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Natasha relaxing in Second Life
It is difficult to draw a clear line between video games and virtual worlds. Some researchers use these terms interchangeably, others try to make a distinction and examine them separately. The authors of the “Horizon Report”, published by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative in 2007, define games as generally more goal-oriented. The most popular MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online) games are happening online in real time, often having multiple players engaged in them. They are not necessarily 3D, and a lot of them are text-based with simple graphics.
Virtual Worlds, on the other hand, are 3D environments, and highly immersive social spaces. Entering a virtual world usually begins with creating an avatar, other self, who will move through the space on our behalf. Virtual worlds are opportunities for socializing and community building, engaging in dialogues, and sharing digital media content. They are most frequently not goal-oriented (there is no score for successful win), but they also have numerous players interacting at the same time. There is no “game over” in a virtual world, and it is up to a player to enter or exit the world. Very often the virtual worlds are still live and changing even when the computer is turned off. The most popular of these virtual worlds, Second Life, is currently inhabited by millions of players worldwide (Second Life, 2008).
According to the authors of the “Horizon Report”, both games and virtual worlds can be and have been used for educational purposes, but they require different designs. There are numerous instances, however, where games have those characteristics described as specific to virtual worlds by the authors of “Horizon Report”. For example, the players of World of Warcraft (WoW) live in cyberspace as avatars, they do socialize and engage in dialogue, and so on. The argument gets even more complicated with the development of a) the so-called serous games or games for change that promote debate related to social issues: citizenship, poverty, environment, etc. and call for action, and b) Alternative Reality Games (ARG) that use the real world as a platform to tell a story in real time, engaging participants to share their ideas or actions, or collaboratively solve a problem.
The resources on virtual worlds and games are organised as follows:
Books on virtual worlds and games for learning (partly annotated)
Tools for creating virtual realities (to be further developed)
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