The State of Play V conference got off to an excellent start. The first evening of the program featured a fascinating documentary about Second Life and some of the early activists/inhabitants/builders who have helped make it what it is today (sorry, I can't recall the title). There is a lot of interesting history relating to the development of this virtual world, and the film also descibes a fair amount of conflict. Many of the interviewees were willing to frankly discuss these issues, which include tax revolts, the rise of corporate outposts and SL "land barons", message board flamewars, and allegations of slander. Interviewees include Prokovy Neva, Anshe Chung, Guntram Graef, Philip Rosedale, Cory Ondrejka, Wagner James Au, Beth Noveck, Edward Castronova, and lots of other insiders and observers (In fact, I'd say the documentary was a little top-heavy with experts and insiders -- it would have been nice to have more perspective from ordinary residents or newer residents, who have a different view of SL). One of the most delightful aspects of the film was the extremely clever machinima, which complemented the live-action interviews and footage, and was used to recreate various historical issues/episodes. The documentary makers apparently used Second Life to create these scenes, but were somehow able to skillfully incorporate movements, close-ups, and "camera angles" that I did not know know were possible within the standard SL client. The editing was superb, and the music they chose worked well.
The other part of the evening was the dinner/networking event, and that was a great opportunity -- I was able to talk with people whom I would probably not be able to meet in person that easily, including Graef (based in Wuhan, China) and Xu Hui, the founder and CEO of HiPiHi (a Chinese-language-based virtual world that is still in limited beta).
I also met a bunch of very enthusiastic folks from the Singaporean government, which is taking a very proactive approach to encouraging the development of next-generation computing industries. From talking with them, it is clear that virtual worlds and related technologies are on the radar screen of the Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore and other agencies. One person from a local health bureau even made a point of coming to the conference on her own personal time -- she is convinced that VW-related applications will be very important in the future, and she wants to hear and be a part of the discussions that are taking place now.