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* Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Understanding the Importance of Exploring Virtual Worlds

Sony Unveils Big PS3 Secret: Gamers Get To Go 'Home'

"...Sony revealed on Wednesday (March 7) that it is indeed launching a 'Second Life'-style service called PlayStation Home that will grant every PS3 owner an avatar and a virtual apartment, which are linked into a virtual world that will be available for free to all system owners when it launches in the fall.

'We are building a very rich 3-D social-networking service for PlayStation 3 users all around the world,' said Sony PlayStation's head of worldwide studios, Phil Harrison, during an advance briefing to the media on Tuesday night.

People familiar with the avatar-based worlds of 'Second Life' and MTV's own 'Virtual Laguna Beach' would find much familiar with the demo. Launched from the PS3's main menu, Home starts a gamer off in a lobby, framing a full-body shot of the player's customizable avatar while the avatars of other PS3 users mill around that same lobby. The characters are designed to look like real people, down to the details of individual eyelashes. They don't appear as cartoon figures, like Nintendo's Mii player-avatars on the Wii.

...Players can communicate via voice, text chat (supported by a USB keyboard or a virtual keyboard) and through canned speech and gesture. Every player gets a selection of free clothes, with more advanced goods available for purchase online or unlocked by playing new PS3 games....

Home users will each have a personal apartment they can customize with free and purchased furniture, all rendered to bounce and pile up with realistic physics. Players can redecorate and stream movies and music saved on their PS3 into virtual TV sets and stereos. At one point Harrison snapped a digital photo of the reporters he was addressing and, within a minute, had that photo uploaded into Home and hanging on a virtual world as a handsome piece of décor. Home gamers can invite friends — and their avatars — to hang out in their apartment, and when gathered they can collectively leap into multiplayer PS3 games." [MTV.com]


Hopefully it is becoming clearer that we need to pay attention to virtual worlds because they are going to be a part of our collective, professional future. It's up to each of us individually how much of a role it will play in our personal lives, just as we make decisions about books, television, the internet, parties, movies, parties, etc. are, but between Sony's plans, the BBC's forthcoming online children's world, Second Life, There, and other virtual spaces, we're seeing further illustrations of why librarians need to understand how cultures and interactions work in these spaces for our professional lives.

Maybe there isn't something we should be doing in all of these worlds (maybe even probably), but how will we know if we don't explore and find out? I think it's great that there are librarians out there on the forefront, trying things out for those who can't, and reporting back.

This also helps show why the concept of "play" is so important. Even if you don't "get" these virtual worlds and don't care to spend much time in them, it's good to enter them once or twice, just to see what they're like. Exploring future spaces - physical and virtual, outside of our four walls - is important, even at the personal level. And when you try the next iteration in a year or two, you might just be surprised at how far they've developed (or not, which is also good to know).

While it won't be easy for most librarians to play in Sony's "Home" world because of the barriers to entry, you can still experiment in free spaces like Second Life and There to get a taste. In fact, if you start looking around, it's amazing how many new sites, especially those favored by younger users, are avatar-based and how social and transactional interactions occur in them.

Imagine how much better we could have been prepared if we'd paid more attention in 1994-95 to the disruptive internet that was about to hit us. Maybe we wouldn't have spent so much time trying to individually catalog the entire web. Maybe we would have figured out single search box faster. Maybe we would have taught Google literacy from the beginning. Maybe we would have added patron comments to the catalog in the 20th century. Who knows how we might have helped shape today's internet and associated literacies for the better.

Related: Nielsen Says Video Game Penetration In U.S. TV Households Grew 18% During The Past Two Years

"The number of video game consoles in U.S. television households has expanded by 18.5% since the fourth quarter of 2004, according to a new report released today by Nielsen Wireless and Interactive Services, a service of The Nielsen Company. In the fourth quarter of 2006 there were 45.7 million homes with video game consoles, representing 41.1% of all TV households, compared to 39.1% (43 million) in 2005, and 35.2% (38.6 million) the previous year....

The report, “The State of the Console,” incorporates extensive data on video game console usage from Nielsen's National People Meter (NPM) sample of television households as well as its quarterly Home Technology Report. It is the first in a series of analytic studies from Nielsen examining trends in the video game industry.

The launch of Nielsen's GamePlay Metrics later this year will, for the first time, deliver metered video game usage and demographic data by game title, genre and platform. It will provide advertisers, agencies, hardware manufacturers and game developers with independent, high-quality, quantitative information for negotiating the buying and selling of in-game and around-game advertising.

Among the key findings of the report:


  • The number of connected console households (those subscribing to a service that links their consoles to the Internet) has grown to more than 4.4 million, even before accounting for the connectivity of the PlayStation 3 and Wii platforms.

  • Two-thirds of all men in television households between ages 18-34 have access to a video game console in their homes.

  • During the fourth quarter of 2006, gamers in the top quintile (the top 20% of users based on average use over the quarter) accounted for 74.4% of total console usage.

  • Between September 18, 2006 and December 31, 2006, 93.8 million persons used a video game console at least once for a minute or more. Moreover, in any given minute of the day, about 1.6 million people in the U.S. are using a video game console."

[Nielsen Media Research, via Val (Thanks!)]

Read the full report (PDF).

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