Category: Virtual Worlds

Meta-Study: Virtual Reality Based Instruction is Effective

An interesting meta-study from researchers at Texas A&M looked at instruction delivered through videogames, simulations, and virtual worlds. While all were found to be effective, educational videogames were found to be the most effective.

Here is the abstract:

The purpose of this meta-analysis is to examine overall effect as well as the impact of selected instructional design principles in the context of virtual reality technology-based instruction (i.e. games, simulation, virtual worlds) in K-12 or higher education settings. A total of 13 studies (N = 3081) in the category of games, 29 studies (N = 2553) in the category of games, and 27 studies (N = 2798) in the category of virtual worlds were meta-analyzed. The key inclusion criteria were that the study came from K-12 or higher education settings, used experimental or quasi-experimental research designs, and used a learning outcome measure to evaluate the effects of the virtual reality-based instruction.

Results suggest games (FEM = 0.77; REM = 0.51), simulations (FEM = 0.38; REM = 0.41), and virtual worlds (FEM = 0.36; REM = 0.41) were effective in improving learning outcome gains. The homogeneity analysis of the effect sizes was statistically significant, indicating that the studies were different from each other. Therefore, we conducted moderator analysis using 13 variables used to code the studies. Key findings included that: games show higher learning gains than simulations and virtual worlds. For simulation studies, elaborate explanation type feedback is more suitable for declarative tasks whereas knowledge of correct response is more appropriate for procedural tasks. Students performance is enhanced when they conduct the game play individually than in a group. In addition, we found an inverse relationship between number of treatment sessions learning gains for games.

With regards to the virtual world, we found that if students were repeatedly measured it deteriorates their learning outcome gains. We discuss results to highlight the importance of considering instructional design principles when designing virtual reality-based instruction.


Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70, 29-40.



RPG Accomplishments are the New Boyscout Badges

My 6 year old proudly showed me a new accomplishment on Wizard 101: “Junior Archeologist.” It reminded me of when World of Warcraft added “The Explorer” accomplishment for characters who had “explored” the game’s content. Several players created new characters called Dora so they could earn the sobriquet “Dora the Explorer” on their realms.

Another thought: it reminded me of Cub Scout and Boy Scout days, diligently working toward merit badges. Nowadays, it seems videogame accomplishments are the new merit badges.

It some ways, that’s probably a good thing.

Ambermush Roleplaying Game Helped Launch Careers of Bestselling Authors

A rising tide raises all ships, or so the saying goes. It also encapsulates a teaching philosophy found in many educational games, in which repeated exposure to common elements is said to increase participants’ related skills. Thus, a literacy game will require players to read. The more they read, the better their reading skills develop. While seemingly sound and plausible, the theory is hard to quantify.

In a recent article in The New York Times, an old online game called Ambermush is credited with launching the careers of at least a dozen writers. Amber is the name of a classic fantasy series by Roger Zelazny. In the books, reality originates at Amber, and all permutations and variations on reality in the multiverse spread out from there. In Ambermush, an online game discontinued in 2009, players wrote scenarios and engaged in group writing fantasy exercises loosely based on the series.

Jim Butcher is the best selling author of the Dresden Files series of fantasy novels. He credits Amber with improving his writing.

With no graphics, Amber was a world made of words. For aspiring writers, as Mr. Butcher was back then, that was very enticing.

He recalled the old writers’ adage that “you’ve got to write your million words” of bad prose “before you’re writing good stuff, and I once estimated that I was writing 5,000 words a day, mushing,” he said. “We were all practicing storytelling every day.”

… Mr. Butcher is not the only author to come out of the Amber community: by some estimates, a dozen or more of the hundreds of former players have gone on to become published authors. Playing Amber then was like attending a writers’ colony, but without the brie and posturing.

The game served as a learning community, a practice area for aspiring writers, a sandbox where they could flex their creative muscles, and a place for honest (sometimes brutal) criticism. Beyond that, friendships formed in-game led to lasting social networks outside the game, as like-minded people scaled the publishing mountain in the real world.

It may be hard to quantify, but there’s little doubt Ambermush was a successful educational game for future bestselling authors.

Schwartz, J. (2011, September 24). A game that honed the skills of writers. The New York Times, C1.


Study: Tough Times in RL Lead to Greater Second Life Satisfaction

An interesting study by Edward Castronova over at Indiana and Gert G. Wagner at Berlin University of Technology came out this summer in the social sciences journal Kyklos. Castronova and Wagner examined life satisfaction ratings from the 2005 World Values Survey and another survey of life satisfaction among Second Life players. Subjecting both sets of data to regression analysis showed correlations between difficult problems in real life leading to a more intense time online. Here’s their abstract:

We study life satisfaction data from the 2005 World Values Survey and a 2009 survey of users of the virtual world Second Life. Among Second Life users, satisfaction with their virtual life is higher than satisfaction with their real life. Regression analysis indicates that people in certain life situations, such as unemployment, gain more life satisfaction from “switching” to the virtual world than from changing their real-life circumstances. Thus, an unemployed person can become happier by visiting Second Life rather than finding a job. Correspondingly, problems in real life are positive predictors of intense use of virtual life.

