June 30, 2006
Yay!!!! The special edition of E-Learning that I edited is now published and available (free!!). Here are the details and contents:
E-LEARNING (ISSN 1741-8887)
Volume 3, Number 2, 2006
Guest Editor: ANGELA THOMAS
Editorial, pages 124-125
ANGELA THOMAS. ‘MSN was the Next Big Thing after Beanie Babies’: children’s virtual experiences as an interface to their identities and their
everyday lives, pages 126-142
SALLY HUMPHREY. ‘Getting the Reader On Side’: exploring adolescent onlinepolitical discourse, pages 143-157
BARBARA J. GUZZETTI. Cybergirls: negotiating social identities oncybersites, pages 158-169
REBECCA W. BLACK. Language, Culture and Identity in Online Fanfiction, pages 170-184
KEVIN LEANDER & AMY FRANK. The Aesthetic Production and Distribution of Image/Subjects among Online Youth, pages 185-206
LALITHA VASUDEVAN. Making Known Differently: engaging visual modalities as spaces to author new selves, pages 207-216
JULIA DAVIES. Affinities and Beyond! Developing Ways of Seeing in Online Spaces, pages 217-234
GUY MERCHANT. Identity, Social Networks and Online Communication, pages 235-244
JONATHAN PAUL MARSHALL. Categories, Gender and Online Community, pages 245-262
BOOK REVIEW E-Literature for Children: enhancing digital literacy learning (Len Unsworth), reviewed by Angela Thomas, pages 263-264
For all editorial matters, including articles offered for publication, please contact Professor Michael A. Peters (firstname.lastname@example.org).
June 28, 2006
In my quest to become an “insider” (an active citizen of SL and not just an outside commentator) I have become immersed in the wonderful world of machinima. As some of you will soon find out, I am presenting a keynote paper at the Australian Systemic Functional Linguistics conference on the semiotics of machinima called: The Machinima Explosion and its Transforming Potential for Innovation in Literacy Education with Frontier Technologies. So to understand it best, I am involved in shooting several machinimas (machinima, for those uncertain of the term, simply comes from the combination of the words “machine” and “cinema” and refers to 3D animated movies made with gaming technologies).
I have been working on this particular machinima with Kronos (the director) and Dell (the leading man) and above is a shot of us shooting at the set. Kronos teaches at a film and acting school in NY so has years of “real world” experience. Working with him has been a dream because I have learnt so much about the language and practice of filmmaking from all angles. (I could now tell you about way points, cycloramas, and infinity corners, for example!) I have also learnt a lot of neat tricks in SL about how to control the gaze and head movements of my avatar and so on.
So a few weeks ago, Kronos wrote a script - it is a short comedy called “Lip Flap”. We then started building the set. Well, Kronos built it, and I dressed and designed most of it. The action all takes place in a bedroom, though there might be some flashback sequences, depending on time constraints I believe. So I spent quite a lot of time hunting all over Second Life for some gorgeous bedroom furniture, right down to tiny details like tote bags, makeup boxes, jewelry boxes, hairbrushes, books and so on to place about on the furniture. Since some of my costumes were from Nonna Hedges, I also did a little subtle product placement with this gorgeous box from her store.
Then Kronos sent Dell and I a list of information we would need to know before the shoot. This included telling us that we had to keep idle chatter to a minimum (*grin*), and telling us that when the camera was rolling, he wouldn’t see our chat etc.. lots of technical stuff! He also sent us a shot sequence so we would know what order we would be doing things. (Kronos is extremely organised, so professional!).
