031708 Virtually Social Metanomics Transcript


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031708 Virtually Social Metanomics Transcript

  1. 1. NICK YEE VISITS METANOMICS - MARCH 17, 2008 ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Welcome, everyone, to this special edition of Metanomics, on this 4-sim Amphitheatre on CMP Isles one, two, three and four. Metanomics presents an interview or panel discussion on business and policy issues in virtual worlds every Monday at 11:00 A.M. Pacific time, Second Life time. But this a special edition as we’re also a part of the Life 2.0 Conference. So thanks to United Business Media’s Think Services Metaverse Group for letting Metanomics be part of Life 2.0. And, to those of you who are new to Second Life, coming in for the Life 2.0 Conference, welcome. As always, thanks to our sponsors of Metanomics: SAP, Cisco Systems, Generali Group, Saxo Bank, Kelley Services, Sun Microsystems and, of course, to my own institution Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management, for supporting me in this effort, and the Second Life Cable Network for filming and distributing these discussions with such fascinating people, like today’s guest, Nick Yee. Let me remind everyone that Metanomics has a Facebook group and Twitter account, both called Metanomics, as well as a web site, metanomics.net. We encourage you to join the Second Life group called Metanomics so you can join in, in the backchat during this event, although I should warn people that the backchat is having a little bit of problems today, the group chat is. So we’ll primarily be, I think, relying on local chat. So as you have questions, comments, reactions to what we’re saying, we love to know you’re alive out there so type away in the local chat. If you’re here on CMP, feel free to
  2. 2. instant message me if you’re hearing this from any one of our event partners. This event’s going on, on sims across Second Life, from Muse Isle to Colonia Nova, Rockliffe University and the Outreach Amphitheatre of the New Media Consortiums Educational Community sims. So let’s see. Let’s get started with our show. This winter season of Metanomics has been pretty heavy on game developers and executives and light on academics. We’ve had Robin Harper and John Zdanowski, VPs of Linden Lab; Robert Gehorsam, president of Forterra Systems; Michael Wilson, the CEO of There.com; Chris Klaus, CEO of Kaneva. The closest we’ve really gotten to academia has been David Wortley, director of the Serious Games Institute, and last week Richard Bartle, who’s best known as a game designer, but is currently a lecturer on game design in the UK. Well, today I am delighted to turn back more squarely toward academia and welcome Nick Yee, who got his Ph.D. from Stanford’s Department of Communication, and has been conducting peer-reviewed research on games, gamers and the more generically named virtual collaborative environments. Nick started grad school at Stanford in the fall of 2003 with the Department of Communication, and he has been working with Jeremy Bailenson conducting his largely experimental research with a touch of demography in there as well. He graduated in June of ’07 and is currently a research scientist at the Palo Alto Research Center, called PARC. So, Nick, welcome to Metanomics. NICK YEE: Thanks so much for inviting me, Rob.
  3. 3. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s really a pleasure to have you on. You’ve been incredibly productive for such a young guy, so I’m really looking forward to hearing what you’ve got to say. Now, my hope for this discussion is to cover two types of material. Obviously, I want to talk, as much as we can fit into an hour, about the specifics of your very prolific research endeavors, and so we’ll see what we can get done. But I also want to talk a little more generally about the outlook for virtual world research and researchers in academia. So if I could, I’d like to start just by asking you, what took you into academia and into a communications department in particular? NICK YEE: I guess I knew all this back in undergrad, because that was when I started doing online surveying research, and I started that because these two seniors a year ahead of me were looking at the personality differences among three different game genres, at first-person shooter games, real time strategy games and MMOs. And at that point, none of us had ever played an MMO so the Psych Department went out and got us a copy, and I was a lab techy, so I installed it. And we all tried the game, but I was the only one who liked it. And so that’s how my online game research started. I finished undergrad, I worked for a couple years in Chicago, and I was still doing the online survey on the side, so I said, “I’m still doing this; I might as well be doing it more full time.” So I started looking at grad schools. At that point one of the things I noticed was it was hard for me to study what I was interested in studying in psychology at that point because there was so still much a focus on the violence and aggression agenda. And I was much more interested in the culture of this space, and it was harder to justify that within traditional psychology. So I was starting to look
  4. 4. at HCI Group’s media studies departments, as well as communication departments, and so I applied to a couple places, and then Stanford was the one that really made the most sense at the end. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so right now is that where you would say--like if you’re an aspiring academic looking at Ph.D. programs in Virtual Worlds and gaming communication departments would be one of the first places to look? NICK YEE: I think it really depends on--apart from thinking about what themes and issues you’re interested in, it’s also important to think about what methodologies you’re comfortable with. So coming out of a pure psych background from undergrad, the only method I had was experimental paradigm, and I was getting a little tired of a pure experimental approach. And so getting into the [AUDIO GLITCH] program helped me look at survey methods and more qualitative techniques as well. So for people who are interested in this space, it’s also important to consider what methods you’re interested in. For example, for some people doing interviews and participant observation from an anthropology or sociology perspective may be better aligned with their own interests. One thing that wasn’t obvious to me at first when I was applying to grad school was that, apart from the thematic and issue alignment, it’s also really important to consider the methods alignment. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And you’ve been, I guess, primarily experimental with a healthy dose--well, I guess actually you’ve done experimental, you’ve done demographic where you’re really surveying representative populations in games, and then you’ve also been doing some of, I guess, what is often called qualitative research on the alliances in World of
