Something is Afoot in Virtual Worlds

Gents!

I awaken from a summer of building five virtual worlds, persistent worlds in which the consumer emerges engaged in services and experience based active learning environments.

Cisco is one of those interested in taking WebEx to the next level of interactivity. We have our meetings in WebEx to facilitate Cisco’s use of PowerPoints when they prepare flow charts for us, instructional design plans – they can circle words on their white board, and engage in telephone calls (that sometimes drop too). Then, we hike on over to the virtual world, inside our retail store to run a game in which the user is a mystery shopping and has to figure out the pain points of a retail District Store Operator. Points are involved, observation is required, interacting with the characters (NPC mostly) reveals information that likely could not be uncovered in a “real setting” – who’d talk to you? The physicality of the environment demonstrates at the end that you’re probably not a good sales rep for retail. It is humbling – and from my vantage point as an instructor and a learning scientist — true to the constructivism we all hail.

We found the same thing with Ernst and Young doing inventory observations in a virtual warehouse. In fact one of the anomalies in the data was that people who went through the virtual world warehouse felt “less prepared” to conduct a real physical inventory than the people who took the web based training and answered all the questions right. We attribute this to attention to both the unforeseen and the detail of objects (not words) — it’s a sort of intimidation of the environment, and the inability of the learner to discover all the common mistakes planted in the warehouse. I suppose they have been training to ask “is this going to be on the test”. The defining moment – 50% of the employees could not get their laptops to run the program because they did not have good enough graphics cards.

I find that amusing because Intel and Microsoft are focused on the concept of refreshing the desktop and getting people to increase their graphical consumer needs so sales increase in both hardware and software. Who is running the show in making these monumental leaps? Educators or retails? Or better yet, the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.

Our next venture was digging deep into the mind of the solider returning home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our theory – neuroplasticity works – if you refire neurons through long term exposure therapy, flooding the visual cortex with the right kind of images, it’s possible to rewire the neurons. So instead of telling soldiers where to go to get information about PTSD, it’s more interesting to reexposure them to their war environment, complete with IED and several levels of visual intensity, then send them off to an American mall to watch, literally and engage in realistically, different experiences that are triggered by the “in theater” experience. Images slowly morph from content in the mall back to Afghanistan when the IED exploded. This is done over and over again, until the user gets bored. The more bored, the less avoidance, and again health meters, points, and motivators to continue engaging in play.

There’s something churning in the ooze … something primordial – and remember you NEVER are present when evolution is happening.

I cite these examples because I am watching the emergence of using technologies to do something other than communicate – something we talk about that is more than just flow of information – it’s activity – “experiencing” and “reexperiencing”. And soon, you won’t even know how it’s happening. Kinda like the way a motor works in a car.

We program the technology primarily now to focus attention for long periods of time – create experiences where there is no room for multitasking because the clock is ticking and you must perform. All of this is so Gloria Geary and Don Norman — but it’s all becoming real.

Perhaps it isn’t making money – but Linden Labs has not gone the way of Forterra, in fact they just acquired ActiveVision’s VP of Marketing – of Call of Duty and Guitar Hero! Now those are experience – so something’s afoot.

It’s the consumer market for virtual goods – it just keeps making millions and hundreds of millions – why do people want virtual objects. Oh, I know – to dress their avatars – hmmm – something about vanity and money ….. . Learning will happen, learning will happen.

I agree that the Enterprise (like the Church) will progress ever so slowly, managing their domain with religious fervor. And the charter of differences will be ignored, until more Bibles are printed, and more analysis is done by Saints, who work for pittance while the Cardinals rake in all the dough and get closer to the Pope, but less close to God. Oh boy, television is influencing me still demonstrating what a refuge I am from the 50s. But, as always – I stick by Alan Kay’s wisdom, “if you want to know the future invent it”.

So, instead of working on my Facebook page, I’ve got five more virtual worlds to conceive and experiences to envision for the end user.

Next idea ….

Move photons, not people.

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