In-world class, 20th March 2012

Marred only by the loss of voice capability for some students when they upgraded to the latest release of Firestorm (and some silly antics by a minority at the end), the in-world class on Tuesday morning ran as well as ever.

Prompted by the new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum on The Art of Video Games (starting 16th March), I devoted the session to museums, galleries, and art installations in Second Life and OpenSim.  Students were required to consider how, as consultants, they might formulate the business case to museums for the creation of an immersive and engaging virtual presence.

I argued three benefits to artists and museums working in virtual worlds:

    • accessibility (and therefore increased exposure).  In terms both of reach (global, rather than the real-world local) and availability (24/7), museums and galleries in OpenSim grids or in Second Life are more accessible than real-world equivalents
    • engagement.  Liberated from the “glass-case-and-white-card” and “don’t-touch-the-exhibit” constraints of the real world museum or gallery, the virtual exhibition can deliver to its visitors a powerfully engaging immersive and interactive experience.  This also, therefore, makes it an ideal environment for experiential learning.
    • plasticity / affordances of the medium.  The content creation possibilities entail that one can, in a virtual environment, create experiences that could never be reproduced in the real world.  Virtual reality is, as much as canvas and oils, a medium for artistic creativity.

After an introductory overview that included a history of art, museums, and galleries in virtual environments, I sent students off to navigate their way through Tamsin Barzane’s immersive and interactive Middle Passage Experience (below) in the north-east corner of LearningWorks, a simple and yet engagingly dramatic first-person role-play re-telling of the African experience of being kidnapped, enslaved, and transported to the Americas.

The Middle Passage Experience at LearningWorks

Given a list of in-world museums, installations, exhibitions, and galleries, students were next required to visit at least one in each category and to then report back in a review session with a summary and critical appreciation of the experience.

Finally, students were encouraged to explore further in-world examples for themselves, and to draft a ‘sales pitch’ they might present to a real-life art or heritage institution to make a persuasive case for a virtual presence.


About Christopher Hutchison

Museologist, cognitive dissident, political grouch, curmudgeonly bibliophage, and all round jolly nice chap.
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