Relating AND Acting: Learning, Embodiment AND Performance IN Virtual Worlds

Childs, Mark and Childs, Anna (2019). Relating AND Acting: Learning, Embodiment AND Performance IN Virtual Worlds. In: Campbell, Lee ed. Leap into Action: Critical Performance Pedagogies in Art and Design Education. New York: Peter Lang, pp. 247–258.


Virtual worlds have been with us since the mid-1980s, defined as ‘A synchronous and persistent network of people and computer programs (embodied as avatars and agents), facilitated by networked computers, which uses navigable 3D space to engage the user’ (Childs, 2013: vii; after Bell, 2008). Peak interest in virtual worlds occurred around 2011 when Second LifeTM (SL), a virtual world developed by Linden Labs, had more than a million unique users a month. Interest in Second Life (SL) has declined, with monthly unique users now around half a million (Schultz, 2018). However, now in 2019, Linden Labs, amongst others, are capitalising on the increased affordability of virtual reality headsets to rekindle interest in navigable, networked immersive social worlds, with developments such as Linden Labs’ Project Sansar (Fink, 2017).

Although virtual worlds and virtual reality are different technologies (virtual reality places the viewer inside the environment through the use of a headset, whereas virtual worlds are typically experienced by viewing a monitor), there are enough similarities that it is timely to revisit much of what was learnt from virtual worlds. Concepts such as embodiment, presence and identity are relevant to the experience of both, and many of these concepts also relate directly to the experience of performance whether in the virtual or the physical world.

In this chapter, we will reflect on some of the activities we have undertaken as researchers and educators. Firstly, Anna recounts in detail a previously unpublished case study about inworld community performance; ‘inworld’ meaning within the virtual environment, often used as an antonym to IRL, that is ‘in real life’. After this, Mark summarises an inworld performance and two inworld activities used to teach performance and theatre studies that are previously published elsewhere. We then reflect on what these tell us about the experience of performance, and how this may benefit an understanding of how learning can be made more effective if virtual reality further expands its reach into educational practice.

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