The script involves me doing 8 costume changes. My costumes had to reflect variety and difference, so I spent a LONG time going through my hundreds of outfits to finally select my top 10 favourites. I made pre-shoot photos of each costume and sent the photos to Kronos for inspection, and he selected the 8 he thought would work best for the shoot. We ended up selecting clothing from: Nonna Hedges, Pixel Dolls, Rebel Hope, Simone, Luxe and Chaospire. The shoot starts out with me in my favourite Nonna Hedges outfit, and finishes with me in my favourite Luxe costume (this gothic gypsy one). Here’s the Chaospire gothic fairy costume that comes half way through:
So I pre-prepared the full costumes into folders so that I could drag and drop and do instant costume changes! While doing this preparation I finally realised (after 6 months of being in Second Life!!!) that I could make copies of my skin, hair, and manicure to add to each individual folder, to enable a complete avatar change in one move! The only difficulty I had was with my eyelashes, which were non-copyable, so I had to manually attach them every single costume change *groan* I also had key lights - like a spotlight - attached to my torso so that I would be adequately lit at all times, and these lights were also inside each invidual folder. In addition, Kronos had made folders for Dell and I with all of the animations we would need during the shoot. The preparation time actually took more time than the shoot itself!
So last night we began shooting. It was actually a kind of boring process when the cameras were rolling, but after each sequence of takes Kronos would go check the rushes to see if he’d got what he needed, and during those times Dell and I chatted and played games and amused ourselves with general silliness. We’re wrapping up shooting over next weekend, then Kronos will do the editing, and he and Linda (his wife) will be doing the voice overs and foley FX.
It’s a wonderful process to be involved in, and I have learnt an awful lot as I said. I could do this sort of thing all day long, its so stimulating. But alas, I must go back to marking 80 assignments on verbs and nouns :/
(PS: If you are one of my undergraduate students, never fear, I like your assignments, you did great work, but marking them is a tedious process!)
June 25, 2006
Over the past week (or maybe longer) there’s been a fundraising event in Second Life to raise money for cancer called the Second Life Relay for Life. I guess it coincides with events in the “physical” world in the US. So many wonderful designers came together and made products, and are donating 100% of the proceeds to the campaign. Linden Lifestles offer an overview of the event and the design team participating in the charity here.
I bought this GORGEOUS skin from “Charmed” - I adore the creamy skin, the wonderful eyeliner, the beauty mark(s), the arch of the eyebrow, and the errr… other details!!! Also, it is a limited edition skin, which means I won’t keep bumping in to people who look like me, which is a bonus!
I also simply could not resist this fabulous genie bottle (made by the makers of my favourite of all time hair designers at Panache):
I think its wonderful that SL incorporates charity events into the community - it balances out (a tiny bit anyway) the commercial emphasis to everything.
June 22, 2006
When I first heard about the Second Life mafia (which has received a lot of press lately) I laughed and thought it was funny. Then I read their home page, particularly looking at their services, and I was stunned and shocked and well… AMAZED that this sort of thing could happen. I expressed these thoughts to a friend and he replied - “Well, don’t you know about the Second Life underworld?” He then proceeded to list a whole heap of examples of nasty and even criminal activites that were happening in SL. I guess I live a sheltered and protected SL, but I was totally floored as I listened to the details of actual experiences of a friend with the seedy underbelly of real crimes in SL.
So then I discovered that the mafia boss of the SL mafia was featured as a guest on the most recent Second Cast podcast. Have a listen to the podcast (adults only by the way) at what he has to say:
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Now as I listened to the Don Marsellus I found myself totally charmed at his articulate rhetoric, as he cast his activities in a discourse of supportive caring helpful kindness. Here’s some of the actual phrases he uses:
“We’re doing the same thing as the volunteer helpers, only we get paid for it”
“It’s a service we provide”
“If somebody’s harrassing you in game and Linden Labs can’t help, come to us”
“It’s nothing major”
“It’s bascially social engineering”
“We bring the fight to the griefers, we basically grief the griefers”
“I am the nicest guy”
“We are the problem solvers”
I was completely charmed by him - he sounded like he was just a kindhearted guy trying to help people under the role-playing guise of the Mafia. I couldn’t reconcile the image created by this guy with the genuinely frightening underworld activites my friend had told me about. Am I just easily persuaded by clever rhetoric and is the SL mafia relatively harmless, or should I look beyond the rhetoric and be disgusted?
I don’t know of any systematic research on griefers - can anybody point me to some?
