Second Life Heritage


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Recontextualising and reworking our past: heritage in Second Life.
An examination of why heritage is important and how virtual worlds can extend our experience of heritage.
The Prezi version of this was presented at Virtual Heritage, Bangor University/Technium CAST 22 March 2010
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  • I’m Rebecca Ferguson To give you some context, I work at The Open University I’ve been involved in the Schome project – investigating the future of learning using Second Life, primarily the Teen Grid That’s me on the main grid – where I’m Marie Arnold Me standing up on the Teen Grid as Fox Phlox with a group of Time Explorers
  • You may also know that the Open University is based in Milton Keynes, a new town that is trying to set itself in the context of its own heritage, an area which vacillates between preserving the modern – should the shopping centre become a listed building? Inventing tradition – the stone circle went up fairly recently Or reconstructing the past – this is a Roman mosaic from the area I show these examples to introduce some of the debates around heritage that are played out in Second Life
  • Research questions Why is heritage important? How can virtual worlds extend our experience of heritage?
  • What is heritage? Many different definitions here, but this is the one I’m drawing on –   – and I’m making reference to Rodney Harrison, who’s a lecturer in heritage at The OU.
  • The other term to define is what do I mean by virtual worlds?   In this setting I’m not going to focus on what they are – because I think everyone here has a good grasp of that – I want to focus on their scale – on why they matter, in terms of popularity, population and economics. World of Warcraft is making more money a year than some real-life countries. It has millions of residents However, what they are definitely short on is age. In fact, only four real-world countries are newer than Second Life; East Timor (May 2002), Montenegro (June 2006), Serbia (June 2006) and Kosovo (2008)
  • I have here a timeline of virtual worlds – a collaborative timeline There’s the pre Alpha version of Second Life kicking in in August 2001, and the Beta launch back in 2003.
  • Because there has been some interest in Second Life’s past on the web I know that this is the oldest surviving artefact in Second Life.   Yes, it’s a beach ball. And, because there is a beach ball in every residents’ inventory, there are theoretically over 18 million of this original artefact.   The oldest building – ‘The Man’ statue was built later the same year. It was ported over from the Alpha version so it, like the beach ball, dates from prehistory.   And, almost a year later, we have the first resident-built artefact – The Beanstalk, built one night by Steller Sunshine.
  • So, that is my research material. A popular world - that has about twice people in it at this moment as Monaco. A thriving economy – residents transferred about $55 million of real US dollars out of the game last year. But a world with very little history.  
  • Despite this, Second Life is a world littered with heritage sites and themes. In order to understand this, we worked with a term introduced in the 1960s by Michel Foucault – heterotopia. He identified six characteristics of heterotopias…  
  • And their importance in this context is that they reflect society, they challenge society and they have an impact on society.   Foucault was writing before virtual worlds – and his examples are places such as cemeteries, mental asylums and boarding schools.
  • Using this framework to consider heritage sites within Second Life, we identified five functions of heritage locations within virtual worlds.
  • irst, the reproduction of items. For example, here is a Roman road, recreated by a 16 year old who wanted to teach others about these roads and how they were constructed. She created a cross section, but then she created a road we could walk along – this is one of the foundation layers we are trying out here.   A reproduction also extends access for people who cannot visit a site in real life, and it gives us an extended and unimpeded view. It also gives us access to otherwise inaccessible locations.
  • This takes us on to a second aspect of heritage in virtual worlds – it moves visitors outside real space, to give us an experience of what it was like to wander around a Roman house, rather than a ruin,   What it was like to enter Egyptian temples when they were fresh, new and undamaged. These scenes, by the way, are from the Temple of Isis recreated by Aura Lily from drawings made at the command of Napoleon.
  • The persistence of virtual worlds means that visitors can also be transported outside real time, in order to experience a simulated version of the past – as we might do in the real world at a medieval banquet, or a re-enactment of an historic battle.   The Roma sim allows you to get into character and engage in extended role play – exploring the customs and experiences of the ancient Romans – changing not only your costume, but also your actions, to suit the setting.
