Across the virtual and the real: Literature review

Jun Hu, 2009

I went through some research papers related to the topic. The following is some reading notes, some of which is simply the abstract but most of which is not. The key ideas in the paper are emphasized with bold font face.

Models of Reality


“Conscious awareness of our environment is based on a feedback loop comprisedof sensory input transmitted to the central nervous system leading to construction of our“model of the world,” (Lewis et al, 1982). We then assimilate the neurological model atthe unconscious level into information we can later consciously consider useful inidentifying belief systems and behaviors for designing diverse systems. Thus, we canavoid potential problems based on our open-to-error perceived reality of the world. Byunderstanding how our model of reality is organized, we allow ourselves to transcendcontent and develop insight into how effective choices and belief systems are generatedthrough sensory derived processes. These are the processes which provide the designerthe ability to meta model (build a model of a model) the user; consequently, matching themental model of the user with that of the designer’s and, coincidentally, forming rapportbetween the two participants. The information shared between the participants is neither assumed nor generalized, it is closer to equivocal; thus minimizing error through a sharingof each other’s model of reality. How to identify individual mental mechanisms orprocesses, how to organize the individual strategies of these mechanisms into useful patterns, and to formulate these into models for success and knowledge based outcomes isthe subject of the discussion that follows.

Negative effects of the virtual

Video Games and Aggressive Thoughts, Feelings, and Behavior in the Laboratory and in Life. Exposure to real-life violent video games will increase aggressive behavior in both short term and the long term. This positive relation is stronger for individuals who are characteristically aggressive and for man. In contrast, academic achievement was found to be negatively related to overall amount of time spent playing video games. Repeated exposure to violent video games may lead to the creation and heightened accessibility of aggressive knowledge structures thus effectively altering the person’s basic personality structure, hence lead to consistent increases in aggressive affect. The active nature of the learning environment of the video games suggests that this medium is potentially more dangerous than passive media such as TV programs and movies.

Internet Addiction: Metasynthesis of 1996–2006 Quantitative Research. This study reports the results of a meta-analysis of empirical studies on Internet addiction published in academic journals for the period 1996–2006. In general, Internet addiction has commonly been viewed as an extremely broad topic with few common definitions and little guidance. The analysis showed that previous studies have utilized inconsistent criteria to define Internet addicts, applied recruiting methods that may cause serious sampling bias, and examined data using primarily exploratory rather than confirmatory data analysis techniques to investigate the degree of association rather than causal relationships among variables. For the purposes of this study, we defineInternet addiction following Beard’s holistic approach wherein “an individual is addicted when an individual’s psychological state, which includes both mental and emotional states, as well as their scholastic, occupational and social interactions, is impaired by the overuse of the medium.”

Subjective responses to simulated and real environments: a comparison. Detailed and often laborious computer simulations can provide valid outcomes for the main aspects of environmental perception but, from several points of view, do not generate the same responses as the corresponding real environment. Of course we did not expect to obtain identical responses. While we wished to determine how close we could get to identical responses, we recognize that in practical applications this may not be necessary.

AN EMPIRICAL COMPARISON OF COPRESENT AND TECHNOLOGICALLY-MEDIATED INTERACTION BASED ON COMMUNICATIVE BREAKDOWN. This dissertation evaluates the extent to which currently available technologies achieve this goal by comparing the amount of communicative breakdown experienced by pairs of participants interacting in three communication environments: copresent, audio-mediated and audio/video-mediated. Four categories of communicative breakdown were identified: failure to maintain shared conceptions of current topic, failure to establish shared reference, and failure to regulate access to the verbal channel and to a shared cursor. Statistical results showed that copresent interactions were significantly less prone to breakdown than interactions in either of the two technologically-mediated environments; no significant differences in the incidence of breakdown were found between audio-only and audio-video interactions. A subsequent qualitative analysis showed that breakdowns in technologically-mediated interactions were related to a profound insensitivity to nonverbal displays like direction of gaze, deictic gesture and manipulation of objects in the task context. This result demonstrates that, though visual access to a partner is clearly vital for avoiding breakdown, the visual access afforded by a video image is fundamentally unequal to that afforded by physical copresence.

