The agenda-setting challenges for virtual worlds: a discussion paper

The past couple of years have seen virtual worlds start to get on government agendas worldwide. From a policy perspective, agenda-setting is a widely researched area and it’s very pertinent to virtual environments. To that extent, I’ve written a discussion paper that analyses the challenges to date in ensuring virtual worlds do end up as a policy priority for governments.

It’s an expanded version of a piece written in recent months as part of my MBA studies – it has not been published elsewhere and nor will it be.

Who’s the paper for?

If you’re someone interested in the policy aspects of virtual worlds, you may find this paper useful. If you’re an experienced policy analyst you’re going to find the paper very broad, but otherwise it’s a good overview of the challenges and progress to date.


The introduction to the paper is replicated immediately below to give you a taste of the language and approach:

Virtual worlds have grown in popularity to an extent that they pose a range of policy challenges at both an organisational and governmental level. This discussion will examine the inherent challenges in agenda-setting for those attempting to establish governance structures in virtual worlds, and the growing interrelationship between events in the virtual and real worlds and the related policy conundrums they pose. The work by Kingdon (1984) will be used as the framework for describing the interplay between political factors, policy formulation and any previous approaches to problem resolution. Examples of current policy debates in regards to virtual worlds will be explored within that framework, to illustrate the level of government involvement with this policy arena to date and why there has been a relative lack of response from government in the Australian context.

What does it cost?

The cost of this discussion paper is up to you. When you click on the ‘Add to Cart’ button below, it will show the suggested cost of $9.95 (Australian), all of which goes to our charity of choice, Kiva. If you cannot afford that price, you can manually adjust the cost to whatever amount you want, including zero – we’ll let your conscience determine that 😉


Please don’t hesitate to provide any feedback on the paper. By their nature, policy debates are far from black and white affairs and this one is no different. I’d also like to thank Ren Reynolds for responding to a query on the analytical framework prior to writing the paper.

Click below to purchase the paper:

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Or – here’s the direct link for the download service we use.

Interview – Evelyn McElhinney, Glasgow Caledonian University

kali1 (This story appeared earlier today over at Metaverse Health).

Coming from a nursing background myself, I’m always fascinated by the work going on in virtual environments in regards to nurse education. To some extent it’s a natural fit in that clinical simulation is a pivotal part of the education process for nurses anyway – using virtual environments is simply an extension of recognised practice.

Evelyn McElhinney (SL: Kali Pizzaro) is a Nurse Lecturer in the post-registration department of Glasgow Caledonian’s School of Health. She teaches a number of advanced practice modules including modules within the Nurse Practitioner pathway. She joined the university full time 3 years ago, and was a lecturer/practitioner working in an advanced practice role within the National Health Service prior to that and has worked in a number of acute care areas including anaesthesia. Evelyn also happens to be active in the use of Second Life in Nurse Practitioner training, so I caught up with her to discuss her work to date and some broader issues around collaboration.

Lowell: From a nursing education viewpoint, what are your key areas of professional interest / research focus?

Kali: Advancing practice, physical examination, clinical simulation, and recently the use of virtual worlds for Nurse Practitioner Education.

Lowell: When you say nurse practitioner, can you define that a little? I’m assuming you mean someone undergoing their undergraduate nursing education?

Kali: Ah no in the UK Nurse Practitioners are Registered Nurses who are advancing their practice. A nurse who takes a history, physical examination, diagnoses, prescribes and treats.

Lowell: Ok, that’s similar to Australia then. So are there particular advantages for using virtual worlds with more experienced nurses like practitioners rather than nursing students?

Kali: The advantages are that they need flexibility as they have competing demands on their time. So any medium that allows for extra practice in a time conducive to them is attractive. However, virtual worlds can do more than the usual virtual learning environment.

Lowell: When did Second Life become a consideration in your work?

Kali: I considered Second Life after seeing a project by one of my colleagues. I had know about it’s existence as the University had a project exploring it’s use for marketing. That was in March this year.

Lowell: Can you describe the work you’re doing in Second Life and how it links to the University’s CU There initiative?

