Brief Description

Virtual worlds such as Second life (Ondrejka, 2007) and World of Warcraft (Nardi & Harris, 2006) have entered our lives, our communication patterns, our culture, and our entertainment. “It’s not only the teenager active in, the average age of a gamer is 35 years by now, and it increases every year. This does not even include role-play in the professional context, also known as serious gaming, inevitable when learning practical skills. Virtual worlds are in use for entertainment, education, training, getting information, social interaction, work, virtual tourism, reliving the past and forms of art. They augment and interact with our real world and form an important part of people’s lives. Many virtual worlds already exist as games, training systems, social networks and virtual cities and world models.” (MPEG, 2008)

People are nowadays connected into several communities, both in the real world as well as in virtual societies or virtual worlds. Many live with these virtual worlds. Some even “live a virtual life” in these virtual worlds (Kolo & Baur, 2004). In these worlds, the same phenomena emerge as can be seen in our common reality; social structures, economies, relations, etc (Axelsson, 2002; Baym, 2006; Bradley & Froomkin, 2004; Guo & Barnes, 2007). Currently, there are a few concepts that are directly exchangeable between these realities. One of them is currency. People can exchange virtual currencies for real money, for example using Linden Dollars (L$) in Second Life (Guo & Barnes, 2007; Ondrejka, 2007). Besides money, knowledge and sometimes social relations are exchanged between the realities (Baym, 2006; Becker & Mark, 1999). It would be highly interesting to see if the boundaries between these realities could further be blurred by creating a concept which is, like money, able to exchange value between these worlds ant the real one.

From a fundamental perspective, strictly connected with the concept of society or community is that of identity and value (Isabella, 2007). Value can be seen as, rather than a property of an object, a concept created between object and subject (Pirsig & Maynard, 1984). Each action or event that we experience thus creates value. The accumulation of these values determines who we are; our identities. Our ability to accumulate these values thus makes us ‘richer’ people with each experience. There are many different values, from fundamental values or daily needs (Maslow, 1946) to values of use, exchange, sign and experience (Boztepe, 2007). When we live part of our lives in a different world; let’s say the virtual world, the values that are created by our behavior are not naturally a part of our physical world. The rules are different. The objects are different in matter and meaning and the same goes for the subject. It may thus be that value created in the virtual world, cannot be easily exchanged with the physical world, and thus does not contribute to our identity in the physical world. This means that we shape two separate identities. Partially this is the aim of being in a virtual world. However, in my view, exchanging the values between these realities could mean enrichment for both the identities. Not only the addition of a new value to an identity causes this enrichment, but also the combination of values, created in two different realities may result in a synergy which allows for even more enrichment of the identities.

However the experienced values are hard to capture and freeze hence to exchange. In order to capture and exchange the values, “transitional objects” are needed (Winnicott, 1982), where these objects are incorporated into the world of make-believe over which people has some control, into the world which is not challenged by the question if objects are part of inner or outer reality, no matter whether it is virtual or real. The questions are then, what these values are, how to capture then, what these “transitional objects” are and how to discover them.

Besides the fundamental research interests in value and identity, there is also high social relevance. People who “live a virtual life” in a virtual world may consider this life to be a more desirable reality then the physical one, for the virtual world frees them from teir real identities allows them to be whoever they are and to express their capabilities more and to be able to create value better (Axelsson, 2002). For instance people with serious physical disabilities or people with social limitations may find that their identity in the virtual world is much more interesting (Cooper & Dibbell, 2007). This means that for some people it is highly attractive to spent time in the virtual world and less attractive to spent time in the real world. In essence there is not much wrong with it. However, all identities in virtual worlds have a physical person behind them, who inevitably also lives in the physical reality. As they spent less time in the physical world, the virtual identity creates less value in the real world, which makes the identity less ‘rich’ and less recognized by the physical society. It would be a contribution to these peoples’ physical identities if they could use the value they created in the virtual world, also in the physical world. Vice-versa, the virtual identity may benefit from values which come from the physical world. As an enrichment of the identity allows for more valuable experiences, this could result in a positive circle.

