Friday, 19 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Just a quickie to wish you all Season's Greetings, and to assure you that Slambling is not actually dead, but merely hibernating.

Bestest Regards

Al Kronos

Sunday, 7 December 2008

US Holocaust Museum & Kristallnacht

Well, it's been quite a few weeks since I last put virtual quill to pixel-based parchment. There's a pile of reasons why this is the case, but I think they can all be condensed together into a single catch-all: I've got other things to do with my time. Tracking down new enterprise sims has become the SL equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, and frankly I don't feel like doing it at the moment. Mr Kingdon, in various recent interviews, seems to be in some sort of denial about the business appeal of Second Life. I am not privy to The Numbers, but my experience has left me with the view that Second Life is signally failing to appeal to organisations other than universities and colleges. Welcome news, no doubt, to many of the residents of Second Life, who couldn't give a fig about this, as long as it doesn't interrupt the often bizarre ups and downs of their virtual lives.

Sure, there are several newcomers to Second Life that I have visited - but I've not felt "inspired" (yet) to write about them, including: Air France-KLM, virtual Birmingham and virtual Czech Republic. So why am I writing now? And what am I writing about? A week or so back, I got a message from Drew Stein of Involve, the company behind the rather fine 7Days' Magic Bakery sim, inviting me to view their latest work on behalf of the US Holocaust Museum. After a few attempts I finally met up with Drew and David Klevan, Education Manager for Technology and Distance Learning Initiatives at the Museum, for a tour. The site opens officially on Tuesday, 9th December.

As it has already been described in great detail by Virtual Worlds News I don't intend to offer you much wordage - and would point you towards the extensive set of images at the foot of this post. However, if you want my impressions - here they are:

The first thing to note is this is not actually a full sim, nor is it a virtualised version of the US Holocaust Museum itself. Rather it is an exhibit commemorating the Kristallnacht, the 70th anniversary of which has just passed - an event which many now see as defining the start of the Holocaust. The exhibit, which covers roughly a quarter of a sim, starts in a 1930s news room. The idea - the conceit if you like - is that you are a journo, freshly arrived in Germany (one assumes), a day or two after the events of Kristallnacht. Your mission is to investigate what happened, and file a report. Once you've got the basics, a click will open a wall, and you find yourself on a deserted German street, books and documents are strewn about, and anti-semitic graffiti are daubed on many of the buildings. As you move through the streets you trigger audio commentaries, the first-hand experiences of survivors of that dreadful night. You can also enter a number of buildings - the police station, a consulate, a wrecked house, a ransacked schoolroom and finally, a burnt-out synagogue. Again, the audio gives you the personal reminiscences, while ingeniously designed displays provide you with views of related documents. There are various information notecards throughout the exhibit, giving you yet more details.

From the synagogue you proceed to a second newsroom, where you can opt to file a short report - and find out more about the people to whom you've been listening while exploring the exhibit. There's also a video room, displaying a range of short films.

So what did I make of it? Does it all work? Hmmm... it's hard to say. I think, perhaps, the central conceit of the "investigative journo" may be more suited to an exhibit aimed at kids and teenagers; not surprising, since that is the origin of the piece, in fact. The narratives, the personal testaments, were very moving and interesting, and the build itself has been done with sensitivity and skill. However, I am not sure that it all works - at least, not for me. Scripted items, like the smashing of shop windows or the burning of the synagogue, are impressive as pieces of code - but cannot really capture the fear or horror of the event. Also, while they show what can be done in SL, they are not strictly necessary. Indeed, given that you, the journo, are supposed to be investigating after the event, these occasional flashbacks are also anachronistic.

The exhibit should certainly be seen, and you may find the effects work for you. I know the museum has planned a lecture/meeting in January - and I hope they provide many more. The holocaust, and the many genocides the world has witnessed since then, should not be forgotten. One of Second Life's greatest strengths is the way it allows people from around the globe to meet and share the same experience. So, for example, it should no longer be necessary to travel to New York to attend a lecture or meeting at the Holocaust Museum.

As promised earlier - here are my pictures. It's an extensive set...