Kali: I am trying to develop a virtual patient which will be used by Nurse Practitioner students to practice history taking. I have also embedded heart sounds into the avatar’s chest to enable the student to link the history to the heart sounds they hear. They must click on the correct anatomical position to hear the sounds. This work links to the CU There project as it fulfills the criteria for use of virtual worlds in education. By creating an AIML bot/bots the students have the flexibilty to practice at any time either as an individual or as a group. I plan to have a number of patients and to build on the sceanrios to create longer problem-based learning scenarios. The bot we use were developed by myself and the School technician Andy Whiteford aka AndyW Blackburn.

Lowell: So what level of work has been required to get the lab to this stage and how much more is involved to get it to where you’d like it to be?

Kali: The clinical skills lab was designed by the CU There team with guidance from the head academic in charge of the simulation lab . The build was done mainly by a computer student who is seconded to the team. There are plans to build an ITU for a scenario for 3rd year students. For my scenario it is mainly me thinking of ways to expand each scenario in alignment with the needs of my students.

Lowell: The most common feedback I’ve gotten from nursing academics is a skepticism on what virtual worlds offer that a well integrated curriculum with comprehensive leraning management tools can’t, that is, aside from the advantage of not needing to get students to a real-world simulation lab, are there other benefits of working in environments like this?

Kali: The immersive environment enables authentic scenarios to be developed. There is also the ability to offer syncrounous text and voice communication, as well as the ability to show the whole class videos etc. We can also simulate things that would be difficult in real life.

Lowell: Is there an example of that you currently use?

Kali: Not at the moment. However, for undegraduates it could be useful for them to be inside a heart or lung to understand the anatomy and physiology. It is also much more interactive than other VLE’s.

Lowell: I suppose that’s the crux of the challenge for nursing educators using virtual environments: convincing others that things have moved beyond the gimmicky, would you agree?

Kali: Yes, you need to show them something that is pedagologically sound, something they can see is useful.

Lowell: On pedagogy, what do you see as the key foundations in your work and in virtual environments more broadly?

Kali and Colin_001Kali: Constructivism and social constructivism are the key learning theories in my work. By linking history and heart and lung sounds to other parts of a clinical scenario, I am building on the students previous knowledge to create new knowledge. People in simulations tend to act the same as they do in real life. The ability to capture the text allows for reflection on the decision-making of this particular group.

Lowell: What has the feedback been from students?

Kali: Positive- they can see they value. They feel they are in the sceanrio. However, it is early days. We have only had a few folk through as a pilot. We will be using it more in the next two semesters.

Lowell: Are there formalised evaluations planned on clinical skills training in Second Life ? Will there be comparative studies on those who used such tools versus those who didn’t and their subsequent outcomes?

Kali: Yes, a number of academics are evaluating their projects and one is plannning to compare in-world and out-of-world simulation. Some of these are through a University scheme, Caledonian Scholars.

Lowell: What’s your take on nursing research in virtual environments internationally? Is it fair to say it’s still very early days?

Kali: Yes, there are a number of good projects. However, it is still in it’s infancy. Simulation seems to be the most popular project.

Lowell: Is there any research completed or underway that has particularly interested you?

Kali: Many projects have impressed me. For example the work of John Miller at Tacoma, the Imperial College in London and the Ann Myers Medical Center. However, any project which is being used by students impresses me. With regards to research most are evaluations, however, my own university has just completed some research into student nurses’ clinical decision making (Dr. Jacqueline McCallum, Val Ness, Theresa Price, Andy Whiteford).

Lowell: Can you discuss what it’s found?

Kali: It’s still in publication, however a lot of what the students said was that they wanted to experience areas they had not been to, and that they also found the scenario exhausting. Interestingly, they did not do a single observation in an hours sceanrio in a busy surgical ward. They also did not know what to do with a patient who was demented and kept leaving the ward. I think they were too busy thinking what to do next, this was despite being prompted to do observations.

Lowell: You raise a very interesting point – perhaps virtual environments make a more natural stage for making errors as there isn’t the stress of the educator looking over their shoulder?