INFORMATION PRIVACY IN VIRTUAL WORLDS: IDENTIFYING UNIQUE CONCERNS BEYOND THE ONLINE AND OFFLINE WORLDS. The analysis I provide in this Essay is only the beginning of a journey — one that I hope others will travel as well — and an attempt to draw out a roadmap for understanding the unique issues of information privacy in virtual games. These issues require additional research that must closely examine the ongoing changes both in the technology facilitating the virtual worlds, as well as the social and legal landscape that governs issues of information privacy in general, and online privacy in particular. I believe, however, this analysis sufficiently demonstrates the importance of a discussion of privacy rights in virtual worlds — both as an intriguing issue of its own merit, and as an important tool for sharpening our understanding of privacy concerns.

Positive effects of the Virtual

Online Chat Rooms: Virtual Spaces of Interaction for Socially Oriented People. The internet has opened a new social space for communication. The present work studies interpersonal relationships in cyberspace using the chat channel as an interaction medium. Data obtained have outlined the sociodemographic and personality profile of internet users who engage in online chats as well as group self-perception, chatters’ use habits, motivations to interact online, and the chatters’ network of virtual and face-to-face relationships. Results suggest that relationships developed online are healthy and a complement to face-to-face relationships. These data are confirmed by personality studies. The theoretical and methodological implications of data are discussed.

Collapsing Geography: Second Life, Innovation, and the Future of National Power. Second Life has become a platform for collaboration and business that bypasses traditional geographic constraints, propelling several key shifts. First, Second Life demonstrates the power of using place within a communications medium, allowing distant participants to leverage real world metaphors and habits to improve collaboration. Second, virtual worldslower the cost of learning, a critical driver of innovation, the rate of innovation for all who use them. A third shift involves the range of impact. Virtual worlds can change innovation everywhere. Finally, virtual worlds will change the alignment of labor markets and the shapes of large organizations, including nation-states. Many open-source projects serve as powerful examples of the strength of participation and meritocracies.When members of a community are actively contributing to the success of the project, and their contributions are measurable in concrete ways, trust in the knowledge and expertise of various community members builds rapidly. Networked innovation and collaboration means quantity may have a quality all its own. As education systems around the world approach parity, nations will finally be able to maximize the skills and potential of their populations… No nation-state will be able to compete counting only on the people within her borders. The most successful 21st century nations will be those that redefine what it means to be a citizen and build the largest networks of innovators.

Constructing Social Systems through Computer-Mediated Communication. The question of whether computer-mediated communication can support the formation of genuine social systems is addressed in this paper. Our hypothesis, that technology creates new forms of social systems beyond real-life milieus, includes the idea that the technology itself may influence how social binding emerges within online environments. In real life communities, a precondition for social coherence is the existence of social conventions. By observing interaction in virtual environments, we found the use of a range of social conventions. These results were analysed to determine how the use and emergence of conventions might be influenced by the technology. One factor contributing to the coherence of online social systems, but not the only one, appears to be the degree of social presence mediated by the technology. We suggest that social systems can emerge by computer mediated communication and are shaped by the media of the specific environment. Even if the social binding within these ‘virtual’ social systems seems to be weaker than in traditional social systems, there exists some sort of group coherence in these communities through establishing shared codified behavior. Our results demonstrate that virtual worlds can become a kind of specific milieu, including characteristic ways of using language, specific interaction modi and particular ways of getting in contact with each other and keeping communication lively. In communication processes, people create a specific meaning within these environments, i.e. they develop a kind of code that is only understandable for frequent participants and which excludes others.

Interpersonal Life Online. Research into computer-mediated communication (CMC) began in the 1970s, as networked computer systems were being installed in large organizational contexts and as maverick computer enthusiasts were creating interactive dial-in bulletin board systems. This paper focuses on four areas of interpersonal meaning that have received the most attention: online language use, identity, personal relationships and social groups. Far from being impersonal, CMC is often playful and creative. People use it as a means to assert their own identities and to explore new means of self-presentation. New relationships ranging from weak acquaintanceships to deep romantic bonds are formed, and relationships with people formed offline are perpetuated through CMC. Social groups form that offer a sense of belonging, information, empathy and social status, among other rewards. All of these phenomena offer powerful incentives for people to become involved with CMC and to stay online once there.

