MUVE Research – VLENZ Update, No 173, June 08, 2010

1. ‘Turning’ boys into girls, virtually speaking

Transferring body ownership

to  your virtual avatar …

The real Avatar: body transfer turns men into girls – video 85429678001 – life – 13 May 2010 – New Scientist.

Second Lifers or World of Warcrafters, who have become fully immersed in those environments,  would be unlikely to doubt  that one’s sense of self can be highly malleable and that they can easily believe – for  moments at the very least  if not hours – that their avatar, no matter how different in gender, species or age,  is “really” them.

But people, who have  not experienced MUVE immersibility either in a virtual world like Second Life, or a MMORPG  such as World of Warcraft,  might  be very sceptical about the possibility.

However,  researchers at the University of Barcelona, according to the New Scientist, have now shown that, facilitated by a  “young girl body image” view with virtual-reality headset and some brief arm-stroking, men in their mid-20s can react as if the “avatar” body is their own. They feel that way even when they subsequently move outside the girl’s perspective and watch her being attacked.

Professor Mel Slater, who led the team that carried out the experiment,  told  Wendy Zukerman, of the New Scientist, “This is the first experiment to show that body ownership can be transferred to an entirely virtual body.”

Mel Slater

The finding, Zukerman said,  highlighted how far one’s sense of self and body image could be manipulated, and could lead to therapies for conditions of body-image distortion such as anorexia and might be applied to entertainment – to make video games more immersive, for example –and also to psychology.

On average, the men in the experiment reported medium-strength feelings about the girl’s body being their own, and strong feelings that the woman was touching their body: the researchers recorded physical responses such as increased heart rate when the avatar, they were later viewing as a third person, was slapped.

The experiment demonstrated the strong connection the volunteers felt to their new, virtual bodies,  Slater told Zukerman, suggesting that the familiarity of looking down and seeing one’s own body “is so overwhelming” that even dramatic changes in body won’t override the influence of vision.

Slater’s principal areas of research are  in helping to find out what makes virtual reality work for people – in the sense that they can engage with one another in virtual environments, and also interact with virtual characters. His research, the study of ‘presence’ in virtual environments, is also explored in the context of psychotherapy for social phobia and other related applications.

2. Learning to control your nightmares the vid-gaming way

Nightmares - can you control them?

Video “gaming serves some of the same society functions in today’s world as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures” through meditation-like absorption, according to  Professor Jayne Gackenbach,  of Grant MacEwan University, Edmonton, Canada, and Professor Harry T. Hunt, of  Brock University, St Catherines, Canada, in a paper  on “Video Game Play and Lucid Dreaming as Socially Constructed Meditative Absorption”, presented  at the Science of Consciousness Conference.

Gackenbach,  a  psychologist with the Department of Psychology at Grant MacEwan,  who has focused her research  on the effects of technology, especially video game play, on consciousness, believes video gamers learn through gaming to have more lucid dreams than non-gamers, to control  their dreams and nightmares and dull the stresses of real life.

Her research, which  suggests gamers suffer fewer nightmares and are more likely to turn their nightmares into fun, video-game-like challenges, could aid those who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, of which nightmares are a common symptom.

Jayne Gackenbach

Noting in their paper that research has shown that video game players report more lucid dreams than those who rarely game,  Gackenbach and Hunt said, “… gaming serves some of the same societal function in today’s youth as explicit mythological systems have in indigenous cultures … these states experienced in gaming are a spontaneous re-engagement with that level of collectivity from a place of our individual conscious isolation in highly differentiated and pluralistic modern culture.

“… It appears that gaming adds a dimension to the lucid dreams of gamers such that their full potential for focused problem solving is expressed very much like the strategies of video gaming. The enhanced bizarreness of lucid-gamer associated dreams may also serve as a trigger for the emergence of their increased lucidity. The exotic-mythic element of the lucid bizarre dreams of gamers (Gackenbach et al, in press) is similar to previous research on the archetypal content in dreams (Hunt, 1989).”

By comparing the lucid versus non-lucid dreams of gamers, Gackenbach and Hunt concluded that lucidity in gamer’s dreams emphasised the already generally positive dream experience of being lucid in sleep, including the enhanced aggression which facilitated the sense of empowerment also typical in video-game playing. Not only is there more lucidity in gamer’s dreams, but that lucidity seems to be further enhanced by the gaming experience.

“To be absorbed in consciousness, be it in lucid dreams, intense fantasy or meditation is also to be absorbed in the social field more deeply than is available in ordinary consciousness,” they argued. “Since consciousness itself is collective already, and the high absorber is entering the level provided in traditional times by externalised ritual and myth, gaming offers those in contemporary western individualistic society much the same function.

“Specifically it is an externalised absorptive consciousness with provided patterns that are accordingly socially structured, simultaneously shared, and so offering some of the support of tribal societies, which individual high absorbers in the west have lost in their only ostensibly “private” lucid dreams and meditations,” they said.

