In response to a debate convened elsewhere about the nature of Second Life and the nature of games-based learning and the nature of role-play….


Interestingly, (to me) my PhD research project is entitled “Drama Teacher as Games Master: developing digital games-based process drama as performance” My goal is to take aspects of process drama, role-playing games and dramatic performance to develop a hybrid model for drama education. 

Notwithstanding all the RL issues I’m facing trying to get institutional access to SL – it offers a platform that is not so clearly delineated that it over-emphasises one or other of the components. I think our old pal Erving Goffman has many useful insights that can be applied to thinking about Second Life – Frame Analysis, Presentation of Self, Interaction Ritual, Behaviour in Public Places – are all touching on the issues we are referring to. 

If we start exploring notions of identity in relation to SL we should be turning to Sherry Turkle’s old book Life on the Screen, and perhaps Judith Butler’s work on gender (as it is performed)… then onto Lyotard (parology), Bordieu (habitus and doxa)…. and so it goes… SL accepts the frames of analysis and perceptions shift to suit…. I shift my framing of Second Life very often depending upon my purpose – I love that it can accommodate multiple interpretations.. 

It can serve as a game world – in fact, I’d say most of the non-academic reportage I’ve encountered seems to find users referring to “the game” It can serve as a site for games activity – SL has many users who create RPG type environments and approach their engagement with SL via that frame. 

It also serves as an alternative meeting place… a site for meditation and reflection…  a social space…  a private place… a stage… an auditorium…  a picture window… a site for deviance… a site for conformity…  …any action or representation I make inworld has the potential of being simultaneously framed – repurposed – something I referred to in a paper as “simultaneous reversioning” (gotta love a good pretentious turn of phrase!!) 

I think debating a definitive functional space for SL is ultimately going to wind back to a position that is based in far more relativism than many are comfortable with… And what’s more – the frames will also be layered – as more users become more comfortable with perceptual position shifts, the more we’ll be reading about multiple simultaneous frames in operation…  our students can see themselves in a classroom, as well as in a game, as well as in brave new world…  

When they discover “alts” they’ll start to multiply these perceptions yet again… they can encounter themselves inworld with conflicting or complimentary world views…  they can be compliant and rebellious…  they can actively demonstrate the partiality of existence… they can live through ambiguity and uncertainty… and they can retreat to the familiar to avoid such complications…  or to create even more layers of purpose…   The fact that Second Life defies ready categorisation – perhaps there needs to be a MUVE taxonomy akin to the “Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge” – will allow multi-, cross- and inter-disciplinary approaches that have very blurry edges… fuzzy liminality if you will.  It will also mean that many will veer away from it because it complicates their perceptions…   

…however as others have stated, the 3D MUVE is not all there is to games and games-based learning – I also use MOO and other non-3D spaces…  immersion is more than a visual metaphor…  I suspect immersion is more closely related to “engagement”, which is so often misconstrued as “fun”….   The world of imagined experience is the world of my real-life classrooms – as a drama teacher I regular draw upon thin air and imagination as the basis for my teaching and learning… I work towards an ideal I call “generative play” – playful engagement in a fictional environment where there is an expectation of contextually relevant meaning-making that is both personal and shared but is not predicated by predetermined nor prescribed contentI’m hoping that Second Life will be yet another avenue for that ideal to be realised.

For the time being, Second Life has the potential to be many things to many people and it can easily find itself included or excluded from many pursuits – academic or otherwise –  in the academic realm we often state our paradigm at the outset and then never revisit it throughout our investigations – constant restatement can be useful in the bigger picture – but often we are working within frames that we take for granted because of the faculty or discipline we are involved with – hardly any wonder then, why so many find the postmodern condition unpalatable – it just gets too hard- or can be seen as a reminder of the basic human functions of Deletion/DetailScope/GeneralisationConnections/Distortion that we use to make meaning-  we have the capacity, if not the will, to be very precise with our linguistic patterning – and we can also find revelry in the constant ebb and flow of unstated paradigmatic shifts-  Vive la differance!!! 

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