However, as the controversy surrounding the use of the term ‘community’ indicates, there is concern from many quarters that our increased use of the Internet will have deleterious consequences for the rest of our lives. This concern has been bolstered by Kraut et al.’s (1998) unexpected finding that first year users of the Internet became more socially isolated and depressed the more they went online, and by Nie and Erbring (2000) whose subjects reported becoming more socially isolated the more they used the Internet.
Critics of the notion that online life lessens the quality of offline life argue that community and sociability are not ‘zero-sum games’ (Orleans and Laney, 2000; Wellman and Gulia, 1999). Wellman (1997a; 1997b Wellman and Gulia, 1999) has been among the most vociferous proponents of the notion that use of the Internet is integrated into the rest of life. Wellman and Gulia (1999) argued that the problems with conceptualizing the net as something that will divorce people from face-to-face life include the facts that online ties are strong and important, that the comparison between electronic communities and face-to-face ones is false given the overlap in online and offline contacts, and that people manage relationships in multiple media. Wellman wrote: ‘community ties are already geographically dispersed, sparsely knit, specialized in content, and connected heavily by telecommunications (phone and fax). Although virtual communities may carry these trends a bit further, they also sustain in person encounters between community members’ (1997a: 198). In organizational contexts, people who communicate heavily in one modality tend to communicate heavily in others; heavier users of CMC are also more likely to use the telephone and to have face-to-face conversations (Kraut and Attewell, 1997).
There is also evidence that people who use the Internet are as socially and culturally involved as those who do not. In terms of interpersonal relationships, an observational study of children’s home use of the computer determined that ‘online communication was usually not a substitute for interpersonal communication; rather, both often occurred simultaneously’ (Orleans and Laney, 2000: 65). The online world was a topic for children’s conversation, children surfed the net together to find commonly valued items, they used the Internet for shared social experimentation, and the Internet gave them the chance to show off esteemed knowledge and skills for one another.
It may very well be that for some people the Internet has damaging personal and interpersonal consequences. For others, an online social life extends and complements the sociability they maintain offline. As a whole, however, we must conclude that, as McKenna and Bargh put it, ‘there is no simple main effect of the Internet on the average person’ (2000: 59). The questions that have yet to be asked will explore which individual variables combine with the many variable of Internet use and contexts and with what range of impacts.

Users must be considered for at least two reasons: they have critical individual differences and they are creative. Far from being monolithic, people differ in their perceptions of the Internet, in what they want online, and in what they find online. Some find support and friendships that enhance their lives; others find their lives diminished by their time online. Nearly all of the research into CMC has been conducted at the level of the group, or averaged across individuals; we know too little about the individual differences that made a difference in computer-mediated experience.
Users are also creative, and they shape online contexts in ways that may not be predictable even from rich understandings of contexts and media. People who want their interaction to resemble conversation may create groups with a good deal of abbreviation and language play, while those who want their interaction to resemble writing may create spaces that look like formal letters. Rather than resigning themselves to ‘cuelessness’, people rose to the occasion and found alternative ways to express themselves. Though they will always have their place, predictive theories of CMC will always fall short.

Use of the virtual in research

Behavor-oriented Approaches to Cognition: Theoretical Perspectives. In this paer the author tried to collect a number of useful ideas and instructive examples on which future research can built, in the area of theoretical models of complex behavior. One of the key issues is bio-robotics and virtual reality as new experimental techniques. The action-perceoption look can be closed by interactive computer graphics and, adding other sensory modalities, by virtual reality. Virtual reality technology allows to carry out open and cloased loop experiments with human subjects. Until now, similar experiments have been possible only with much smaller animals.
Empirical Evaluation of Brief Group Therapy Through an Internet Chat Room. The asynchronous communication option—made possible by e-mail and e-mail-based discussion groups and web-based forums for individual and group communication, respectively—has a major advantage: time and place elasticity. This technology, however, lacks a key feature of human interpersonal communication characterized by spontaneity, authenticity, immediacy, and directness. It seems that an anonymous, Internet-based, chat-room group therapy is a legitimate method of psychological intervention and has a positive impact on interested individuals in need. The quantitative measures showed a trend toward positive change in terms of participants’ self-esteem, interpersonal relations, and well-being in comparison to the standard therapy and the no-treatment control groups.

