The Future of Virtual Worlds

The Future of Virtual Worlds

by Tia Carr Williams -
Number of replies: 6

Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash envisioned a futuristic virtual world called the metaverse in which characters controlled digital representations of themselves (known as avatars) in a shared online environment.Whether they take the form of games, social spaces, or educational environments, virtual worlds are now truly global in scope. The popularity of virtual worlds in Asia is phenomenal. From Thailand and Malaysia to Indonesia and the Philippines, the Asia Pacific region's on-line gaming market generated approximately $1.4 billion in annual revenues last year – a figure that is expected to reach $3.6 billion by the end of the decade. Much of this growth will be propelled by 180 million Chinese Internet users, the majority of whom will play on-line games.
China is just part of the story. Korea is an epicenter of innovation. For example, Cyworld, a South Korean Web community site, boasts one-third of the country’s population as its residents. India is already the region's third largest market for online games and participation in virtual worlds is sure to follow there as in other developing economies.
At the State of Play IV: Building the Global Metaverse, to be held August 19-21, 2007 in Singapore, Julian Dibbell (Play Money) will moderates a keynote discussion between Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash) and Cory Doctorow (Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom) about the future of virtual worlds. "Imagine a future where virtual reality and the real world blend together," said Edward Castronova, associate professor of telecommunications at Indiana University in Bloomington. "It is a real possibility, and it just takes an ordinary PC."

Online worlds like Second Life and - not to mention online games like World of Warcraft, Lineage, and EverQuest -- are direct descendants of the metaverse vision.Mychilo S. Cline, in his book, Power, Madness, and Immortality: The Future of Virtual Reality, argues that virtual reality will lead to a number of important changes in human life and activity. He argues that:

Virtual reality will be integrated into daily life and activity and will be used in various human ways.
Techniques will be developed to influence human behavior, interpersonal communication, and cognition.
As we spend more and more time in virtual space, there will be a gradual “migration to virtual space,” resulting in important changes in economics, worldview, and culture. The design of virtual environments may be used to extend basic human rights into virtual space, to promote human freedom and well-being, and to promote social stability as we move from one stage in socio-political development to the next. Virtual worlds are already beginning to change higher education, according to several educators.

For example, more than 70 universities have built island campuses in Second Life, according to Stuart Sim, CTO and chief architect of Moodlerooms, which builds structures in virtual worlds and offers course management software. Sim said his company is currently developing tools to help universities better manage students and courses delivered in Second Life. That way, universities can have an application to control adding or removing a student avatar to the island campus, he said. The project is dubbed

Nicktropolis, which has been in development for the last 18 months, will be aimed at 6-14-year-olds; Nickelodeon execs expect the site to be especially popular with 9-12-year-olds, given the number of online games available, CNET writes. Nickelodeon says there will be no advertising on the site at launch - but that ads will be added later.Kids can choose and personalize their avatars, selecting clothes and hairstyle; build and furnish a 3-D room with accessories purchased with Nick points, which they collect by joining Nicktropolis and playing games; and explore the online world and visit with Nick characters such as SpongeBob Squarepants and Jimmy Neutron. Children will be coming to school already adept and adapted to the digital environment.


How do we see the future for Virtual Worlds? How would you like to see them being integrated into education? What would you vision for the best use of Virtual Worlds?

In reply to Tia Carr Williams

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds

by Sylvia Currie -
I was just revisiting the Horizon Report and took notice of this section at the New Media Consortium site on Virtual Worlds for the first time. There are several examples of how virtual worlds are being used in education listed.

What caught my eye?
  • Stage theatrical productions. Now wouldn't that be a neat student project!
  • Role play -- maybe potential for virtual practicum work?
A couple years ago I attended a presentation by Steve diPaola from SFU where he introduced interesting applications of iFace software for problem based learning. The idea was that medical cases using actual interactions with patients could be shared in a way that appears authentic but still maintains anonymity. Fascinating stuff! 

In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds

by Margaret Corbit -

Steve DiPaolo is a wonderful resource for this discussion! Thanks for bringing him up. And the Borderlink Project developed several programs for Linkworld, including a student written Comedia Del Arte play. While it was great fun in AW, this would be something that could be fleshed out (pardont the pun) better with SL avatars.

