Multi User Virtual Environment
and its possible use in Education
Charles University Faculty of Education
I have already been interested in the topic of virtual environment for several years. This is mainly because, in many cases, it is a suitable environment for possible implementation of the constructionist approach into education, which I have been a great advocate of. Therefore, at the beginning of the year 1999, when I found out on the Internet about the offer of the course called Multi User Virtual Environment: From Research to Classroom Practice of the U.S. project Leadership and the New Technologies, I didn't hesitate a minute. I felt very honored to have been chosen as the only non-American applicant. I should say that it was well worth it. This material has been designed as a report on this course and it includes everything I know about this topic so far.
The history of MUVE
Today's form of virtual worlds roots from two main historical sources. The first one is the Internet, the second is the popular English game Dungeons and Dragons, where the players themselves represent different characters and perform various tasks. We should be aware that this is something different than the widely known term Virtual Reality, although the word “virtual” is a part of both of these terms, and we may expect the use of Virtual Reality in MUVE in future. The multimedia applications are common part of Virtual Words on the Internet already, but in their pioneer's times this looked quite differently.
At the end of the 60's, Will Crowther and Don Woods wrote the first version of the game Dungeons and Dragons as a computer program called Advent. In those times, this program was able to have only text-based interface and it could be run only on big computers. In the year 1978 the students of the University of Essex Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle created a new version of it called Multi-User Dungeon (nowadays it is known as MUD1). The players were able to communicate with each other via the Arpanet network. It was an adventure game, where the players are competing in searching for a treasure and exterminating Dragons in the maze of Dungeons. All the players are moving in the same space, they are in contact with each other and they are rewarded by certain number of points for completing different tasks. By the points it is possible to state the winner. During the following years, all the implementations of this game in the Net environment were categorized as MUD (Multi-User Dungeon).
In the year 1989 a student of the Carnegie Mellon University James Aspnes decided to create a rather different version of MUD. He got rid of the Dragons, the magic image and the pointing system. So it was no longer possible to tell the winner. His aim was to clear out everything that could lead to finishing the game and, thus, to the loss of interest in playing it again. For the experienced users, he made possible to create their own rooms. Unintentionally, he abolished all that lead to competition and strengthened creative and constructive components of the game. He called his program TinyMUD for the transformation of the original program consisted mainly of clearing out the not wanted functions. The outcome of this was a compact and functional program code that was used by many universities as it was offered as a freeware on the Internet. The students liked to create models with topology of their real universities.
To be honest, I have never been in favor of this kind of games, where the aim is to destroy anything or anybody. But the outcome of the MUD development is quite interesting and it is worth our attention. This former game has been transformed into something slightly different, mainly due to the Internet. Well, there are many games available on the Internet on the so-called public game servers. But, MUD cannot be considered simply as a game. It is artificially created, publicly available and multi user environment, which every visitor enters as an imaginary character. We can consider it as a virtual reality in the full meaning of these words. Although in most cases the visitors cannot touch each other so far.
The space in which the users are roaming as imaginary characters still quite resembles the idea of an underground city of a network of dungeons. There are long-term occupants, their quests and visitors. They all know about each other and are able to communicate if they wish. The fact that this communication takes place in the real time has some advantages to the widely used e-mail or lists.
So it becomes a form of a virtual city, where some parts of it are common to everyone and other parts are private. Administrators of the computer or computers that are running the program define and supervise the common grounds. Such applications don't offer to regular users only the possibility of creating their own room, but also different objects can be created and programmed to have certain properties. In the mid 90's this application became to be known as MOO (MUD Object Oriented). Some researchers started to explain the 'D' letter as Dimension instead of Dungeon. So we could express the title as Object Oriented Multi User Dimension.
MOO, in those times, it became a very popular environment, where many teams of scientists performed their experiments. There were tens of them. They varied in orientation and rules, which were adjusted to the purpose of its origin. Among the best known, there were the Moo of NASA (Astro-VR), biology research (BioMOO) or the MOO of the literary and culture scholars (PmcMOO). We are obviously interested in those ones that have closer connection to the education sphere.