Using Virtual Reality in Experimental Psychology. A fundamental issue having important implications on the feasibility of a VR approach applied to psychological research concerns the concept of generalization of measurement. In fact, it is not fully understood whether, and to which extent, results concerning a hypothesis tested in a virtual environment setting can be extended to day-to-day, realworld life. A second problem concerns thelimitations of the current sensorial output devices. In fact, although devices with 3D sound and tactile feedback are available, virtual environments are mainly designed around the visual modality and do not account for interactions among the sensorimotor systems. This constrain, thus, reduces drastically the range of experimental situations where VR could be applied. Another technical problem is represented by the lack of reference standards. In fact, almost all the VR applications in behaviour research are “one-off” creations tied to their development hardware and software. This makes it difficult to se them in context others than those in which they were developed. Finally, the issues related to the user interface should be not disregarded. The essence of Virtual Reality is the ability to interact with a three-dimensional computer-generated environment. If this technology has to become an effective research tool in experimental psychology, the goal is to build applications that allow a person to interact with the electronic environment in a naturalistic fashion.

THE RELATION OF PRESENCE AND VIRTUAL REALITY EXPOSURE FOR TREATMENT OF FLYING PHOBIA. A growing body of literature suggests that Virtual Reality is a successful tool for exposure therapy for anxiety disorders. Virtual Reality (VR) researchers posit the construct of presence, interpreting an artificial stimulus as if it were real, as the mechanism that enables anxiety to be felt during virtual reality exposure therapy (VRE). However, empirical studies on the relation between presence and anxiety in VRE have yielded mixed findings. The current study tested the following hypotheses 1) Presence is related to in session anxiety and treatment outcome; 2) Presence mediates the extent that pre-existing (pre-treatment) anxiety is experienced during exposure with VR; 3) Presence is positively related to the amount of phobic elements included within the virtual environment. Results supported presence as the mechanism by which anxiety is experienced in the virtual environment as well as a relation between presence and the phobic elements, but did not support a relation between presence and treatment outcome.

Virtual Reality in Psychotherapy: Review. Virtual reality (VR) has recently emerged as a potentially effective way to provide general and specialty health care services, and appears poised to enter mainstream psychotherapy delivery. Because VR could be part of the future of clinical psychology, it is critical to all psychotherapists that it be defined broadly. To ensure appropriate development of VR applications, clinicians must have a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges it will provide in professional practice. This review outlines the current state of clinical research relevant to the development of virtual environments for use in psychotherapy. In particular, the paper focuses its analysis on both actual applications of VR in clinical psychology and how different clinical perspectives can use this approach to improve the process of therapeutic change. However, several barriers still remain. The first is the lack of standardization in VR devices and software. The second is the lack of standardized protocols that can be shared by the community of researchers. The third is the costs required for the set-up trials.

riva-1998::Virtual Reality as Assessment Tool in Psychology. Virtual environments (VEs), offering a new human-computer interaction paradigm, have attracted much attention in clinical psychology, especially in the treatment of phobias. However, a possible new application of VR in psychology is as assessment tool: VEs can be considered as a highly sophisticated form of adaptive testing. This chapter describes the context of current psychological assessment and underlines possible advantages of a VR based assessment tool. The chapter also details the characteristics of BIVRS, Body Image Virtual Reality Scale, an assessment tool designed to assess cognitive and affective components of body image. It consists of a non-immersive 3D graphical interface through which the patient is able to choose between 9 figures of different size which vary in size from underweight to overweight. The software was developed in two architectures, the first (A) running on a single user desktop computer equipped with a standard virtual reality development software and the second (B) splitted into a server (B1) accessible via Internet and actually running the same virtual ambient as in (A) and a VRML client (B2) so that anyone can access the application.

