Virtual Worlds As Learning Environs For Global Kids

sl-teen.jpgMarie Curie once said, “Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood. ”

If machinima and avatars are not in your parental lexicon, deep breath, relax…Shaping Youth is out to unfog the lens and peek into virtual teaching and learning on the teen grid of Second Life.

Virtual worlds, emerging social media networks, and just about any kids’ digital dialogue can be perceived as a ‘threat’ by concerned parents…so we’re big on deconstructing “media, shaping youth” to amp up comfort levels via knowledge.

Here’s an easy primer on virtual world terminology by online community specialist Izzy Neis, along with her ‘worthy tween picks’ as well as a heads-up from Izzy on communities NOT for “U-13” (‘tater tots’ as she calls them) plus, a partial list of up and comer virtual worlds for ‘tweens/twids’ on the virtual horizon. (‘twids’ is new to me, clearly an Izzyism)

I’ll add on my ‘What the Heck is Machinima?’ article, my basic exploration of Teen Second Life Virtual Learning, then springboard you to one of my favorite gaming sites, Gamine Expedition, covering Global Kids’ video creations on children’s rights, filmed and presented via virtual world.

Gamine Expedition is authored by Sara M. Grimes, a PhD Candidate with the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University and founder of the ACT Games Lab, so I can’t think of a better person than an academic to prove to the parent posse once and for all that virtual worlds are far from ‘computer games.’

Sara’s piece is the perfect ‘prequel’ to our upcoming interview with Barry Joseph of Global Kids Digital Initiative, as it gives you an idea of how kids are using the digital sphere for self-expression of meaningful content.

global-kids-screen-shot.jpgMetaVersEd also has a nice K-12 machinima show-n-tell capsule of education use in SL’s virtual world, and you can dig deeper into the SL machinima track here)

Like Global Kids’ 6-minute film, A Child’s War, filmed within the virtual world, their children’s rights project should give parents yet another snapshot that virtual worlds are NOT ALL vapid chat-bubble slimefests to sell stuff…or penguin-bumping, game-twitching time sinks…

It all just depends on which virtual playgrounds your kids are hanging out in…Here’s Sara with more: “By way of the MAGIC network, another cool example of gamers using machinima for political expression, this time through a 5-week-long initiative led by Global Kids (with support from UNICEF) and taking place entirely within Teen Second Life.

sleducators.gifTeens from three different countries (Finland, UK and US) participated in the second annual “Camp Global Kids”, a virtual summer camp geared towards producing short videos about children’s rights, in order to commemorate the 18th anniversary of the Convention of the Rights of the Child. The initiative also had an obvious educational imperative, which appears to have hit home with the teens involved.”

(note: Roundup of digital learning conferences include “Totally Wired: How technology is changing kids and learning” coming up 12/12 on the east coast)

Sara goes on to include quotes from the UNICEF press release and explain how the kids’ videos were screened as part of a “red-carpet affair” that took place on the Global Kids Island (within the virtual world of Teen Second Life) including a selection of “real-world” short films made by teens involved in UNICEF’s “One Minute Jrs” video project in conjunction with the Sandberg Institute.

Sara added, “The filmmakers introduced their machinima and answered questions to an audience of nearly 100, each of whom received free virtual popcorn and a child rights t-shirt for participating. The short films covered a variety of topics, from drug use and health care, to media and play, to child soldiers.”

Clearly no shallow mindset at work there. Visit Gamine Expedition for the rest of the article, including ways that kids are using machinima as an educational, political and creative tool.

Ah, refreshing. Sure beats virtual city sieges, murder sims, or fashionista body tweaking, but then…who am I to judge, eh?

Stay tuned for Shaping Youth’s interview with Barry Joseph from Global Kids about his ongoing work in TSL, and what lies ahead…

Visual Credit: NMC Campus Observer

Shaping Youth’s Related Resources

New Media Consortium: Digital Storytelling Exhibition

Second Life Educator Forum: Using Virtual Worlds to Teach

Machinima 2008 Coming Soon

Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences

Holy Meatballs! Machinima/MetaVersEd

Prior Resources from Shaping Youth’s Machinima Article

Academy of Machinima Arts & Sciences
(and their resources as noted below)

The Art of Machinima by Paul Marino
(Paul Marino, Paraglyph Press, Aug. 2004)-a hands-on book showing you both the artform and the basics of how to get started in your Machinima production.

Machinima by Dave Morris
(Dave Morris, Matt Kelland and Dave Lloyd, Ilex Press, Aug. 2005) – which gives a great overview of the medium and its filmmakers.

Thinking Machinima/Paul Marino’s blog

Machinima For Dummies by Hugh Hancock and Johnnie Ingram
(and their blog)

Machinima for Dummies’ author’s list of ‘must watch’ machinima

Orient Lodge blog (literati/digerati w/a heavy dose of virtual world/SL savvy)

Reuters/Second Life release on HBO machinima buy (film shot exclusively inside Second Life; noteworthy when cable cos are digging into virtual worlds for creative talent/entertainment)



  1. Hi Amy –
    Thank you for the comments and for the link! I would be delighted to contribute to Shaping Youth as a correspondent on gaming news and issues. Just let me know what exactly it would entail, and let’s make it happen!

  2. AMY! I’M WRETCHED. I haven’t gotten back to you in soooo long. Things are starting to finally settle here for me, so let’s chat. I’d love to help out however I can 🙂

    And thank you for the lovely props. As always, you are simply the fantasticalist (my new fave word).

    How’s your schedule? Let’s ramble!

  3. Nick Noakes says

    Interesting to see my avatar picture here but actually I’m not a teen! 🙂

  4. Yah, Nick, I know, but your avatar looks ‘cool’ and therefore you qualify. heehe

    Truth be told, I wanted to make sure folks found the New Media Consortium site link and the ‘media and children’s rights’ report cover I had just wasn’t ‘visual enough’.

    PLUS, it’s fabulous fodder for my ‘lift the veil’ talks re: the concept of virtual worlds not being who you really are…

    In other words, I can use it for our media literacy training with kids about self-expression, but also about internet safety! Because when you click from the avatar to your real photo, (the one I found on your site) it drives the point home very quickly about virtual world identity. (the ol’ ‘they may look like a teen, but they’re not…syndrome)

    Gotta USE those media tools to teach how to make our voices (and points!) be heard.

    Just like Facebook!! 50,000 voices in 8 days & voila! —Lo & behold, the Facebook beacon buggers backed off & BEHAVED a bit!!! 😉

    Thanks for the ping—Amy

  5. And Sara and Izzy…SUPER! Could sure use some backup trying to keep my head above the workload waters…

    I’m pleased as punch such stellar insights will be coming our way, and will ping you both back soon with logistics via e-mail. (I’m cherry-picking very selectively, knowing who will easily pass muster with our teeny nonprofit board)

    No hassle for you, just a formality taking place on my end, all I need from the two of you are a bio/CV via e-mail for officialdom (there, Izzy, that’s MY new word for the day!)

    THRILLED you’re both up for it, ttys…next week, most likely!

  6. Sounds great – I look forward to hearing from you soon.

  7. Spencer B. says

    Just wanted to chime in and say how wonderfully refrshing it is to see an instance of honest appraisal of an aspect of the gaming industry. With how rare it is to see such in pop media, at least somewhere there is an indication of an attempt at understanding.

    Additional examples of ‘disguised education’ can lay in all sorts of games outside of the MMO’s (Massive Multiplayer Online) games you have mentioned here. Second Life is a good example of a freeform enviroment shaped directly by the participants, but there is all sorts of value in games people would normally write off as without any form of merit.

    Take for example games like Supreme Commander, in which what effectively amounts to toy soldiers (storyline and such aside) battle it out across large maps. The educational value comes into a major factor of the game, economics. Being able to effectively manage economic growth is a key aspect of the game, and this is only a minor example.

    The Civilization series is a brilliant example of historical education, and it’s most recent incarnation goes through all of the great historical ages of modern history. From the Neolithic forward to our current Information Age, history is presented as a fun and engaging game world that nonetheless creates memorable environs for the learning of our past.

    I’ve carried on for far too long, and I apoligize but I just wanted to thank you again for seeing an honest appraisal in the wake of games that, even being a member of the gaming community myself, can be described as nothing less than an excercise in violent intent (Yes GTA, I’m referencing you).

    If ever you need an opinion from someone deep into the gaming community, don’t hesitate to drop me a line and I’d be more than happy to forward relevant information to you.

  8. Wow, Spencer, thanks so much! I would INDEED appreciate someone deep into the gaming community sending me relevant info…As one who grew up with an older brother, using games like “Risk” (helped me out in geography!) and “Stratego” (learned mindset of tactical and strategic objectives that STILL serve me well today!) I’m a firm believer that education is found where you least expect it sometimes…

    In fact, it’s one of our theories in use with Shaping Youth when we create our ‘counter-marketing’ games…kids learn by having fun instead of the preach-n-teach, and come up with the ‘aha’ moments themselves…we don’t have to connect the dots too much, just simply ‘lift the veil’ and they ‘get it’ in terms of learning how to use critical thinking skills for ALL mass media and marketing!

