it's 5:30 am as i write this, so please pardon me if i sound incoherent.
it's just that i woke up with the following thoughts burning in my head and i want to get them down.
educators who have spent some time thinking about (and talking about) virtual worlds with stakeholders who are less au fait with what they are, face the problem of being pooh-poohed.
this happens for two main reasons, and both are equally important, so the order of precedence in which i present them here is no indicator of the weight i place on them.
first, people who are not familiar with virtual environments / epistemic games / virtual worlds, are unable (from a cognitive and affective perspective) to vicariously appreciate and understand just how powerful the affordances of some of the better environments / games / worlds are for learning, precisely because these affordances leverage upon the learners' projective identity in the game (Gee, 2007).
in other words, the very reason why well-designed virtual enviornments / epistemic games / virtual words are so effective in learning, works against helping those not familiar with them, come to an understanding of this reason.
(in simple English, you can't understand until you play; when you play, then you will understand. you can't understand by not playing (ie, you can't understand by just observing or talking about it in abstract terms)
the second reason why it is difficult for educators who 'get' such environments / games / worlds to explain them to those who only have a casual interest in them, is because of the connotations associated with the word that is most often used to describe them, namely, the word 'virtual'.
you don't have to be a rocket-scientist to guess the reception one gets when the word 'virtual' is used in what is purportedly a serious discussion.
so, where does that leave the educator who wants to help others understand?
although there is an argument to be made for simplifying language, i think - in this case - what we should try to achieve is a more concise terminology, so i would like to suggest we consider using the term 'fictive world' instead of 'virtual world'.
first up, i would like to make the distinction between 'virtual environment' and (the commonly-used term) 'virtual world' (assuming we understand that 'environments' and 'worlds' sometimes do (and sometimes do not) possess game-like qualities). for the purposes of this blog post at least, i see a 'virtual world' as being different and distinct from a 'virtual environment' in that a 'world' has a culture(s), a backstory, and an economy. thus, for example, World of Warcraft and Second Life are virtual worlds (note, one is a game, while the other is not), whereas Project Wonderland is not a virtual world, being instead a virtual environment.
having got that out of the way, i would like to make a case for using 'fictive world' in lieu of 'virtual world'. i believe the word 'fictive' - despite being familiar to an even smaller proportion of people than the term 'virtual world' - can, with due diligence on our part, help our cause in the medium- to long-term.
'fictive' is different from 'virtual', in that while 'virtual' is juxtaposed with 'real' (and we all know that in order for a stakeholder to buy in to any proposed educational initiative, the learning processes and outcomes must be REAL), 'fictive' on the other hand, does not have as clear an opposite number. the opposite of 'fictive' is not 'factual'. 'factual' is the opposite of 'fictional'. but i am not here talking about 'fictional', i am talking about 'fictive'. 'fictive' is different from either 'virtual' or 'fictional' in that 'fictive' foregrounds much more explicitly an active, constructive, role played by the protagonist (in this case, the learner). yes, 'fictive' carries with it all the helpful baggage of co-construction, socially distributed cognition and social constructivism. 'virtual' decidedly does not.
'virtual' does not, because the word describes a state; contrast this with 'fictive', which describes an ongoing-series of deliberate actions.
now, presuming i haven't yet lost you, if you can see the merit in my case for the term 'fictive world', why don't i go the whole hog and propose the term 'fictive environment', instead of 'virtual environment'? i don't, because - by the terms of distinction that i outlined earlier between a 'world' and an 'environment', the term 'virtual environment' is actually more accurate to describe what we commonly have in mind, than 'fictive environment'. you see, i think of a virtual environment as a (3D?) collaborative space - a space which i instantiate and / or enter when i want to do something with, or engage with, others who are not necessarily co-located. it doesn't matter to me (as the hypothetical example of a 'typical' user of such spaces) whether the space is ad hoc, or persistent (persistence, on the other hand, is a necessary (but not sufficient) attribute of a 'world'). thus, because of this potential ad hoc nature of such environments (when used in learning), they are more accurately described as 'virtual environments' (called up on-demand) rather than 'fictive environments' (in which persistence matters).
persistence is an inherent part of fictive worlds because the word 'fictive' implies a narrative, or - more precisely and powerfully - the co-construction of many narratives (Bakhtin's heteroglossia).
the final point that i would like to make in this post is that by making the distinction between 'virtual environments' and 'fictive worlds', we may perhaps have a clearer understanding of the affordances and disaffordances (for learning) between the two. 'virtual environments' are good as meeting spaces, and for the simulation of training activities. 'fictive worlds' - if you have closely followed my argument thus far - are great when the learning processes and goals foreground extensive and authentic social collaboration and co- (and re-) construction (beyond just 'getting the job done').
thank you for reading this far :-)