It’s one of those “I could have told you that,” studies. The importance of the study is, now you can say “Research shows that people with real life difficulties tend to gain greater satisfaction in virtual worlds.” Castronova sums it nicely on the Terra Nova blog:

We are not finding any causal effects here, just correlations. What’s noteworthy is the magnitude of the correlations. Second Life is providing a big chunk of life satisfaction, just as big as the factors that previous researchers on life satisfaction have found were the “biggies,” like health, employment, and family relationships. (By the way, in case you didn’t know, money does not make you happy.)

He has a link to his copy of the study here. The official journal link is here.


Castronova, E. & Wagner, G. E. (2011, August). Virtual life satisfaction. Kyklos  64(3). 313-328.

Conspiracy Code Intensive Reading Video Game

Props to Scott McLeod for publicizing Florida Virtual School’s new video game course, Conspiracy Code Intensive Reading. This follows their first offering in the genre, Conspiracy Code American History.

The game seeks to bridge one of the key problems with educational video games. Video games are engaging with kids, and they stay glued to the screen while playing. However, pedagogical content is typically text and paper based. Conspiracy Code Intensive Reading seeks to engage players by making them read as part of the game. Students take the role of a young male or female secret agent and go about spy business in an immersive, 3D environment.

Check out the video below for more details.

Beyond Second Life

Tony Bates refers us to an article in the Chronicle by Jeffrey Young: After Frustrations in Second Life, Colleges Look to New Virtual Worlds.

The article details the challenges universities have faced when trying to integrate SL into lessons. Consequently, they are exploring other venues for instruction that offer more controls and fewer distractions.

Sometimes this leads to additional problems. Few companies in this specialty are as established as SL’s parent, Linden Labs. Some have gone broke, taking virtual classroom space with them when the plug was pulled.

A couple of promising efforts either underway or coming this year include Open Cobalt from Duke University, funded by the NSF and the Mellon Foundation, and OpenSimulator which leases virtual space for instructional purposes.

Several initiatives are out there to offer classroom space to educators at no cost to them. Young notes Aaron E. Walsh over at Boston College hosts about 2,000 educator accounts on Education Grid, a world devoted to online instruction that Walsh set up through his project, the Immersive Education Initiative. The mix on Education Grid is about 80% university profs and 20% secondary teacher accounts. The IEI leases space from OpenSimulator.

To counter the academic exodus, SL now offers a version of its software universities can host on local servers, which effectively prevents outsider access and the ability for students to wander over to red light districts.

It’s interesting to see the idea mature from a fanciful notion, to gritty reality, to something tailored for specific educational needs. For instance, initially universities set up virtual spaces identical to real world lecture halls. This resulted in unwieldy virtual space that was hard to navigate. It’s also interesting to see the day coming when SL will be considered “old hat” by professors and students, who will be using newer, more robust environments geared specifically for virtual education from the ground up.

No Indoor Plumbing, but Plenty of Ethernet

Thanks to Tony Bates for pointing out the latest issue of Journal of Virtual Worlds Research. There’s a very interesting article, complete with photo spread, on a Chinese gold farm for World of Warcraft by Anthony Gilmore.

Far from the sophisticated urban centers marking China as a world power, this rural tech outpost employs folks around the clock, and pays them a decent local wage for their efforts. The article is quite positive toward this gray market endeavor despite its violation of WoW players’ TOS.

I’ve never bought gold in WoW (at the higher levels, making gold is rather easy, particularly when gaming the auction house), but I’ve always been curious about gold farmers. This article is worth a read.

Gilmore, A. (2010, February). China’s new gold farm. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(4). [Online.] Available:

Virtual CSI: North Carolina State Grant Lets Games Recreate Crime Scenes

Interesting developments on a $1.4 million National Science Foundation grant to North Carolina State: Researchers plan to develop virtualized crime scenes with the help of 3D laser scans and the Unity gaming engine. The grant’s product will be called IC-CRIME, for Interdisciplinary Cyber-enabled Crime Reconstruction through Innovative Methodology and Engagement.

Here’s the key section from Reuters:

The scanners can capture millions of data points at a crime scene within a few minutes and recreate highly detailed virtual crime scenes.

“The game world will be embedded within a Web page also containing data in the form of text and 2D graphics,” said Dr. Michael Young, associate professor of computer science and an expert in serious gaming at NC State.

“We’ll be building an easy-to-use interface on top of the game environment that will allow CSIs and other investigators to link locations in the crime scene to external sources of data, such as hair and fiber databases, finger print images and investigator notes.”

Via Joystiq.

Gaudiosi, J. (2009, Nov. 27). Videogames find ways to help real CSI solve crimes. [Online.] Retrieved Dec. 1, 2009 from

New Issue: Journal of Virtual Worlds Research

A new issue of Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is out. This issue’s focus: Pedagogy, Education, and Innovation in Virtual Worlds. Click here for the journal’s home page, where you can access current and past articles. James Paul Gee has a paper in this issue entitled Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills. Many of the other articles focus on Second Life in education. There is one on Quest Atlantis. JVWR is published by the Virtual Worlds Research Consortium, a Texas non-profit.

2008: Half a Billion for New Funding in Virtual Worlds

Here’s an interesting factoid posted by Don Reisinger over at CNET: last year about half a billion was invested in 63 different virtual worlds. These game-like online environments are used for work, socialization, play, and education.

Reisinger says venture funding tapered off a little for new virtual worlds in the fourth quarter, just as funding for everything else slowed down.