  5. 5. Warcraft, where you’re interviewing and observing natural behaviors. So you pretty much seem to span many of the social science methodologies. NICK YEE: Yes. I think, for me, what was most interesting was looking at the same topic or issue from a variety of different perspectives, and what was most satisfying for me was--I was doing mostly survey work in the gaming space, and a lot of people would say, “Oh, but it’s all very biased. How do you know that you’re not just [AUDIO GLITCH] population”? But then I started doing work, for example, looking at more server-side data, like for example at PARC’s PlayOn Group, or doing more experimental designs. Really, that was always really satisfying, looking at the same issue from multiple angles and really coming up with a coherent story. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, you’re at PARC, Palo Alto Research Center now. Can you give us a sense of, I guess, what took you there from Stanford and what it’s like to be at a research organization that is not a purely academic research organization? NICK YEE: Yes. I started at PARC as a summer intern the summer of my second year in the Ph.D. program and really loved that work. And they said, “Would you like to stay after the summer”? And so I actually stayed with them part-time for the last two years of my Ph.D. program. So when I was finishing with the program, I was looking around for what makes sense for after the Ph.D. The thing that struck me was that I really wasn’t sure, but I wanted to keep my options open. So what I did was I said, “I’ll take the PARC job halftime. I’ll still continue some research on the side with my advisor, Jeremy, at Stanford, and I have another gig elsewhere.” But really just take the time to think about where I want to move
  6. 6. next. At PARC, the thing that was so fascinating was, when they started doing the PlayOn Group, when they started doing the census research of World of Warcraft, gathering pseudo server-side data of players from five different servers and really looking at the social dynamics of what factors predicted guilt survivability. I thought that was such fascinating research, with being able to, in a sense, make an end run around the game deliverer, not having to ask them for data directly, but being able to siphon that data out ourselves was really exciting. And so really one of the reasons that compelled me to stay there, I like working with the people that I work with. One of the things that’s good at PARC is that there are a variety of different projects, and so they really encourage you to spread out into new areas and to bring your expertise from past spaces into new areas. So it’s just really exciting. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: That’s great. So actually, we have a question from one of our audience members early on here, which is--as I mentioned before the show, Nick, we had Richard Bartle on here last week, and we’ll talk a little bit more about how your research relates to his player types. But the question here is, this comes from Fleep Tuque: Richard Bartle commented that he no longer--or rarely can enjoy playing games as a player because his experience as game designer causes him to see the game through that lens. How has your research changed your personal experience of game-playing? And if you do still play for fun, which games are you playing? NICK YEE: What was funny was, in my dissertation year, I actually managed to level in
  7. 7. World of Warcraft, I managed to level Draenei Shaman from level one to level 70 in my dissertation, year so I look back and I think that’s kind of funny. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Does your advisor know this? NICK YEE: He does, but he doesn’t play, so I don’t think he knows exactly what that entails. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: It’s all in the name of research. NICK YEE: Right. It really hasn’t affected my game-play in a negative way. I think the thing that’s really affected my game-play negatively is that there really hasn’t been much innovation in the MMO space. I think that, more than anything, has really dampened what I find in MMOs now or whether I’m willing to try out a new MMO. It wasn’t particularly the research that did it, I don’t think. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I have to say now the first part of your answer didn’t sound at all like Richard Bartle, but the second part sure did. And anyone who wants to check on metanomics.net, you can see the transcript or look at the SLCN video of Richard Bartle, who, I would say, shares your concern about the quality of new MMOs. But let’s turn now to your research. So when I pulled all my notes together, I realized that in preparing for this interview I had to read 14 research papers.
  8. 8. NICK YEE: I can’t believe you read them all. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, this is me. I guess I’m an achiever type or something, according to Richard Bartle. But anyway, so the way I see it we can organize your work into three different categories. There are the studies of how virtual environments affect the way we perceive ourselves and others; there’s the demographic work on who participates in games and why; and then there’s the work on social interactions in virtual worlds and, particularly, your research on guilds in World of Warcraft. And so what I want to do is start with that first category and, in particular, start talking about the Proteus Effect. Can you just tell us where this name comes from and what it means? NICK YEE: Sure. We labeled the effect the Proteus Effect from the Greek god Proteus, who was able to change his physical form at a whim. So there’s this passage where it talks about he’s changed from a tree into a lion and so forth, and we used the Proteus Effect label to talk about an effect that we had found in a series of experiments. We were looking at whether, and in what ways, the avatars that people use in virtual environments change the ways that they behave. And a lot of people who had been looking at computer-related communication had been looking at features of the environment, such as anonymity or the lack of social cues and so forth. But, for me, looking at online games in virtual worlds, I was real interested in the self-representation issue as a fundamental issue that one of the big things about being online is that you can literally change your height, your weight, your gender at a click of a button. You know, what does that mean when we have these flexible Protean bodies? And so that’s really what the effect labels. And so, in a nutshell, what we found was that the avatars that people choose have a huge impact on how they behave.
