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Virtual world

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.

The computer accesses a computer-simulated world and presents perceptual stimuli to the user, who in turn can manipulate elements of the modeled world and thus experiences telepresence to a certain degree. Such modeled worlds may appear similar to the real world or instead depict fantasy worlds. The model world may simulate rules based on the real world or some hybrid fantasy world. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. Communication between users has ranged from text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, and rarely, forms using touch and balance senses.

Massively multiplayer online games commonly depict a world very similar to the real world, with real world rules and real-time actions, and communication. Communication is usually textual, with real-time voice communication using VOIP also possible.

Virtual worlds are not limited to games but, depending on the degree of immediacy presented, can encompass computer conferencing and text based chatrooms. Sometimes, emoticons or 'smilies' are available, to show feeling or facial expression. Emoticons often have a keyboard shortcut.

History

The concept of virtual worlds predates computers and could be traced in some sense to Pliny. The mechanical-based 1962 Sensorama machine used the senses of vision, sound, balance, smells and touch (via wind) to simulate its world. Among the earliest virtual worlds to be implemented by computers were not games but generic virtual reality simulators, such as Ivan Sutherland's 1968 virtual reality device. This form of virtual reality is characterized by bulky headsets and other types of sensory input simulation. Contemporary virtual worlds, multi-user online virtual environments, emerged mostly independently of this virtual reality technology research, fueled instead by the gaming industry but drawing on similar inspiration. While classic sensory-imitating virtual reality relies on tricking the perceptual system into experiencing an immersive environment, virtual worlds typically rely on mentally and emotionally engaging content which gives rise to an immersive experience.

Maze War (also known as The Maze Game, Maze Wars or simply Maze) was the first networked, 3D multi-user first person shooter game. Maze first brought us the concept of online players as eyeball "avatars" chasing each other around in a maze.” (http://www.digibarn.com/history/04-VCF7-MazeWar/index.html, 29th Feb). According to the website this was in 1974, it was played on Arpanet (the initial internet), however it could only be played on an Imlac, as it was specifically built for this type of computer.

Then in 1978 MUD was released, it however was not 3D, it was text-based and used a TELNET program, by following the link you will be able to play the game, and understand just how far virtual worlds have come since http://www.british-legends.com/. You can understandably argue whether or not this is a “virtual world” and that Maze War was more sophisticated (being 3D), but you must understand that MUD could be played by anyone, Maze War was computer specific. Perhaps in today’s senses it is not a true virtual world, but the idea of a virtual world in those days were different (see Neuromancer link in bibliography for more information).

Some early prototypes were WorldsAway, a prototype interactive communities featuring a virtual world by CompuServe called Dreamscape, Cityspace, an educational networking and 3D computer graphics project for children, and The Palace, a 2-dimensional community driven virtual world. However, credit for the first online virtual world usually goes to Habitat, developed in 1987 by LucasFilm Games for the Commodore 64 computer, and running on the Quantum Link service (the precursor to America Online).

In 1996, the city of Helsinki, Finland with Helsinki Telephone Company (since Elisa Group) launched what was called the first online virtual 3D depiction intended to map an entire city. The Virtual Helsinki project was eventually renamed Helsinki Arena 2000 project and parts of the city in modern and historical context were rendered in 3D.

The first virtual worlds presented on the Internet were communities and chat rooms, some of which evolved into MUDs and MUSHes. MUDs, short for “Multi User Dungeons,” are examples of virtual worlds that consist of virtual space inhabited by representations of data and other users . Early virtual worlds were text-based, offering limited graphical representation, and often using a Command Line Interface.

Virtual world concepts

One perception of virtual worlds requires an online persistent world, active and available 24 hours a day and seven days a week, to qualify as a true virtual world. Although this is possible with smaller virtual worlds, especially those that are not actually online, no massively multiplayer game runs all day, every day. All the online games listed above include downtime for maintenance that is not included as time passing in the virtual world. While the interaction with other participants is done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds. For example, EverQuest time passes faster than real-time despite using the same calendar and time units to present game time.

As virtual world is a fairly vague and inclusive term, the above can generally be divided along a spectrum ranging from:

Some would argue that the MMO versions of RTS and FPS games are also virtual worlds if the world editors allow for open editing of the terrains if the "source file" for the terrain is shared. Emerging concepts include basing the terrain of such games on real satellite photos, such as those available through the Google Maps API or through a simple virtual geocaching of "easter eggs" on WikiMapia or similar mashups, where permitted.

