Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"...that the guns may fall silent..." - On the importance of virtual Truces, and real Change

The trenches are sifted with a layer of white snow, and more is falling. The lights in the medical center tents glow warmly, and a momentary quiet seems to drift down over our shoulders. Approaching the front line, the silence is broken here and there by the sound of distant singing, in German.

It is Christmas 1914 in the World War I poetry sim at Frideswide, and a few footballs litter the ground. The guns are silent. From before the holiday, and through 12th Night (January 6th), Csteph Submariner has effected a decided change in the look of the sim, to reflect the Christmas Truce of 1914. Visitors to the front line can hear Henry Williamson, a Private in the London Regiment, give his eyewitness account of the Truce.

I first visited Frideswide a few months ago (here's the original post) and walked the muddy, rat-ridden trenches. The impact of teaching a period of literature from within the environment where that literature was created, most particularly that of World War I, was what struck me at the time. As I revisit the region and note the visible changes, as well as those things that have remained the same, I am struck by another item: the impact change has on a simulation.

There has been much said about the impermanence of regions in Second Life, especially as much-loved places disappear for good. However, the flip side of that coin is the good that comes when things can and do change rapidly within virtual environments. Change can be used for powerful narrative effect over time, or to teach a different point about the same subject, within the "environment" of chronology. Change makes us pay attention; it makes us return and rethink. A beautiful sim that does not change is still beautiful, but a region that does change has extra power. The power comes from a deepening of information and experience created by the fact that Second Life and simulation platforms like it allow for new developments over time. Bravo to Csteph Submariner and the WWI Poetry Sim - I look forward to returning again and seeing what comes next.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Thanks for the write-up (again) Viv. I completely agree with you about the importance of events and change within a region. At a prosaic level change is a driver of traffic and our funders do love traffic. I think the paradigm they're comfortable with is that of a web site and the association of traffic with success there is, perhaps, more clear cut. I do think that traffic per se is less important in the context of virtual worlds, though far from unimportant. Rather change and events in a region perform a similar function to special exhibitions within a real life museum; the museum without them can be just as valid, but change maintains a vitality which might otherwise lapse. Increased traffic is just a pleasant side-effect of that.

In the virtual world it is also far easier to effect changes to an exhibit in ways which would be far from easy to do in a physical space. Our current changes based on the Christmas 1914 truce being a case in point; the Imperial War Museum, for instance, would run into all sorts of logistics and cost/benefit questions if they planned such a short term radical reconfiguration of their trench exhibit. In the virtual realm it just requires the vision and a small amount of manpower to effect such changes and switching between them can even be scripted into the design making the actual change trivial.

- Csteph