June 21, 2006
Every year academic staff members have an annual review with their supervisors. It is a gruelling process and last year I was so upset at being labelled “satsifactory” that I went home and cried for an entire week, and couldn’t blog for days because I was so depressed. Essentially it involves filling in a lot of forms and describing your academic outcomes for the past 12 months aligning them with the key performance indicators for the position, then a 60-90 minute discussion with your supervisor. The key performance indicators are:
1. Teaching and learning
2. Research and innovation
3. Leadership and management
4. Community, professional and industry engagement
You are assigned ratings or grades for each indicator and then are given an overall rating and recommendation for finanical increment (or not, if you are deemed unsatsfactory).
So today I had my 2005/2006 annual PM&D review (it took 90 minutes!). I am very pleased and relieved to report that it went well and I was given a much nicer rating than last year!!! (I wouldn’t be blogging about it if it went badly). What is most interesting I think to share is that I received an “outstanding” for key performance indicator 4 - community, professional and industry engagement, based on my blogging activities! I argued the case that my blog was serving the community and provoking intellectual discussion among professionals across a range of fields and provided evidence in the following ways:
- examples of blog posts
- examples of comments and discussion in the blog
- examples of links to my posts from other posts
I talked about how my blog served a multiplicity of purposes: ethnographic research, preparatory thinking for formal academic papers, networking, intellectual discussions and developing a wider readership of my work than could ever be attained by a traditional journal article.
I was a little anxious (OK a LOT anxious if I am to be honest) about whether the blog would be considered an authentic and valuable activity - so much so that I very nearly almost didn’t even include it in my documentation. But not only was it seen as a valid enterprise, it was given the highest possible rating. I am so thrilled and relieved and actually… I don’t feel any guilt any more about how much time I devote to blogging!
So - many thanks to anybody who has ever commented, linked to me, or engaged in discussions with me via or about the blog. And an even bigger thanks to my kind friends on Second Life who had to deal with my highly anxious and stressed out state over the past few days as I have prepared for this review *smile* (You know who you are!)
June 19, 2006
(one of my lion shots from the Christchurch wildlife park)
Yes! I am back from New Zealand (very tired!) and immersed once again in a pile of assignment marking, tedious admin and other stuff not worth blogging about
Meanwhile, in Second Life news, Gary wrote an amazing post on the creative people and creative potentials in Second Life, Wagner James Au continues to post fascinating and detailed stories of Second Life people and events (and he blogrolled me, many thanks! *smiles*), Christy wrote an incredible post about marketing across worlds and one of my favourite SL fashion bloggers expresses her angst (which many of us share so we truly empathise!) about the latest SL upgrades!
Also, Dell has made me an incredible concert stage a la the Darling Harbour floating aquashells, Kronos won third prize in the SL photography competition, Mathieu made some new waves (which are much nicer than my old ones),
I finally found some flexi-prim hair that I think is worth wearing, I met Jaynine, a divine jazz singer who does live concerts in SL and will christen my new stage some time in the near future, and Gary, Franky, Kronos and I discovered a TV broadcasting studio which we spent ages role-playing in.
So… feeling back at home now *smile*
June 13, 2006
Brrrr!!!! First life has taken over again - am enjoying a mini-break in the snow (!!!) in New Zealand - literally - our hotel is being snowed upon at this very moment *smile*
Am having wonderful fun on vacation but experiencing just a little *twinge* of SL withdrawal!!
June 7, 2006
Another fascinating podcast about Second Life and living in game space with special guests Sherry Turkle (THE leading authority on internet identity), and Wagner James Au from New World Notes
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I especially like this quote from Sherry Turkle:
The question of whether or not you feel fully yourself without these extensions is … something we need to acknowledge. … While we’re still in this intermediate space of being not fully tethered, I think we need to ask ourselves the question of … in real life … without the Second Life, without that ability go out into the game and to complete yourself through these devices, are people starting to feel as though they’re not quite fully themselves? Sherry Turkle on Open Source
Very interesting and something I wrote about in this soon to be published book chapter:
Thomas, A. (in press/2006). Culture, Community and Citizenship in Cyberspace. In: Lankshear, C., Knobel, M., Leu, D. and Cairo, J. (Eds.), The Handbook of New Literacies Research. Erlbaum.
