What are Virtual Worlds?

Virtual worlds are richly immersive and highly scalable 2- or 3-D environments. Most, but not all virtual worlds are multi-user spaces, meaning that many people can be in the same virtual space and interact with one another in real time, generally through a representation of themselves as an avatar. While many popular games take place in virtual worlds, virtual worlds are not themselves games. They are social environments over which a physical context can be laid. The most successful in an educational context are flexible spaces, and as such, it is quite common to find professional development activities like conferences and meetings taking place in settings such as Second Life®, OpenSim, Qwak, Active Worlds, and other immersive environments.

The capability of virtual worlds has expanded considerably in the past few years, with enormous development in building tools, climate simulators, physics engines, and the overall capability of these platforms to simulate reality. Virtually every higher education institution has some sort of work going in around virtual spaces, and in just one platform alone, Linden Lab’s Second Life®, thousands of educational projects and experiments are actively underway, with over 20 million avatars.

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(1) How might this technology be relevant to the museums you know best?

  • I almost feel like the term "virtual worlds" implies the wrong question. It's like making a distinction between the "digital" and "real" worlds: for digital natives, it's all just the world. Discussions that used to be tagged "virtual worlds" are probably more appropriate now in the context of 3d and digital/social communities. - nancy.proctor nancy.proctor Sep 1, 2011 Good point - Larry Larry Sep 1, 2011
  • Another perspective here.

(2) What themes are missing from the above description that you think are important?

(3) What do you see as the potential impact of this technology on education and interpretation in museums?

  • Another perspective here.

(4) Do you have or know of a project working in this area?

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