Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In Praise of Second Life Content Creators

Polly wants a?
Location: Shopping and Building

Recently, in comments at New World Notes and on the SLED list, I fretted that the arrival of meshes in SL, while giving us more vivid landscapes, clothing, and avatars, might raise the bar even further for faculty who want to create their own content.

The reactions to my concerns were rather harsh, running along the lines of "hire a professional," "learn Blender--it's free," "you'll still have the old build tools," "hire students," and "most education builds are crap."

While I'm willing to learn tricks and hope to find more students with 3D modeling skills, this old dog also feels a special draw to virtual worlds that permit users to make their own content, however poor it might appear alongside professional creations. This reason, as well as the Windows-only viewer, keep me out of Avatar Reality's Blue Mars.

Yet a well devised simulation cannot come complete from a purchased box and, no matter how good it looks, the simulation has to be pedagogically useful. The trick for those of us in SL and other worlds will be to master the tools without sinking our annual reviews. Right now, evaluators do not always see the worth of dozens--or hundreds--of hours learning a new software tool when faculty time could be spent otherwise in ways that institutions value.

That said, educators should learn to build, as it provides a way to interact with the simulation and add customized elements hard to otherwise obtain. I'm surprised that a simple table I made a couple of years ago remains one of the most important and immersive elements in our House of Usher simulation. The table, retextured many ways, provides an obvious location for lots of important clues we want visitors to find as they tour the House.

I am not in the camp of educators I met who disdain spending any money in-world, as if it taints their virtual existence. Linden Lab runs a business, and many talented individuals have invested in that business to bring their own content into SL and then sell it. I'm happy to support such small businesses.

To trick out The House of Usher with a visitor counter that would fit the mood of the place, and even add a touch of levity to a rather dreary story, I purchased our own talking parrot, "Nevermore" (yeah, I know). I got him and several other well made accessories from The Golden Oriole, a shop of "antiques and curiosities" owned by Oriolus Oliva.

I hope that merchants like Oliva thrive if Second Life begins to grow again; now it's a difficult transition as Linden Lab "re-focuses" on consumers. As we educators branch out to other virtual worlds, however, let's not forget that unless we roll out an OpenSim grid of our own, our virtual hosts need to make money. And whether or not I learn a 3D modeling program, I will still be paying for good content from others.

No comments: