Sunday, 23 November 2008

Creative Tinkering: Interfacing the Real and Virtual Worlds of Museums and Cultural Heritage

Museums and galleries are being developed in Second Life on quite a massive scale. Avatars are actively invited to engage with the artefacts or pictures; they cannot harm them the same way as in real life situations.  The question of how best to engage with them was the study of this exercise. This workshop was an attempt to get avatars to interact with a painting in a museum in Second Life. 

Las Meninas – engaging people in museum environments

"And even our dreams are dreams. Discuss the nature of reality while being placed inside the setting of this painting."

On joining a group in Second Life we were teleported to the stage set, then visted a website that showed us the picture. Delegates chose at this point whether to be either actors or viewers and they were given the role the avatar was to play and also given his bit of secret information to be shared surreptitiously with the rest of the party.   If people did not want to be actors they could be viewers and still interact with the characters. The actors took up their positions on pose balls to create the scene of the painting in a stage set in Second Life and the discussions began.

I certainly picked up some strange “secrets” like when one player said the earth was flat, I thought that was his secret information but what he was trying to convey was that he was living in the 16 Century by demonstrating some beliefs at the time.  I thought the nanny knew something about the queen murdering someone, I thought the body guard was suspicious of the maid and the artist may be plotting to murder the princess while the nanny disliked the job but liked the rewards.  None of those were right! I am not sure what the secrets were but they seemed to revolve round 16 century life or politics in the Spanish Court.  There seemed to be a brief threat at one point of the heretic burning and Spanish Inquisition! Be very afraid!

After the acting session we entered a group discussion about the exercise.

A couple of points for moving this sort of exercise forward were gathered, amongst them were:

  •  The actors should have costumes.  In our case male avatars were asked to play the parts of young ladies and a nanny. The male bodyguard was played by a female so it was very confusing to start with. What I found very confusing was the speech bubble form of chat. I normally use text chat that appears at the bottom of the screen against a name and it is easy to scroll through to see if you have missed anything like that, but as it was set up answers could appear and disappear and be, and were missed.
  •  We thought far more information was needed, none of the actors could tell anyone about who they were or what they were doing there. We were referred to the Wikipedia website above, but to go and read that would have taken far too long out of a twenty minute exercise. On looking for information after the event I thought that the other link above gave a much clearer, quicker description of the painting and issues. If the actors were given a notecard they could have shared more information and we would have learned more about the picture.

In discussion it was felt essential that the learning objectives of the interaction were made clear. We did not know what we were trying to achieve, history, art technique analysis, a “secret” from each character or something different. We felt that we had failed in our task because we did not find out about the painting, the people, who they were, what they were doing etc.

It was felt very strongly that this sort of exercise could be brilliant and would be a useful exercise before actually visiting a gallery or museum because lots of preliminary work could be done before the visit.

One person said that after visiting a SL museum he knew his way around on his first RL visit to the same museum.

An off-shoot idea that people really liked was for museum artefacts or paintings to be chosen by avatar student who could then do tours, descriptions etc. and so give their reasons for why they had grouped  items as they had.  It is another, very different form of interaction but equally as engaging.

This was a very enjoyable session and I felt we all learned a lot about how one may work with students in Second Life from it. As I said at the time, even though we had not really had much luck in the exercise we all wanted to know. and go to find out about the painting so in that way it was still very successful. Probably one of the most useful things we learned was to keep any exercise that we want avatars in-world to do very simple and straightforward.

For more information watch the website or contact Lars Wienke  - Velox Voom in SL.

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