Susan Tenby from TechSoup demos the virtual TechSoup Office during the Netsquared Conference while Ruby Sinreich and Deborah Finn (Cyber-Yenta) blogged about it. (Blogger Wagner James Au who reports on Second Life is seated next to Susan.) The TechSoup Virtual Office at Second Life take by Jeska Linden.
At least once a month, I jump down rabbit holes. That's my metaphor for embracing a topic that grabs my attention and is related to my work (nonprofits and technology) but I have no prior knowledge or experience.
This month I'm exploring the topic of digital games for social change. In two weeks I'm headed for The Games for Change Annual Conference in NYC (and I'll live blog it, too) The conference brings together nonprofits, game designers, foundations, and academics around the world to explore best practices for social change gaming. I hope to learn about the full spectrum of games for serious outcomes.
The first genre of games that I'm exploring is "immersive web or persistent world or metaverse" or "massively multiplayer nnline game (MMOG)" It's defined as a digital game with a virtual world that is a setting for role-playing, events, entertainment, and other activities. The online environment is capable of supporting hundreds or thousands of playters simultaneously over the Internet.
A few organizations in the nonprofit sector are exploring the power of the this type of gaming medium for social justice - take Camp Darfur for example. But can games like Second Life be a useful tool for social change? Is it worth for nonprofits to invest? According to Ethan Zukerman's post about his Camp Darfur experience in Second LIfe, although metaverse games like Second Life might have a social impact in the future, he feels there are many reasons why he wouldn't recommend that social change projects invest their very limited resources in this technology now.
But what about nonprofits using games for training, role playing, support groups, education, fundraising, or outreach? At the Netsquared Conference, I discovered that there are few organizations in the experimenting with metaverse games -- the early adopters. It will be interesting to see what they learn from their experiments.
To do more research (that's what I told my son when he busted me - "Mommy why are you playing games in the Internet when you won't let me play?), I created an avitar and did some exploring ...
Techsoup, a project from CompuMentor, is the technology place for nonprofits on the Web) So it makes sense that they should open a virtual office on Second Life. Right now the office is just a cool place to hang out, but the group members are meeting to brainstorm ideas and build informaiton kiosks. The office is located on "Information Island" and there are libraries near by. In fact, I met a librarian from Spain last night while wandering around.
Deborah Finn, Emily W/Nonprofit Blog Exchange and I posed for a snapshot with our TechSoup T-Shirts
You can read the discussion thread that launched the TechSoup virtual office here as well as Cyber Yenta's and Taran's first-hand impressions. If you visit the virtual office, you get a free t-shirt by clicking on a pink flower.
At the Full Moon Museum in front of the ACS Donation Box.
At the TechSoup Offices, I met a kind avitar named Frank and noticed he was a member of the Arts Council. So I joined. Later, I got word from the Arts Council that there was a gallery walk at the Full Moon Museum and discovered a thriving arts community. (Hmm .. not virtual Tate Modern, though.) While walking around gallery, I saw a Relay for Life poster and donation box. (I gave them some Lindon dollars, the currency that residents use to drive the virtual economy).
The American Cancer Society's Relay for Life has announced its"Second Life Relay for Life" event in July (its second time in Second Life). They will be developing virtual pledge cards, sponsorships, teams, and other features. The Society is expanding its role in the community by establishing a virtual space on their own Island. The office will offer an interactive cancer information resource, peer support groups, as well as a headquarters for in-world event planning. (You can keep up on their progress at the Fi Space Blog)
I also learned via the flickr stream for Nonprofit Marketing Blog that the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has a virtual support group and beautiful log cabin for its members. So, my avitar joined the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Virtual Support Group in Second Life.
En route to their cabin, two other avitars asked me "I know this is personal, but what is it like to have Leukemia?" I told them that I was healthy, but joined the group because I was interested in how nonprofits were using Second Life. It seemed that there might be some opportunities here for a group to spread its message, although I wonder about the audience. (There were some really strange characters running about and even stranger conversations in the public welcome areas ...)
There are several virtual campuses, including the New Media Consortium's Virtual Campus (discovered via CogDogBlog who snarled at me when I inquired about the value, but later wagged his tail.) The NMC Virtual Campus was a private space so I couldn't get into see it, although there are several public campuses on Second Life and a virtual education office where you can get ideas, tips, and assistance.
There's a lot of to explore, but my first life is very busy and it takes time. Sticking my toe into the immersive web was a huge (informal) learning curve (I'm not a game player). I had to create an avitar (oh what fun it is to edit your appearance and create outfits) and then you have to learn how to walk, run, fly, jump, navigate the world, interact with other avitars, manage your information, etc. It's difficult at first, but I discovered that if I found the right people and asked questions that informal learning strategies worked for me. (If you rather read up and use some tutorials, Lisa Williams has collected a few)
I even managed to build a few objects or "primitives." including the above Angkor Wat photo opportunity. There I am in my Cambodian dress (made from a scan of Cambodian Ikat Silk). And while it was loads of fun, my Cambodian colleagues would be left out because they don't really have the bandwidth or computer power to participate.