Virtual societies and virtual realties are now patriotically a part of lives of many people, especially the younger generations who have been growing up with the internet. Negative influences such as internet addiction (Byun et al., 2008; Egger & Rauterberg, 1996; Young, 1998) and aggressive behavior (Anderson & Dill, 2000; Vastag, 2004) have drawn a lot of attention from many researches. As a result focus has been on how to prevent people from spending time in virtual societies and virtual worlds (Eggen, Feijs, & Peters, 2003). A more interesting approach would be, by accepting the fact that the virtual life has been actually part of their real lives and supporting them spending their time on living their virtual lives in a positive way. The assumption is then, exchanging the values between the virtual and the real to reach a more balanced experience in both worlds is one of these positive ways.

Objectives / Specifics

(project objectives; learning goals)

Based on the above fundamental and social interests, this project hence proposes to investigate the possible products and technologies that can be used to represent and present values for exchange between the virtual and the real.

Originality and/or innovative elements of the topic The virtual society, virtual reality and virtual words are mostly considered as the counter part of the real ones. Hence the researches so far are mostly focuses on the interface between these two parts as if they are separated from each other, for example the approach of tangible user interface to virtual games (Bonanni, 2006; Ishii & Ullmer, 1997; Ullmer, Ishii, & Glas, 1998), and on how to facilitate people “coming and going” between them (Isabella, 2007). The recent developments try to integrate the digital data into physical world in people’s environments (Ambient Intelligence, (Aarts, Rabaey, & Weber, 2005)) or even everywhere (Pervasive Computing, (Satyanarayanan, 2001)). This project takes a higher level view from the user’s perspective, considering the virtual as part of the real, hence the focus is how to integrate the virtual into the real, for example, how to integrate people’s virtual lives into their real ones. In particular, the integration is through the exchangeable values carried by the (re)presenting objects.

At a more concrete level, this project seeks exchangeable values other than currencies, which is the only successful exchangeable value in virtual worlds. Other objects that can potentially carry exchangeable values are yet to be explored. Once these objects are discovered or designed, the current technologies supporting virtual worlds need to be examined and improved for the new requirements on business models, system architecture, effectiveness, efficiency and security.


Report, demonstrator/working prototype.

Information Sources

SOFIA – Smart Objects For Intelligent Applications
For this project there is the opportunity to work in the context of a European project called SOFIA. The overall goal of this project is to connect the physical world with the information world by enabling and maintaining interoperability between electronic systems and devices. The ID department is involved in the project, contributing by developing smart applications for the smart home environment and developing novel ways of user interaction. In the project there is the possibility to work with two PhD candidates working on the project and with an external client, which has expertise in the field of multimodal interaction and has developed several interaction devices.

Client Organisation: CONANTE
CONANTE is a German/Dutch organisation, founded by Dr. Stefan Rapp. He started CONANTE Advanced Interface Solutions to bring innovative user interface concepts from the research labs to everyday use of appliances at home and work. Prior to that, he initiated and led research projects for Sony as a Principal Scientist, among these Sony internal projects as well as collaborations on a national and European level. He established research in the area of multimodal interfaces and automatic speech recognition of European languages. His work contributed to the speech interface of entertainment robots and game consoles. Also, he was concerned with ontology-based dynamic configuration of user interfaces from heterogeneous infrastructures. He has a MSc. Degree in computer science and received his PhD from the Institute of Natural Language Processing (IMS), Stuttgart University, for work on prosody and speech recognition technology.
Interaction techniques like CONANTE’s spotlight navigation can be interesting to look at during the project. It can allow users to interface with objects that normally do not have an interface of their own or to reveal normally invisible connections and resource flows.

Spotlight navigation
As the size of technological devices continues to decrease, problems arise with reading from small screens and interacting with small devices using small keys or other input means. The display and keyboard sizes dominate the current form factor of the majority of small devices. One possibility to overcome these restrictions is to use projection to an external surface. Recent advances in projection technology allow for projectors that can easily fit into a user’s hand. By combining mobile projection with natural pointing gesture, Spotlight Navigation allows efficient and easy access to large data spaces. Operation is as easy as using a flashlight: By moving the light cone over the data and zooming in to areas of interest, users manipulate information instantly and intuitively.

Further Reading:
Feijs, L. (2009). Commutative product semantics. Design and semantics of form and movement, 12-19.
Feijs, L., & Kyffin, S. (2005). A taxonomy of semantic design knowledge. Design and semantics of form and movement, 70-83.
Jepsen, T. C. (2009). Just What Is an Ontology, Anyway? IT Professional, 11(5), 22-27.
Krippendorff, K. (2006). the semantic turn: a new foundation for design. Boca Raton: CRC Press.