Kali: Maybe, although this sceanrio had educators involved. Although that is the beauty of simulation – make mistakes and no-one dies 😉

Lowell: For the nurse who has been working in either a hospital or community setting for five years or more, how do you make virtual environments like Second Life an appealing and logical extension of their professional development needs?

Kali: By making the scenarios authentic and as realistic as possible. Also they must be available at all times to ensure maximum flexibility. The student must see the value to be motivated to take part. If they are fun, then great.

Lowell: Do you think Second Life is at a stage of usability that it can achieve that now?

Kali: Not yet in the UK – it is still not widely know as a social tool. However, if it is introduced in education they may see more value, as it helps them to learn.

Lowell: On usability though – it’s still quite a learning curve to actually use, particularly for those not as net-savvy as others?

Kali: Well you could say that about any VLE, and it is really only arrows and clicking. Changing clothes is not mandatory for education. Well, not all education. I think most folks would get it in a short space of time with some guidance.

Lowell: Again specific to nursing, is there any great degree of collaboration going on internationally in regards to projects like these? How do you think nursing faculties could further improve collaboration?

Kali: We are exploring a couple of collaborations. I know Scott Deiner in New Zealand has collaborated with American colleges. However, there is the potential for major collaboration both nationally and internationally. Although you need to have a firm idea about what you want to collaborate on. Also there is still a little bit of folk finding their feet, so to share is still scary methinks.

Lowell: Do you think there’s the critical mass for organised collaborative structures such online journals or other formats for working together?

Kali: There could be, and the Virtual World Watch here has opened up avenues for collaboration by highlighting the people who are involved with virtual worlds, although there is a bit to go.

Lowell: So for a nursing academic looking to integrate virtual environments into their teaching or research, would you have any simple advice?

Kali: Make sure you think about what you want to use it for. Script the scenario and look around at other people’s work to find out what the virtual world is capable of. Also visit educational areas and talk to other academics or join a group. Make sure there is a strong pedagogical structure to your idea and show it to folks when you have something to show!! Seeing is believing.


To view the publicly accessible clinical skills laboratory in Second Life, go here.

The physical health impacts of virtual environments

razer-naga Over the past few days a product announcement and some interesting research have come together for me in illustrating some of the downsides of heavy regular use of virtual environments. I’m talking specifically about the physical impacts here: we’ve covered the psychological positives and negatives repeatedly (e.g. here and here). In regard to the psychological side, I’ve always believed the benefits and opportunities well outweigh the downsides, which is being recognised by professionals working in the area.

The research that caught my eye comes from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, as reported by MSNBC. The researchers tested the hypothesis that gamers tended to be more overweight and had poorer mental health than non-players. The results, after surveying 552 people in the Seattle area of the US, showed that the hypothesis was essentially correct. Looking at the overweight issue, most people may say “well gee there’s no surprise there”. The gamer stereotype is certainly one of the overweight male staying up at all hours whilst eating endless bags of potato chips. Like any stereotype there can be distorted echoes of reality and this research is doing just that. I doubt there’s anyone claiming that heavy gaming or virtual environment use is good for one’s physical health in respect to exercise and nutrition. Sure, consoles like the Wii are increasing the level of physical activity but the jury is well and truly out on whether it equates to other forms of desirable physical activity. This research was conducted in 2006 but only published now, with an admission it’s just a taste for further research needing to be done – its findings however do point to the challenges for gaming, and by association, virtual environments.

The product announcement that I saw not long after the research above was for an MMO-gaming mouse produced by Razer, called the Naga. Here’s Razer’s PR pitch for it:

It’s not unique in that there’s no shortage of multi-button gaming mouses. What struck me though was the twelve buttons on the left-hand side that are designed purely for thumb use. Knowing the pace of MMO gaming at times, it seems astounding to me that you’d put one thumb through the trauma of operating twelve buttons continuously. In the five minutes-plus of sales pitch above, you’ll hear the word ‘comfort’ a few times, but that’s it. You’ll also hear a couple of mentions of statements like “playing all day” as qualifications for the level of effort that went into producing the design.

