Why Virtual Worlds?

By ‘virtual worlds’ we are referring to massive online 3D virtual environments in which visitors interact with each other and objects through the use of an avatar. An avatar, which usually takes a humanoid form, is a representation of the visitor in the virtual space.  As well as customising their own appearance and costume, all visitors can build objects and buildings, creating the virtual environment around them.

Today, virtual reality provides an excellent alternative to the space, materials and resources which were needed to build the Courts of the Fine Arts of the Crystal Palace. In fact, many universities and institutions have looked to virtual reality to recreate (in their imagined pristine conditions) buildings which are either now in ruin or perhaps completely lost. From the pyramids to the Parthenon, 3D models of many great ancient monuments can be found on the internet. But what are these recreations for? How do they educate and engage viewers? We have chosen a virtual environment to rebuild the Sydenham Pompeii Court because it seems to us that the questions of authenticity and of the responsibility of reconstructors raised by virtual models echo questions faced by the creators of the Pompeii Court in the Crystal Palace.

At the same time, virtual worlds such as the hugely popular system Second Life can be considered as a massive social experiment, bringing together diverse users. It is also increasingly being used to test new approaches to education, entertainment and enterprise.

The project allows us to think about the links between the content of the collection and the mode of its delivery. How do the failures and successes of the Victorian affect the way we might approach digital opportunities and how might our understandings of nineteenth and twenty first century reconstructions inform each other? How might the social and interactive possibilities of online multi-user 3D virtual environments be harnessed to support learning of, and improve access to Classics, as well as to enable scholarly research, in the twenty first century?


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