"Kinda Like Minecraft But Not Really" - How to Introduce Second Life to a New Generation Ready to Embrace It

Hey Linden Lab and SL enthusiasts, if you really want to grow Second Life's userbase, forget about Dr. Phil or any other old school media like that, and push to get more people making videos like this;

A fun if rambling "Let's Play" video from YouTube gaming personality "everythingdigital1" who recently discovered and fell in love with Second Life (his SL name is "Dtpk"), this is exactly the kind of video that really would grow Second Life's userbase, because it's aimed at the precise demographic who are ideally suited to embrace SL. Here's why:

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The New Yorker Finally Features Virtual World on Its Cover

Minecraft New Yorker education

The New Yorker is arguably the Western world's most important magazine, while the cover of the magazine is one of the most important cultural barometers for the concerns and obsessions of its target readership (affluent, educated, influential), so it's noteworthy that its current cover carries a depiction of a virtual world for the very first time.

The accompanying article, by Chris Ware, who also illustrated the cover, captures a lot of what we were just discussing last week, or for that matter, what Julian Dibbell told me about his own daughter's experience with Minecraft:

Clara has spent hours, days, weeks of the past two years building and making navigable block worlds fuelled from the spun-off fizz of her accreting consciousness: giant ice-cream-layered auditoriums linked to narrow fifty-foot-high hallways over glass-covered lava streams, stairs that descend to underground classrooms, frozen floating wingless airplanes, and my favorite, the tasteful redwood-and-glass “writer’s retreat.” (It has a small pool.) She made a meadow of beds for my wife—a high-school teacher who craves unconsciousness—and a roller coaster to take her there.

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Why a Virtual World Educator Jumped to Minecraft

Minecraft for Education

The open forum on the success of Minecraft versus SL has attracted some really interesting reader comments, one of my favorites being this one from Jo Kay, an educator deeply involved with Second Life and OpenSim as a teaching tool:

One of the key factors IMHO is Minecraft's simplicity AND its complexity. A small child can quickly learn how to negotiate the space (without lengthy tutorials or clunky viewer software to learn) and get almost instant satisfaction from exploring and socializing, monster slaying and/or building a little house, castle, secret base etc.

Meanwhile at the other end of the spectrum, Minecraft allows for complex modding which has seen developers from around and world and across a huge age range creating their own versions and flavors of the game - from themed servers (Hunger Mines, Harry Potter etc) to Factions, Feed the Beast and PVP).

Additionally the extensive "metagame" that exists around the game is compelling - from YouTube stars to kids writing epic Minecraft theme stories and beyond, the eco-system of fan created media is endless and amazing and operates from beginner to elite. Kids are able to join that community easily via Twitch, Youtube, fan sites and Forums, and via coding communities like Bukkit.

... all of which leads to several advantages of Minecraft as a pedagogical platform:

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Open Forum: Why Has Minecraft Captured a Mass Market and the Education Space Where Second Life Has Not?

Desmond and Emilly Orr in Minecraft

Mimi Ito has a really interesting Boing Boing post on the rising popularity of Minecraft as an educational tool, which emerged very soon after Minecraft becoming extremely popular -- over 100 million players, in recent estimates. Then she makes this point:

Minecraft isn't the first virtual world to value player creativity. Remember Second Life? But, what makes the DNA of Minecraft fundamentally different from Second Life or WoW is that any player can set up and administer their own server. This makes the Minecraft scene a breeding ground not only for digital creativity, but social innovation. Players are building their own server-based communities in Minecraft governed by the values and rules that they develop and enforce. No corporate overlord dictating the rules of property and play here. The mod world in Minecraft is teeming with social engineering tools, ranging from chat moderation add-ons to systems that assign plots and different privileges to players to minimize griefing. Lessons in digital citizenship anyone?

OpenSim, the open source spinoff of Second Life, also enables player-owned servers, so that doesn't make Minecraft unique. Also, Minecraft player-owned servers did not exist for some time after the game launched - it was originally a single-player experience.

All that to one side, what remains true is that Minecraft has captured both the mass consumer market and the education space where Second Life and OpenSim tried and failed. So let me put the question to readers (especially virtual world educators and those who play both): Why?

Please discuss in Comments. I plan on featuring the best insights in a future post.

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Catch This Second Life Designer's Lunch Break Let's Plays (Live Right Now!)

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Second Life designer Damien Fate is a busy guy. Between raising a family and developing regular content for the multiple virtual fashion brands under his name (FATEwear, FATEplay, and FATEstep to name a few) it's surprising that he has much time for anything else. But, like a lot of Second Life users, Damien loves playing games, and lately he's been making the most out of his lunch breaks by streaming them and doing Let's Play videos that just about anyone can enjoy.

In addition to regular Minecraft interludes with his son, Damien's also been sampling an assortment of other games. Yesterday he took a look at Jazzpunk, an absurdly fun (or just plain absurd) indie game that I wrote about here last year. He's also recently played the popular platform puzzler Thomas was Alone, as well as Double Fine's Matryoshka-based adventure game Stacking.

If you're quick you can catch Damien streaming more Jazzpunk right now, live on his Twitch channel. Otherwise you can swing by his YouTube to catch the archives. He updates YouTube very promptly and keeps everything tidily sorted in playlists, so no it's not the end of the world if you can't align your lunch break with his.

