Saturday, June 14, 2008

Virtual Training Ground

Today I visited the amazingly detailed installation of an Iraqi village built by Jacquelyn Ford Morie in Second Life. Video of the original project as it was designed for training purposes for the U.S. armed forces is here. The space includes a checkpoint, a market, a mosque, and a variety of other public and private spaces. Coming into the area there is a "healing wall" where Iraq war veterans can post images that they associate with the conflict, its physical and psychic aftermath, and their fraternity with their fellow soldiers. A careful observer can see that there is apparently even a "trophy photo" in the group of images.

The village had an extremely articulated soundscape as well. Details included a radio in a market that could play stations with Arabic songs and the burbling cadences of a fountain. Without live participants, there was an eerie sense of vacancy to the exploration, however, although there were computer-generated dummies of a beggar and a pair of veiled women in the square.
Morie is proposing several interesting uses for the virtual environment that include 1) a "social space" for veterans, 2) an area for "cathartic art", 3) a gallery for her own work, which is known for its ghostly aesthetic and its engagement with themes of memory and transience. Morie showed me some of her piece "Remains" in the virtual schoolyard of the area, which shows haunting groups of children.

Morie herself guided me through the installation dressed as Commander ChingALing Bling in a male avatar, and I became a Sergeant for the morning. Morie also showed me a backlot area with rigs and pipes, which she may use as a production area for her game design students.

(For more about computer-generated versions of the Iraqi landscape, built environment, and inhabitants, see the third chapter in the forthcoming Virtualpolitik book.)

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