screen-shot-2015-08-12-at-1-59-42-pmOne of the clever bits of invention in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One is the establishment of schools in the virtual reality game world where everybody games. But it turns out this wasn’t entirely an invention, as back in 2007, many colleges established virtual campuses in the Second Life virtual-reality game—and some of them are still around, albeit abandoned. On, Patrick Hogan writes about taking a tour of some of these campuses.

And “abandoned” is the word. Hogan writes:

First, I didn’t see a a single other user during my tour. They are all truly abandoned.

Second, the college islands are bizarre. They mostly are laid out in a way to evoke stereotypes of how college campuses should look, but mixed in is a streak of absurd choices, like classrooms in tree houses and pirate ships. These decisions might have seemed whimsical at the time, but with the dated graphics, they just look weird.

The article is full of interesting screenshots with dated graphics. Judging from the campuses on display, it looks like educators of the day saw the virtual space’s potential but weren’t really sure what to do with it—so what they did do didn’t have any staying power. Hogan did find the campuses’ overall weirdness delightful by comparison to the bland reality of most Internet schools these days. He also wondered who was paying for their upkeep, given that it costs hundreds of dollars per month to maintain a virtual space in Second Life.

I suppose one of the things that’s really missing for virtual schools to be effective is a truly good implementation of virtual reality. The VR schools in Ready Player One are possible largely because they have a form of VR that’s effectively as good as real life. Out here in the real world, we have monitors and keyboards—and there’s no point in trying to make believe you’re in a virtual college campus if the cheesy graphics are just going to be a distraction from the education.

We’ll just have to keep working on that.


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