228538998_480029fe10_t.jpgSecond Life is an online virtual world, you can download the software at http://secondlife.com/, which has a lot of potential for education. Right now there are probably a lot of you nodding your head, and even more of you saying, “whatever.” Well, read on…

SL is what’s called a Massive Multiplayer Online Game (or MMOG) — these sorts of things have been around for a while, like the online version of the Sims. But the difference with SL is that the “residents” get to create the world they’re in. It’s 100% created by the players… and that’s the whole point of the “game.” You can make your own character (“avatar”), who has their own house. You can own land (and the economics of virtual land ownership… real dollars being traded for cyberspace… is interesting in itself). And the Exploratorium has been building online versions of its exhibits, and other museums and education institutions are also getting in on the game (so to speak).

There are three things that I think SL offers that’s important:

1 – the ability to do things you can’t do in real life (First Life)

2 – a social environment

3 – the chance to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise walk into a university or museum

Most people come to SL to socialize, and hang out, check out other avatars, go to dance clubs, build their houses… it’s pretty fun. So that social draw gives you a real “in” to people who we don’t usually have a lot of contact with.

Plus, you can do things that you can’t physically do in first life, like fly to the moon, see the distance from one planet to the next, zoom into a nanotube, or simply enjoy the exhibits at the Exploratorium if you live in Cincinnati. It’s really fun to create experiences for people that you’ll never meet, too. You don’t just create objects in SL, but with scripting you can make a whole experience — transparent gardens that play music, or a rotating chair that turns the world upside down.

One thing that I find fascinating about SL is from a sociology perspective… the social interactions in SL are *real*. I have all the same emotions and reactions to social interactions on my computer screen in SL as I do when I physically interact with people in first life. If someone’s avatar walks right up to me, bumps into me, and stands there staring… I feel *really* uncomfortable, and a little angry. If two people are “talking” together, I feel shy approaching and look for some sort of invitation to join their group. I find this fascinating, and think this demonstrates some of the power of the environment.

Here are Paul Doherty’s notes on Second Life for Museums, including good places to visit, how to build and script, and why to be there in the first place.