Comparison of empirical methods for building agent-based models in land use science. The use of agent-based models (ABMs) for investigating land-use science questions has been increasing dramatically over the last decade. Modelers have moved from ‘proofs of existence’ toy models to case-specific, multi-scaled, multi-actor, and data-intensive models of land-use and land-cover change. An international workshop, titled ‘Multi-Agent Modeling and Collaborative Planning— Method2Method Workshop’, was held in Bonn in 2005 in order to bring together researchers using different data collection approaches to informing agent-based models. Participants identified a typology of five approaches to empirically inform ABMs for land use science: sample surveys, participant observation, field and laboratory experiments, companion modeling, and GIS and remotely sensed data. This paper reviews these five approaches to informing ABMs, provides a corresponding case study describing the model usage of these approaches, the types of data each approach produces, the types of questions those data can answer, and an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of those data for use in an ABM.

Ethnography of Online Role-Playing Games: The Role of Virtual and Real Contest in the Construction of the Field. This paper invites the reader into the world of MUDs (Multi User Domains). Its underlying goal is to analyse certain social challenges associated with computer mediated communication (CMC), specifically with respect to the concept of the game; the process involved in the construction of the online Self or personality, potentially perceived as the final culmination of the frequent “comings and goings” between the game and reality; the concept of community that develops between two different frames—the virtual world and the real one; and, finally, the concept of both online and offline “experience”. The empirical research, focusing on a comparison between an Italian and a Canadian MUDs interactive game, used online ethnography as the basic premise of study and biographical interviews with the players themselves, as further validation of the phenomenon. A fundamental question faces a researcher when conducting the study of a MUD —is the online game the only realm to consider? What is the impact of a multitude of other media (Instant messaging, boards, e-mails, SMS etc.) used by mudders to communicate in order to organize the game and become familiar with each other? Is it necessary for a researcher to totally abandon the players’ social premise even if s/he is focusing her/his research on online relationships? These are some of the questions this paper endeavours to answer, while also being cognizant of the methodological problems researchers encounter when studying the Internet, both as a medium (of communication) and as a research framework. Strictly connected with the concept of community is that of identity. In a MUD environment, the process of construction of the Self is a creative process very similar to the one that, according to Freudian analysis, involves children psychic growth in the first years of their lives.

Living with Hyper-realityHyper-reality describes distributed computing interfaces that weave existing environments with additional channels of sensory feedback to enhance everyday activities without confusing users. Virtual reality, augmented reality, tangible interfaces and ambient displays all propose means for adding new channels of digital information to the real world without overwhelming users. Hyper-reality describes interfaces that enhance sensory perception of everyday experiences by layering additional channels of feedback.

Many experiences and environments do not provide enough feedback to be fully valued and understood. The spaces we inhabit can be overlaid with sounds, images and other sensations through ubiquitous sensors and displays. Information can be distributed throughout everyday spaces is it is carefully designed to be easily understood and non-intrusive. Co-located projection of illusionary information operating synchronously with a user’s actions helps informative environments remain intuitive. Immersive, intuitive feedback can have transformative effect on the physiological perception of a space. Neglected spaces and tasks can become immersive and enriching, and new environments can be made easier to approach. By simply magnifying the feedback that occurs during everyday activities, users can be made more conscious of positive or negative behaviors.
Living a Virtual Life: Social Dynamics of Online Gaming. When we first entered the game the invitation of the game publisher to “live a virtual live” (Ultima Online Homepage, 2002) appeared far exaggerated. It may be justified to say that at least the most intensive players lived with Ultima Online or even “in” Ultima Online.

Considering age, gender and usage intensity, the players of Ultima Online represent a significantly different subgroup than the average Internet user. They are also younger, predominantly male and more frequently engaged online. Additionally they spend more time online and have used the Internet longer when compared to the average German Internet user.

