I keenly read Ener’s posts and I am almost as passionate about virtual worlds but from a slightly differing perspective. They can be a wonderfully immersive media that can increase user engagement particularly in training and education.
In education circles we like to discuss learning styles such as visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (tactile). There are other models as well and today we recognize that learners often use a combination and that the styles for a learner may change day to day.
The more styles we can intertwine into educational materials and techniques, the greater the chances are that our learners will learn what we are teaching them.
Reading text and looking at illustrations access certain parts of our brain. Writing information relative to what we are learning accesses other parts of the brain (thus the value of written activities). Reading aloud accesses yet different areas as does teaching our newly learned information to others (such as a mentoring program).
With virtual worlds, I believe we engage additional areas of the brain as well as parts of the brain accessed via “standard” learning styles. Virtual worlds allow us to engage with the learner’s imagination and trigger thoughts of touch, smell, sound, the visual, and the kinesthetic (such as a scripted object reacting to the avatar) - the same senses we access in a real life situations. This increases the learner’s engagement, the immersion provided by the imagination, when their avatar is placed into a virtual world.
I contend that we may even engage more deeply with the user because of the simple look that OpenSim presents as contrasted with more sophisticated graphics such as Blender imported into Unity. This simpler look, sometimes referred to as cartoon class in comments to Ener’s blog, forces the user to fill in details and use their imagination to a greater degree.
Playing ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops’ is something done by millions but I don’t believe it engages the imagination as much as OpenSim can. Think about how Legos engage the imagination, how the unseen movie monster is typically scarier than the one revealed, or playing army or having a tea party when you are little. The imagination lets us fill in what we think the situation calls for.
Happy Halloween and think about how scary the dark can be when our minds are left to wander and wonder.
also posted on the subQuark blog