Am I alone in thinking that no matter how good the device’s ergonomics are, relying on one digit to control twelve buttons is a recipe for disaster? Sure, the heavy use of a keyboard for the same activity isn’t ideal either, but usually the repetition is spread around a few more digits if keyboard shortcuts are being used. Of course, gaming is different to broader virtual world use, but in proportion the same issues remain.

My point overall? Virtual environments are really no different to the real world in respects of the need to engage in physical activity. The ever improving development of new interface options may assist, but the reality in the short to medium term is that plenty of real world concentration on nutrition and exercise is needed. The three people I know best who are involved in virtual environments 8-16 hours a day all own pets and tend to have an exercise schedule. Do you?

Interview – Prof. Young Choi and Dr. Thomas Furness, HIT Lab Australia

hit_lab3 In 2008, with not a lot of fanfare, the Human Interface Technology Laboratory Australia (HIT Lab) was created. Part of the University of Tasmania (UTAS), its brief is to be a specialist human interface technology teaching and research centre.

Headed in an interim capacity by Professor Young Ju Choi with significant involvement by veteran virtual reality researcher Tom Furness, HIT Lab has an ambitious brief that could position it as one of Australia’s virtual reality engine rooms. I took the opportunity to catch up with Prof. Young Choi and Dr Furness, who compiled the answers collaboratively, to discuss what’s likely to be a hectic future.

TMJ: Can you give a potted history of how HIT Lab got its Australian iteration?

HIT Lab: Attracting Australia’s first HIT Lab to UTAS Launceston was a case of serendipitous alignment of vision and aspiration with a visit to Tasmania in 2006 by Tom Furness – as a keynote speaker at an international conference in Hobart, organised by Professor Young Choi. By way of background, HIT Lab US at the University of Washington was established by Tom in 1989 followed by HIT Lab NZ in 2002 at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

In recent years UTAS has been considering strategic directions and initiatives for the Launceston campus. As part of this exercise Professor Choi was investigating opportunities for cutting-edge, world-class technology for a potential world-leadership, niche technology development. The current UTAS Vice-Chancellor, Professor Daryl Le Grew, was previously VC at the University of Canterbury when HIT Lab NZ was established. He encouraged Professor Choi to have a conversation with Professor Furness during the 2006 conference, and the HIT Lab Australia initiative developed from there.

TMJ: Structurally, how closely do each of the HIT Labs liaise?

HIT Lab: HIT Lab Australia and UTAS (and HIT Lab NZ and University of Canterbury) each have a formal Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the University of Washington and HIT Lab US, which establishes, among other things, a framework for collaboration and cooperation in research, teaching and other endeavours.

The Australian and NZ HIT Lab’s are also establishing an MOA to formalise and strengthen their relationship. Professors Furness and Mark Billinghurst (Director of HIT Lab NZ) are also Adjunct Professors of HIT Lab Australia and have contributed to a number of activities including curriculum development and teaching.

TMJ: A key aspect of the research and learning components at HIT Lab is collaboration across many disciplines, from Architecture to Nursing. How do you envisage this will be managed and do you have buy-in from each of the faculties at present?

HIT Lab: From the outset HIT Lab Australia was established as a trans-disciplinary strategic development of UTAS. The location at the Launceston campus was determined on the basis of plans to develop collaboration in teaching and research across many of the Launceston campus academic schools including Architecture and Design, Nursing and Midwifery, the Australian Maritime College, Visual and Performing Arts, Education and the School of Computing and Information Systems.

HIT Lab Australia has an academic planning and development group to identify and plan cross-disciplinary developments in teaching, research and commercial projects. The group includes the heads of a number of academic schools mentioned above.

A pleasing development for the HIT Lab Australia has been the interest shown in undergraduate HIT units in the summer school and first semesters by students from a range of schools. The units have attracted student enrolments from many schools/courses including Architecture and Design, Contemporary Arts, Arts/Social Science, Education, and Business as well as Computing and Information Systems.

TMJ: What are the key research priorities for HIT Lab in the short and medium term?