Harvard Business Review have posted this article and accompanying podcast on avatar-based marketing. It’s really interesting because it covers many of the issues I’ve mentioned here before about identity. It talks about the way advertising could potentially tap into the ego - this quote for example, summarises the goal of most commercial advertising:
Advertising has always targeted a powerful consumer alter ego: that hip, attractive, incredibly popular person just waiting to emerge (with the help of the advertised product) from an all-too-normal self.
The piece goes on to explain that the avatar is that alter ego. I mentioned in one of my earlier posts here about commodity fetishism that skins are one of the most sought after items - and one of the most expensive - in Second Life. But that’s just the beginning - and I have talked about my love affair with the fashion designs of Nonna Hedges, my desperate quest for long eyelashes, and the shopping spree where I bought 10 pairs of the most fabulous SL shoes I have ever seen from a shoe designer called Sylfie Minogue! I think anybody who is marketting to the ego by making body parts and fashion items is actually making a very good living in SL. Nonna told me that her SL business is her full time job. The Harvard business review reports that there are some people with businesses in SL making 6 figure annual incomes!!
What I really like about SL so far though is that most of these designers were residents first, business people second. The businesses grew from user generated content motivated by their need to enjoy their world more completely and in various ways. As big corporations recognise the potential of SL for their business it will be very interesting to see how they impact on the resident businesses.
The Harvard Review article is slightly jarring in the way they seem to divorce the avatar from the person it embodies, but the point it ended on was interesting: will people go to a business in SL and buy one item for their avatar, and a duplicate item for their real self? Let me think about the items in my inventory and see whether I would buy any of them for real…
skins, eyes, hair, shapes: no, I don’t like the idea of plastic surgery and couldn’t afford it anyway
houses (I have several), pagodas, pavilions, furniture: no, I couldn’t afford the real ones
musical instruments: well I do have real instruments but I would never buy a SL instrument for real because when purchasing an instrument you need to test it and hear it and touch it
jewellery: no, again i need to go to the real shop and try it on, besides I couldn’t afford diamonds
hmmm…. the list goes on.
I guess it makes me think three things:
1) What purchases do I actually make online anyway?
2) The fantasy of Second Life is that I can afford to own things that I cannot afford in my “real” life.
3) Many of the most interesting things in Second Life cannot be replicated for real, and that is what makes them so fun.
Take for example this gorgeous music box:
The beauty of this music box is that I can code in new melodies to play (it’s quite simple). I can customise it however I want. The best things in SL are the ones that you can work with to develop and customise - web 2.0 in play again here. But if I bought this real music box, I would be limited: the music it played would just be static. The dynamic nature of the online world allows me the chance to be creative, to contribute, to participate. Now I think people who can tap into that marketing opportunity might have something! (I mean that is why Second Life is so successful - the Lindens were way ahead with the web 2.0 concept!)
June 6, 2006
I’ve just listened to this fascinating podcast at Second Cast called “Puppet Love“. Dealing with online romances, sexuality, identity, avatar love, and the visual nature of Second Life, these podcasters really discuss the most intricate and intimate of issues. Anybody interested in identity online should listen (Warning: not suitable for children).
(via Linden Lifestyles)
June 5, 2006
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Yay!! I now have the complete set of gorgeous jewels, thanks not, I am afraid, to my own skills at deciphering clues, but to the skills of my now very favourite person because he is so clever and he found them when I couldn’t - Dell!!
here is my navel ring:
Here’s an earring and one view of my necklace:
here is a better view of the necklace:
and here’s me wearing everything in the set:
That was a very difficult quest but luckily I have the right contacts to help and voila! Gorgeous jewels are mine!!!! What fun. I do think there’s a lot to think about in terms of storying and gaming and the hybridity of the two in quests like this. By the end of this particular quest the story had little value or impact, and the game became more significant. I am wondering whether anybody has done a study of the schematic structures of game-narratives?
Anyway, huge thanks to the creator of this quest, Random, and to my riddle-solving questing companion, Dell!