Using Social Image Sets to Explore Virtual Embodiment in Second Life® as Indicators of Formal, Nonformal, and Informal Learning

Using Social Image Sets to Explore Virtual Embodiment in Second Life® as Indicators of Formal, Nonformal, and Informal Learning

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7528-3.ch007


Capturing Second Life® imagery sets from Yahoo's Flickr and Google Images enables indirect and backwards analysis (in a decontextualized way) to better understand the role of SL in people's virtual self-identities and online practices. Through manual bottom-up coding, based on grounded theory, such analyses can provide empirical-based understandings of how people are using SL for formal, nonformal, and informal learning. This chapter involves a review of the literature and then a light and iterated analysis of 1,550 randomly batch-downloaded screenshots from SL (including stills from machinima) to explore the potential of social image analysis to make inferences about human learning in SL in the present.
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“Illusion is the first of all pleasures” or “L’illusion est le premier plaisir” from Francois-Marie Arouet (Voltaire, 1694 – 1778) in La Pucelle d’Orléans (“The Maid of Orleans”)

Started on June 23, 2003, Second Life®, a virtual immersive world, quickly became the leader in the immersive virtual world space, enabling participants to create edgy humanoid avatars and designed three-dimensional worlds. In cyber years, SL has gone through several lifetimes in these 15 years. In its early days, SL was referred to as “the closest thing to a parallel universe that the Internet currently offers” (Chin, 2007, p. 1303). SL was a space for “virtual settlements” and virtual communities (Harrison, 2009), where people could engage through their digital avatars with unusual SL surnames and in designed electronic spaces over time. A base model avatar or graphical humanoid figure could walk, run, sit, fly, swim, and hover; in early years, they could add customized moves like dancing. As developers learned how to use the Linden Scripting Language, they could add various additional motions. A research team that used the scripting for research described some of the capabilities (back in 2007) and some of their work-around within the limitations of the scripting language and environment:

Programming is achieved with the Linden Scripting Language (LSL), which provides a wide range of capabilities; at this time LSL includes 330 built-in functions, including: vehicles, collision detection, physics simulations, communication among users, inventory management, playing audio and video files, and more. However, LSL was clearly not designed to construct bots; scripts are only attached to objects, not to the user's avatar directly. We have come around this limitation by attaching a ring to our avatar. The ring object can then run a script, and the script can then be used to move the avatar and animate it, so that it appears walking while moving, as well as performing other tasks required by our bot. (Friedman, Steed, & Slater, 2007, p. 3)

Over time, the base model also started gaining degrees of freedom in their movements. The online space was marketed as a space for alternate explorations and ways of being. Unlike online games with clear player purposes, this space was open-ended or “free-range” (Chin, 2007, p. 1304), and people could make their own meanings. Another term applied to social virtual worlds has been “free-form” and “social” as contrasted to goal-oriented game-based virtual worlds in that the first group enables self-defined objectives (Hassouneh & Brengman, 2014, p. 330). Some of the main motivations for going into virtual worlds discovered in their research were the following (in descending order): friendship, escapism, role-playing, achievement, relationship, and manipulation (Hassouneh & Brengman, 2014, p. 330). An older study categorized people’s reasons for going online to social virtual worlds on three main motivations: “functional, experiential, and social” (Zhou, Jin, Vogel, Fang, & Chen, 2011, p. 261); in this work, social virtual worlds (SVWs) are defined as “three-dimensional (3D), Internet-based, immersive, massive multi-user virtual environment wherein participants interact through their virtual representatives (i.e., avatars) for various purposes, including business and educational endeavors” without central plots or storylines (Zhou, Jin, Vogel, Fang, & Chen, 2011, p. 261).

Beyond the creation of digital avatars for its free users, Linden Research, Inc. enabled its paid users to map out their discretized “islands” (aka “private regions”) with physical geographies, define rules for access, and populate it with digital avatars and objects. According to the company, the respective regions are comprised of 65,536 virtual square meters, and the costs at present are $600 and $295 maintenance fee monthly for Full Regions, $600 and then a $345 monthly maintenance fee each for Skill Gaming Regions, $225 and $125 monthly maintenance fee for Homestead Regions, and $150 and a $75 monthly maintenance fee each for Openspace Regions (“Private Region Pricing,” Apr. 2018). Within each region, there are limits on how many prims and objects may be used.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Hyperrealism: An adjective describing artificially designed objects and artworks that are more real than reality, with a detailed depth of details and resolution.

Physics Engine: A part of an immersive virtual world that simulates aspects of real-world physics and physical systems.

Nonformal Learning: Structured learning that is not credited or certified.

Multi-User Virtual Environment (MUVE): Immersive virtual worlds that may be used for collaborative and situated learning.

Immersive Virtual World: Online spaces that are three-dimensional and persistent over time, in which people may act and interact with others with long-term and persistent avatars.

Immersive Parasocial: The illusory sense of the existence of a relationship with a public figure as instantiated through avatars in virtual immersive worlds.

Script: Computer commands (written in scripting computer language).

Avatar: A humanoid figure in a digital space, a graphical representation of a person.

Formal Learning: Accredited and defined learning sequences such as K12 and higher education.

Social Imagery: Open-access imagery shared on social media content-sharing platforms.

Open-Source: Digital objects that have revealed and viewable codes, often also indicating free use.

Metaverse: A computer-generated virtual reality (VR) space or environment.

Cyber-Physical Confluence: The coming together of the digital and real-world physical realms, commonalities between cyber and the real.

Prims (Primitives): An atomistic element of a 3D virtual object/shape used to construct larger objects.

Informal Learning: Learning that occurs as a byproduct of other activities.

Social Virtual World (SVW): A persistent virtual immersive space where people go online to meet a variety of individual and social human needs.

Free-Form: Without a pre-determined structure (or directed purpose).

Second Life®: A proprietary virtual immersive world created by the San Francisco-based Linden Research, Inc. (Linden Lab).

Synthetic World: A virtual environment that enables large-group interactions (a term coined by Edward Castronova in his book of the same name in 2005).

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