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 There.com - 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 Sloodle.com.
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?