is a non-profit corporation BlueroofTechnologies founded 10 years ago, where I spent three days and two nights in December as the first invited guest at the Blueroof Experimental Cottage shown here with Blueroof’s founders on the front porch (a front porch identified by elderly residents as being significant to their sense of well-being):
Next is a photograph of next door in decaying McKeesport. Notice that the road and sidewalk are rotting, and the door and everything else about the building has been demolished, but the wheelchair-accessible curb cut is brand new. (Stay tuned for more on McKeesport‘s curb cuts to nowhere.)
The principal characters in this encomium to Blueroof’s founders are Dr. Robert Walters, (left) a former engineering professor at the local campus of Penn State, and John Bertoty, a retired principal of the local high school.
My under construction profile of John’s cofounder reads: “Robert Walters is the kind of engineer who collects more data than he knows what to do with, but wants more.” Bob currently is collecting data on the number of times the residents of a non-experimental Blueroof residence open their refrigerator doors.
Assume your 86-year-old mother is living alone in an apartment (which is basically what a Blueroof Cottage is). If she has not opened her refrigerator door for three days, that indicates something is wrong. The wired cottage alerts you in a timely fashion and you are able to get there before three days, whatever default Bob contrives. Instead of arriving at Mom’s residence to find her passed out on the floor, requiring an ambulance and who-knows-what, you are able to get over there and help your mother out.
This is a device Bob contrived to measure activities of daily living (ADL) and signal alarms and phone calls for help. The wireless BlueNode System (motion detectors and other sensors not shown, nor the refrigerator):
University Park, PA. is a two and a half drive east and north from McKeesport. Here the Penn State Department of Architectural Engineering (AE) is home of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living, an interdisciplinary group which has the capability to help Bob Walters process the data he obtains and find useful applications.
One place where Bob’s data are applied is in the AE Department’s Immersive Construction (ICon) Lab and now is the time to put on your 3-D glasses:
The principals at University Park are:
Dr. Richard Behr, Director of the Smart Spaces Center for Independent Living and professor of architectural engineering.
Dr. John Messner, director of the Computer Integrated Construction (CIC) Research Program (which includes custodianship of the virtual reality lab) and professor of architectural engineering.
[No, I do not know why John and Sonali’s photos came out larger than Rich’s and my wonderful IT guru is asleep. Who wouldn’t be at this hour?]
Sonali Kumar, graduate assistant to John M. and the 3-D modeller who turned me into a virtual reality avatar.
Now more on each:
Dr. Richard Behr has been the prime visionary on all of this. As Director of the multidisciplinary Smart Spaces Center, Rich has been a prime mover in the effort to foster aging in place long before it because a recognized goal. He has focused on retrofitting existing residences so the elderly could continue to live in their traditional homes and in supporting the development of Blueroof and the use of virtual technology in Dr. Messner’s CIC Program.
“These technologies,” Dr. Behr writes, “are often grouped into three broad categories based on their function and value: those which
(1) address safety at the environmental level,
(2) secure health and wellness at the individual level, and
(3) enable social connectedness at the community level .”
Dr. John Messner uses virtual technology to design health care facilities. Shown here are pharmacists from the Washington, D.C. area viewing a Kaiser Permanente health care facility not yet constructed. The pharmacists drove from DC to State College (quite a schlep, try it sometime) to view their future workplace and make important design changes before building began.
Sonali Kumar built this 3-D model of me as an avatar getting ready to take a shower:
Sonali is completing her doctoral work on experienced-based design, which this is. As I keyboard this posting, I frequently glance at her award-winning poster entitled “Experience-Based Design Review of Healthcare Facilities Using An Interactive Prototyping System.” Shown here is one of the experienced-based design consultants Sonali used to research the effectiveness of an interactive prototyping system, Lilian Hutchison, my 87-year old neighbor:
4. Baby Boom Demographics
One out of every four Americans is a part of the Baby Boom generation which the U.S Census Department defines as those 76 million Americans born between 1946, the year after World War II ended, and 1964 when prodigious use of birth control and other factors caused the annual birth rate to fall below 4 million.
The first baby boomers have already begun to retire despite the fact that most jobs in the United States are held by baby boomers. When the members of my generation give up their jobs a whole slew of disaster scenarios appear—whether you go to the U.S. Census Bureau’s excellent website or consult Google’s index and find this expression of impending disaster:
5. Who is the primary audience for this information? Why it is the Ford Foundation, based in New York City which has demonstrated a tradition of providing funding for significantly innovative projects that improve the lives of indigent, elderly, and disabled individuals throughout the world (and the world includes the United States).
Ford has a tradition of distinguished leadership exemplified by McGeorge Bundy, who left Lyndon Johnson’s White House to become Ford’s President.
Today, the President of Ford is Luis Antonio Ubiñas. His official biography notes: “Prior to joining the Ford Foundation, Luis was a director at McKinsey & Company, leading the firm’s media practice on the West Coast. He served technology, telecommunications and media companies, working with them to develop and implement strategies and improve operations. Much of his work focused on the opportunities and challenges represented by the growth of Internet and wireless technologies.”