Cheers, Margaret


In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds

by Cynthia Alvarado -
I had a role in a Passion Play in Second Life on Good Friday. I found the mental work and problem-solving skills involved in virtual theater to be quite engaging. I think virtual world drama has great educational potential.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds


Hi Sylvia (et al)

I think there is immense potential in virtual worlds like SL for various aspects of Drama Education. 

Staging New Media performance is one avenue and there are many practising artists exploring the nature of that work.  In educational terms (K-12) I think the potential for role play as vehicle for discovery is exciting.

I'll be presenting a couple of papers at the ICT2007 conference in Hong Kong in July.  One is entitled "Online Sites for Generative Play" - where I propose a concept of "generative play" as a pedagogical approach to discovery learning.  I think it is especially useful in bringing a reflexive model of engagement to expoloring issues and debates in a variety of arena. 

I think of generative play as playful engagement in a fictional environment where there is an expectation of contextually relevant meaning-making that is both personal and shared but is not predicated by predetermined nor prescribed content.  I am thinking very much about working with students to contextualise their views on all manner of social issues.  It can also be extended to a solution oriented process to generate possible courses of action to address situations.  I am not so concerned about simple transmission of information but rather engaging students in critical approaches to information - in all its forms. 

This relates very much to the way I have worked in Drama Edcuation over the past 10-12 years and incorporates a range of processes drawn from Open Space philosophy, Student-centred Learning, Process Drama, Forum Theatre and other social constructivist approaches to teaching and learning.

I am keen to explore the processes of group devised performance in 3D MUVEs once my initial PhD project is complete - although I suppose there's not real reason I can't begin that investigation concurrently.

I think it is especially important in an Arts (or PERFROMING ARTS) framework to realise that the current simulation approaches are quite limited when it comes to developing new aesthetic understandings. 

One of the key questions will be: What are the new aesthetics and poetics of artistry through Drama in 3D MUVEs?  How students discover new modes of expression in these environments will present a wealth of new knowledge that is generated from a student produser base not just from those of us in the privileged elite of postgraduate research programs.

The other paper I'll be presenting in Hong Kong will be 1337 |)r4/\/\4 : Drama across the digital Divide (that's ELITE DRAMA for those wondering). The main thrust of this paper will be the provocation and ratioonale for Drama educators to acknowledge the expanding paradigm that surrounds the nature of performance studies and how to begin embracing all the risk, complexity, ambiguity and uncertainty that lies ahead.

Immediately following the ICT2007 conference is the IDEA2007 World Congress for Drama/Theatre and Education where i'll be co-chairing the Special Interest Group for Drama and New Media - it might be interesting to have some online engagement with SCOPE participants during that time (July 16-22).  IDEA2007 is also hosted in Hong Kong and precedes the World Creativity Summit from July 23-25.  This 3 week block is likely to be one of the most interesting times in Drama Education history.

It is heartening to see the discussions arising here at SCOPE.  I hope we do not get sidetracked by mundane discussions of "putting on plays" but can keep a broader vision active. The links with digital games-based learning are tremendously interesting and some of the excursions into MMORPG for learning could benefit from adding a Drama Education frame and all its knowledge of role. Perhaps when I meet with Mr Prensky next month I'll have a chance to discuss some of these ideas.

In the meantime I'd love some responses to the ideas I've mentioned above.


Kim Flintoff B.A., Grad. Dip. Ed., M.Ed.
PhD Candidate
QUT Creative Industries: Performance Studies
Sessional Lecturer/Tutor/University Colleague
ECU School of Education and Arts: Contemporary Performance / Drama Education


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I believe that education, therefore, is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.
John Dewey

We have to think of ways to use games not just to escape reality but to re-engage with reality.
Henry Jenkins

In reply to Kim FLINTOFF

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds

by Therese Weel -
Hi Kim

You are doing some interesting work!

I'd love to read the papers you've suggested and put them in the summary.
Unfortunately the links are broken - for me at least. 

Could you repost the links for us?

"Online Sites for Generative Play"
1337 |)r4/\/\4 : Drama across the digital Divide (

In reply to Therese Weel

Re: The Future of Virtual Worlds


Hi Therese,

They weren't links, just formatted text - I've only done the abstracts so far - the papers will be included in the proceedings of the conference and I think they are made available via the ICT2007 web site.

Some papers will be selected for a monograpgh and some many be invuited to be presented in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning.

I've got quite a few bits and pieces to prepare for July - these two papers will be completed sometime between now and June 15.