HIT Lab: An announcement will be made shortly on the inaugural appointment of Director of the HIT Lab Australia. The Director will commence duties later in the year and will be instrumental in establishing research directions, strategy and priorities. Having said that elements of the research strategy will include:

• a focus on creative design, visualisation, simulation and interactive entertainment

• application of cutting-edge visualisation, immersive virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies to underpin collaborative training & education, research & development programs and commercial development by linking key disciplines and centres in the Launceston Campus

• building international collaboration in research through our partnership with the world-renowned HIT Lab US, University of Washington and the HIT Lab NZ, University of Canterbury, as well as in China, Korea and elsewhere

• research and commercial projects that will help to fulfil the objectives for HIT Lab Australia to develop as an economic engine for Tasmania and Australia

TMJ: Are there significant human interface milestones that excite you in the short and medium term?

HIT Lab: The key driver behind the research agenda of the HIT Lab Australia will be the solution of challenging problems that confront the nation and the world. We just don’t want to work on technology because we can – we want to solve real problems. To this end we will start in Tasmania and Australia then branch out to the world, especially the third world. As for short term milestones, we definitely want to develop new and more efficient ways of generating 3D content for education, training, medicine and entertainment applications. This plays well with the interdisciplinary partners in the venture. In the longer term we would like to spin off several companies that build and market interface appliances that solve the problems above.

TMJ: What are your thoughts on human interface products already commercialised?

HIT Lab: We are just at the beginning of a new era of developing interfaces that deeply couple humans to machine – in an attempt to amplify or augment human capability. New products will follow this theme of looking at the deeper physiological and emotional aspects of design interfaces. In the end, we want to build the ‘Nextant’, or the next sextant, that lets us use our mind for navigating in virtual spaces much like the sextant allowed early navigators to use their eyes and the stars to navigate in physical space.

TMJ: What do you see as the key measures of success for a good human interface for virtual worlds?

HIT Lab: In general, good interfaces should be seamless and transparent. That is, they shouldn’t get in the way. Interfaces and the tools that they link to humans are only a means to an end. It is the end, or application, that is most important – what is it supposed to do, versus what is it! The ideal interface would be one that is so intuitive, that the user doesn’t have to learn anything new to operate it, while at the same time performing tasks that were impossible before, or at least with more efficiency than before.

TMJ: Aside from the neurological / physiological aspects of such interfaces, what do you believe are the key psychological and/or sociological challenges of developing human interfaces with virtual worlds?

HIT Lab: Clearly the greatest challenge is understanding consciousness and how that maps to brain function. There is also a lot going on subconsciously where processing takes place in the background before being brought to the surface. Ideally we would build advanced interfaces that serve both levels, e.g. subliminal interfaces.

TMJ: Using nursing as an example, how do you see HIT Lab’s work making an impact in the next five years?

HIT Lab: One of the key issues in nursing is the time and quality of training it takes to produce a well-qualified nurse. As in other clinical practices, the key factor is practice, and opportunities for practicing on real patients is limited. Virtual humans can take the place of real humans in training and thereby provide a more rich, diverse and intensive training experience for nurses. We want to work with the School of Nursing to develop a suite of training devices that can not only be used for task training but also provide visualisation of processes normally not seen, e.g. how contamination spreads by viewing virtual bacteria or how a drug or injection infuses the body, etc.

TMJ: Immersiveness is something heavily sought after in virtual worlds – is that a key goal of HIT Lab’s work or a secondary objective?

HIT Lab: Presence or the sense of ‘being there’ is clearly one of the more powerful attributes of immersive virtual reality. The feeling of being in a place provides vital hooks to memory, or the ability to retain things that are experienced. In general, a person immersed in a virtual world never forgets it. So in answer to the question, yes, this is a key goal. But the key goal is solving real world problems, even if immersion is not necessary.

TMJ: What are HIT Lab’s markers of success – are there objectives required to be met for ongoing funding etc?

HIT Lab: HIT Lab Australia has been established as a strategic initiative of the University of Tasmania with seed funding to establish the staffing profile, teaching and research staff profile, curriculum development and research program. A condition of this funding has been the development of a business plan which was approved by UTAS earlier this year.