The dominant motive for playing Ultima Online is the social experience of the distributed virtual environment. This is shown in the survey by the fact that about two-thirds of the players mentioned that “simultaneously interacting with many fellow players” and the “experience of an emerging society in the gameworld” are an important aspect or very important aspects of playing Ultima Online.

Furthermore, the strong interactivity of the players of Ultima Online not only via their game characters but also via parallel communication channels, as well as the fact that most players already knew fellow players offline before venturing into the game world, leads us to conclude that the social ties of the players in the online and the offline world are heavily enmeshed in various ways. The production of social networks and the circulation of social capital proves to be one of the most important aspects.

The Digital Divide: Status Differences in Virtual Environments. The Internet and VEs won’t automatically – without any human intervention – lead to equal interaction. Technology on the one hand, and social conventions on the other, influences social interaction, online as well as offline. “Freedom from identity” on Internet and in VEs allows people to be whoever they like online, and to interact more freely with other people beyond the constraints of the conventional social structure that silences women, discriminates against the unattractive, and excludes the introverts. However, if we look more closely (and use other, more quantitative and empirical methods) at the actual interaction in text-based as well as graphical online systems, the ‘freedom from identity theory’ seems to disappear and other, more conventional interaction patterns, emerge.

Interpersonal Distance in Immersive Virtual Environments. Living, breathing humans socially respond to virtual humans in IVEs in a naturalistic way regarding personal space, social presence, and affect. This is not surprising given past research that surprisingly demonstrates that people tend to treat computer hardware in a manner that seems exclusively appropriate for humans (Reeves & Nass, 1996). This conclusion has broad implications. For example, we now know that on some basic level, people do not dismiss virtual humans as mere animations. Consequently, it should not surprise us that individuals who spend long periods of time in immersive chat rooms or video games may be substantially socially impacted by virtual others (Williams, Cheung, & Choi, 2000).

VIRTUAL WORLDS, REAL RULES. In a world where real world experimentation with legal rules is likely to be useful, but also difficult and expensive,experimentation with legal rules in virtual worlds may be a valuable substitute. Large numbers of enthusiastic players in virtual worlds could test legal rules in an environment closer to the real world than many of the experiments that behavioral economists run to test economic behavior. The cost of running these experiments would involve the expense of developing the games, but one could free ride on the existing market for games. One would, however, want to sell the games, because giving them away would risk undermining the market for existing games. Experimenting with rules in virtual worlds also avoids the real world economic and psychological costs of experimenting with interesting, but ultimately harmful, rules.

Comparison of Configurational, Wayfinding and Cognitive Correlates in Real and Virtual Settings. This is perhaps the first attempt to compare data from exploration, way finding and cognitive tests between a real environment and its virtual counterpart. Furthermore, the virtual world was developed to control all kinds of extraneous variables and layout was the only common element between the two. Analysis of the two data sets suggests that way finding correlates with real world variables are remarkably similar to that of the Virtual Immersive Environments with User Controlled Movement (VIEWCoM) system. On one hand it brings out the dominant role of configuration, but on the other, it identifies a focused area regarding the relationships between configuration and other environmental variables including locational characteristics and scale.

Observations in the virtual

Comparing Interaction in the Real World and CAVE Virtual Environments. An experimental comparison of interaction in the real world and a CAVE virtual environment was carried out, varying interaction with and without virtual hands and comparing two manipulation tasks. The double-handed task was possible in the real world but nearly impossible in the VE, leading to changed behaviour. The single-handed task showed more errors in the VE but few behaviour differences. Users encountered more errors in the CAVE condition without the virtual hand than with it, and few errors in the real world. Visual feedback caused many usability problems in both tasks. The implications for VE usability and virtual prototyping are discussed.

The Demographics, Motivations, and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively Multi-User Online Graphical Environments. An exploratory factor analysis revealed a five factor model of user motivations— Achievement, Relationship, Immersion, Escapism, and Manipulation—illustrating the multifaceted appeal of these online environments. Male players were significantly more likely to be driven by the Achievement and Manipulation factors, while female players were significantly more likely to be driven by the Relationship factor. Also, the data indicated that users derived meaningful relationships and salient emotional experiences, as well as real-life leadership skills from these virtual environments. MMORPGs are not simply a pastime for teenagers, but a valuable research venue and platform where millions of users interact and collaborate using real-time 3D avatars on a daily basis.