Gackenbach’s research and views on dreaming,  which  she presented recently at two gaming conferences, Games for Health and Canadian Game Studies, have gone viral on the net with good reason. They are an important adjunct to explaining the ways MUVES – whether in video-gaming or virtual on-line environments – can work in changing both perceptions and  people’s lives and how they can be used.

Harry T. Hunt

Dreams and video games both represent alternate realities,she told LiveScience Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu, noting, however, that dreams arise biologically from the human mind, while video games are technologically driven by computers and gaming consoles.

“If you’re spending hours a day in a virtual reality, if nothing else it’s practice,” she said. “Gamers are used to controlling their game environments, so that can translate into dreams.”

On the question of mastering nightmares,  Gackenbach conducted a 2008 study with 35 males and 63 females, which found that gamers experienced less or even reversed threat simulation (in which the dreamer became the threatening presence), with fewer aggression dreams overall.

“What happens with gamers is that something inexplicable happens,” Gackenbach explained. “They don’t run away, they turn and fight back. They’re more aggressive than the norms.”

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The SLENZ Update – No 44, February 4, 2009

Strangers: off to the world

rollo-mike-fiona

UK-born Mike Baker (SL: Rollo Kohime),  a senior lecturer in the Degree in Arts and Media programme in the School of Arts and Media at Nelson-Marlborough Institute of Technology, Nelson, NZ-Aotearoa, has had papers on his Masters project accepted for three national and international conferences in February and June.

The papers will be delivered at intercreateSCANZ Symposium, at New Plymouth, in Taranaki, New Zealand, PSI15 Performance Studies International Conference, in Zagreb, Croatia, and the SDHS Society of Dance History Scholars: Topographies: Sites, Bodies, Technologies, at Stanford University, USA. He has  also been named to an international panel to deliver/discuss the paper of Isabel de Cavadas Valverde: Envisioning virtual cartographies for corporeal interaction: dance and performance convergent applications of Second Life 3D Metaverse social environment, at the SDHS Conference at Stanford.

Baker (pictured above with wife Fiona), who has danced and worked with: BodyCartography Project, (USA/NZ) Wilhemeena Gordon, (NZ) Nancy Stark-Smith, State-of-Flux Dance Co, (Melbourne, Australia) Martin Keogh (USA) jzamal Xanitha (USA) and Catherine Chappell – Touch Compass Dance Trust (NZ), is completing a Masters in Art and Design (majoring in dance and video) with AUT University,  Auckland.

His performance-based Masters project, “Company of Strangers – Negotiating Meetings, Exchanges and Conversations in Urban Spaces”, critically explores both in the real world and Second Life the forces of indeterminacy which he maintains are responsible for the dynamics which create the personna of the ‘stranger’ in encounters between people in urban spaces. He uses interventionist dance strategies to prompt and then interrogate the formation, nature and parameters of encounters in designated public places. The experimental movement frameworks employed are informed by the discipline of Contact Improvisation Dance. The working process is documented using a range of video narrative and internet blogs.

The Second Life portion of Baker’s dance project is based on the NMIT/SLENZ island of Koru. His blog is at: http://hoststranger.blogspot.com

Better SL viewer ahead?

On the face of it the churn rate of “newbies” entering Second Life is probably unacceptable in business terms but 15 percent of those trying out Second Life for the first time, deciding to “settle” in world, to my mind, is nothing to get discouraged about.

Given similar problems to those Second Life has had over the years many five-year-old – old hat? – businesses would be pleased with the on-going, steady retention rate. philip_rosedale

Linden Labs’ executives, Philip Rosedale and Mark Kingdon appear far from discouraged even though they would like to “triple that number,” according to an exclusive report by Ian Lamont, in The Industry Standard. (Story and transcripts http://www.thestandard.com/news/2009/01/30/exclusive-linden-lab-executives-plot-second-life-growth-interface-concerns-persist?page=0%2C0&source=nlt_daily)

Both Rosedale (pictured right) and Kingdon (pictured left) said in the Lamont interview that on-going, significant work to make the user interface less complex would have a huge impact on the retention rate of the virtual world.kingdon2

Singling out search, the user interface and new user orientation as needing major improvements, to up the on-going user retention rate, Rosedale told Lamont, “We need to collapse the orientation experience on learning the interface down to a 30-minute timeframe. We’re not there yet.”

Going on to describe the current interface as “overwhelming,” Rosedale said, “The basic UI of the software also needs to change. “It has too many pixels,” he said referring to the buttons, numbers, and other data presented to users on the screen. “They’re all kind of demanding your attention — your [Linden] dollar balance, your inventory window, all the buttons on the bottom bar, chat and text that are visible in the window, that’s asking something of you, blue pop-ups that are coming up.”

Rosedale said that Second Life had moved beyond an emerging application for technology-savvy users. “There is a lot more diversity in use, demographics and behavior in Second Life today than there was, say, at the end of 2003,” he said.

