FutureVisions: Virtual Realities Helping the Human Condition

A class being held in SecondLife

One of the over arching themes in the tracks I attended at the FutureVisions Symposium was how virtual realities and games can be used to improve the human condition.

As you saw in the video from my previous entry, game designers are already starting to develop games that could potentially solve real world problems. Eric Hackerthorn from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), proposed how these virtual realities can also be used to educate, and also be used as tools.

NOAA has created a virtual ocean environment which allows students to explore the depths of our oceans without leaving the safety of their home (or classroom). Universities that offer distance education and turning to the online virtual world of SecondLife to teach their classes.

Eric posed one question: What makes a good game?

  • Passionate problem solving
  • Rewarding challenge
  • Necessity of teamwork

He then turned it around and asked: What makes a good employee?

  • Passionate about problem solving
  • Finds rewards in challenges
  • Occasionally needs a team to get the job done

So he posits that people who are attracted to online games and virtual realities can make excellent employees, as long as their jobs include the same elements as the games they find online.

Scott Leutenegger from the University of Colorado discussed how game developers are beginning to introduce “humane games”. These are games that can benefit your health, education and even help facilitate social change.

  • Using educational games to increase their interest into attending college.
  • Virtual environments are being used for specialized training by the military, medical specialists, sales, and even management.
  • Companies are beginning to develop games for Head Start students to help increase mathematical thinking.

The challenge now is to train teachers to incorporate these games and virtual realities into their classrooms and curricula. However the prediction was that within the next 50 years, physical universities may altogether disappear as more folks turn to distance education and attend classes in online virtual worlds. Could the same one day be true of our elementary and high schools?

Darfur is Dying
Darfur is Dying

Beyond education there are games also being developed to try and bring about positive social change – one example is a game called “Darfur is Dying” which aims to increase awareness of the plight of the people in Darfur.

Other games try to spread political or religious ideologies (for good or for ill), spread awareness of climate change, or help you figure out how to best conserve fuel/energy.

This trend to use virtual worlds and games is increasing as computer technology continues to advance. In the future these virtual worlds could become even more immersive, so the need to balance out pure entertainment with more beneficial applications is important.

What do you think of the use of virtual worlds for trying to improve the human condition? Do you think anything positive can come from sitting in front of a computer and immersing yourself in a virtual world, no matter the intent of the “game”?

In my next blog article I will discuss what I feel are the challenges to web analysts as technology advances and brings more people away from the 2D web experience and into a more 3D virtual experience.

2 thoughts on “FutureVisions: Virtual Realities Helping the Human Condition

  1. I’ve been chronicling the answer to this very question: “What do you think of the use of virtual worlds for trying to improve the human condition?” for the past year and half over at http://betterverse.org.

    I’ve found that these online environments provide many opportunities for people to help each other, from virtual fundraisers to distance classes to semi-anonymous support groups to cross-cultural dialogues. These happen in the most advanced worlds like Second Life and the most basic like Club Penguin.

    I personally have organized a program called “I Dig Science” that bring together urban youth to expose them to African culture and paleontology using a virtual fossil dig in Teen Second Life.


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