Virtual Worlds

by Zeina, Kholood and Athina


We will be looking at virtual worlds, what it is exactly, their growth in recent history as well as in depth case studies. We will also try to evaluate its impact on daily life, the advantages and disadvantages and possible future implications.
Defined: A virtual world is a “computer-based online community environment” that is shared by individuals so that they can interact in a simulated world. Users interact with each other in this simulated world “using text-based, two-dimensional or three-dimensional graphical models called avatars.”

Definitions include:

  • "an automated, shared, persistent environment with and through which people can interact in real time by means of a virtual self", by Richard Bartle in 2010
  • "A persistent, simulated and immersive environment, facilitated by networked computers, providing multiple users with avatars and communication tools with which to act and interact in-world and in real-time.", by Carina Girvan in 2013
  • There is no generally accepted definition of virtual world, but they do require that the world 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.While the interaction with other participants is done in real-time, time consistency is not always maintained in online virtual worlds.
  • Access is granted through a computer simulated world which then presents stimuli to the user, these kinds of feelings are known as degrees of presence within a virtual platform.
Virtual worlds can come from reality or fantasy worlds
Users communicate through various platforms including, text, graphical icons, visual gesture, sound, voice command and sometimes balance senses and forms of touching


what is it? who discovered it? When was it discovered? How? Why?
In the twentieth century cinematographer Morton Heilig explored the creation of the Sensorama
theatre experience designed to stimulate the senses of the audience.
Included: vision, sound, balance, smell,
Ivan Sutherland was also among the earlier inventors of implementing virtual worlds into computer systems.
Characterized by bulky headsets and other types of sensory input simulation.
Maze War was the first networked, 3D multi-user first person shooter game
It was played on 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 first virtual worlds presented on the Internet were communities and chat rooms, some of which evolved into MUDs.
First MUD 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
In 1996, Helsinki Telephone Company launched what was called the first online virtual 3D depiction intended to map an entire city
In 1999, the first virtual world specifically for children was launched with a base in game-based learning and one of the earliest virtual currency-based economies.
Shortly after, in 2000, Habbo launched and grew to become one of the most popular and longest running virtual worlds with millions of users globally

Case studies

What is it used for? How is it applied in our daily lives? What are some issues? How are the issues being tackled?

—Case Study 1-
Real Learning in a Virtual Worlds: A Case Study of the School of Information Studies’ Learning Centre in School Life
This case study looks at the effects of virtual worlds on education, specifically second life, (an online virtual world developed and owned by Linden Lab, where there is no objective, users create virtual representations of themselves, where they can socialize, meet other residents and participate in activities.
The Second Life terms of service provide that users retain copyright for any content they create, and the server and client provide simple digital rights management (DRM) functions. However, Linden Lab changed their terms of service in August 2013 to be able to use user-generated content for any purpose.The new terms of service prevent users from using textures from third-party texture services, as some of them pointed out explicitly.
After an in depth look into Charles Sturt University’s School of information studies online, a team worked with second life to create a school of information studies in Second Life. this would mean a 3D virtual world environment which people, using their avatars, can act as if in the real world.
The study looks at the design and implication of a learning virtual world environment and how it affects the students as well as teachers.
The findings found that most students see this virtual educational experience as providing a valuable opportunity to interact with faculty as well as other students.
For academics the benefits given by Second Life are acknowledged but the time commitment needed to manage the class in the virtual setting need to be considered when adopting this new way of learning

Case Study 2
This case study looks at life-simulation games, The Sims in particular, which is a game for computers developed and designed by Maxisand Will Wright
The game is known and famous for developing the SimCity where the user simulates daily activities of the virtual person. In this online game, you can choose a character of your desire that could be a personal representation of yourself or you can create someone different from your real representation for the purpose of interacting with other “Sims” or avatar on a simulated society.
In this case study, Baudrilland claims this game is a hyper reality. He argues that the simulation of social interaction in the Sims is neither a reality nor a copy of reality, but becomes a truth or reality in its own right.
Baudrillard also states that postmodern is an era of hyper-reality where all the things that an individual can do in life can be manipulated or done electronically, in other words, re-defining reality.
He argues that this impacts people psychologically and makes their expectations in real life higher. He says that the information that is conveyed from the mass media is becoming meaningless and virtual (unreal).


