Second Life Educational Role-play

In 2005, I decided to try using a virtual world as a location for running different types of synchronous lessons and tests. In the Jedi Realist curricula, we were finding several weaknesses with online communications in training.

Lessons, discussions, and even debates in the text-based world of websites and forums on one hand left too much time for consideration before posting one’s ideas … and on the other hand left too much room for misunderstandings.

Voice, video, or synchronous text chat helped, but usually happened with small groups. Many free products (which is what most of us could afford) did not lend themselves to large groups and connections.

In-person Gatherings were potentially a good place for synchronous communication and testing, but they were hard to organize and difficult for most Jedi to attend. They also were not great places for instigating role-play lessons or tests for the same reason any workshop role-play falls on its face …. it is difficult to be convincing during the scenario and it is hard to disassociate a role from the player after the scenario is completed … especially if conflict was the heart of the challenge.

So, I looked for an alternative that would allow more people to “be together” at the same time in a environment that was immersive – a convincing setting for training and testing Jedi students’ abilities to perform in challenges such as de-escalation of a challenge, understanding a radically different point of view, protecting a potential victim from harm, or being hospitable to an “enemy”. Some of these sorts of tests and trials were mentioned recently in an interview between Ally Thompson and Charles McBride regarding the International Jedi Federation’s knighthood and master curricula and trials.

In many ways, Second Life fit the criteria beautifully. At the time, Star Wars was quite popular among Second Life residents, and many Jedi, Mandolorian, and Sith organizations and locations existed, which gave teachers a wide range possible scenarios and people who could be recruited to role-play with a student. Eventually the Jedi Temple and the Jedi Alliance merged with the New Order of the Jedi and created a feasible curriculum (one version is available here). Discussions, both in-world and in related discussion forums, connected the virtual experience to the real-world practice. As an added bonus, running the sites and educational scenarios required a great deal of real-life cooperation and communication in order to make the whole effort work. Leadership and teamwork were skills that serious students had to demonstrate before they were elevated to knighthood.

But, as with any tool, there were problems and challenges.

Ultimately, the Second Life Jedi foundered, for several reasons:

  • Second Life itself is a challenge. It is hard to learn to create things in the world, it can be pretty expensive, and the software itself requires a substantial computer to run it. Laggy performance ruined the immersive effects of the many of the scenarios.
  • After a wave of serious students, who took the educational role-playing as a means for real life self-improvement, an increasing number of students, knights, and even masters were only interested in entertainment. I had many students “fail” to be patient and wait for a mere 15 minutes …. they expected the pace of a video game action sequence.
  • There were (and still are) many Second Life locations that have become ghost towns. Many people enjoyed building and creating items but, it is difficult to be in-world for long periods of time. And, for our purpose of developing skills transferable to the real world, spending much time on the computer is not desirable.

On the whole, I found Second Life an interesting educational experiment, but it took too much time from my day as a teacher. One day, when I’d spent 16 hours running scenarios with students (and missed a couple of real life meetings as a result), I realized that I had to impose limits on how much volunteer teaching I could do so that I could actually do my job as a real-life professor! Its strengths over-extended became its weaknesses ….