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Civil Rights Project in Second Life Immerses Visitors in Historic Events

Graduate students in the Communications Media Department have brought the American civil rights movement to life in Second Life, an online, virtual world.

Dr. Allen Partridge, a faculty member in the department, developed the project with students in his Simulation of Games doctoral class.

Small groups of students in the nineteen-member class were charged with coming up with game topic proposals. Following presentations of proposed topics, the class chose “Civil Rights Movement Comes of Age in Second Life.”

An overview of the project is available on YouTube. 

The simulation allows participants to experience the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, the 1963 March on Washington, the 1964 Mississippi Freedom School Movement, and the 1965 Voting Rights March from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.

“This project has several outstanding points: First, the topic choice was most impressive, as the students gained an understanding of how a game simulation could educate people on a very important topic in a new way,” Partridge said.

“Students also did a very good job on deciding what content could be delivered well in this venue. Students in this class did not necessarily have any background in game simulation—most have education and communications media backgrounds—so while they were developing the game and learning that technology, they also were thinking and writing about the theory and pedagogy behind the project and discussing if this venue can be a valuable one for educators.”

Students from the class described working on the project as a personal and professional learning experience.

“I was a small child when the events depicted in the video and game occurred,” Evelyn Mocek, of Indiana, said. “The process of researching the events and recreating the environment via a virtual reality media brought home the significance of the times and the dignity of those who made civil rights a reality.”

Malaika Turner, of Indiana, said the project “brought to life” the civil rights movement and increased her appreciation for virtual world technology.

“The integration of African-American history and Second Life produced a fantastic project that will impact not only the field of education, but anyone who has an opportunity to view this video,” she said.

The Second Life game’s video overview, called a machinima, was also developed by the students. This two-minute video combines archival footage from 1960s civil rights events with video from the Second Life civil rights simulated world.

The class was fortunate to have one of the world’s foremost experts in machinima, Ariella Furman of FramedIn3D, come from Pittsburgh to make a presentation to the students, Partridge said. He also arranged for the class to consult with Jena Ball and Marty Keltz, internationally known producers from Startled Cat Immersive Storytelling Studio in Ontario, Canada.

Partridge has worked at IUP for the past six years, and his teaching focus in on games, animation course, e-learning, and multimedia. He is the author of Creating Casual Games for Profit and Fun, published in 2007, and Real-Time Interactive 3D Games, in 2002. He also is coauthor of Blacklist: Investigating the Life of Canada Lee, an independent film selected for presentation at the Angelika Film Center’s Independent Feature Project Market in 2008.

He has developed nine computer games, some distributed nationally, including Battle Ball, an interactive 3-D intelligence simulation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mass communications from Briar Cliff College, a master’s in theater arts from Southwest Texas State (now Texas State University), and a Ph.D. in interdisciplinary studies—fine arts, from Texas Tech University.

During his sabbatical last semester, he worked with Adobe Corporation as an e-Learning evangelist.