Boundaries

Virtual worlds are well-known as being fantasy spaces sealed off from the real world, but more careful analysis reveals that the boundaries between the real and virtual worlds is quite porous. Participants constantly arrive and depart from the world, carrying with them their unique set of behavioral assumptions and attitudes that cannot be disentangled from their interactions in the virtual world. For example, in virtual worlds which bring together players from multiple cultural backgrounds, a participant in a virtual world brings their own cultural preconceptions about those other cultures across the boundary into the world while playing. The term magic circle has been used to describe the imaginary barrier between the virtual world and the real world. The fantasy environment of the virtual world is protected from the intrusion of real life by this magic circle, but practices such as the sale of virtual items and virtual currency for real life currency challenges this separation while reinforcing the notion that objects in the virtual world have real life value. In a 2001 study by Edward Castronova, the value of the currency in the MMORPG Everquest was evaluated based on its exchange rate at USD 0.0107, making this unit of virtual currency of higher value than the Yen or the Lira.

Social

Even though Virtual Worlds are most of the time seen as 3D Games, there are many different kinds of it: forums, blogs, wikis and chatrooms where communities born. Places which have their own world, their own rules, topics, jokes, members, etc... Each person who belongs to these kinds of communities can find like-minded people to talk to, whether this be a passion, the wish to share information about or just to meet new people and experience new things. Some users develop a double personality depending on which world they are interacting with. Depending on whether that person is in the real or virtual world can impact on the way they think and act. It is not all about video games and communities, virtual world also plays a part in the social as it can allow people to speak or share knowledge with each other. Best examples are instant messaging and visio-conferences which allow people to create their own virtual world. It can also be used to help hospitalized children (suffering from painful disease or autism for example) to create a comfortable and safe environment which can help them.

Although Virtual Worlds can be seen as a new way for people to socialize, they are said to be at the heart of a lot of anti-social behaviour. People playing video games online and more precisely, MMORPG are sometimes so addicted to the game that they cannot live without playing it. They are often wrongly treated like insane people and also represented as dangerous when criminal cases imply links with video games. The thing is that video games played online are most of the time designed to be played for a long period of time (and even in the case of World Of Warcraft indefinitely – programmers provide updates and new things to discover regularly). People who abuse this kind of video games end up living most of their live in their bedrooms, do not develop any social life or skills: they communicate with friends mostly via the game or the internet, they create their own life on the internet with a specific name, image and charisma. The example of Second Life is totally unique because players develop communities and businesses in this game. Second Life is a game where the player has to create his/her own character with a human aspect and live a second life in a virtual world. The thing is that some people are so involved in this game (and created their “own self” in this game) that they have a double personality.

Economy

A virtual economy is the emergent property of the interaction between participants in a virtual world. While the designers have a great deal of control over the economy by the encoded mechanics of trade, it is nonetheless the actions of players that define the economic conditions of a virtual world. The economy arises as a result of the choices that players make under the scarcity of real and virtual resources such as time or currency. Participants have a limited time in the virtual world, as in the real world, which they must divide between task such as collecting resources, practicing trade skills, or engaging in less productive fun play. The choices they make in their interaction with the virtual world, along with the mechanics of trade and wealth acquisition, dictate the relative values of items in the economy. The economy in virtual worlds is typically driven by in-game needs such as equipment, food, or trade goods. Virtual economies like that of Second Life, however, are almost entirely player-produced with very little link to in-game needs.

The value of objects in a virtual economy is usually linked to their usefulness and the difficulty of obtaining them. The investment of real world resources (time, membership fees, etc) in acquisition of wealth in a virtual economy may contribute to the real world value of virtual objects. This real world value is made obvious by the trade of virtual items on online market sites like eBay. Recent legal disputes also acknowledge the value of virtual property, even overriding the mandatory EULA which many software companies use to establish that virtual property has no value and/or that users of the virtual world have no legal claim to property therein.

Furthermore, economical actors are interested by virtual world like 3D video games, instant messaging, search engines and blogs because these are places where they can display targeted advertising, adapted to the people who will see it. Projects about coming video games planned to include advertisements inside the 3D environment.