Among the first servers of this kind was the MediaMOO at MediaLab MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), where the author of the logo language professor Seymour Papert works and where a well-known clinical psychologist Sherry Turkle conducts her research. The Daedalus MOO run by the University of Texas in Austin served solely education purposes as a meeting place for students, where they worked together on their tasks or projects. Another important project has been the DU-MOO (Diversity University – http://moo.du.org/), which is still in operation. Later, we will pay attention to further current MOOs in more detail.
These older MOOs were only accessible by Telnet Internet program, so they only worked in text mode. This means that everything, including the objects, had to be described in words. Only semi-graphics were available e.g. city map.
The use of semi-graphics for the map of the Diversity University
_____________1________________________2______________________3_____________ | _________________________ ____JASON_ROAD____ __________ Jason's Ct.-> | | .-----------------.| | Football field | | Gym | | 6|| |Cllge of Agrcultr|| |__________________| | | | | | ----------------- | ____BOB_STREET____ | Pool .---------.| | | | Graduate Villa | | Northern | |----------|Intrfaith|| | 5|| Dorm Villekulla | | Quadrangle | | DU Prep | Center || | | |_________________________| |__________________| |__________'`--------'| | | _________________________ ____7th_STREET____ _____________________ | | | |Cfetria| | Dorm | |.-------.f.------.| | .--.__.--. .-------.|W| 4M| |_______| |-------| ||Student|s| Admin|| |( | | ||E| |O|Hotel School | | Human | ||Union |a| || |[ Library | |Educatn||S| |G|_____________|___| Potent. ||_______/ `------'| |[_________| |& K-12 ||T| |U _________________________ ____LSU_STREET____ |.-----. `-------'|H| |E|.-----------..---------. | | | ||Engl.|.-----.::::::::E| 3||| Business ||Communcatn\|H| |S|| || |.-----.|I| |S||___________||____ ____||O| |A||_____||Cltrl|| ||M| | |.------. .--------''----.|U| Southern Quad |N|.-----.|Studs|| Law ||E| |R||Engin-| | Tech Complex ||S| |D||Hist.|| ||_____||R| |U||eering| | __________/|T| |O||_____||_____|.-----.| | 2N||______| `---'.---------.|O| flag!pole |Z|.----. .----. |Poli ||S| | |.----------. | Medical ||N| | || |_|Soc | |Sci ||T| | ||Archtcture| | Complex || | |S||Psych_ Work| |_____/|R| | |`----------' \_________||S| .'N`. |T|_----'_`----'________|I| | |.------------..---------.|T| W-+-E | ____JEANNE'S_LANE____ P| | ||Programmer's|| Science || | `.S.' | |.-------------------.| | 1| |\__Centre___/| Bldg. || | | || Arts Center || | | |______________`---------'| |__________________| |`-------------------'| | |_________________________________6th_STREET_______________________________| 1 2 3
Purely text based MOOs are quite obsolete these days. Current possibilities of interactivity in the WWW environment, including the Java language are great temptation to create new full graphical multimedial MOOs. The main advantage is mainly the much easier navigation, the ability to show your WWW pages to others, playing sounds and video sequences, integration of video conferences etc. In order to clarify the difference from previous MOOs a new acronym MUVE has been introduced to describe this new version (i.e. Multi User Virtual Environment).
The features of current educational MUVE
Among the common features of these environments, first of all, there is the effort to keep the standard of decent behavior of the visitors. The example given below shows the entering information for every visitor of the virtual Diversity University. It is also typical for many of the current MUVEs. If the visitor doesn't wish to obey the rules, he/she is expected to leave immediately.
Rules of conduct at Diversity University
DIVERSITY UNIVERSITY IS NOT A GAME
It is a place where many people from various backgrounds come to do work and interact in a mature and responsible environment, and as a visitor you are expected to behave in an appropriate manner.
Swearing, offensive language, obscenity, harrassment, and rudeness will not be tolerated here. If you must do that, do it somewhere else.
