It has been an apocalyptic year for my avatar, based on an educational project (Schome) in Teen Second Life, her world ended earlier this year and she spent six months in limbo, unable to rez anywhere. (Pic shows a funeral held by Global Kids for Teen Second Life – one comment from the funeral ‘'Teen Second Life was in a category by itself, becoming one of the largest youth-led communities the world had ever seen, online or off, in charge of its own activities and economy.’ )
This was the latest example of my encounters with death in Second Life, which I have been investigating for the last four years – since the death of a friend and colleague who I was working with in the virtual world. This presentation presents the findings of a four-year ethnographic study, carried out in Second Life and Teen Second Life. It considers the variety of types of death in Second Life, the effect they have on the experience of presence in Second Life, and the implications of this for education and learning in Second Life.
There are four main categories of death in Second Life – each of which has a permanent and a temporary form.
These can be understood in terms of social presence – a variety of ways in which we experience a mediated experience as non-mediated. An example is that when we talk on the phone, we often feel that we are talking directly – we don’t feel our conversation is mediated.
A person or people who have lived and died in the physical world are celebrated or memorialised in SecondLife. Examples are the Vietnam War memorial, the Iraq War Memorial, and numerous memorials to 9-11 – currently very active as people mark the ten-year anniversary. This is associated with high levels of presence and, in educational terns, provide opportunities for field trips that would otherwise be impossible, for the exploration of big issues such as patriotism and terrorism, and as a stimulus for creativity (eg poetry and art)
This category is concerned with fictional representations of death, developed in the physical world for consumption in the physical world, but now reproduced or re-enacted in Second Life (for example, Romeo and Juliet). This extra level of mediation reduces richness and realism and, as a consequence, adds a sense of distance and emotional safety. The in-world representations do not have the same emotional pull as the physical-world works of art. Again there are opportunities for field trips and prompts to creativity – and these representations of death can prompt detailed consideration of works of art and literature.
In this case, people remain alive in the physical world but their avatar no longer exists – as in the case of the Linden Lab staff who were made redundant, thus ending their access to avatars with the surname Linden. The graveyard constructed by Codebastard Redgrave for these Lindens was a site of intense activity, and many avatars left mementoes on the graves. This form of death is associated with a sense of community that can provide a rich environment for learning, it can provide grounds for discussion of big issues around life and working practices, and can provide a stimulus for discussion of digital practices and new literacies. If our avatar is the money earner, what does it mean for our employment propsects if we lose access to that avatar, or to the world in which that avatar acts?
A more humorous treatment of death – acting out a role of death within the virtual world, but then returning. This can add richness to the environment, but little other social presence. Again, a stimulus for creativity, for discussion about death, but also for discussion around genres such as Gothic, horror, zombie and undead.
1. Death of an avatar: Presence and learning in virtual worlds Rebecca Ferguson The Open University
2. Playing dead
3. Typology of SL death <ul><li>Physical-world life – Physical-world death </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent / temporary </li></ul><ul><li>Physical-world life – Virtual-world death </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent / temporary </li></ul><ul><li>Virtual-world life – Physical-world death </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent / temporary </li></ul><ul><li>Virtual-world life – Virtual-world death </li></ul><ul><li>Permanent / temporary </li></ul>
4. Social presence <ul><li>Social presence – the feeling that a mediated experience is not mediated. As a result, people respond as if the medium is not there. </li></ul><ul><li>Social richness </li></ul><ul><li>Realism </li></ul><ul><li>Transportation </li></ul><ul><li>Immersion </li></ul><ul><li>Parasocial interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Social response </li></ul>
5. 1. Physical-world life Physical-world permanent death Field trips Exploration of issues Prompt to creativity Richness ✔ Realism ✔ Transport ✔ Immersion ✔ Parasocial ✔ Social ✔
6. 2. Physical-world life Physical-world temporary death Field trips Exploration of art and literature Prompt to creativity Reduced sense of presence adds emotional safety Richness ✘ Realism ✘ Transport ✔ Immersion ✔ Parasocial ✔ Social ✔
7. 3. Physical-world life Virtual-world permanent death Sense of community Discussion of big issues Digital practices and new literacies Richness ✔ Realism ✔ Transport ✔ Immersion ✔ Parasocial ✘ Social ✔
8. 4. Physical-world life Virtual-world temporary death Stimulus for creativity Meanings of death Gothic literature Horror genre Richness ✔ Realism ✘ Transport ✘ Immersion ✘ Parasocial ✘ Social ✘
9. 5. Virtual-world life Physical-world permanent death Macabre and upsetting Digital practices Richness ✘ Realism ✘ Transport ✘ Immersion ✘ Parasocial ✘ Social ✔
10. 6. Virtual-world life Physical-world temporary death Field trips Helps bring sites to life Different perspectives Richness ✔ Realism ✔ Transport ✔ Immersion ✔ Parasocial ✘ Social ✔
11. 7. Virtual-world life Virtual-world permanent death Rites of passage Identity Use of cultural tools Richness ✘ Realism ✘ Transport ✘ Immersion ✘ Parasocial ✘ Social ✘
12. 8. Virtual-world life Virtual-world temporary death http://projects.ict.usc.edu/force/cominghome/checkpoint.php Simulations Emergency training Familiar from games Richness ✔ Realism ✔ Transport ✔ Immersion ✔ Parasocial ✔ Social ✔
13. Presence and SecondLife death -------- Physical life ------- ---------Virtual life --------- PLPDp PLPDt PLVDp PLVDt VLPDp VLPDt VLVDp VLVDt Richness ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ Realism ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ Transport ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ Immersion ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ Parasocial ✔ ✔ ✔ Social ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
14. Dying to know Field trips Helps bring sites ‘to life’; provides different perspectives Exploration and discussion of issues eg Meanings of death, Rites of passage, Identity Exploration of art and literature eg Gothic literature, Horror genre Stimulus for creativity Sense of community Digital practices and new literacies Use of cultural tools Simulations – including dangerous situations Emergency training
15. Relevant reading Abraham, B. (2009). Permanent Death - The Complete Saga. http:// iam.benabraham.net Bayne, S. (2008). Uncanny spaces for higher education: teaching and learning in virtual worlds. ALT-J, 16 (3), 197-205. Klastrup, L. (2008). What makes World of Warcraft a world? A note on death and dying. In H. G. Corneliussen & J. Walker Rettberg (Eds.), Digital Culture, Play and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader (pp. 143-166). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Lombard, M., & Ditton, T. (1997). At the heart of it all: the concept of presence. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 3 (2), 1-42.