The business plan covers the first five years of operation and establishes a number of key targets and milestones including undergraduate, postgraduate and research higher degree enrolments for domestic and international students. There are also targets for course development, research and commercial project outcomes and so on. Progress towards objectives will be monitored progressively.

HIT Lab Australia has the strong support from the UTAS Vice-Chancellor and Senior Executive as well as from senior academics from a number of allied schools and faculties. Interest from enrolled students, prospective students, colleges and schools, business and industry has been tremendously encouraging and point to long term success of this exciting initiative for UTAS and its Launceston campus.

TMJ: How do you view the virtual worlds sphere locally – are there any developments outside of HIT Lab that interest/excite you?

HIT Lab: The Launceston Campus of UTAS is a great place to begin the HIT Lab since it has not only the Nursing School and Australian Maritime College but also the design element in Architecture and Visual and Performing arts to name a few. The confluence of these disciplines and activities can be enriched by the catalyst and technologies provided by the HIT Lab AU. In the end, we would hope to involve existing local companies as well as develop new start-ups that we spinoff from the HIT Lab and UTAS. Within Australasia, the USA and Europe there are a number of links (beyond the HIT Labs) that we would like to establish involving projects and student exchanges etc.

TMJ: How important is some form of agreement on virtual world interoperability to HIT Lab’s work?

HIT Lab: There will be a time when standards for interface appliances supporting virtual worlds will need to be developed -but not too soon, as these will tend to restrict or constrain the progress of this remarkable technology. This is true especially as new functionality is developed along with growth in supporting technology. For example, we don’t want to be constrained by 8 bit byte standard when in the longer term we will need 128 bits per byte or more to grow the technology. Although standardisation can help interoperability, it can limit the vitality of a technology. Instead of standards, what would be useful is guidelines to give investigators and developers a feeling for best practices and what needs to be considered in the design and human factors engineering of virtual interfaces. Such a foundational understanding would then grow as the science and technology grow. The HIT Lab Australia, along with sister labs in the US and NZ will be the world’s repository for these best practices and guidelines.


A big thanks to Chris Carstens for his help in coordinating the interview responses. Below you can find more detailed biographies:

Professor Young Ju Choi

ychoi2Born in Kwangju, Korea, and Australian by naturalisation, Professor Young Choi was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide.

Professor Choi has worked as a Computer Science academic in Australian higher education since his initial appointment at the University of Adelaide. Before coming to Tasmania he was Head of Computer Science and Deputy Dean, Faculty of Mathematical Sciences at Flinders University, Adelaide.

He was subsequently appointed as the Foundation Head of School of Computing at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and served in this role for nearly twenty years. He has published widely in areas including concurrent and distributed computing, multimedia and internet technologies, and eLearning technologies.

He is recognised internationally for his work in international education, especially in China and Korea, including Chair of the Academic Advisory Committee; International Education Network, China; Asia Pacific Digital Multimedia Education Network member; and the ACHEM Computing Curriculum Board, Malaysia.

Professor Choi is currently Interim Director of the Human Interface Technology (HIT) Lab Australia at the University of Tasmania which is linked to the world-renowned HIT Lab US at the University of Washington, Seattle, USA.

Dr. Thomas Furness

furness Prof. Furness is a pioneer in human interface technology and virtual reality. He received the BS degree in Electrical Engineering from Duke University and the Ph.D. in Engineering and Applied Science from the University of Southampton, England. Dr. Furness is currently a professor of Industrial Engineering with adjunct professorships in Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Human Centered Design and Engineering at the University of Washington. He is the founder of the Human Interface Technology Laboratory (HIT Lab) at UW and founder and international director of the HIT Lab NZ at the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ and the HIT Lab Australia at the University of Tasmania, Launceston, Tasmania. He is also an Erskine Fellow and Adjunct Professor at the University of Canterbury and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Tasmania.

Prior to joining the faculty at the University, Prof. Furness served a combined 23 years as an U.S. Air Force officer and civilian at the Armstrong Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he developed advanced cockpits and virtual interfaces for the Department of Defense. He is the author of the Super Cockpit program and served as the Chief of Visual Display Systems and Super Cockpit Director until he joined the University of Washington in 1989.

