Education in Virtual Worlds, Second Life

The Kids Drop In: Second Life, Getting Younger

Second Life is lowering the age limit, which isn’t necessarily the same thing as lowering the age (I mean, surely there are 17-year olds running around the Grid?), and I’ve been wondering, lately, whether this might be a good thing.

There’s something I find intriguing about what the impact will be of a slightly younger demographic. Their interests might be different (more games, more socializing?) but there’s also the possibility that you’ll end up with some newly ambitious and engaged content creators (who, yeah, can probably learn Blender a lot faster than I can).

This isn’t to say that I don’t have concerns, but they’re the same concerns I’d have elsewhere on the Web. (Did you know, for example, that Goldshire, in World of Warcraft, has been policed a few times for being, a, um, hook-up location?)

But in conjunction with already announcing that they’re lowering the age from 18 to 16, Linden Lab is also likely to announce that the Teen Grid will merely be relocated rather than abandoned altogether, with schools able to host their classes within a partitioned section of the Main Grid.

Whether and when this will be confirmed is entirely speculative. But the idea that seems to be floating around goes something like this:

- Accounts would be “pinned” to specific estates. An avatar would not be able to leave the estate to which they’re assigned.
- Separate estates for schools (15 year-olds and under) would be set-up, and registration would be restricted to the same protocols that govern the Teen Grid. A school, for example, could bulk register its students, whose avatar accounts would be pinned to “Teen Grid” estates.
- In order for this to work, a separate viewer might be required depending on the policy of the school related to being able to “see” adult-rated search content. A school could either use the main viewer and have their students activate the G-rated filters, or they may want to ‘force’ this and there might be a TPV specifically made for schools.
- What students could see in the viewer and what they could access are two different things: remember, they wouldn’t be able to leave their estate.

This leaves open the question of whether the teen avatar accounts would be able to access material on the Second Life Marketplace.

But by shifting the issue of accessing content from the servers to the Viewer and Web site, Linden Lab would have a far easier and cost-effective way of managing the Teen Grid. The problem with it previously was that changes to the server code always had to be vetted against their impact on the Teen Grid. Changing Display Names? You’d need to run a separate test and check the code to see how it impacted the Teen Grid.

By putting schools on the Main Grid and pushing the issue of access to adult content (and adults) to the viewer and Web site, the Lab can better afford to support their needs, with a few added benefits:

- Access to the same asset servers and thus the same assets. The Teen Grid previously didn’t have the ability to port content over from the Main Grid (or that’s how I understand it, anyways).
- The ability for approved adults to move from the Main Grid to the partitioned Teen Grid. So, a teacher could go to a session at, say, Metanomics :) with the same avatar they use when instructing their students.

But one final thing which is a possibility, and an intriguing one: what if the members of the newly partitioned Teen Grid could create content and then sell that content to members of the Main Grid? I’m not sure the teachers would agree, but I think it would be a really interesting and empowering thing for a 15-year old to be able to create and sell content in Second Life, while being ‘pinned’ to the Teen Grid estate.

While the above is somewhat speculative, it’s anticipated that Linden Lab will come to an accommodation with the current Teen Grid educators sometime in the near future, and well ahead of the December shut-down of the current TG. Time will tell, and maybe they won’t, but I’m willing to take a wager that we’ll hear something soon.


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