What can Second Life learn from MMORPGS?

Unfortunately I was double-booked for Dave White’s talk at ALT-C, but I did manage to grab him for 15 minutes to get up to speed with the cool games stuff he’s been doing.The OpenHabitat project has carried out two pilot studies in Second Life, in the areas of Art & Design and philosophy, and Dave’s talk centred around what we can learn from game design (specifically MMORPGs) when designing learning activities in multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs).

His premise is that the two key ways in which we can learn from MMORPGs is the way in which people learn how to use the environments implicitly (without recourse to a manual) and the sophisticated collaboration that takes place. I was particularly taken with Dave’s analogy that “a MMORPG is a novel whereas a MUVE is a notebook”.

He described three elements of MMORPGs that he says should be considered when designing learning activities in MUVEs:

  • Questing – relevant situated tasks that support learning how to use the environment (e.g. collaboratively building a bridge or playing hide-and-seek in Second Life).
  • Role-playing and identity – being able to take on a role in MOORPGs with a fictional backstory as part of a larger narrative structure. In Second Life the rules of engagement are not so clear, there is no ‘stepping into a role’ so it is higher risk and the cultural norms are not so clear.
  • Emotional state – in MUVEs it is more important that people understand the emotional state of the person behind the avatar, and that using avatars as a representation of emotional state is dangerous. He says “emoticons are more effective at communicating emotional state than your avatar in Second Life – unless your emotional state is ‘I wanna dance'”.


  1. David White

    I found it useful to use the MMORPG as both an inspiration for possible practical approaches and as a useful conceptual ‘mirror’ to hold up to MUVEs. In simple terms the games designers have figured through a lot of the challenges that currently face us edtech folk.

  2. Games Bit Torrent

    I think they are two completely different genres of games. The purpose of a Second Life is for the virtual interaction of real people using virtual avatars in a social networking type environment. There are no objectives, no characters, and no story. On the other hand, an MMORPG is a story based game where you step into a world and a character that is not your own.

    I think second life would be a lot more interesting if it offered MMORPG style characters and a storyline, but I don’t think that was what it was designed for.

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