Sunday, October 25, 2009

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, voice command, 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. Players create a character to travel between buildings, towns, and even worlds to carry out business or leisure activities. 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. Edward Castronova is an economist who has argued that "synthetic worlds" is a better term for these cyberspaces, but this term has not been widely adopted.

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 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:
a) massively multiplayer online role-playing games or MMORPGs where the user playing a specific character is a main feature of the game (World Of Warcraft for example).
b) massively multiplayer online real-life/rogue-like games or MMORLGs, the user can edit and alter their avatar at will, allowing them to play a more dynamic role, or multiple roles.
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.

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.
Some industry analysts have moreover observed that there is a secondary industry growing behind the virtual worlds, made up by social networks, websites and other projects completely devoted to virtual worlds communities and gamers. Special websites as GamerDNA, Koinup and others which serve as social networks for virtual worlds users are facing some crucial issue as the DataPortability of avatars across many virtual worlds and MMORPGs.
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.

Virtual worlds and real life
Some virtual worlds have off-line, real world components and applications. Handipoints, for example, is a children's virtual world that tracks chores via customizable chore charts and lets children get involved in their household duties offline. They complete chores and use the website and virtual world to keep track of their progress and daily tasks.

Application domains
Even though Virtual Worlds are often seen as 3D Games, there are many different kinds: forums, blogs, wikis and chatrooms where communities are 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.
Systems that have been designed for a social application include:
a) Active Worlds

Virtual worlds can also be used, for instance by the Starlight Children's Foundation, to help hospitalised children (suffering from painful diseases or autism for example) to create a comfortable and safe environment which can expand their situation, experience interactions (when you factor in the involvement of a multiple cultures and players from around the world) they may not have been able to experience without a virtual world, healthy or sick. Virtual worlds also enable them to experience and act beyond the restrictions of their illness and help to relieve stress. Disabled or chronically invalided people of any age can also benefit enormously from experiencing the mental and emotional freedom gained by temporarily leaving their disabilities behind and doing, through the medium of their avatars, things as simple and potentially accessible to able, healthy people as walking, running, dancing, sailing, fishing, swimming, surfing, flying, skiing, gardening, exploring and other physical activities which their illnesses or disabilities prevent them from doing in real life. They may also be able to socialise, form friendships and relationships much more easily and avoid the stigma and other obstacles which would normally be attached to their disabilities. This can be much more constructive, emotionally satisfying and mentally fulfilling than passive pastimes such as television watching, playing computer games, reading or more conventional types of internet use.
Psychologically virtual worlds can help players become more familiar and comfortable with actions they may in real-life feel reluctant or embarrassed. For example, in World of Warcraft, /dance is the emote for a dance move which a player in the virtual world can "emote" quite simply. And a familiarization with said or similar "emotes" or social skills (such as, encouragement, gratitude, problem-solving, and even kissing) in the virtual world via avatar can make the assimilation to similar forms of expression, socialization, interaction in real life smooth. Interaction with humans through avatars in the virtual world has potential to seriously expand the mechanics of one's interaction with real-life interactions.
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