Dr. Furness lectures widely and has appeared in many national and international network and syndicated television science and technology documentaries and news programs. He is the inventor of the personal eyewear display, the virtual retinal display, the HALO display and holds 15 patents in advanced sensor, display and interface technologies. With his colleagues Dr. Furness has started 24 companies, two of which are traded on NASDAQ at a market capitalization of > $ 2 B. In 1998 he received the Discover Award for his invention of the virtual retinal display.

Companies and 3D Virtual Worlds: one detailed analysis

stavros There’s an ever-growing pile of books on virtual worlds available, ranging from tour guides to detailed ethnography.

One publication that slipped under the radar for me at least (it was published in May 2008) is Companies and Virtual 3D Worlds – Analysis of Business Model at the Example of Second Life. Written by Stavros Pechlivanidis, a Managing Consultant and IT Specialist for IBM Global Services, this book is actually a Masters Thesis for Pechlivanidis’ MBA studies, and it shows. I mean that in a positive way, in that it’s apparent a lot of research has gone into the final product. That said, this isn’t a book for the faint hearted and is probably only suited to people working in business who are taking an in-depth look at the applicability of virtual worlds for their enterprise. Publisher VDM Verlag kindly provided me a review copy, so read on for my thoughts below.

What has impressed me with this book is the strategic view it takes. There’s plenty of information on the macro environmental factors impacting virtual worlds (political, social, economic and technological), including some great evaluation of these factors:

Other aspects covered include virtual world industry segmentation and their individual success factor, and a business model overview for virtual worlds. This leads directly into the guts of the thesis: analysing the different business models within Second Life. Everything from Anshe Chung to currency exchanges are examined in the context of the research literature on business models more broadly. Three broad categories are cited: C-Business (creative business models), I-Business (interconnectedness between real world and virtual world or between different virtual worlds as a way of doing business) and V-Business (virtual business occurring solely in a virtual world). It provides Pechlivanidis a springboard from which to analyse the strategic opportunities for business across all three spheres.

Overall, this is an extremely comprehensive book that is aimed squarely at business. It’s breadth and rigour make it a desirable reference source as business shows more interest in virtual worlds. It stands out for its provision of new information rather than just summarising information found elsewhere, which isn’t unexpected given its academic underpinnings.

You can buy the book from our bookstore by clicking here or if you’d prefer we not get a (very small) cut, the direct Amazon link is here.

Sexual expression in virtual worlds – is normalcy achievable?

From our sister site, Metaverse Health:

For many, the Christmas / New Year period is a time when there’s more regular social contact with people. It’s certainly been the case for me and it’s emphasised a well known virtual world conundrum – personal boundaries. Over the past month I’ve had the occasion to discuss virtual worlds with a handful of people who have no experience with them at all. In each case, the issue of virtual sex would arise – no surprise there. What did surprise me in its regularity in being raised, was the belief that real-world personal boundaries shouldn’t apply in virtual worlds.

One friend, who’s got a postgraduate education, said to me “if you can’t get immediate and free sex in Second Life, why would you bother?”


It’s not an uncommon opinion by any means. It actually sits on the opposite end of the continuum from “virtual sex is wrong / funny / worthy of ridicule”. In the middle is a limited amount of work being done by health professionals and educators on promoting sexual health, particularly in Second Life. Until there’s further work done in the area of establishing the ‘normalcy’ of sexual expression online (with the usual caveats around unacceptable behaviour / child pornography / extreme sexual violence etc), opinions like my friend’s will continue to hold sway. Some would argue that’s not necessarily a bad thing, and there’s still not enough evidence to determine whether acceptable online sexual expression if harmful, beneficial or both.

There’s obviously some appeal in a different set of personal boundaries, it’s just defining the groundwork for alternate approaches that’s challenging.

NZ: Literature review on virtual worlds

The dynamos at SLENZ have published a literature review titled Engaging with Second Life: Real Education in a Virtual World.

Written by Ben Salt, Clare Atkins and Leigh Blackall, it provides a superb overview of research undertaken to date and covers a wide range of education-related topics including learning design in Second Life, applying behavioural and cognitive theories and the science applications of virtual worlds.

