Click here for a direct teleport to the Virtual Mine, the SL-based educational game which just received an Emmy nomination in the "New Approaches to News and Documentary Programming". Built to complement "Deep Down", a real life documentary about coal mining in Appalachia, Virtual Mine players become coal miners who need to strip mine the mountain, then try to solve a power crisis plaguing Maytown by transitioning to green energy solutions. It was created by Sand Castle Studios, with a team consisting William Reed Seal Foss (Reed Steamroller in SL), Karl Stiefvater (Qarl Fizz in SL), and CEO Kimberly Winnington (Gianna Borgnine in SL), who just shared some interesting user stats with me:
Since opening last year, The Virtual Mine has been played over 5000 times by 1200+ unique users, including "several hundred new users [who] came in-world the first night [the documentary] aired on PBS," Ms. Winnington tells me. To be sure, those are small user numbers in comparison to a web-based educational game, but quite impressive for a complex, downloadable 3D experience, particularly SL. Interestingly, many of these new users were actually from the Appalachias:
"Many shared amazing stories of how this project personally touched them," Winnington tells me. "Some shared how their lives had been ruined by mining (death of a child, forced into selling land, etc) Some came from many generations of coal miners and argued why mining was important. We even had international visitors who saw it while [the documentary] was streaming online and we're speaking in different languages trying to share their experiences and stories as well."
In addition to these players, there were many more who came for educational purposes:
"In addition to regular visits to the sim, we have had large crowds at scheduled closed sessions with several university classes, tours given to in-world groups like Train for Success, and presentations at several conferences such as the Virtual Worlds Best Practices in Education and the University of Delaware's Summer Faculty Institute," she tells me. "Despite all the complaints you hear about Second Life as a platform, most new users caught on fairly quickly with our help. We were able to provide instructions over voice to those who were confused. It goes to show when people are immersed in something and/or passionate about something they are willing to look past any hurdles."
Ironically, the Virtual Mine was almost strip mined from SL when Linden Lab unexpectedly ended its discount for non-profit/educational sims last year:
"This was one of the projects that was effected by the price change for educational/non-profit sims, as the film's directors had only budgeted for the discounted cost. Luckily Linden Lab gave them the option of being grandfathered in at that price so it's safe for a few more years. I couldn't imagine a better place for this project than Second Life. The community is a big part of its success."
Speaking of success, Kimberly Winnington tells me she'll be accompanying the documentary's directors to the Emmy awards, perhaps hobnobbing with TV's best stars. Which shows how far you can go, when you work the virtual coal mine.