Sunday, November 27, 2011

House of Usher: Motives & Missions for Online Roleplay

More Students at Nevermore  
Location: Ready for Final Exam

When you play a traditional MMO, there's killing stuff, roleplay, and "leveling up." So in educational roleplay, with only the middle element, how to motivate participants?

I would love to have the time to commission a HUD for Nevermore Island in Jokaydia Grid, but it was enough to get a House of Usher "up from the ashes" of the Second Life build in 10 months time. Students in my "Invented Worlds" course opting to do the take-home final begin exploring and interacting with Roderick and Madeline tomorrow.

When I last tried this with one of my classes in Second Life, I chose to give each student character a roleplaying goal, such as "find out if Roderick is giving Madeline any medicine" and a beta-test goal of evaluating some element of the 3D build.

This time, that last goal gets moved to the exam essay, due some days after trip to Nevermore. Meanwhile, I came up with an appropriately gamelike metaphor for each student: a motive, either  benevolent or even hostile to the Ushers, as well as a mission to discover or recover something from Nevermore.

This approach will be fun for me, in the role of Roderick, because I will assign said motives and missions randomly from two hats passed at the start of each session. Neither the actress playing Madeline nor I will know what each student gets, and I will not comment on them if asked. Moreover, I will encourage each student not to tell the one or two other students present in the lab, where all of us save Madeline will be for the expedition.

Were Linden Lab to cut tier drastically, and let me bring in an OAR file (my requisites for returning this work to Second Life) I could merge this pedagogical approach with one of the combat-system HUDs available in SL. Some include effects for drowning, fire, or falling.

I don't want the experience to turn into a violent game, but having a working pistol or sword about could add to the fun considerably. After all, folks die in Poe stories all the time, and student mistakes could then become fatal.  I'd also want to add some scripted non-player characters such as a hermit, a ghost, and perhaps a couple of hostile wolves in a remote corner of Nevermore Island. Those will wait for OpenSim to catch up with SL's technology. I'm excited by the promises Rod Humble has made about gaming feature coming to SL's default interface, but the cost for a robust sim-wide build are too steep.

After April 2012, I may have to decide again about grids. Reaction Grid has not updated its OpenSim software, and I want features available on newer grids such as reliable hypergridding. I'm hoping that Jokay and her customers can put some gentle pressure on Reaction Grid to make the move, as they seem more intent on support Jibe, a lovely 3D technology but beyond my coding-and-design skills at present. Please don't suggest I move to Jibe: given the weight this work gets in my annual evaluation, I'm not going to take time to learn new 3D apps. I get more credit for an article or new course than for any immersive 3D work, and that's unlikely to change.

Wherever the build goes, after this semester Nevermore will be open, by appointment, for groups or individuals who want to RP in Poe's setting.

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