High Fidelity Announce Stem VR Challenge Recipients

Back in July High Fidelity lanuched its Stem VR Challenge. The challenge was :

High Fidelity will be awarding up to three $5,000 grants to teams or individuals who, using the High Fidelity platform, can create a unit that is:

  • HMD (e.g. Oculus™) featured
  • High school age appropriate
  • STEM focused
  • Social (can be experienced by >3 people together)

In addition to the dollar amount awarded, grantees will have access to technical support directly from High Fidelity and the option to have their content hosted.

Yesterday High Fidelity announced who the recipients would be, they have chosen two projects to receive the grants. They are T.C.a.R.S: Teaching Coding – a Racing Simulation and FTL Labs PlanetDrop-VR. Both projects look very interesting.

TCars is a combination of code and fun and is described as :

An awesome racing game where you get to interact with JavaScript to customize your car’s handling, create unique power ups and optimize performance through editing the programme code with the use of the Blockly API.

The idea behind TCaRS is explained as one that wants people to learn coding by having fun :

The idea for TCaRS is based on the thought that learning coding can be boring but playing games is fun: “I want to learn to code… but….the road from typing, ‘print my name’ to making ‘Grand Theft Auto’ seems huge and demotivating”

Schools around the world have been using tools like the Raspberry Pi to teach kids coding and it’s an essential part of most High School curriculums these days, but the output from tools like this is often pretty basic-looking.

With High Fidelity, we have the chance to change this by creating the first gaming platform where users get to see and interact directly with elements of the code in order to gain
advantage – so the more you learn, the better you do. And with the benefit of VR to create a genuinely immersive experience.

The people behind TCaRS are High Fidelity Alpha users Thijs Wenker (Thoys in High Fidelity) Programmer / Web Developer (JavaScript, PHP, C#, C++) and Dan Grundy (Judas in High Fidelity) Lecturer in 3D modelling using Blender. There’s a lot more detail in the link.

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Second Life Residents Start To Pay Their Respects To Lumiere Noir

Tributes To Lumiere Noir

At the entrance to The Ivory Tower Library of Primitives in Second Life the board conveys some very sad news :

Lumiere Noir, creator of this Library, passed away unexpectedly Monday August 10. He was a genuine spirit and friend to all.

If you wish to send a token object of your condolences, please send it to Avi Arrow and she will place it for you. Thank you.

There are already a few token objects of condolences, including a striking and quite beautiful candle from Jopsy Pendragon, who is part of the Ivory Tower group and also the creator of the wonderful Particle Laboratory.

Information

The Ivory Tower Library of Primitives is held very dear by many Second Life residents, especially the older ones as it’s a place that many of us found tutorials on tricks and techniques to be used in building with prims. The notecard that is available near the entrance informs us why Lumiere create the Tower :

I made this tower in the hopes that it would give you a substantial head start on your arrival here. It contains a lot of tips and tricks of the building system that have taken a good while to develop and collect.

Lumiere was known for his Spy vs Spy style avatar and was the partner of Toshi Tyan.

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The Drax Files World Makers Episode 31 With Tom Boellstorff Ponders “What Is Real?”

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The Drax Files: World Makers Episode 31 (sponsored by Linden Lab) features an interview with Professor Tom Boellstorff (pronounced “bell-storf”; the first “o” is silent). Tom is an anthropologist based at the University of California, Irvine. The episode is introduced by Tom saying :

If you’re trying to learn about a culture, the challenge is time and that’s something that applied to the work I’ve done with gay and lesbian Indonesians and it applies just as much when you’re studying something like virtual worlds, you have to live inside the community that you’re studying.

Already I’m interested in what is going to transpire in this interview, time is something I’m always battling with myself and the fact that Tom appreciates that you have to be among a community to study one suggests he’s not forming an opinion based on a few screenshots and a far away view. We also learn that Tom is not new to Second Life, when he first entered Second Life there were only around 2,500 users, this guy is an oldbie.

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As an example of how much Second Life has grown since the early days, Tom explains how he decided to fly over all of Second Life in the early days, it took him about a week, at two hours a day. How long would it take these days? I have no idea but the grid is much larger than it would have been when Tom initially joined.

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Tom says that in Second Life he is a digital ethnographer. Tom explains that an ethnographer studies how people live and think and that this involves hanging out with people. To this end he used to host weekly chats with anyone who wanted to teleport in. This sounds like the old Linden Office Hours but was quite probably more civil. I wonder if Tom did go to any Linden Office Hours, I’m sure that would tell a digital ethnographer a thing or two about digital communities too, even when they got heated.

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Neoliberalism And Cardboard In Virtual Worlds And Games

Over at Los Angeles Review Of Books (LARB) Elliot Murphy, who is completing a PhD in neurolinguistics at University College London has had an epic and fascinating essay published regarding computer games and politics : Always a Lighthouse: Video Games and Radical Politics . This is a long and rather riveting read. Whereas the essay is largely about games and the narrative they portray, Second Life does get a mention :

But while many games traffic in radicalization, and often revive the trope of “evil corporate” antagonists, most are themselves more corporate than ever. Owned as they are by multinational conglomerates, it is of little surprise that video games have merged with other corporate forms of entertainment. The X-Men have their games, Max Payne has his film, and World of Warcraft has its novels. Universities and businesses also regard the virtual world of Second Life (celebrating the economic interactions and institutional structures of corporate capitalism) as a “fun” platform from which students and employers can “socialize” and host meetings, while companies like Apple and Nissan flood its poorly textured streets with electrifying logos and adverts. These and other franchises promote the core tenets of neoliberalism: privatization, deregulation, commodification, and a celebration of personal profit. Other games like Saints Row and Need for Speed buttress a consumerist culture, often exulting in greed and self-indulgence.

At first glance this looks a bit heavy and deep and yet the article points out that the power of video games and by extension virtual worlds, we see this in the introduction to the essay :

VIDEO GAMES, as Robert Cassar recently noted in his Games and Culture essay “Gramsci and Games,” are often “sophisticated texts that can represent not just ideas but entire worlds, which invite players to explore them.” Video games contain a unique combination of expressive dimensions, including audiovisual language and narrative along with their distinctive ludic and interactive elements. Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown, in their essay “The Play of Imagination” also for Games and Culture, make the crucial point that through these elements, games can introduce novel pedagogical practices that differ from other interactive and educational media.

As I said, the essay is a long one and I suspect that people on the left and right will find issues with it. The author definitely seems to lean left and for point of clarity, so do I personally, although I don’t generally engage much with politics in virtual worlds or games. This doesn’t mean that I don’t see the potential for politics playing a large part in video game and virtual world culture, especially as the medium grows. We are seeing this today in many online debates about where the computer gaming industry in particular should be heading.

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The Project Sansar Media Train Is Still Going Full Steam Ahead

Second Life Image - Futuristic Guy

The Project Sansar media train keeps on rolling as two more articles appear in the media and both of them also mention Second Life, although in more of a past tense when compared to Project Sansar. One of the articles is positive and one is rather cynically negative, but hey people are very much entitled to their opinion.

The first article is by Alice Truong over at Quartz; Could the Oculus Rift help give Second Life a second life? The headline is uncannily similar to a recent blog headline of my own, although my post wasn’t really about the Oculus Rift! This is a good article that deserves extra credit for taking advantage of Linden Lab’s Flickr pool, as do I in this post too.

The Quartz article makes comparisons between Project Sansar and Second Life and points out that it sounds like some of the concepts will be similar :

Some of Sansar’s rules will be slightly different, and the immersive VR graphics will be far superior (though it will still work on regular computers and mobile devices too). But like Second Life, Sansar isn’t a game with a clear objective. There are no bosses to defeat or princesses to rescue. Instead, people, playing as virtual representations of themselves, will carry out day-to-day, often fantastical, lives in a made-up world. They’ll explore, socialize, have cybersex, make art, perform, create businesses, build houses, go shopping, pay taxes.

The article does a good job of covering how Second Life works as well as looking ahead to how Project Sansar may work, with once again the concept of lower land taxes and higher sales taxes being pointed out.

This is an important point as it indirectly ties into a quote in the article from Bernhard Drax (AKA Draxtor Despres) who seems to feel that the corporations didn’t quite get Second Life :

“If you looked at it as a 3D billboard, Second Life did not work,” he says. But he notes the world flourished “as an artistic playground.”

I largely agree with Drax but would add that one of the barriers to Second Life being an artistic playground is the fact that the tier is too damn high! That is going to be addressed in Project Sansar. As for the corporations, I still feel they should have immersed themselves more with the community and rented spaces in shopping malls with other Second Life creators.

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