Learning is fun, Learning is social

I’ve been in many classes that reference Second Life, an expansive 3D virtual world built for socializing. So I decided to try it out! This blog post is about the tutorial and my reflection of its educational value. In videogames, the tutorials are usually a solo-venture. In Second Life, after choosing a sim character, you are immediately […]

I’ve been in many classes that reference Second Life, an expansive 3D virtual world built for socializing. So I decided to try it out! This blog post is about the tutorial and my reflection of its educational value.

In videogames, the tutorials are usually a solo-venture. In Second Life, after choosing a sim character, you are immediately placed in a virtual world with other new players. Some of them look just like you, because there are about 10 model sims to choose from. This immediately gave me the sensation of community, knowing that other people were learning the basics and might fail a few times. This initial stage also set the tone that Second Life is a social experience, whether it’s an adventure towards self-exploration or interaction with other players.

As I continued through the tutorial, I learned that we were in “Learning Island.” After the lessons which teach you the basic mechanics, you are encouraged to explore before going to “Social island,” since there’s no way to return.

I initially got frustrated, thinking that the game implied that learning is an isolated event. After some reflection, I think this was intentional and fits well with the purpose of Second Life.  This separation communicates that learning emerges from interaction with others (learn more about Social Pedagogy here). Although Social Island doesn’t provide many opportunities to socialize directly with other players, I was free to explore the virtual space and learn through challenges.

There were two moments where my suspended belief was broken. There were times when, ironically, I felt alone in Social Island. I tried to chat with other players, and found myself assuming that each sim accurately represented their real world identity. How hypocritical of me! I was playing as a pear-shaped redhead – characteristics that in no way embody my real life identity.

As I was exploring, I happened upon a tablet that outlined the rules for game play. It was made very clear that although Second Life is a virtual world, the same social rules from the real world apply. You aren’t allowed to harass anyone. You will be punished for being rude or performing non-consensual behavior among another person. Second Life developers acknowledge that many players may want to take advantage of the magic circle that videogames traditionally embody. These rules are made clear so that people understand that there is little difference between the magic circle of real life and the one in virtual life. It is made more clear that the game establishes a safe space for all, and tries to democratize the experience for every player.

 

Problems of Identity in brain games

During the initial tutorial stage in which Lumosity accustoms you to the interface and gameplay, the game uses statistical data to compare you against other players in your age range. Your performance is represented on a bell curve. When you performed poorly, the game’s text remains “juicy” by directly rewarding your intent and ignoring the […]

During the initial tutorial stage in which Lumosity accustoms you to the interface and gameplay, the game uses statistical data to compare you against other players in your age range. Your performance is represented on a bell curve. When you performed poorly, the game’s text remains “juicy” by directly rewarding your intent and ignoring the game score. When I see that I have performed better than the majority, it was an ego boost and bar that was raised for myself. On the other hand, when I performed under the average, I was determined to better myself and more importantly, beat them. Once the tutorial is over, the game no longer compares you to other players, but instead measures your high scores and encourages you to be better than your ‘previous’ self. The design is meant to invoke competitive game play, and creates a difference experience when the competitor is oneself. This type of priming is intentional, and feeds into what James Paul Gee defines as the “projected identity.” This identity bridges the “real-world” identity with the “virtual” identity. According to James Paul Gee, the projective identity is to:

“project one’s values and desires onto the virtual character and seeing the virtual character as one’s own project in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to be and become.” (page 55)

Lumosity continues to feed and prime my “projected identity” through a variety of ways. The juiciness is always encouraging of any progress that is made. When I don’t perform as well as I hope to, it never communicates that negatively. The explanations of games and their purpose prime me into believing that the game will help me develop a certain skill. Lumosity has the illusion of unmasking the ‘black box’, although I, as a player, have no idea how tapping on train tracks or swiping on the screen makes me a better multitasker.

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In my third blog post, I will discuss more in depth the effectiveness of these brain games and the role of the “projected identity” in Lumosity’s marketing and design.

 

References:

Gee, James Paul. 2003. What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.