Research

There is an ever increasing amount of people using virtual worlds at a rate of 15% every month and does not appear to be stopping or slowing down anytime soon. (Hof, 2006d; Gartner, 2007 cited by Bray and Konsynski 2007). This is the same with research being carried out in virtual worlds. It is an ever increasing way for business and governments to use the resources to gather and collate information for their use. Research for information systems purposes is being carried out in virtual worlds for the look in open sourcing, providing tools without the need for sponsorship of corporate businesses. It provides a look into the virtual world creation and how it is able to spread itself around the internet for different people from different countries to interact and provide information. It provides an insight how people find the information and how that information is being used by different people. Governments are also beginning to interact in virtual worlds and are a discussion point for some in terms of governance and law. Virtual world is neither public nor private owned. It is the people interacting in it that make the world. Governments research into the use of virtual worlds by people as some have virtual property, amounting to a second life online in another world. This is where governments have to look into if it is viable or even feasible for them to tax those with a second life to govern them with taxes and laws.

Commercial

As businesses compete in the real world, they also compete in virtual worlds. As there has been an increase in the buying and selling of products online (e-commerce) this twinned with he rise in the popularity of the internet, has forced businesses to adjust to accommodate the new market.

Many companies and organizations now incorporate virtual worlds as a new form of advertising. There are many advantages to using these methods of commercialization. An example of this would be Apple creating an online store within “Second Life”. This allows the users to browse the latest and innovative products. You cannot actually purchase a product but having these “virtual stores” is a way of accessing a different clientèle and customer demographic. The use of advertising within "virtual worlds" is a relatively new idea. This is because Virtual Worlds is a relatively new technology. Before companies would use an advertising company to promote their products. With the introduction of the prospect of commercial success within a Virtual World, companies can reduce cost and time constraints by keeping this "in-house". An obvious advantage is that it will reduce any costs and restrictions that could come into play in the real world. Using virtual worlds gives companies the opportunity to gauge customer reaction and receive feedback. Feedback can be crucial to the development of a project as it will inform the creators exactly what users want.

Using virtual worlds as a tool allows companies to test user reaction and give them feedback on products. This can be crucial as it will give the companies an insight as to what the market and customers want from new products, which can give them a competitive edge. Competitive edge is crucial in the ruthless world that is today's business. Another use of virtual worlds in business is where you can create a gathering place. Many businesses can now be involved in business-to-business commercial activity and will create a specific area within a virtual world to carry out their business. Within this space all relevant information can be held. This can be useful for a variety of reasons. You can conduct business with companies on the other side of the world, so there are no geographical limitations, it can increase company productivity. Knowing that there is an area where help is on hand can aid the employees. Sun Microsystems have created an island in second life dedicated for the sole use of their employees. This is a place where people can go and seek help, exchange new ideas or to advertise a new product.

According to trade media company Virtual Worlds Management, commercial investments in the "virtual worlds" sector were in excess of USD 425 million in Q4 2007, and totaled USD 184 million in Q1 2008. However, the selection process for defining a "virtual worlds" company in this context has been challenged by one industry blog.

E-commerce (legal)

The legal part of “virtual worlds” in business will be focused on “selling goods” by a virtual interface (on-line shopping, on the Internet) and consumer rights. Goods can be anything except money.

The customer will access (usually via Internet) the shop : this is called E-commerce. The website has an obligation to show the state of business, the postal address (proof of geographical location) and a way to contact them directly (phone or email address). The website does not have to show the price of sold product. If prices are shown, then they must be displayed clearly, The differences between the product price with taxes and delivery costs must also be clear.

The goods are usually displayed thanks to one/many pictures, in which the seller should specify “Caveat Emptor”, which signifies in Latin “Buyer Beware”. That means the buyer might not receive exactly the same product that is displayed on the picture. The sold goods must be presented with a minimum of extra information: full reference, maker (if different from the seller), technical information. The accepted payment modes should be displayed before the subscription/registration.

Concerning delivery, information cannot be sent by another way than the website itself. After the transaction is complete, it is the responsibility of the seller to achieve delivery correctly. The full details must be displayed: including extra charges for customer (in case off-country delivery, unusual weight). The delay must be precise (it cannot be exact, so give an idea, i.e. “one week”).