    Thanks so much for your comment! Keep in touch with me, please?

  9. Nick Noakes says


    The reason I commented before is that I was surprised given the content of your blog that you would use a picture without asking the owner for permission. I suspect that if this had been my RL pic, you would have asked me. My avatar is part of my professional identity, hence it has my RL name next to my avatar name on the blog as you know, so I am easily contactable in-world or on the web. Don’t mind it staying here but hope in future, you will ask people before posting.


  10. Hi Nick, Yep, I should have…I apologize. By linking to the site itself it was more of a presumption in the name of education/media literacy, so you’re absolutely right, I should’ve delved deeper at the onset and pinged you before rather than after via e-mail…Thanks for your candor; it’s a vital reminder for all.

    Truth be told, I always ask permissions for any quotes or content swaps and list visual credits w/links, but frankly don’t know enough about all of the nuances of even ‘linking permissions,’ for I’m more of a novice in the technical side of the legal web 2.0 wild west frontiers, and NOT well versed in same.

    As a writer/producer by trade, I’m learning as I go from what I can glean from the NP Tech pros (& Creative Commons, etc.) and am no doubt fumbling my way and stepping on toes…

    For example, I automatically delete all of the sites that link to me who seem like they’re baiting/fishing sans relevant commentary in a post, assuming it’s ‘spam’ or an ‘autobot’ type of search engine ploy. (that’s probably an offending faux pas too) sigh.

    Maybe you’ve unearthed a ‘new media’ literacy topic we should tackle universally since kids no doubt need to learn the ropes in these environs too??

    Again, thanks…most likely in the future, I’ll play it safe and post avatars of S.Y. protogés, etc.- just to err on the safe side! 😉 And as I said in the e-mail, I’ll gladly swap out the avatar if you prefer, even down the road, no questions asked. Much oblige, A.

  11. Spencer B. says

    I’ll gladly keep in touch, although I can’t really claim to have expertise in any catagory outside of this specific area. I’ll certainly chime in where I have an informed opinion, although I’m going to keep my mouth shut in instances of mere opinion.

    As I was thinking just now, have you perchance thought of creating a section simply to highlight those kind of ‘engaging education’ kind of games? I know most parents aren’t necessarily informed as to exactly what their children are playing, causing more than a little incentive to ban the activity outright. In a survey my college did concerning local highschools, less than seven percent of parents could name their children’s most frequently played game. And only thirty percent could even name one game their children had played recently. Hence the need for parental incentive to know what their children are playing is the best way to promote the really redeeming games while still presenting information as to appropriate age groups.

    If you had the ability to highlight games that really serve as something outside of entertainment, it might make for a rather nice regular feature for parents. Kind of a one stop location to get a quick unbiased review of the popular games, and to potentially see others that would be good for fun educational value.

    Just my 2 cents, and thanks for the quick response.

  12. Hi Spencer, yep, I LOVE that idea…and I actually started pursuing it the moment you pinged, asking some of our own teen advisors (some big ‘Guitar Hero’ and Wii/Nintendo fans, etc.) what THEY would pick for merit and why…

    I figure then I can ask Sara at Gamine Expedition to ‘delve deeper’ on the psychological level and probe some other gaming colleagues to weigh in too…:-)

    I have the ‘interactive games’ category, but we’ll be branching out into a redesign with more specific drill downs soon (virtual worlds, advergaming, casual games, serious games, MMORPGs, and the ‘platforms’ Wii/PS3/Xbox specific etc.) and I’m seeking some collegiate interns and high schoolers for community service credits and such to keep me in the loop.

    As you can surmise, I’m big on talking to the youth themselves to get a handle on the whys and hows of what entices, then spin it backwards to deconstruct the media message being sent…

    And you’re right, sadly most of the parents only know what the media reports, so the uber-violent games like Manhunt 2 which I wrote about here: are what gets the focus…peppered with a few ‘serious’ games that tackle social issues like Ayiti or Food Force…etc.

    If you feed me ‘check this out’ pings it would be most helpful on the edu-gaming front…

    Even though we’re geared more toward the K-12 vs. collegiate, you KNOW the games have huge trickle down impact on sibs and such…and parents NEED to get a clearer view.

    Appreciate your willingness to serve the citizen journalism posse (and the wee nonprofits!) I think you’ll find many of the indies have our finger on the pulse of things much more than the large bureaucracy orgs & well-funded fellows! 😉 (at least we TRY to lend some balance/centrist views into the media mix!) –thanks again…

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