If you're not sure if something is ok or not, ASK FIRST. If someone asks you to stop doing something they find objectionable, STOP. For a more complete list of what behavior is and is not considered appropriate here, type 'help manners' once connected.
If you cannot agree to these conditions, type @quit to leave the MOO.
In case someone wants to obtain the right to create his/her own characters and objects, he/she must prove his/her identity (e.g. e-mail address at a decent server). Sometimes the user is asked to sign the rules in person and hand it in to the administrator by snail-mail or fax. Dealing with the users in this way slows the procedures down, but, on the other hand, it decreases the possibility of their potential misbehavior.
It is determined by its history that the current MUVEs mostly keep the text system of commands of the old MUD as the users are used to it. Of course, among the most important ones, there is the HELP. To login as a guest may be done using the command CONNECT GUEST. If you wish to find out who has been logged in and what is his/her location in the city, WHO should be entered. An interactive message can be sent by using the command SAY, which can often be substituted by quotation marks (e.g. “Hallo). Should you wish to address only one single person, you have to WHISPER. To enter another room, the GO is used and the direction or target follows. When a room is entered, a description appears. We can LOOK at many other objects or characters. There are also many other commands. But these differ by implementation; therefore, they should be studied with every individual MUVE. The commands are the first thing a visitor should be interested in before entering the city. Let's look at some of the implementations in more detail.
Moose Crossing - MOO Scripting Environment
This virtual environment is mainly designed for children. It has been founded and run by Amy Bruckman, a former post-graduate student of the MIT MediaLab and a member of the research team of the project MediaMoo in the early 90's. Now she serves as Assistant professor at the College of Computing, Georgia Institute of Technology, where the whole Moose Crossing application is in fact run. One of the most astonishing features of this environment is that it remains on purpose only textual. It can only be worked with by using the special client software, which, until recently, existed only in the Macintosh computer version (MacMOOSE). Today, the Windows version (WinMOOSE) is also available. Both of them are currently at everybody's disposal on the server GaTech as a freeware. It is necessary to apply for the username (character). The form including the rules must be signed by the parents on behalf of their children. One of the conditions is to agree to the fact that all the activities may be recorded for research purposes. The adults, mainly the teachers and parents, may also enter. But these adult characters may be told on the spot by the Ranger flag (r).
The connection by the specialized client software offers many advantages to the formerly only possibility of connection by Telnet. It enables to create two separate environments, where, in the first one the character is commanded and a contact with other characters is maintained. In the second the features of the environment and objects can be adjusted by programming. For this purpose a special script language is used. It is possible not only to set the textual description of the objects but also their behavior in certain situation. Although it may seem to be difficult to master this language for children between 10-13, it is not so. There are many children who prefer to stay in this stimulating environment rather then playing stupid computer games. The well constructed HELP and commented samples of relevant scripts assist in mastering the language. The most helpful are other more experienced users always prepared to assist with problems. One may get more real idea of how the system works if he/she familiarizes with the following sequence, which has been recorded after the registration of a new 12-year-old girl named Storm. Her assistant and guide was an experienced member of the community, 13-year-old girl Rachael. The recorded conversation below is genuine, only the identity of the speakers has been changed.
Rachael listed all the users before Storm's first login, and found out there was a new user coming. She sent her a following letter (e-mails are the common feature of the Moose Crossing).
Hi! My name is Rachael. Who are you? I am thirteen years old and I am female. I have been on moose crossing scince january and whould love to be your friend.
The best times to go on moose crossing are on mondays and fridays afterschool.
Fortunately Rachael was present at the time of Storm's first login. Of course she asked her (PAGE) if she would join her (JOIN). Storm agreed.
Clover arrives, following Rachael.
Rally arrives, following Rachael.
Rally says, 'Greetings Clover'
Rachael says, 'hi'
Storm says, 'hello, all'
Rachael says, 'Rally and Clover are my pets.'
Rachael says, 'how old are you?'