No modification about the delay, price or delivery mode can be made after concluding the contract. The contract is defined by the terms and conditions. The customer can not buy the goods without accepting it; Unfortunately, it is often written in really small print and not really easy to read. These terms and conditions define the customer rights, for example these to cancel contract.

Cancelling the contract: The customer has the right to cancel a contract concluded on-line by giving written-notice to the seller. The customer has seven days after the day when he receives goods. The customer can simply change his mind, so is allowed to cancel without justification.

As stated above, there are laws governing the purchasing and selling of products within a e-commerce environment. When it comes to virtual worlds, such as Second Life then there are no laws which you have to abide by. In some ways this can be seen as a positive thing, it gives users complete freedom to carry out their business or pleasure activities, with the knowledge that there are no repercussions. On the other hand there are downsides of course, people have moral, social and ethical responsibilities to other users. Whether this is keeping information up to date, or avoiding fraud. Even with these basic responsibilities to others, some people may take advantage of a situation such as this.

Single-player games

Some single-player games contain virtual worlds populated by non-player characters. Many of these allow you to save the current state of this world instance to allow stopping and restarting the virtual world at a later date. (This can be done with some multiplayer environments as well.)

The virtual worlds found in video games are often split into discrete levels.

In Team Work

A Virtual Team is a team that works together and they might be in different culture, time, country and organization. In these days, Business just realized the benefits and the values of working in a group. They start to use a new ways to encourage the people working in teams. Organizations can use many different technologies to manage the virtual collaboration. However, because of the different skills and experiences in the members, organizations started to create new technologies such as wikis and web blogs to develop their members in order to support them in collaborating between each other.

There are different features of Team Collaboration in Virtual Worlds. One of the good features is that the members become informed by using some technologies like a web conferencing.

Virtual Team can be characterizing in term of the different level of understanding, sharing knowledge, different tasks, and their interaction. On the other hand, there are some factors that affect the collaboration between the member such as activities, location, identity, and work aim.

Leadership plays an important role in virtual teams; this is mostly because leaders are in charge of motivating the team members. However, if the team meets face to face, the leader will know how to motivate each team member.

Due to the nature of changing work habit, I think it’s important for studies to look at how different teams work and what the advantages are that a firm can benefit from. With this knowledge, we might find that in some situations groups will be more effective if there are not virtual. A good use of virtual worlds when in a group environment is to use it as a group "workspace". This allows all relevant information to be stored and accessed in one location. This can mean that documents are constantly keep up to date, which is vital when working in globally distributed teams. Having all the information stored in the workspace will reduce any portability issues that may occur. Eventually, one can clearly see the benefits that the virtual world has brought to business across the world. They offer many possibilities and a range of new features. There should be a greater research agenda to understand virtual teams and their leaders. With this new information, team effectiveness can be improved through the understanding of complex interactions.

Education

Virtual worlds represent a powerful new media for instruction and education. Persistence allows for continuing and growing social interactions, which themselves can serve as a basis for collaborative education. The use of virtual worlds can give teachers the opportunity to have a greater level of student participation. It allows users to be able to carry out tasks that could be difficult in the real world due to constraints and restrictions, such as cost, scheduling or location. Virtual worlds have the capability to adapt and grow to different user needs. They can be a good source of user feedback, the typical paper-based resources have limitations that Virtual Worlds can overcome.

Virtual worlds allow users with specific needs and requirements to be able to access and use the same learning materials from home, as they would be receiving if they were in the presentation. This can help users to keep up to date with the relevant information and needs while also feeling as though involved. Having the option to be able to attend a presentation via a virtual world from home or from their workplace, can help the user to be more at ease and comfortable. The flexibility of virtual worlds have greatly improved the options for student study and business collaboration. Although virtual worlds are a good way of communicating and interacting between students and teachers, this is not a substitute for actual face-to-face meetings. When using virtual worlds, there are the downsides in that you lose the body language and other more personal aspects. As shown in a study in (Chris Evans, Jing Ping Fan, Lifelong learning through the Virtual University) that a majority of students have rejected the idea of a completely virtual mode of study.