Kingdon added. “There is a very compelling set of activities that virtual worlds are incredibly powerful for. They erase geographies, they allow for a type of interaction that you can’t get in the real world and they bring with them really interesting economic and business opportunities for users.”

Kingdon detailed localisation projects for countries in Europe, Asia, and South America, and cited in-world training and remote meetings as compelling activities for companies. Both he and Rosedale portrayed Second Life as a competitor to enterprise video conferencing, which they believe is unable to match Second Life’s ability to make people feel comfortable interacting with other remote users.

VW education/meetings do work

lbj_close_talker

On Mark Kingdon’s case (above) for the benefits of holding real world meetings in virtual worlds Metaverse developer Caleb Booker has provided a compelling argument for the use of virtual worlds like Second Life for real world education environments and meeting spaces.( http://www.calebbooker.com/blog/2009/01/27/roi-in-virtual-worlds-1-why-webcams-fail/)

I have to agree with Wagner Au  in New World Notes (http://nwn.blogs.com/) that up until now, “the notion that the professional world should prefer meeting in the metaverse over speakerphones or web cams or other technologies seemed roughly crazy.”

He based this on the assumption that  in-world meetings put on by companies like IBM and Microsoft “were mostly limited to the early adopters already familiar with Second Life.”

However, Au goes on to say, that Booker lays out his reasoning lucidly for why the professional world should change its view through comparing being “close” to  people in an avatar sense to getting the “close-talker” feeling of  being trapped counting the other speaker’s nostril hairs, as in the Lyndon Baines Johnson picture above or a la webcam, and not being able to look away.

Suffice to say, Caleb argues cogently that Virtual space experiences work better than a webcam experience because one can maintain some “personal space”;  whatever learning mode one is in, chances are one will do fine;  and the experience fills one’s field of vision far more readily.

Read Caleb’s article: its one of the best expositions on just why education as opposed to other forms of elearning WILL work in Second Life and other virtual worlds.

Kermit for the third time..

intellagirltully

My final word on the saga of  the believability of Kermit. Intellagirl Tully (real life Sarah Robbins) is recognised as one of the foremost researchers/educators operating in Virtual Worlds. She probably has thought more about academic identity in a non-academic world than most other people. I’m indebted to a SLED list poster for pointing me to her “enjoyable and insightful” piece for the SLCC Education Workshop in 2006 titled, ” ‘Image Slippage’: Navigating the Dichotomies of an Academic Identity in a Non-Academic Virtual World.” You can read it at: http://secondlife.intellagirl.com/SLCC-Robbins.doc

Is the writing on the SL wall?

blumenthal

The on-going debate inside the walls of Linden Lab and among Second Life educators and others on the benefits or not of merging the carefully policed, but poorly-patronised Teen Grid with the well-patronised adult grid, has been brought into sharper focus by MySpace’s decision to remove the profiles of about 90,000 US-registered sex offenders.

The question is not whether Second Life can survive the addition of a teenage group of possible hell-raisers (grin) but whether it can survive the imposition of more stringent controls such as proof of age, identity, location and possible background checks being placed on the general population of Second Life, things which may be required by some US regulators to ensure the safety of the teens.

Personally I’m not a proponent of the Nanny State and think this would be a step too far. I have enjoyed, for better or worse, the “anything goes, frontier” feel of Second Life – even the griefers – for the past four years and hope to continue to be surprised and astounded by the activities/art/works of my fellow residents for years to come, no matter what their real life backgrounds.

Proof of age is currently not mandatory within Second Life and is required only for specific “adult” areas – I’ve only come across one proof-of-age-barred area over many hours of exploration – but given the general in-world penchant for privacy I don’t think the introduction of mandatory proof-of-age on the general grid would be a good thing.

[Interestingly the Linden Lab ban on casinos and sexual age-play among adults has, as predicted, reportedly only served to drive these activities underground.]

The thoughts on this issue were sparked by comments made by Connecticut Attorney-General Richard Blumenthal (pictured above at an unrelated occasion, but appropriate-looking “friend”) who initiated the release of the MySpace figures which were almost double the number that News Corporation-owned MySpace officials originally announced last year. (http://preview.tinyurl.com/c62qqs)

Blumenthal said the “shocking revelation” backed up his campaign to ensure that social networking sites should be barred as “playgrounds for predators”. “

Almost 100,000 convicted sex offenders mixing with children on MySpace is absolutely appalling and totally unacceptable,” he said. “For every one of them, there may be hundreds of others using false names and ages.”

Blumenthal said the new data unmasked what he called MySpace’s “monstrously inadequate counter-measures” and noted he would continue “to fight for reforms and safeguards at MySpace and other social networking sites to protect children, including age and identification verification.

“I urge MySpace and the social networking industry to end their resistance to age and identify verification,” he said.

One wonders how long it will be before he and his fellow travelers look at virtual worlds, now that social networking and virtual worlds are coming together.