Several months ago I wrote a post about using the Web to travel the world without ever leaving the comfort of your La-Z Boy recliner. It looks like some innovators have taken that idea a step further, however.
Sites that offer 3D virtual reality experiences open new doors to world travel and adventure, allowing you to see yourself in these settings and doing the things which dreams are made of. Of course, the hitch is you aren’t really there; only an avatar you create of yourself.
Two such sites are Blue Mars and Second Life, and both let your imagination take over and propel you into far-off lands, historic events, and adventures. Not a bad way to spend a cold and wet winter afternoon.
When you enter Second Life for the first time, you’ll start on Welcome Island, according to the company’s web site. This area is designed to quickly teach you the basics of Second Life, including: walking, zooming with your camera, chatting, standing/sitting, flying, and teleporting. Along the way, you’ll be rewarded with a few entertaining surprises.
Once in your second life, you can start exploring exotic places, meet people (much as you would on Facebook or a dating site), go shopping, choose to settle down and live in any place you like, get creative in designing your own products, take on a virtual job in one of a variety of professions, or even use the site as an educational platform to teach classes from or take classes on.
Real and unreal spots
Current hot destinations on Second Life are both real and fantasy creations. For example, one destination is Green Acres Golf Course on the Carmel, California, coastline. A fantasy destination is Ambrea, a large medieval fantasy roleplay environment.
On one of the adventure sites in Second Life, “The Whiz,” you can travel to 47 locations seeking clues to solving a mystery. In another adventure, you can join with others in hunting for a serial killer.
Blue Mars was founded a couple years ago by a company called Avatar Reality “to create a next-generation virtual world platform dedicated to bringing people together on a massive global scale,” according to the Blue Mars web site.
The site’s creators pride themselves on offering unique levels of interactivity, fidelity, and scale. Users and developers can also create their own custom destinations. More on that later.
The Blue Mars platform scales to support thousands of simultaneous users per region along with cutting-edge graphics, games, and social engagements.
Seeking the wizard
The site is easy to use. Just create an account, log on, download the software, choose where you want your avatar to go and what you want it to do (Skiing in the Alps? Golfing on a PGA course?), and you’re off to see the wizard.
Wow. So essentially what we have here is a way to put ourselves in the midst of some of the world’s most fascinating places and adventures without having to endure the hassles of the full-body scan or pat-down at airports, or pay all those extra fees for having the gall to bring a bag along with us.
Count me in.
One of the neat things about Blue Mars is that users and developers can add in their own destinations and adventures, customizing the experience as they go along.
A living art gallery
For example, at Ball State University students in the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts are creating destinations ranging from China’s Yellow River, populated by several Buddhist sculptures, to the Ball State Art Gallery. And this journey takes you beyond a simple tour of the gallery to exploring the original settings where these artifacts would have originally been found.
To create these virtual worlds, students scan pieces from the art gallery and use those scans to create a kind of living art gallery after collaborating with historians to build the virtual environment where they then collaborated with historians to build the virtual environment where the sculpture would have originally resided.
John Fillwalk, director of the IDIA program, says Blue Mars allows users to explore world locations visually more than ever before.
Other applications of Blue Mars allow executives to hold business meetings with clients across the country and around the world, and old friends who haven’t seen each other in awhile can rendezvous vicariously in exotic places around the world of their own choosing.
So, if the real world gets boring for you on any given day, you can always open the door to one of these virtual unknowns.
Don’t forget to pack a toothbrush.