  • Another important aspect of heritage in virtual worlds is that it allows you to privilege certain interpretations of the past.   Here is Jewish Budapest, about to be bulldozed. There is a deliberate artificiality to it – photo-real buildings set amongst artificial flowers and a blocky bulldozer, prompting visitors to reflect on what it would be like if reproductions were all we had. The sim makes a political point about why the current destruction of these buildings should be stopped.   Another example is a wonderful reproduction of the mezquita in Seville. This has been a religious site for hundreds, maybe thousands of years. It has been pagan, Moslem and Christian. For me, the most beautiful section of it is the wonderful and enormous mosque, which appears to go on for ever when you visit it in real life. However, in real life, this view is abruptly shattered, because slap-bang in the middle of it, is a large Gothic cathedral. In Second Life, not only is this part of the building removed, the building is once more a mosque, with prayer mats. Moslems in Spain have petitioned to be able to use the mezquita for prayer and have been turned down, so this seemingly faithful reproduction is actually a subversive heritage setting.
  • So far, the examples I have shown you have been a conscious use of real-life history and heritage to increase our understanding of these. I’d like to move on now to a fifth use of heritage within Second Life – its use to establish a community.   This is Governor Linden’s mansion, among the oldest buildings in Second Life and, again, one that was ported over from the Alpha version of the world. For those of you not familiar with Second Life, the staff all have avatars with the surname Linden – after Linden Lab – the firm that runs the world. Governor Linden is, as far as I know, the avatar that has overall rights to the world. The Governor is rarely seen, is sometimes male, sometimes female and, I presume, is controlled by various people. There is no reason for this avatar to have a house, or mansion, for the simple reason that they are almost never in world. Yet they have a mansion, an old building. What’s more, the governor’s mansion has a society associated with it, a society ledged to restoring it to its former glory. Even though the mansion isn’t particularly interesting as a structure, it attracts a stream of visitors – I have never seen it deserted. It has also been a focus for demonstrations against the Lindens.   This is the Beta monument. Not a reproduction of something in the real world but a celebration of the substantiality of this world. And it exists for very much the same reasons as it would do in the real world: to give a sense of continuity, to honour those who have gone before, to serve as a place to focus and reflect, and to create a narrative.   In Second Life, we consciously create these context and these narratives. We use the signifiers of heritage without the past which they conventionally represent.   And heritage also gives a sense of development – a sense of how far we have come. Her is The Man statue again – the oldest built structure in Second Life. Beyond it is the Ivory Tower of Prims. You can see, by the juxtaposition, how far, and how fast, the world has developed.
  • So an examination of heritage in Second Life tells us about the importance of heritage for constructing a community and for constructing a narrative for that community – and it also tells us about some of the functions played by heritage in the real world, and how these can be supplemented and extended in the real world.  
  • Second Life Heritage

    1. 1. Rebecca Ferguson The Open University: 22 March 2010 Recontextualising & Reworking our Past: Heritage in Second Life
    2. 3. Why heritage is important. How virtual worlds can extend our experience of heritage. What is heritage? What are virtual worlds?
    3. 4. What is heritage? Heritage: making selective use of the objects and practices of the past in order to create a context. "Heritage has very little to do with the past, but is actually more about how we contextualise the future." Rodney Harrison
    4. 5. What is heritage?
    5. 6. Timeline of virtual worlds
    6. 8. Why heritage is important. How virtual worlds can extend our experience of heritage. What is heritage? What are virtual worlds?
    7. 9. Heterotopias • Every culture has them • They sit outside the day-to-day mainstream • They juxtapose several places in one place • They are both isolated and penetrable • Their meaning is not fixed – it shifts over time • They serve a function in relation to the real Foucault, M. Of Other Spaces, 1967, 1984 translation by Jay Miskowiec.
    8. 10. Heterotopia a location that holds a mirror up to the society around it and, in so doing, challenges, neutralises or inverts sets of relations within that society.
    9. 11. Relationship to heritage 1. Reproducing items in order to aid understanding and accessibility 2. Moving visitors outside real space 3. Moving visitors outside real time 4. Privileging certain interpretations of the past 5. Using heritage to establish continuity
    10. 12. 1. Reproducing items in order to aid understanding and accessibility
    11. 13. 2. Moving visitors outside real space
    12. 14. 3. Moving visitors outside real time
    13. 15. 4. Privileging certain interpretations
    14. 16. 5. To establish continuity
    15. 17. Ferguson, R., Harrison, R., & Weinbren, D. (2010). Heritage and the recent and contemporary past. In T. Benton (Ed.), Understanding Heritage and Memory. Manchester University Press. Why heritage is important. How virtual worlds can extend our experience of heritage.