Second Life: Virtual and real world interaction

 Evan Magill


Multiple user virtual worlds such as Second Life, Google Lively, Here, and Kaneva offer an immersive environment where multiple users can interact through avatars. Second Life is generally believed to me more immersive and realistic than the others. Users roam and interact with other avatars through behaviour and an instant message style communication. Some avatars elect to use voice too. To roam, avatars can walk, swim, fly, use moving objects such as cars, bikes, and even teleport at will.

 Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Second Life (SL) is the ability of avatars to program the objects within this world. Some programmability of an object is achieved through a graphical interface, however a more powerful mechanism is provided through a scripting language (Linden Scripting Language or LSL) that is rather C-like in nature. The emphasis is on a state machine approach to provide behaviour in response to stimuli.

 The Communications and Services research group has just started an interdisciplinary project (Interlife) with Glasgow University’s Education Faculty. This ESRC funded project will investigate the role of such immersive virtual worlds in life transitions for pupils and students. A key technical challenge for Stirling is the ability to merge the behaviour of real portable devices such as mobile phones with those of “in-world” objects. LSL allows such communication through HTTP and XML-RPC.

 This proposed PhD programme will investigate how environments such as SL can be extended to provide a more powerful in-world and real-world (communication) link. An open-source version of SL called Opensim is available although some of the more esoteric LSL system calls are not supported yet. (The SL client is also available directly from Linden Labs.) This will provide a platform that can be adapted to develop and test ideas.

 So this proposal’s research question can be expressed as “In terms of functionality and performance, what is an effective mechanism to tie in-world objects and real-world services entities together?” So this more than simple protocol design; it includes a flexible programming model and environment that must map between in-world and real-world entities and deal with a variety of streaming media.

 This is an area the literature is only beginning to explore, so it is timely. Also the interplay between Interlife and the proposed PhD is synergetic, yet both have clearly distinct roles.