The ethics of representation and action in virtual reality. VR applications, especially those aimed at realistic simulation, may involve misrepresentation and biased representation, and developers have been argued to have the responsibility to take proper precautions to avoid misrepresentation or inform users about its occurrence, and to chart the stakeholders of their applications and ensure that their values and interests are accounted for in design choices regarding representational format and content. Behavior in virtual environments also raises ethical questions. These questions have, however, proven to be more difficult to resolve. Designers were claimed to have the responsibility to reflect on their own standpoint on this issue, and to reflect on the moral aspects of the way in which behavioral options and the consequences of actions are structured and represented in VR applications. This has been argued to be especially important in VR systems used in education, training and therapy, and applications for use by children and adolescents.

Virtual world experimentation: An exploratory study. Artificial or virtual worlds (VWs) are online communities in which individuals interact in simulated three-dimensional environments. There are no obvious disadvantages in recruiting subjects in SL compared with university environments. A number of positive and negative issues were identified, but these issues will depend much on the type of experiment planned. While many standard decision tasks can be easily recreated virtually, the increasing number of studies that consider the effects of physical signals will find little value in VW experimentation. Overall, our experience suggests that the virtual environment can simulate most of the crucial features of a physical laboratory at much lesser cost. The future development of VW-technology will further increase the sophistication of the virtual experimental platform.

The Impact of Web Experience on Virtual Buying Behaviour: An Empirical Study. In this study five web experiences were investigated: Usability, Marketing Mix, Interactivity, Trust and Aesthetics. Three of five (Interactivity, Trust and Aesthetics) were not found to have substantial influence on the choice of online vendors. Usability of web sites is the most important criterion for choosing an online vendor followed by the Marketing Mix. The low effect of Trust was discussed; it could be caused by the design of the experiment.

Small-Group Behavior in a Virtual and Real Environment: A Comparative Study. This paper describes an experiment that compares behavior in small groups when its members carry out a task in a virtual environment (VE) and then continue the same task in a similar, real-world environment. The purpose of the experiment was not to examine task performance, but to compare various aspects of the social relations among the group members in the two environments. Ten groups of three people each, who had never met before, met first in a shared VE and carried out a task that required the identification and solution of puzzles that were presented on pieces of paper displayed around the walls of a room. The puzzle involved identifying that the same-numbered words across all the pieces of paper formed a riddle or saying. The group continued this task for fifteen minutes, and then stopped to answer a questionnaire. The group then reconvened in the real world and continued the same task. The experiment also required one of the group members to continually monitor a particular one of the others in order to examine whether social discomfort could be generated within a VE. In each group, there was one immersed person with a headmounted display and head-tracking and two non-immersed people who experienced the environment on a workstation display. The results suggest that the immersed person tended to emerge as the leader in the virtual group, but not in the real meeting. Group accord tended to be higher in the real meeting than in the virtual meeting. Socially conditioned responses such as embarrassment could be generated in the virtual meeting, even though the individuals were presented to one another by very simple avatars. The study also found a positive relationship between presence of being in a place and copresence—the sense of being with the other people. Accord in the group increased with presence, the performance of the group, and the presence of women in the group. The study is seen as part of a much larger planned study, for which this experiment was used to begin to understand the issues involved in comparing real and virtual meetings.

Research Tools

Quality of Experience in Virtual Environments. The impact of media and new technologies on human behavior is controversial, from the perspective of (a) personal development and psychological selection, and (b) individual participation and integration in the cultural context. As was the case of computer and web use over the last decade, the new virtual technologies are spreading rapidly, calling for researchers’ responsible attention to the phenomenon and to its implications for users. As stated by Kubey and Csikszentmihalyi, “maintaining control over one’s media habits is more of a challenge today, than it has ever been” . We present the research tools that we intend to use to analyze the quality of virtual experience: the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) and the Flow Questionnaire (FQ).

