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The metaphors of virtual worlds: How people make sense of a virtual world via the physical world.
 

The metaphors of virtual worlds: How people make sense of a virtual world via the physical world.

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How do people make sense of a novel situation, such as engaging with a media product you've never used before? If that media product is a virtual world, then it appears people will make a bridge ...

How do people make sense of a novel situation, such as engaging with a media product you've never used before? If that media product is a virtual world, then it appears people will make a bridge between the virtual and the physical -- by using metaphors to compare their experiences in the virtual world to those from the physical world.

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    The metaphors of virtual worlds: How people make sense of a virtual world via the physical world. The metaphors of virtual worlds: How people make sense of a virtual world via the physical world. Document Transcript

    • In order to understand what to do with virtual worlds, we have to understand how peopleuse them. In order to understand how people use virtual worlds, we have to understandhow they make sense of them. And what I want to talk about today is the idea that inorder to better understand how to create virtual worlds people will be more likely to wantto use, we have to understand a specific type of sense-making they do when they engagewith them. This specific type of sense-making revolves around metaphors. [30 seconds] 1
    • Virtual worlds are media products intended to replicate, reproduce and represent aspectsof the physical world, physical people, and the activities people do in the world. There area great expanse of virtual worlds currently operating over the Internet. Some are designedprimarily to be places of play. Others are designed primarily to be user-generated spaces ofsocializing. For this study, I looked at one of each of these two types: City of Heroes, amassively multiplayer online role-playing game; and Second Life, a user-generated socialworld. [30 seconds] 2
    • This study was part of the multi-study, three year project housed at Roskilde University inDenmark. Using an experimental framework, 14 people with relatively little experiencewith virtual worlds engaged with the two worlds mentioned, as well as a video game and amovie. During the experimental sessions, they were asked to talk aloud about theirexperiences. After engaging in all sessions, a comprehensive interview, designed withDervin’s Sense-Making Methodology, asked them to go in-depth into their experiences, andhow they relate to each other, and to their lives outside of the experiment. [30 seconds] 3
    • It was during these comprehensive interviews that I noticed how often they would usemetaphors to describe their experiences with the virtual worlds. The analysis for this paperlead me to trace the use of metaphors for understanding sense-making as a cognitiveprocess to Lakoff & Johnson’s 1980 work “Metaphors We Live By”. From their trajectory ofresearch, we get the theorization of how metaphors are used in situations of learning andproblem-solving; that is, how metaphors are useful for sense-making the unfamiliar. This“metaphorizing” can then be theorized as part of the sense-making process people gothrough when involved in situations that are novel to them – such as for my participantsengaging with a media product with which they had little to no experience. [60 seconds] 4
    • The themes that emerged from the grounded coding all dealt with how the participantswere making interpretive links between the virtual world and the physical world. Thus,metaphors highlighted participants attempts to draw connections to the physical world tohelp them make sense of what they were doing, how they were doing it, and why theywere doing it the two virtual worlds. From this thematic analysis, the metaphors could becategorized into five types of comparisons between the virtual and the physical. [30seconds] 5
    • Danika compared the feeling and appearance of emptiness of Second Life to physical spacesand places that either are the opposite of such a feeling (a bazaar) or possibly representsthat sense of loneliness (a space ship). "I think [Second Life] was very empty. I mean,because compared to the bazaar metaphor, its kind of crowded and people are allhaggling, and, I mean, this is very bare and kind of barren. So it had the feeling of kind ofbeing on a space ship or something like that, I think." [30 seconds] 6
    • Morten compared the feeling of being unable to control his avatar in City of Heroes tobeing a toddler in the physical world. "So Im like, Im like walking like Im a toddler aroundin this world where people are trying to kill me. And Im just like I go, you know, verysimply moving around." [15 seconds] 7
    • Torben compared the feeling of uncertainty we can all appreciate: meeting new people atan academic convention to meeting people in Second Life. "Although Im thinking of apossible parallel could be being at a scholarly conference where you dont know anyoneand you have to chat people up and you walk up to people at the opening reception orwhatever." [30 seconds] 8
    • Morten compared the feeling of how you connect with people in Second Life to othertechnologies he felt are better for making those connections. "[Second Life] was like asocial network basically. Like where you were just walking around in a social network,instead of just, you know, moving around your mouse around Facebook or MySpace orTwitter or whatever they call it." [30 seconds] 9
    • Grette compared the feeling of how she had to perform quests in City of Heroes by findingclues to the detective genre she has become familiar with throughout her life. "[City ofHeroes] was kind of like a detective story, or something like that, where I had to solve acertain problem and there were clues along the way." [15 seconds] 10
    • Across these five categories, a total of 42 instances of unique metaphors from 28 situationswere coded and recorded for subsequent analyses. With just a basic frequency distribution, we can see that there were more metaphors used in discussing Second Life than City ofHeroes. This comparison helps us to see that, for these participants, engaging with SecondLife was perhaps a less familiar situation to them, thereby generating more metaphorizing,drawing in more from their physical world experiences to make sense of their virtual worldexperiences. [45 seconds] 11
    • From these 14 people, we see that they were using metaphors to describe, to themselvesand to me, how they experienced the new media product of these two virtual worlds. In asense, the metaphors were acting as a bridge; the participants were bringing into the newexperience what they knew from their lifetime of experience in the physical world via themetaphors. [30 seconds] 12
    • This bridging may have been spurred along by the idea that these media products aredeliberately attempting to replicate aspects of the physical world in how they are designed.Thus, to better design these worlds, we could use the metaphors people have to betterunderstand what metaphors are related to better experiences of engaging. Further in thispaper, I conduct such an analysis, linking metaphors to how they particularly helped orhindered the person’s experience with the virtual world. The implication is that if we aredesigning worlds for specific purposes, such as education, training, socializing, and gaming,then we need to measure for how people are metaphorizing their experiences during anybeta-testing or user-centered design. [45 seconds] 13