Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds

Part of the series Human-Computer Interaction Series pp 177-191


This is Not a Game – Social Virtual Worlds, Fun, and Learning

  • Mark W. BellAffiliated withIndiana University Email author 
  • , Sarah Smith-RobbinsAffiliated withIndiana UniversityBall State University
  • , Greg WithnailAffiliated withEygus Ltd.

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This chapter asks a simple question: what is required to make learning fun in social virtual worlds? Several scholars have connected fun with learning but most of these have centered on the function of games in learning. Studies of learning in massive multiplayer online role playing games connect the game mechanics to how learning occurs. However, few have asked whether learning in a virtual world can be fun if there is no game. In a social virtual world, like Second Life (SL) there are no game mechanics (unlike game worlds like World of Warcraft [WoW]). There are no quests, challenges, rewards or other game elements in SL. So can a virtual world that has no game-content provided be a place where fun learning can take place? We define fun and explore how fun has been related to learning. We explore theories of fun from Koster, Crawford, Csíkszentmihályi and others as well as views of the ways fun is explored as related to the learning experience. With these models in mind, we explore how fun is different in a social virtual world. Drawing on definitions of fun from Castronova and others, we see game structures in virtual worlds may not be needed to have fun. These fun activities include game creation, business interactions, and most importantly, identity play and socialization in a social virtual world. Finally, we propose that if learning is to be successful and fun in a social virtual world it should pay close attention to these two activities.