Talk to the avatar

3D richness notwithstanding, Second Life is fundamentally social too. I can't wait to see what the business world will make of it, or of systems like it, once the PR novelty wears off. How about this for a practical application of simulation and role-play: an island where IT administrators and their clueless users trade places. Or where programmers and their business sponsors switch roles. That'd be edutaining. [Full story at InfoWorld]
Those examples were tongue-in-cheek, but the point is deadly serious. One of the leading authorities on the educational uses of gaming, JC Herz, has studied the military applications of multiplayer games. Here's the problem, she says. You have to train someone to manage tens of thousands of people and things, based on a flurry of fast-paced but incomplete and often unreliable communication, in a hostile and rapidly-changing environment. How can someone prepare to have that cognitive experience? Gaming is the only option.

3D simulation obviously helps you think about the location and movement of people and things. More subtly, the projection of self into avatar creates the possibility of simulated social interaction. I've noted before that John Lester's project, Brigadoon, helps people with Asperger's Syndrome become more fluent in their performance of social rituals, while practicing in a safe environment. So much of our interaction nowadays is disembodied: just voice, or just text. How effectively we'll be able to be embodied in avatars, and how those embodiments will change our ways of interacting for better and worse, are questions that we'll soon begin to answer.

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