I remember my first experience in a virtual world... my first 3D shooter, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I was amazed that technology had progressed as far as being able to create a somewhat interactive world, and had no idea where this technology would go in the future.
The use of virtual worlds has exploded in recent years. MMORPG's (massively multiplayer on-line role playing games) use virtual worlds to create an immersive experience for their customers, as well as new ways for players to communicate. Groups called guilds in many MMORPG's (go by other names as well, depending on the virtual world) allow players to group together to create a small social society, many of them based on certain play styles, classes of characters that they use in the environment, or even their physical location (I belonged to a guild whose initial users were all living around Houston, TX... I was the first non-Texan). Who would have thought it would expand farther than that?
Enter Second Life... a virtual world that really isn't a 'game', but it is an environment that allows forms of collaboration far past a group of players trying to figure out how to conquer their next instance. Various real-world commuties (schools, businesses, individuals with a common interest or cause) have established a presence in this virtual world, where they are able to do more than just share their ideas with each other. They are able to build their environment to suit their needs as well as 'avatars' that happen to be passing by.
My first experience with Second Life, I saw the potential that the virtual world had. I was able take a tour of the International Space Museum, examine what someone with schizophrenia may experience, see a house that never ended, and be able to provide my feedback to those that created these environments and shared their information. Shortly after, I found that there were a lot of special interest groups that one could be a part of to share their ideas with each other... and then I had taken my first college class using Second Life as a collaboration medium.
I think that virtual worlds will continue to evolve and will be a strong part of the future. Such environments make it very easy for geographically dispersed individuls to share their ideas and create models to help get their point across. Repositories of their ideas and research can be stored in a virtual library so others can leverage their collective body of knowledge as well as add to it, all from the comfort of their couch. It will be interesting to see how this technology will evolve in the future!
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