Case Study
Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment
- This case study looks at how virtual reality is reshaping medical training and treatment. Shafi Ahmed, co-founder of Virtual Medics and Medical Realities, is a pioneer in solving the global epidemic of not enough trained surgeons. Dr. Ahmed looks at being able to train hundreds of surgeons at the same time using virtual reality.
- Back in 2016, Dr. Ahmed did the first step by live-streaming a cancer surgery, where he removed a colon tumor from a patient, in virtual reality in 360-degree video. To achieve this kind of idea around the world, Ahmed is using his company, Medical Realities, to build the world’s first VR training module for surgeons to interact with.
- In the meantime, he is working with VR company, Thrive, to enable doctors to remotely log into a shared virtual office in order to discuss patient’s cases in real time.
- An example of this was done with four doctors in four different locations who logged into the VR office altogether and were able to discuss patients’ case, they were even able to access the patient’s medical files.
- This allows surgeons around the world come together and provide a collaborative decision in making sure the patient receives proper treatment and greatest care.


Talk about advantages and disadvantages / current use of the technology / what it is trying to do

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
Value of economy is linked to their usefulness in the virtual world
Virtual spaces can serve a variety of research and educational goals and can be useful to examine human behavior
Panic and agoraphobia have also been studied in a virtual world
Socializing- Sometimes people join virtual worlds not only to play games but to meet new people and socialize online
Political Expression- Virtual worlds can serve as forums for political expression and debate. While real-world political issues can show up in gaming, there are a few times where separate virtual worlds have been built for the purpose of political debate or even experiments in various types of self- governing online communities
Military Training- The U.S. Military is also using virtual worlds to the best of their advantage. They use it to recruit potential soldiers, and work with military groups to develop training simulations

Hardware- The hardware needed to create a fully immersed virtual world experience is still cost prohibitive. The technology for such an experience is still new and experimental.
Legal issues also acknowledge the value of virtual property
Geography can be both a positive and negative because of the role geography and space play in the design component over which the developers of virtual worlds have control and may choose to alter
Training- Training with a virtual world environment does not have the same consequences as training and working in the real world. This means that even if someone does well with tasks in a virtual world environment, that person might not do well in the real world.
Escaping the Real World- The idea of escaping the real world is common among those that use virtual environments and people often live in the virtual world instead of dealing with the real one.

Virtual worlds and real life

Some virtual worlds are connected to real life or promote the connection of the two
For example: Hanipoints is a children's virtual world that tracks chores through chore charts and lets children get involved in their household duties while offline
There are also online platforms which are designed to integrate virtual worlds with real life and re connect people to the real world using virtual means
Conducting activities online and then meeting up offline to discuss and share experiences

Virtual worlds connection to other technology

Mirror worlds- representation of the real world, this connects to virtual worlds because sometimes virtual worlds also model real worlds. For example; Second Life education is modeled after a real classroom,
Artificial Intelligence- New technology is beginning to connect AI to virtual worlds. Where people are able to use the development of computer systems that allow technology to do tasks usually done by humans within the realm of virtual worlds. Data processing used in AI are also sometimes used within virtual worlds to create error free processing platforms.
Lifelogging- Life Logging can be compared to virtual worlds as in this simulated environment an avatar is tracked and recorded. Every decision, transaction and movement is not only simulated but also tracked which is similar to real lifelogging where people note their day to day activities.
Blockchain- Technology behind cryptocurrencies that allows value exchange without the need for trust or a central authority. This can be compared to VR in the sense that developers are creating virtual worlds with blockchains. When transacting with digital assets or currencies in VR, users are not well protected. Implementing blockchain in VR will provide a less risky and safer way of trading assets and currencies by providing ownership of digital assets.

Future implications

Virtual worlds can lead to a kind of mobility of labor that in the future can impact geographical national organization and organizational competitiveness
The functions of commerce, trade and business will also change
An example is is that second life’s revenue reached approximately 7 mil US dollars per month in 2011
Another example is the use of virtual worlds for advertising
Virtual worlds are on track to become a $150 billion dollar market by 2020
Virtual worlds as discussed can start to change the face of education, like the internet did
For social interactions VW’s break the issues of not having non verbal communication in online communication while also not having to share the same physical space
Experts say that the capabilities of Virtual worlds have only scratched the surface


Berman (2017). Virtual Reality Is Reshaping Medical Training and Treatment.
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Hay, L., & Pymm, B. (2011). Real Learning in a Virtual World: A Case Study of the School of Information Studies’ Learning Centre in Second Life. Education for Information, 28(2-4), 187–4), p.187–202.

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