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11:09pm on Tuesday, 12th August, 2008:

In Edinburgh


I was in Edinburgh today for the Digital Interactive Symposium, which this year was focusing on computer games and education. My keynote was in part a rant (OK, so it was entirely a rant) in which I bemoaned the fact that there are many UK universities offering computer games training but few offering computer games education. I think I probably came across more spiteful than I intended (I actually like the fact that virtual worlds are being used for educational purposes and as social interface tools — I just wish that funds were also available to treat them as games).

Also at the conference were several familiar faces, but there was one there I hadn't seen for over 20 years: professor Austin Tate of the University of Edinburgh. I did my PhD in Artificial Intelligence, specifically Planning, which was also Austin's speciality (he wrote a couple of very influential Planning programs — Google Nonlin if you want to know more). We would meet up at the various conferences and Planning SIGs back then in the 1980s. Like me, Austin is a Yorkshireman, and it therefore came as no surprise to learn that his living in Scotland for 25 years had not affected his accent one iota.

(Oh, from the request back there to Google Nonlin, rather than a direct link, you'll probably realise I'm typing this offline: I'm at Edinburgh airport at the moment).

Anyway, Austin was talking about the Virtual University of Edinburgh, a group of 9 islands in Second Life. Now in my capacity of Virtual Worlds Advocate I knew he'd set this up, but what I didn't know was the extent to which it is being used. It's routinely the place for tutorials and so on to take place, which you might expect, but it integrates great swathes of other university activity into it, too. Austin has also been extending it into other social virtual worlds, very imaginatively. He only spoke for about 30 minutes, but gave a powerful sense of how virtual worlds could become as commonplace as the World Wide Web in people's everyday doings. I've been to plenty of talks in the past about this kind of thing, but this is the first time the sheer matter-of-factness of it came across. I wish I could impress this on people myself — it was very reminiscent of the early days of the WWW, when only a few people "got" it. Austin gets it.

And now, as they say, for something completely different.

I arrived some three hours before the conference started, so went to Edinburgh for some sight-seeing ("Hey, look! Rain!"). Here are some random sights I saw:

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Copyright © 2008 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).