If you’re an educator or someone just interested in the academic underpinnings or work being done in Second Life, this is a more than worthwhile read.

Gender and virtual worlds: new research

Dmitri Williams from the University of Southern California has completed some research in conjunction with Mia Consalvo (Ohio University), Scott Caplan (University of Delaware) and Nick Yee (Stanford University). The title of the research is Looking for gender (LFG): Gender roles and behaviors among online gamers. The research employed a range of survey tools as well as some key health measures like Body Mass Index – the rigour in approach is certainly there.

Some standout points from the research (some aspects are direct findings, others are cited findings in reviewing the literature for the research):

  • The average player in the study had more than six alternate characters
  • Males were more focused on achievement as a reason for gaming
  • Female players tend to play more for social reasons and now comprise 40% of all gamers
  • Female players played the most and were the most healthy
  • There’s a lot more in the findings than the points above, but some of them alone challenge some significant stereotypes aimed at online gamers. There are obvious ramifications of research like this that turns common stereotypes on their head.

    Download the full paper here in MS Word format.

    Journal of Virtual Worlds Research – second issue

    The latest issue of the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research has been released and this time consumer behaviour is the focus.

    There’s eight research papers, of which five are peer-reviewed, plus there’s six ‘think pieces’ on related topics.

    The full contents:

    Peer Reviewed Research Papers

    Consuming Code: Use-Value, Exchange-Value, and the Role of Virtual Goods in Second Life (Jennifer Martin)
    Virtual World Affordances: Enhancing Brand Value (So Ra Park, Fiona Fui-Hoon Nah, David DeWester, Brenda Eschenbrenner, Sunran Jeon)
    On the Relationship between My Avatar and Myself (Paul R Messinger, Xin Ge, Eleni Stroulia, Kelly Lyons, Kristen Smirnov, Michael Bone)
    The Social Construction of Virtual Reality and the Stigmatized Identity of the Newbie (Robert E. Boostrom, Jr.)
    The “New” Virtual Consumer: Exploring the Experiences of New Users (Lyle R Wetsch)

    Research Papers

    Ugly Duckling by Day, Super Model by Night: The Influence of Body Image on the Use of Virtual Worlds (Enrique Becerra, Mary Ann Stutts)
    Symbolic and Experiential Consumption of Body in Virtual Worlds: from (Dis)Embodiment to Symembodiment (Handan Vicdan, Ebru Ulusoy)
    Demographics of Virtual Worlds (Jeremiah Spence)

    “Think pieces”

    Surveillance, Consumers, and Virtual Worlds (Douglas R Dechow)
    Second Life and Hyperreality (Michel Maffesoli)
    Having But Not Holding: Consumerism & Commodification in Second Life (Lori Landay)
    Metaverse: A New Dimension? (Yohan Launay, Nicolas Mas)
    Virtual Worlds Research: Global X Local Agendas (Gilson Schwartz)
    Real Virtual Worlds SOS (State of Standards) Q3-2008 (Yesha Sivan)

    There’s some serious reading time in it all and if virtual goods, branding, avatar identification, new user experience or demographics are of interest, this is one must-read issue from a journal hitting the ground well and truly running. Well researched quantitative and qualitative studies will be key as virtual worlds expand in scope and popularity – this Journal deserves kudos as one of the pioneers of empirical observation of virtual worlds.

    Journalism in Second life: research underway

    In the past week i had the pleasure of spending an hour with Annabelle Boyd Jones, an Honours research student from the Department of Media and Communications at the University of Sydney.

    Her research is on the role of journalism and governance in Second Life. To my knowledge this is an unexplored research area and should provide for some fascinating results. I’m pleased to have been what will hopefully be one of many research subjects. The Fourth Estate role of journalism in virtual worlds is at an early but influential stage. Research like Annabelle’s will help to encapsulate the progress so far and the challenges to come.

    Kudos to the University of Sydney in driving communications research in arenas like virtual worlds.

    If you’d like to put your view forward on this topic, head to Annabelle’s blog.

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