Reviewing the Virtual Worlds Entertainment Study

These thoughts were produced at the end of my time on this project, in May of 2012, for the Virtual Worlds Research Group at Roskilde University. These thoughts involve my reflection on the project that I completed as part of the research group, and do not reflect the thoughts of anyone else involved with the project. Overview My primary interest in developing a virtual worlds entertainment … Continue reading Reviewing the Virtual Worlds Entertainment Study

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Ghost Whisperer’s Ghost in the Machine

This essay was originally posted as part of my work for the Virtual Worlds Research Group at Roskilde University. This essay reflects my interest in how pop culture represents new media technologies, such as virtual worlds, as part of the process whereby a society / culture comes to determine what will be the acceptable and thus normal use of such technologies. My reflection on this phenomenon in 2011 suggests the tensions that can occur during such a normalization process; in this case, the seeming fear of virtual worlds that exists in the world. This interest led to the creation of my course “New Media in Pop Culture” launched in January 2014, which I will write about further in this blog.

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Ghost Whisperer’s Ghost in the Machine: An example of pop cultural representation of virtual worlds

Since the fall of 2005, on Friday nights in the United States on CBS you can find the series Ghost Whisperer (NOTE: the series ended in 2010). The series is about a woman, Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), who can communicate with, and thus help, ghosts. In the third episode of the fourth season, “Ghost in the Machine” (originally aired October 17, 2008), the ghost emerges from a virtual world to draw her into a case about one of the oft-discussed threats of going digital: online predation.

In this episode, virtual worlds are both defined through conversation amongst characters and visual representation for those unfamiliar with these new-ish cyberterrains. However, the use of the virtual world, created for the show, is less to explore what these cyberterrains are and more to use them for a traditional morality tale on the dangers of talking to strangers.

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Metaphors for making sense of virtual worlds

The following paper comes from a presentation given at ECREA in 2010 and at NCA in 2011 (the version of which can be found here on the blog). I submitted this paper to a journal, but never did anything with it after it was rejected. I still think there are interesting ideas in the paper, so I wanted to share it here.

Metaphors for making sense of virtual worlds:

Utilization of comparison processes to interpret and communicate novel experiences

      1.1. Introduction

How do we make sense of the world around us? When faced with a situation that is new to us, what do we do to understand what is happening and what is required of us? Such questions have been with us for thousands of years, whether faced by individuals within such situations, or addressed by organized scientific, philosophic, cultural or other fields of thought. Coming from a trajectory of reception studies and audience studies, these situations can be any time a person chooses a new book to read, watches a new motion picture, starts a new video game, or enters a virtual world for the first time. In engaging in these activities, people bring into the situation any number or type of cognitive and emotive behaviours to help them through it. From expectations based on knowledge of the media product’s genre to information gleaned from word-of-mouth critiques, our experiences can help us make sense of the content and the technology with which we engage.

This article considers how people utilized their personal experiences to make sense of the first time they stepped into two specific virtual worlds. In an experiment for the Danish Virtual Worlds Research Project, relative novices engaged with four types of media products, including a game world, City of Heroes, and a social world, Second Life (Reinhard, 2010). The participants were interviewed about their experiences by utilizing Dervin’s Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) to inform the data collection and analysis. What emerged during the study were participants making comparisons between what they were doing and either what they had done or knew of to make sense of these new experiences. In other words, they were describing their experiences metaphorically: they were making comparative statements linking two entities based on some perceived similarity or dissimilarity. They were looking for overlaps between experiences in order to transfer knowledge and/or skills from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

This article begins with defining the nature of the virtual worlds and the conceptualization of sense-making. After an introduction of the methodology and method of data collection and analysis, the metaphors are presented for how they relate to specific sense-making instances: the questions people voiced, and how they felt helped or hindered in the media engaging experience. The analysis is then used to discuss the utility of metaphors as part of the sense-making process, and how the study of people’s metaphors could assist designers to create technology and content to better facilitate people’s experiences with virtual worlds.

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Avatars, Audiences and Interactive Television

This presentation was given at the 100th National Communication Association Conference in Chicago on November 21, 2014. This presentation reflects the work I have done with Pooky Amsterdam to understand the nature and potential of virtual world television as reported in the Journal of Virtual World Research. This presentation was awarded one of the Top Paper Awards for the Communication of the Future Division.

The current state of affairs brings what is “television” into question. Amongst the various layers of activity and discourse that surround it, “television” can, and perhaps should, be deconstructed into at least two primary components: the content it relays, “television-as-content,” versus the technical interface it is, “television-as-technology”. There may soon come a time when the idea of watching television does not involve the use of a television set. Instead, television content will be increasingly divorced from the medium for which it was developed: over-the-air broadcasting of audiovisual content. At that time, television-as-content will become another aspect of the Internet.

These challenges to what is “television” are also challenges to the traditional models of production, distribution, exhibition and consumption that have for so long defined it. These challenges are also implicated in the move toward higher interactivity. The traditional models are predicated on transmission and passivity, whereas the interactive models require dialogue and activity. Concepts and technologies like video on demand, time-shifting, and social television are all part of these challenges. This paper explores yet another, virtual world television or VWTV. With VWTV, we are seeing another possible location for the evolution of television.

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A Real Virtual Haunted House

If you have the time and the wherewithal to go into the virtual world Second Life for Halloween, then I have the place for you: the Haunted House in Halloween Town.  Now, I cannot take credit for finding this place.  Last week I took my digital communication technology students into the social virtual world for one of their assignments — and, they all found it fascinating!  But … Continue reading A Real Virtual Haunted House

Producers’ Retrospective: Flufee On A Meshion

How does a digital creation experience life as the star of virtual world television and machinima?  Well, here is Flufee, star of the series Flufee on a Meshion, as well as numerous other machinima encounters produced in Second Life.  He (she? does it matter?) is all to happy to tell you about his/her life as a digital star in this latest post for the Virtual Worlds Television blog: Producers’ Retrospective: … Continue reading Producers’ Retrospective: Flufee On A Meshion

VWTV Beyond Second Life: Pooky and Habbo Hotel

This week’s virtual world television focus is on Pooky Amsterdam’s formative experiences in the virtual world Habbo Hotel (or so it was called at the time).  Producing in that virtual world helped shape her thoughts on VWTV and become the producer in Second Life she is today. via VWTV Beyond Second Life: Pooky and Habbo Hotel. Continue reading VWTV Beyond Second Life: Pooky and Habbo Hotel