In April 1999, Numedeon Incorporated launched Whyville as the first virtual world explicitly designed to engage young students in a wide range of educational activities. With a player base of over 3 million. Whyville has been particularly successful in attracting young teens

With respect to older students,a growing number of universities and other educational institutions are exploring existing general purpose virtual world platforms as a means to extend and enhance their offerings to students. Typically, educators create an online presence where students can interact, using their avatars to learn about new assignments or create projects that are viewable within the virtual world. For example, students taking a computer manufacturing class can log into a virtual world in which they are the inhabitants of a burgeoning village that needs their expertise for the construction of houses, furniture, machines, and other goods. An example of such a program is AWEDU, a project started by Active Worlds, Inc. A number of educational institutions are now running virtual classrooms and discussion sections in worlds like Second Life. The British Open University has a strong presence in Second Life, where it is developing social and community links for students as well as practising teaching and learning.

Technologies can sometimes take up to 10 years to become fully incorporated within everyday life. For virtual worlds to be accepted, then it is vital that teachers and students alike adapt to new ideas and technologies and use them to their full potential and become a useful tool in education (Yukiko Inoue, Effects of virtual reality support compared to video support in a high-school world geography class). The best idea for a more complete and wider variety in learning techniques is to integrate both paper based and technology based methods.

Training in business

Virtual worlds play an important role in today's business environment through the training of employees. Since the growth of the Internet, employees have been able to learn and to follow online trainings. This is a major breakthrough and helps to overcome problems such as distance, infrastructure or appointment. There are different methods in which this can be carried out: Video Conferencing is probably the most common tool. People can stay in their office to attend a live conference or a recorded meeting. This new way of training raises some questions: Is virtual training as effective as real trainings? Are people happy with virtual training and does this method encourage people to learn?

Using technologies can affect people's behaviour in many ways. First of all they can seem more interested in using virtual modes as a study method and because of this their learning satisfactions can be higher when compared to traditional classroom techniques. Despite the fact that people are not in a face to face meeting and thus are not creating social links, the efficiency is not really affected. Actually, adults need this autonomy and need to learn by themselves with more self-direction than younger students.

Virtual training has a lot of advantages compared to the traditional classroom and meetings. Thanks to the rise of the Internet people can now interact with the information through a more user-friendly environment which allows them a greater level of involvement and creativity. A large number of websites offer tutorials and the possibility to test user knowledge with interactive online tests (using multiple choice questions). Virtual training is not so different from usual training in terms of content. Thus, it is not difficult to adapt the existing course to fit with virtual tools. This of course would not only save the company time but also money (no flight, accommodation costs etc).

Virtual training is becoming a more widely accepted form of training and is being used more often. One example is made by the INSR-Institute competence in the area of occupational risk prevention: protecting workers’ health and safety and preventing occupational accidents or diseases. They have created a program to warn people about the chemical risk of products using interactive support. INSR used 3D environment show clearly a professional situation and involve people through this interactive support.

In addition to the use of virtual training, virtual reality can also provide useful tools. One of the widest uses of this technology is maybe the use of 3D environment to allows virtual visits. The Le Louvre has provided such a service for the past few years: http://www.louvre.fr/llv/musee/visite_virtuelle.jsp?bmLocale=en. The concept is used by many companies and is usually divided into two purposes. The main use for a company is to provide a virtual preview of their tour. Moreover some public places allow free access to their facilities, thus allows people who cannot visit the location for real are due to personal constraints, are able to visit virtually. This allows an easy access to knowledge and it becomes a real alternative to video or picture.

Due to the ease of learning brought by the spread of virtual worlds, learning may become lifelong and the curriculum is in perpetual evolution (David Davies, The virtual university: a learning university), each employee being able to learn through virtual world, no matter where he lives or how old he is.

In fiction

The concept of a virtual world has become a popular fictional motif and setting in recent years, although science-fiction writers have been portraying similar ideas (for example, cyberspace) for decades. Among the most prominent virtual worlds in the literature are the ones written about by William Gibson. Virtual worlds were prominent in such movies and books as TRON, Neuromancer, The Lawnmower Man, The Lawnmower Man 2, Epic, Snow Crash, and Ghost in the Shell. There are many other examples of the virtual world; for example Lyoko in the French animated television series Code Lyoko.

A popular example of a virtual world in fiction is from the movie series The Matrix, a virtual reality so realistic that the great majority of those humans plugged in think they are living in the real world and do not know that they are living in a virtual world.

Series 4 of the smash hit New Zealand TV Series, The Tribe featured the birth of Reality Space and the Virtual World that was created by Ram, the computer genius leader of The Techno's.

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