Why People Buy Virtual Items in Virtual Worlds with Real Money. Virtual worlds, such as Second Life and Everquest, have grown into virtual game communities that have economic potential. In such communities, virtual items are bought and sold between individuals for real money. The study detailed in this paper aims to identify, model and test the individual determinants for the decision to purchase virtual items within virtual game communities. A model will be developed via a mixture of new constructs and established theories, including the theory of planned behavior (TPB), the technology acceptance model (TAM), trust theory and unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT). There are many areas for potential research over the next 7 years, including: 1) understanding the emerging business models and dynamics of the economic system for virtual item transactions in virtual worlds; 2) the implications of virtual economic systems in real economic terms, including the revenue and employment implications of this new channel; and 3) the management of virtual assets. Several issues should be further studied, such as the seamless integration of transaction data between real and virtual economic systems, and the taxation policy on trading virtual assets. These three potential research areas are closely related. Specifically, the first suggested research area may provide a preliminary conceptual foundation for understanding of the real money trade of virtual assets in virtual worlds from the conceptual perspective.

Design Guidelines

Success factors of virtual communities from the perspective of members and operators: An empirical study. While many studies provide recommendations on how to build, extend and manage virtual communities, few verify the success factors they consider essential for virtual communities. The following ten hypotheses for building and managing virtual communities are derived in this paper:

Hypothesis 1: The design of a technically performant platform with high stability and technical security is one of the most important success factors for a virtual community.

Hypothesis 2: A limitation to communication-/interaction-services is only promising for a short period of time. When aiming at sustainable success of a community, in addition to user-generated-content, high-quality and up-to-date information should be provided.

Hypothesis 3: Handling member data / profiles sensitively is a vital success factor. Selling user data to third parties is counterproductive.

Hypothesis 4: The creation of personalised offerings is hardly ever promising.

Hypothesis 5: Community managers should both be able to react quickly to eventual problems and intervene in community life as little as possible.

Hypothesis 6: Although real-life events are important elements to increase interactivity in virtual communities, they are evaluated of lesser importantance to community members than to operators. Therefore, events should not be organised too often. It is more promising to limit this sort of activities to only a few events that are announced a long time in advance.

Hypothesis 7: Before changing lay-out or functionalities of a community site,it is important to give members the possibility to take part in the modificationof design/functionality or the extension of the offerings first.

Hypothesis 8: Male community members are motivated to take part in a virtual community by the possibility to easily make new contacts without commitment. They do not wish to transfer these contacts into real-life. Most often they make new contacts because they look for information. Building upsocial capital is more important to male community members than to females.

Hypothesis 9: Female community members are often motivated to take part in a virtual community in order to carry on existing contacts without limits of time and place or in order to extend new “online” contacts into real-life. They are more interested in social interaction than men and less interested in building up social capital (e.g. by performing tasks in the community or by frequently posting messages).

Hypothesis 10: It is more important to operators of virtual communities to sustain neutrality than to constantly extend their offerings for community members.

Groupware and social networks: will life ever be the same againGroupware encompasses a broad spectrum of research and development including group support systems, computer-supported collaborative work, group decision support systems, and computer mediated collaboration. Applications arising out of these efforts included concurrent multi-user authoring systems, computer conferencing, integrated computer/video meeting systems, electronic voting, brainstorming, and workflow systems. Groupware presents a need to integrate technical, social and organizational concerns to produce systems that are truly beneficial. We must model goals, procedures, social structures and the tools to determine the correctness and performance of these implementations. One way to influence designers is to build a bridge between social sciences and systems engineering. We have tried to identify some sources of ideas for future work in groupware. Clearly, the way we conduct our daily lives is evolving as we use more network bandwidth in order to interact so it is better than being there.


Human-level AI’s Killer Application: Interactive Computer Games. The author proposes that AI for interactive computer games is an emerging application area in which the goal of human-level AI (to understand and develop intelligent systems that have all capabilities of humans) can successfully be pursued. Interactive computer games have increasingly complex and realistic worlds and increasingly complex and intelligent computer-controlled characters. Moreover, the interactive computer games provide a rich environment for incremental research on AI.

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