Defining Virtual Worlds

I am reading Tom Boellstrof’s Coming of Age in Second Life. He states that virtuality is not new and that it dates back to the cave man with their cave paintings.  That imagination or imagining one’s self in another place is virtual.  One of the oldest notions of a virtual world is in Plato’s Republic in his ‘allegory of a cave.’ In allegory of a cave a group of prisoners spend their lives chained to a wall where they can see nothing but shadows which becomes their reality.

While virtual worlds may not be new, it is experiencing a resurgence as a perceptual concept.  I maintain that it has great potential for impacting how people perceive information much as the internet has done.  Is it really possible to predict those changes?  Maybe.  Is it possible as librarians to impact those changes?  Again, maybe.  We certainly will not affect anything if we are sitting on the sidelines watching it go by.

Another interesting point from the book (I am only on chapter 3) is that as a part of an anthropologist ethnographic study, it is important for Tom to not know if the sex and age of the avatar matches the sex and age of the player.  As he conducted the ethnographic study in Second Life, he is only looking at how they present themselves in the virtual world.

As we as users interact with other users, we are cognizance of the fact that their virtual representation may or may not resemble their real life representation (most of the time).  As librarians when we conduct user studies in the Second Life, should we also be ignorant of their ‘real life’ persona?  Is this a chance to overcome some of the barriers that we still face due to race, sex, and age?  Granted most of the user studies that I have seen do not focus on any of these categories other than age, so it may be a moot point.

One last point, Tom also mentions that most residents who are in Second Life have never or will never meet in real life.  Does this hold true for those who use Second Life for professional networking?  I was just at a serials conference earlier this month, and I was surprised at the number of people who commented that they knew me through the listservs.  I believe also that ALA may have a group of people who use Second Life informally meeting.  It will be one of the questions that I will pose on the survey.  More subjects to ponder.

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~ by jenymn on June 29, 2009.

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