Online Life and Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects. The term has become largely synonymous with interactive 3D virtual environments, where the users take the form of avatars visible to others. These avatars usually appear as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional representations, although other forms are possible (auditory and touch sensations for example). In general, 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 experience a degree of telepresence. Such modeled worlds and their rules may draw from the reality or fantasy worlds. Example rules are gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. Communication between users can range from text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, and rarely, forms using touch, voice command, and balance senses.
Massively multiplayer online games depict a wide range of worlds, including those based on fantasy, science fiction, the real world, super heroes, sports, horror, and historical milieus. The most common form of such games are fantasy worlds, whereas those based on the real world are relatively rare. Many MMORPGs have real-time actions and communication. Players create a character who travels between buildings, towns, and worlds to carry out business or leisure activities. Communication is usually textual, but real-time voice communication is also possible. The form of communication used can substantially affect the experience of players in the game.
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.


The concept of virtual worlds predates computers. In fact, it can be traced to the Roman naturalist Gaius Plinius, more commonly known as Pliny the Elder, who expressed one of the earliest recorded interests in perceptual illusion.[9][10] In the twentieth century, the cinematographer Morton Heilig explored the creation of the Sensorama, a theatre experience designed to stimulate the senses of the audience—vision, sound, balance, smell, even touch (via wind)--and so draw them more effectively into the productions[11]
Among the earliest virtual worlds implemented by computers were virtual reality simulators, such as the work of Ivan Sutherland. Such devices are characterized by bulky headsets and other types of sensory input simulation. Contemporary virtual worlds, in particular the multi-user online environments, emerged mostly independently of this research, fueled instead by the gaming industry but drawing on similar inspiration.[12] 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 introduced the concept of online players in 1973-1974 as "eyeball 'avatars' chasing each other around in a maze.”[13] It was played on ARPANET, or Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, a precursor to the Internet funded by the United States Department of Defense for use in university and research laboratories. The initial game could only be played on an Imlac, as it was specifically designed for this type of computer.
The first virtual worlds presented on the Internet were communities and chat rooms, some of which evolved into MUDs and MUSHes. The first MUD, known as MUD1, was released in 1978. The acronym originally stood for Multi-User Dungeon, but later also came to mean Multi-User Dimension and Multi-User Domain. A MUD is a virtual world with many players interacting in real time.[14] The early versions were text-based, offering only limited graphical representation and often using a Command Line Interface. Users interact in role-playing or competitive games by typing commands and can read or view descriptions of the world and other players. Such early worlds began the MUD heritage that eventually led to massively multiplayer online role-playing games, more commonly known as MMORPGs, a genre of role-playing games in which a large number of players interact within a virtual world.
Some prototype virtual worlds were WorldsAway, a two-dimensional chat environment where users designed their own avatars; Dreamscape, an interactive community featuring a virtual world by CompuServe; 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).[15]
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.

Virtual world concepts
Most accepted definitions of virtual worlds require that it be persistent; in other words, the world must continue to exist even after a user exits the world, and user-made changes to the world should be preserved. As defined by Mark W. Bell at Indiana University, a virtual world is a "synchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers."[18] 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:[clarification needed]
massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), also called virtual game worlds,[19] where the user playing a specific character is a main feature of the game (Vanguard for example).
massively multiplayer online real-life games (MMORLGs), also called virtual social worlds,[19] where 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.[12][clarification needed] 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.[clarification needed] 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.
Virtual worlds offer advertisers the potential for virtual advertisements, such as the In-game advertising already found in a number of video games.

The number of people using virtual worlds is increasing at a rate of 15% every month and this growth 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. State of Play is an annual conference sponsored by the Institute for Information Law & Policy at New York Law School; since 2003 the conference has investigated the intersection of virtual worlds, games and the law.

Research in psychology has also been proposed and conducted in virtual worlds with key focus of the use of the innovative platform. Bloomfield (2007) has suggested that virtual worlds may be useful for examining human behaviour and traditional internet-world constructs (alongside other fields). For example, Doodson (2009) reported that offline- and virtual-world personality are significantly differ from each other but are still significantly related which has a number of implications for Self-verification, Self-enhancement and other personality theories. Similarly, panic and agoraphobia have also been studied in a virtual world
Another area of research related to virtual worlds is the field of navigation. Specifically, this research investigates whether or not virtual environments are adequate learning tools in regards to real-world navigation. Psychologists at Saint Michael’s College found that video game experience corresponded with ability to navigate virtual environments and complete objectives; however, that experience did not correlate with an increased ability to navigate real, physical environments. An extensive study at the University of Washington conducted multiple experiments involving virtual navigation. One experiment had two groups of subjects, the first of which examined maps of a virtual environment, and the second of which navigated the virtual environment. The groups of subjects then completed an objective in the virtual environment. There was little difference between the two groups’ performances, and what difference there was, it was in favor of the map-users. The test subjects, though, were generally unfamiliar with the virtual world interface, likely leading to some impaired navigation, and thus bias in the yielded analysis of the experiments. The study concluded that the interface objects made natural navigation movements impossible, and perhaps less intrusive controls for the virtual environment would reduce the effect of the impairment.

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. There are also online platforms such as Uniiverse which are designed to re-connect people to the real-world via virtual means. Users can post activities and services online and meet up off-line to share the experience. 

Unlike most video games, which are usually navigated using various free-ranging human interface devices, virtual worlds are usually navigated (as of 2009) using HIDs which are designed and oriented around flat, 2-dimensional graphical user interfaces; as most comparatively-inexpensive computer mice are manufactured and distributed for 2-dimensional UI navigation, the lack of 3D-capable HID usage among most virtual world users is likely due to both the lack of penetration of 3D-capable devices into non-niche, non-gaming markets as well as the generally-higher pricing of such devices compared to 2-dimensional HIDs. Even those users who do make use of HIDs which provide such features as six degrees of freedom often have to switch between separate 3D and 2D devices in order to navigate their respectively-designed interfaces.
Like video gamers, users of virtual world clients may also have a difficult experience with the necessity of proper graphics hardware (such as the more advanced graphics processing units distributed by Nvidia and AMD) for the sake of reducing the frequency of less-than-fluid graphics instances in the navigation of virtual worlds.

Source : wikipedia

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