Monday, February 11, 2008

KOM to Host eGames Conference

Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) will host its third eGames Conference on the Rusayl-based technology park, 31 March – 1 April. According to Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General: “this year’s program will consider the application of virtual environments (VEs) to tourism, heritage, culture, health, education, defence and the generation of local web content.”

Presenting at the two-day program include some of the world’s leading VE experts – including Professor Lizbeth Goodman, Director, SMARTlab, Digital Media Centre at the University of East London and Professor Bob Stone from Birmingham University.

“Virtual worlds have hit the mainstream,” suggests Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Head of Marketing. Today they are being used not just for consumer applications, but also for a wide range of serious professional purposes. These purposes range from scenario planning to medical training and from collaborative role play to cross-cultural awareness sessions. “KOM’s eGames Conference will look at how private virtual worlds are being used now as the basis for serious collaborative activities in a variety of professional domains,” says Al Faruji.

For over a decade, there has been worldwide interest in the prospect of using VEs to recreate historic sites and events for such purposes as education, special project commissions and showcase features at national and World Heritage sites. According to Professor Stone (pictured): “The power of VE lies with its ability to open up places not normally accessible to people from all walks of life, to allow them to explore objects and experience events that could not normally be explored without alterations of scale or time and to support interaction with remote communities and interaction with virtual (historical) actors.”

In the context of heritage, VE goes much further, however, in that it offers a means of protecting the fragile state of historic sites and can help educate visitors not so much about their history, but in how to explore, interpret, understand and respect those sites. Despite some impressive projects executed during the Virtual Reality era of the 1990s, the limitations imposed by the very costly – and often unreliable – technologies meant that many of the Virtual Heritage demonstrations were committed to digital obscurity. Professor Stone’s eGames presentation will look at the resurrection of interest in Virtual Heritage and, using the Virtual Stonehenge and Virtual Scylla (artificial reef) projects and how lessons learned from the 1990s should be taken forward to underpin serious games developments in the early 21st Century.
“Given Oman’s rich history and outstanding cultural heritage, particularly our tangible cultural assets, I fully expect this year’s eGames Conference to be of substantial interest and value to those working in heritage, culture, leisure and tourism,” remarks Al Faruji.

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