Archive for virtual anthropology

Archaeological tour of Mexico in one evening!

Posted in Musings with tags , , , on October 19, 2009 by xxxicana

It’s  fall break at UNL which gives me a little bit of extra time to focus on projects and have a little R & R.  So, I headed off to Mexico, courtesy of the Mexican Board of Tourism — all from the comfort of my living room.  Talk about being an armchair tourist!  Of course I didn’t ACTUALLY go to Mexico, I took a VIRTUAL trip via Second Life.  Here are photos from my trip:

Snapshot_001First, I did some upgrades to my avatar . . . new skin, different eyes, better piercings.  Vanity, thy name is avatar!  This photo was taken in the colonial section of virtual Mexico.

First stop: La Venta and the Olmec Archaeological Park

Snapshot olmec4_001

I have to say that the builders of this sim did a great job.  I think they must have used photographs of actual monuments which were then copied onto the simulated monuments.  The details are accurate and visually stunning. It is like being there — except no schlepping your luggage around or getting all sweaty in the coastal lowlands of the Veracruz area!

Snapshot olmec_001

Next stop:  Palenque


The above photo is of the Temple of the Inscriptions, famous for housing the tomb of the great Maya king, Pacal.  In the sim, one can climb up the temple and then down the shaft into the center of the pyramid to view Pacal’s tomb.  I’ve done this in real life and the payoff is outrageous!!  I’m very impressed with this sim . . . again, just enough detail to entice and give the feeling that one is looking at the “real” thing, but not too much detail to make the sim run too slow.


This is the palace at Palenque.  Nice addition of the fire for ambiance!

colonial church_001

Shot of a colonial church. The tourism board created a sim that features several archaeological sites, beaches, jungles, and colonial architecture.  It’s pretty amazing! There’s a musical soundtrack, ambient sound, and the discos have preset dance animators that allow your avatar to salsa like a local! Unfortunately, no one has yet found a way for you to enjoy a cerveza con un plato de enchiladas!


No trip to Mexico would be complete with out picking up souvenirs.  I got a free sombrero, but it didn’t fit!

poster for chichen itza_001

Alas, not all is perfect in the virtual world — but the imperfections reflect real world issues.  The above photo is of a voting booth (you vote which sim you like best).  The prize for voting is a “Beautiful Mayan Inspired Outfit.”  OMG, this is cultural appropriation at its worst!  But, just the kind of sexy, exoticized pastiche of stereotypes to appeal to tourists!

I’m teaching a course right now on the Ancient Maya . . . I’ll have to work these images into my next lecture!

Second Life is truly amazing and this simulation of Mexico presents tourist destinations in a way that entices while not fully satisfying.  I sat through a short tourist board video that showed Mexico and Mexicans — which was a cool way to insert the real into the virtual.  The overwhelming message of the video and the sim was “VISIT MEXICO.”  I’m curious as to the effectiveness of this sim as a promotional device.  SL boasts of +1 million visits per month.  When I log on there are usually 40 – 65 thousand people inworld — that’s a lot of people!  A great deal of time, energy, and expense went into the creation of this sim, but it probably costs less than running TV ads and has the added bonus of giving avatars the opportunity to “experience” Mexico.  Probably for some, this is as much experience as they will want to ever gain . . . but for others, it is an engaging way to test the waters.

From an educational perspective, I can see the utility of sims of this nature.  I can send students inworld to virtually experience walking up the steps of a massive pyramid.  I have in mind the development of a course doing virtual ethnography in SL . . . a great way to learn how to do anthropology without the trouble (and expense) of going into the “field.”

Anyone interested in reading about SL should check out Tom Boellstorff’s text “Coming of Age in Second Life.”  It is an excellent presentation of SL and the possibilities of doing anthropological research in the post-modern/post-human era.  I “met” Boellstorff in SL . . .  it’s kinda funny . . . he’s from Nebraska and teaches at UC Irvine while I’m from Orange County and teach in Nebraska!  Even the virtual world is full of coinkydinks.

So much for blogging today . . . the kitty wants some pate . . . do you think I spoil her?