Schroeder , R. (1997)
'Networked Worlds: Social Aspects of Multi-User Virtual Reality
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Received: 4/11/97 Accepted: 2/12/97 Published: 22/12/97
2 Habitat can be described as a second-person 2-D VR system, but again, this stretches the definition of VR since the sense of being 'present' in the virtual world is only via the avatar - the user has no first-person perspective on the virtual world. Habitat has recently been relaunched globally under the name Worldsaway, from which illustration 1 is taken. A key factor in the success of this system, as Dr.Kazutomo Fukuda (manager of the Cyberspace Systems Development department at Fujitsu, interview September 22, 1994) explained to me, are the telephone tariffs in different countries. In Japan, for example, the system was most popular late at night during the hours of 'off-peak' rates.
3 In Cybergate, it is also possible to design one's own avatar.
4 This greater sense of involvement of users can also be gathered from questionnaires: in pilot questionnaires for two separate studies (one in relation to Alphaworld and Cybergate, the other in relation to a networked VR system used in university research), for example, users were asked questions such as whether they feel 'immersed' in the virtual world, whether they feel the interaction with others is 'engaging', or whether they have sense 'of being' in the world or of 'being with others' in the virtual world. Their responses, both in scaled questions and in open questions which asked them to describe their experience, strongly support the idea that they have a sense of being inside the virtual world and with others. It needs to be added that these are only preliminary findings based on small samples.
5 The split between insiders and outsiders is, of course, not clear-cut; perhaps it would be better to envisage this divide as a continuum with two extremes. Some of the principles of micro-social or face-to-face interaction that are used here are summarized by Collins (1988: pp. 188 - 371). The discussion of the differentiation between communities in the following paragraph, and how this differentiation relates to status cultures and micro-social interaction, again, relies on Collins' theory (1975: pp. 49 - 160).
6 See Curtis (1992) and Turkle (1995). Common forms of misrepresenting oneself are to use several different names, to adopt a false gender, and the like. In this context it may also be useful to point to the studies carried out by Reeves and Nass, which found that people treat cartoon characters (1996: pp. 81 - 87) and other aspects of computer interfaces as more lifelike than they think - or than they are willing to admit.
7 A similar differentiation between 'newbies' and more experienced users can also be observed in MUD's, and it would be interesting to investigate the differences between MUD's and networked VR in this regard.
8 One indication of the popularity of these systems is that more than 250000 people have visited Alphaworld.
9 In relation to the internet and e-mail, some of these areas are discussed by Wellman (1996), McKenney et al (1992) and Nohria and Eccles (1992).
10 The idea that new technologies extend or intensify the means by which we manipulate the natural and social worlds is one that I have developed elsewhere (Schroeder, 1995, 1996; cf. Rogers, 1986.
11 'Bait and switch' has been mainly been used in the context of cable television in the United States, where, again, customers are hooked on certain programmes at a particular price which is then changed once the customers have come to rely on the service.
12 One of the main lessons of the trials which have used ExploreNet is that this differentiation into roles has not been successful among users, who have tended to ignore it (see Hughes and Moshell, 1995).
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