Here Rachael checked (LOOK Storm) the description of Storm, which everybody can create himself or herself. And she found out that Storm had none so far.
It was quite difficult for Strom to recognize that Clover and Rally are not regular characters, but they are object of Rachael, which follow her all the time.
Storm says, '12'
Rachael says, 'Are you at the media lab or somewhere else?'
Storm says, 'this is the first time I've been here!:)'
Rachael says, 'I mean in real life where are you? I'm at my house.'
Storm says, 'same here'
Storm says, 'anyone here like star trek?'
A discussion about the popular television series followed. I will leave this part out, as it is not relevant for our subject.
To explain the discussion above, I should point out that the children, during the early stages of the project, connected themselves mainly from MIT Media Lab, where there were regular lessons held.
All the sentences that begin with a name and 'says' are the products of the SAY command. Those sentences beginning with a name followed by any other text have been created using the EMOTE command (e.g. Rachael nods).
Please note the hint of starting parallel discussion in the part above. Similar situations are quite common in chats. They emerge due to the impatience of one of the participants during the waiting for the reply.
The cooperation of the girls went on. Storm looked at Rachaels description (LOOK Rachael).
A girl with brown hair and green eyes. On her head is a sliver headband with silver strands. At the end of each strand is a silver ball. Around her neck is a silver chain.
She is awake and looks alert.
Franky Rachael's Bean
Rachael is wearing a tye die shirt and overalls.
Rachael says, 'Do you like the way I look?'
Storm says, 'you look bea-u-ti-ful!'
Rachael hugs Rally.
Rally squeals happily.
The last two lines represent an example of the work of children with objects. This is what they like the most about the Moose Crossing. The objects do not only have to have the description, but they are also able to perform the pre-programmed actions. That is why the Rachael's Rally knew what to do when he was hugged.
Then Rachael helped Storm to make her own description (DESCRIBE ME AS
). Storm created the following lines:
You see a tall, black haired, white - skinned girl, wearing all black. she is wearing lots of silver jewelry.
It is possible to create even more characters (NEW_PERSONA) and switch among them very quickly (BECOME CHARACTER). So this is the way to change the appearance easily.
Storm says, 'could you show me around?'
Rachael says, 'certainly!'
Rachael says, 'anywhere in particular or just everywhere?'
Storm says, 'everywhere! please'
Rachael says, 'well, let's go up!'
Rachael showed Storm different places of this virtual city. Storm created her own room using the command BUILD. Then they went on.
You're on the edge of Our Town. Looks like there's space to build some shops here!
..north........North Main Street
Storm is here.
Rally arrives, following Rachael.
Clover arrives, following Rachael.
Rally says, 'Hello Clover'
Rachael has arrived.
Rachael says, 'I suggest n'
'n' is short for North. It meant that Rachael wanted to go to the North Main Street.
Storm says, 'how do you make animals?'
Rachael says, 'Well, it depends if you want a new type of animal or one that already exists.'
Storm says, 'new type'
Now Rachael needed to see the appropriate codes to create the desired object. She listed the parental objects of her pig Rally (PARENTS Rally).
Rally(#381) generic_greeting_creature(#402) Generic Teachable Object (#225) Generic Puppet(#223) Generic Following Object(#342) Generic Gendered Object(#77) generic thing(#5) Root Class(#1)
But Storm didn't see all this.
Storm says, 'i'd like an animal to follow me around'
Rachael says, 'type "create #223 named
Storm named her pet Jasper and described it as a frog.
Rachael says, 'neat idea! I wish I thought of a frog!'
Rachael says, 'to make it follow you type "set Jasper's following to me'
The next logical steps were the programming of the features of the object.
Storm says, 'how do you make him say things'
Rachael says, 'You could make a script, so that if you type something it will do something in return, like huging Rally..'
Rachael hugs Rally.
Rally squeals happily.
Storm says, 'how'
Rachael says, 'if you go to the pencil, it will make a thing appear.
Fill in the blanks.'
Rachael says, 'then, when you have a script ready to fill out, you type "on