Presence is the Key to Virtuality

Virtual worlds extend human perception. Facebook certainly thinks so, because they just bought the Oculus Rift, one of the new headgear devices that are going to popularize virtual reality. There have been people talking about the impact of virtual worlds and virtual reality for a long time. For example, E. Carter and his colleagues discuss presence in virtual worlds in their article called Not Quite Human: What Virtual Characters Have Taught Us About Person Perception, one of the chapters in the Oxford Handbook of Virtuality that I said I was going to blog about.

If you want to know whether you have been successful in creating a virtual world, your clients will say, “I felt like I was there”. They are referring to feeling present in a virtual world.

After spending more time virtually, others might say “I felt like we were working there together”. Recently, when 2b3d Studios was building a virtual building shaped in the form of an airplane, one of our clients said “the ability to point to the wall and say I’d like that window moved down just a bit is like no other experience. You can do that in an email, or an edited design document, but standing in the building and pointing to the wall like this is incredible”. People who describe things this way are experiencing virtuality. They know what they’d like the 3D design to look like. Asking an avatar to pick up the window and move it down so they can compare it to the line of sight with the virtual furniture in the room is extraordinary.

Working together virtuality like this is called co-presence, and it is most felt when users spend several hours, days, even weeks together working in a virtual world. Once the avatar begins to work in a virtual world, they begin to need tools to do different things in the virtual world. They are, in essence, adapting to the environment, and using tools to express themselves and to collaborate. If the avatar could pick up the window themselves and move it down about six inches, that is liberating. Why asked the developer to do it, when you can do it yourself after the developer has set it in place for you. This is like web pages, and editing on the fly.

Avatars can change human behavior by working together in virtual environments – so they can impact the outcomes. Baileson and Blascovich talk about this a lot in their book Infinite Reality – a must and easy read.

Avatars can change their own behavior. When one avatar looks at another avatar talking, there is a chance their attention spans will increase. When one avatar moves when the other avatar moves, it is likely they can say, “you are following me, aren’t you”. If the avatar moves to the next piece of information or interactivity, there is almost a game like effect in place.

Following someone, and being there when they turn around is a great example of presence. When crowds move like this together, they are creating a sense of social presence. When you have social presence, you have relationships form, and collaboration happening. When collaborators know they can rely on someone being there, the environment becomes more trusting, and uses can influence each other.

Cognitive neuroscience and social perception studies are being used to design avatars, their gestures and their animations. Carter talks about that a lot. If you learn the techniques for perceiving each other’s behavior in virtual reality, you create a stronger sense of presence, copresence and social presence. When you achieve this gain, you can use virtual environments to enhance your physical world.

Imagine the potential.

You can create global, virtual offices, in which people come to work every day, moving their work place closer to their home place. Such an evolution could save a lot of fuel, save a lot of driving, and save a lot of wear and tear on your body. Imagine focusing on innovating in your company, rather than driving to work and driving away from it every day. Imagine stepping away from the virtual world for lunch and having lunch with your kids instead of other people who have been driving all morning to get to work.

Perhaps virtual worlds can increase the number of hours your workers are focused on innovating on your products or on your services. Virtuality is all about being there, and of course it’s about doing there, once you arrive. The sooner you get there, the more likely the sooner you’ll start getting thins done.

Next we’ll talk about how to get more active in a virtual world.

I know it works for 2b3d Studios.

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