Second China allows for virtual culture training

A team of University of Florida computer engineers have used the online world Second Life to create a virtual Chinese city that users can “visit” to simulate Chinese cultural experiences. The goal of Second China, as it is called, is to allow diplomats to gain experience interacting with Chinese nationals in typical settings such as business meetings.

Second China seeks to enhance the Chinese culture training that Americans receive before embarking to China so that they can hit the ground running once they arrive. Unlike other areas of Second Life in which all of the avatars are controlled by an actual human being, Second China has computer controlled avatars with whom you can interact. This ensures that all visitors to Second China will have similar experiences which allows for a more reliable training environment.

The project was supported by a $1.25 million dollar federal grant, so your tax dollars are truly at work here. My company offers culture training for employees who will be working overseas and I have both attended and facilitated some of those sessions. I think they more than adequately prepare people for local customs and social mores. I can’t imagine myself sitting at my computer, logging into Second China and attending a virtual meeting. That just seems foreign to me. Get it? Yeah, well, this idea seems about as good as that joke.

Rather than interact with some creepy avatar in a virtual meeting (aren’t real business meetings torturous enough?), I’d rather speak with peers who have been to China and seek their advice before traveling over there. Or I could read a book about conducting business there. Those just seem like more appealing uses of my time.

Can a virtual world help simulate cultural experiences? Maybe. But I’ll just grab some dim sum in Chinatown and call it a day. Thanks anyways.

Source: Science Daily

Big in Japan: Meet-me is Japan’s G-rated Answer to Second Life

Kunimasa Hamaoka, who oversees a digital marketing company called Transcosmos, is not a fan of Second Life, the online digital world that is rapidly sweeping across the globe and changing the way we view the internet.

“Japanese aren’t going to take to the culture of Second Life. It’s the kind of place where you can get shot in the back as soon as you log on. There’s total freedom to act in Second Life, which is very American.”

“Almost everything is OK, including evil, he adds.”

Although avatars can’t die in Second Life, they majority of them do carry guns, which is about as authentically Japanese as a Big Mac and large French Fries.

As a result of these distinct cultural differences, Hamaoka was proud to announce the release of Meet-me, Japan’s G-rated answer to Second Life, which will be “orderly, pornography-free and safe for children.”

“This will be a place where people can enjoy themselves with a sense of safety — like Disneyland” said Hamaoka.

In a demonstration to the press, a female avatar wondered around Tokyo’s famous Shibuya district, though the streets were surprisingly empty since Meet-me doesn’t go online until December. Of course, Meet-me is expected to launch in time for Christmas, so the designers are hoping that this year’s popular X-mas gifts will be virtual land, apartments, furniture and clothing.

The visual difference between Meet-me and Second Life were immediately apparent. For instance, the hyper-real avatars of Second Life were revamped to fulfill the Japanese need to be cute – almost Pokemon-esque in appearance, characters in Meet-me have soft childlike faces and anime style haircuts.

As with Second Life, users will be able to fully customize their avatar in a seemingly endless variety of styles. However, the similarities between Second Life and Meet-me stop there.

The day to day operation of Meet-me will be controlled by Transcosmos, who will apply strict law and order to prevent disturbances, profanity and other maladjusted behavior – much like normal Japanese society. Considering that little to none policing and filtering happens in the Second Life world (gambling was only just banned), Meet-me will cater to the Japanese desire for regulated stability and order at the societal level.

Transcosmos will also run Meet-me on Tokyo time, which means that avatars will be on the same time schedule as the Land of the Rising Sun. And unlike Second Life, where avatars and can whisk themselves around at the click of a button, avatars in Meet-me are dependent on public transportation including subways, trains and taxis.

In spite of everyone’s lofty expectations for Meet-me, Linden Labs, the brainchild behind Second Life, is not ready to walk away just yet from the world’s second largest economy. In fact, they recently added increased Japanese-language services to Second Life, and have been trying to target their advertising to the staggering number of computer savvy Japanese.

Truth be told, I’ve never logged on to Second Life as I’m too much of a fan of my first life, though I’ve been told on a number of occasions that I’m missing out. But, seeing as all of my Japanese friends are already pre-ordering Meet-me, perhaps it’s time to finally get onboard.

Which begs the question, “Do you think blue hair and purple eyes is too boring?” Afterall, this is Japan.

Sweden Opens Official Embassy…In Second Life

I still haven’t got into Second Life, the Internet-based virtual world in which players, or “residents,” can socialize, make purchases, and generally inhabit as if it were a real place. But “SL” had 2 million registered users as of December 14, 2006, so I suppose it’s no surprise that the game is about to house its first official foreign embassy: Sweden.

The embassy won’t provide passports or visas, but according to Olle Wästberg, director of the Swedish Institute, “Second Life allows us to inform people about Sweden and broaden the opportunity for contact with Sweden easily and cheaply.”

Though this would be the first officially sanctioned embassy, there have previously been individuals in Second Life who referred to themselves as the “Canadian Ambassador” and “The United States Embassy to Second Life.” Many real-world companies, including car manufactures and clothing makers, have also created 3-D stores within the fantasy world.

This place is sounding more and more like it warrants a little exploration. Are you a Second Life user? What’s your experience been like?

[via Boing Boing]