“A nearly impenetrable thicket of geekitude…”

Global Kids Island

As previously mentioned, I spent some time earlier this year working on the software side of a virtual construction project in Second Life. Because the project involved building something that people had to figure out on their own, I have been a bit reticent about describing it in any detail… but now the story can be told.

Global Kids Island was a project for Global Kids of New York City, as part of their Digital Media Essay Contest supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The idea was to give the competition entrants from Teen Second Life an environment in which to learn about some of the issues around the essay contest, as well as actually submitting their essays within the virtual world rather than just mailing them off to NYC.

To do this, we (The Magicians, a consultancy headed by Kimberly Rufer-Bach) built a smoke-belching volcano on a private island, with its own built-in competition and a supporting cast of talking trees, stone idols and bats. To gain access to the hidden cave inside the volcano, visitors had to answer a randomly selected question about digital media: my major contribution to the project was the software inside the three “Earth Thrones” administering the quiz.

The competition has now concluded, and the lucky winners have participated in a mixed-reality event in New York City and Second Life, in which the stages in each location had screens showing the other location. It is at least as weird attending such an event as it sounds.

Global Kids Island still exists in Teen Second Life, but you can only visit it if you’re a teenager. For the benefit of my older readers, I have loaded a number of snapshots from the project onto flickr to give you some idea of the place: you can browse the images with descriptions or view them as a slide-show.

This project was definitely out of my normal range of consulting activities, but I enjoyed it immensely. Part of that was working with people who were highly skilled, but in completely different areas of expertise to my own: terraforming, texturing, animating and 3D building are just not things I will ever be able to do well. The highlight, though, was the incomparable feeling of standing with my friends in the middle of several acres of (admittedly virtual) island at the end of the build and saying: we made this.

Other coverage of Global Kids Island:

  • The Metaverse Messenger ran an article on page 13 of its edition for 28-March-2006 (6MB PDF), including a summary of the mini-quest visitors went through.
  • Barry Joseph of Global Kids, as globalKids Bixby in Second Life, is chronicling his experiences as an in-world journal from the very rare perspective of the person commissioning the work. If you have a Second Life account, this is a must-read. You can get copies of both volumes directly from Barry, or in-world at Cincta (87,122) in the main grid. Visit the island itself if you’re a teen grid member.
  • You can read all of the winning essays from the Digital Media Essay Competition at the Holy Meatballs web site.
  • Article at Clickable Culture: Teen Tech Tales.