Virtual role-play September 1, 2015 January 25, 2017 Gill Brabner

Earlier this year I spent time exploring Second Life (SL) and the potential for learning provided by virtual environments. I became fascinated by the developing relationship I had with my avatar. It seemed that in a very short time I had reached the “threshold of care” (Warburton 2008). I have been very interested to experience what Warburton (2008) describes as the “fuzzy boundary beyond which we begin to feel an emotional pull” towards our virtual selves.

“Carey”, my leather clad rock chick, who was created late one Saturday night over a bottle of red wine with friends, had somehow become a personality in her own right. This immersive experience caused me to reflect on our drama-based training programmes and the parallels I was seeing between the emotional connection I was developing with my avatar and the response we elicit from delegates during a forum theatre workshop. Delegates make an emotional connection to the characters and their problems and then relate the issues portrayed in front of them back to their own situation. This is very close to virtual identities being powerful “stimuli for considering real life selves” Salmon (2009).

In our live drama-based learning workshops we invite delegates to participate at the level that is right for them and their preferred learning style.  This means that we do not expect delegates to role-play, but they are welcome to role-play with our professional actors if that is helpful to their learning.  This approach frees delegates to make their own choices about how they participate and has a very positive impact on their overall experience, as any perceived risk to reputation or relationships with colleagues is mitigated.

Role-play in the virtual world provides learners a rather different opportunity.  Entering the virtual world as an avatar is an invitation to explore other aspects of our personality and to take risks in a very safe, and game-like environment.

Lee and Robyn

Forum Theatre at the National Optical Conference with actors Lee Moone and Robyn Lewis


We are currently designing a range of role-play games which will enable delegates to manage a variety of difficult work-place conversations via role-play using avatars with our team of actors. Our virtual role-play games will be fun, informative and will provide delegates with the opportunity to experience co-presence and immersion and will offer a “compelling educational experience” (Warburton 2009).



Salmon G., (2009) The future for (second) life and learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40 (3) 526-538

Warburton S (2008) Loving Your Avatar: Identity, Immersion And Empathy.

Warburton, S. (2009). Second Life in higher education: Assessing the potential for and the barriers to deploying virtual worlds in learning and teaching. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40(3), 414-426.