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These May Be the Most Relaxing and the Most Breathtaking Minecraft Videos You'll Ever See

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Wait! Stop! Do not click play on the video embedded above until you have read this very important warning: This video is almost certainly going to make you drowsy. It may even make you fall asleep. If you're at work, this would make particularly bad break-time viewing. So save it. Save it for when you're at home, curled up, and juuuust about ready for bed. Why? Because it's one of the most ridiculously relaxing Minecraft videos I've ever seen. More than that, it's also showing off one of the most incredible builds I've ever seen, dubbed Imperial City. It's an absolute must-watch if you want to see the scope and scale of what can be accomplished with Mojang's humble little voxels. But it will knock you right out.

It's like if Jacques Cousteau was taking you on a tour of Paris... If he'd built Paris himself with a couple of friends... And had to keep his voice down to a soothing (and informative) murmur.

If you haven't guessed, this isn't your run-of-the-mill Minecraft video. It's an ASMR video by The French Whisperer, who's most well known for his soft-talking videos about world history. One of my first articles on Paste concerned ASMR Let's Plays, videos in which a player records themselves playing a game in a relaxing manner and speaking in a low or even whispered voice to help the viewer relax. The intersection of the ASMR and gaming communities is pretty fascinating -- or perhaps a little creepy, depending on your perspective.

Either way, if you can stay awake long enough to watch the whole thing, you may also want to check out the second and third parts of the tour. You can also download the Imperial City world file for yourself here.

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WesterosCraft World Now Bigger Than Second Life?

Philip Rosedale told me in January last year about a handful of Minecraft geeks who were building a jaw-droppingly detailed recreation of Westeros (the world of Game of Thrones, both the original books and the HBO show) on their own server, but that was when they had only recreated the capital city. Come a year later, the handful is now thousands of builders, and the vast continent of Westeros is nearly complete -- watch:

Via Kottke, who notes that the team's FAQ describes the WesterosCraft project as "currently the size of Los Angeles, about 500 square miles." Interestingly, back in 2010, the combined continent and island land mass of Second Life (which Philip co-created) was, as a virtual cartographer told me then, "1800 sq.km: this means that is greater than the city area of Los Angeles (1,290 sq.km)." Given the virtual land loss in SL five years later, it's likely this WesterosCraft is now larger. (Which might also make it the largest contiguous virtual land mass on the market.)

Another interesting comparison with Second Life - the WesterosCraft project is so complicated, the members have GoT-related roleplay within it, and to access the world, you need to use a custom Minecraft viewer (so to speak):

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Minecraft May Not Be the Best Candidate for Telltale's Next Episodic Adventure Game

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

Today Telltale Games announced that they'll be doing another of their signature narrative-driven games with yet another phenomenally popular license. Hot on the heels of both Tales from the Borderlands and their take on HBO's Game of Thrones, the next property that they'll be working on is... Minecraft. I first read that news in a post-nap stupor, and I wasn't sure that I was properly awake. Maybe this is a strange joke. Maybe Clickhole dipped into videogame humor again and -- look, I don't know. There were a million things you could have told me that would have made more sense than that particular arrangement of headlines did.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Telltale's games and I think they're very good at what they do. I welcome just about any news I hear about what they're working on, especially when it comes to franchises I hold near and dear. But Minecraft is a strange, even ill-fitting choice for their particular narrative-driven formula, and here's why:

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Minecraft Became So Big Because It's Extremely Popular With Girls & Women -- Another Reason Why the Game Industry Needs to Solve Its Sexism Problem

Microsoft bought Minecraft creator Mojang for $2.5 billion (as Iris just blogged), and here's a photo which explains a key reason why it went for billions:

Minecraft slumber party girlsMaddy, Hannah, along with Lola Dibbell (left to right) playing Minecraft on mobile

These are girls playing Minecraft at their slumber party, and even though one of them, Lola, is the daughter of Julian Dibbell, who's wrote a number of acclaimed books on gaming, they are actually very typical Minecraft players: As I reported a couple years ago, according to Google stats, the Minecraft site gets far more female visitors, than male. (Notably, Mojang's lead business developer was surprised -- and skeptical! -- by this fact when I told them.)

But yes, see the screengrab from Google Ad Planner for yourself:

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Microsoft, Minecraft and Mojang: Here's How to Make Sense of Microsoft's $2.5B Purchase

Minecraft Kokeshi
Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

After some speculation, it's official: Microsoft has purchased voxel-based sandbox game Minecraft for $2.5 billion. Maybe that makes perfect sense to you and maybe it doesn't. This past weekend as we discussed the massive purchase, my mother asked my why on earth Microsoft would want to buy Minecraft for anything approaching that much money. My answer? That it might be better to think of it in terms of why a company might want to buy Barbie or Lego. They're monolithic brands; highly recognizable, widely available and beloved by huge swathes of customers, both young and old. There are already teenagers who look at Minecraft with nostalgia right alongside people experiencing it for the very first time. It's a cultural touchstone.

But there's more to it than that. If you break this purchase down into its most basic economic terms, as analyst Michael Pachter did at GamesBeat 2014, it makes perfect sense. Polygon's Owen Good has picked the juiciest bits out of Pachter's comments on Microsoft's acquisition of Minecraft, and summarizes the issue succinctly:

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