  9. 9. In one experimental study where we put participants in either attractive or unattractive avatars, the participants in the attractive avatars were willing to walk closer to a confederate stranger, so a research assistant posing as another user in the environment, and they were also--the participants in the attractive avatars were also more willing to disclose personal information about themselves via introductory prompts. So that’s just in a nutshell how we came to that term of a way of thinking about what it means to have these very flexible fluid bodies. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, a lot of the research you did on the Proteus Effect is inspired by Bem’s theory of self-perception. So can you just give people a sense of what that theory is and how it relates to avatar embodiment? NICK YEE: Absolutely. So Bem’s theory of self-perception essentially says that, in a lot of cases, we’re not sure how to think about ourselves or how we really feel about things. And what we do is we observe our own actions and our own behaviors from a third-party perspective, and infer from the observed actions how we would behave. So there’s this one early well-known study where when you put people in black uniforms, they become more aggressive. They pick more aggressive games to play. There’s another study where, when they put someone in a nurse’s uniform, they’re less likely to use--and this was in a teacher/learner paradigm where they use electric shocks. This was the pre-Milgram days. They found that when you put someone in the nurse’s uniform, they’re less likely to use the electric shocks than if you put them in a uniform that resembled a Ku Klux Klan uniform. And so drawing from that research we were saying, “What happens in the Virtual World? Can we
  10. 10. leverage this research in the Virtual World where, not only can we manipulate costumes or what people wear, but literally what people look like”? And so that’s where the attractiveness and the height research came out of was leveraging that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’m looking at the backchat, and I’m seeing a lot of questions where people are asking about the method that you use, so questions like Ana Herzog is asking: How do you define “attractive”? NICK YEE: Yeah, a great question. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I understand you have done some research in Second Life, and we’ll get there shortly, but a lot of your research is actually done in the lab where you assign avatars to people. So I’m thinking in particular of the two papers, one is the called the Proteus Effect, the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior, that’s with your advisor, Jeremy Bailenson. And then there’s another that takes us to offline behavior as well, that is, not only with Jeremy Bailenson, but a few colleagues at PARC. But both of those use a very similar methodology where you’ve got headsets. You create your own virtual collaborative environment. So can you just give us a visual sense of what’s actually going on in that experiment? NICK YEE: Yes. So in all these experiments we try to control for everything except what we’re manipulating. So let me just address the attractiveness issue real quick. For the attractiveness one we actually assigned people to avatars, and so we were able to take a set of pre-generated faces, have coders write them, and then generate the attractiveness
  11. 11. scores. So that’s how we picked the attractiveness issue. But let me turn back to what these experiments typically look like. So in the lab we actually run an immersive virtual reality setup. People put on the helmets, and the helmets have a stereoscopic lens so they see two displays, one for each eye. And so they see it in stereoscopic 3D. There is a light that four cameras in the corners of the room pick up. And so when the person moves in the physical space, what they see in the lens is updated so that they feel like they’re moving in the virtual space. There’s also an accelerometer on the back of the helmet so when they tilt their heads, again, their viewpoint changes accordingly. So when I said that the participants walked closer to the confederate stranger earlier on, I meant they literally physically walked closer to the stranger, as well as, of course, virtually. So that’s how that setup looks like. So when they want to move in the world, they don’t use a keyboard in our lab, they just walk to the direction they want. One of the interesting things, for example, is that when we talk about eye gaze in the lab, we can actually track that fairly precisely by taking the measurements from the accelerometers. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So let me just be a little more clear in my own mind. I mean, let’s say I’m a participant in this experiment. When you say “I walk closer to someone else,” I’m in a room alone, but I see in my head, because of this headset, I actually see myself as being in a virtual world, and so it’s as if I’ve walked closer, avatar to avatar. Is that right? NICK YEE: Yeah, correct. So when you’re in the immersive VR setup, you’re actually in a first-person perspective. You see a room in front of you and when you take one step
  12. 12. physically, your virtual scene updates so it’s pushed closer to you. So it’s as if the physical step you took had a corresponding action in the virtual world. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Now, you assign people to more attractive and less attractive avatars as one of your key manipulations. And so now one of our audience members, Ana Herzog, was asking how you define “attractive,” and I’ve got a slightly different question, which is: How do people know they are themselves, or their avatar, is attractive? NICK YEE: That’s a great question. [AUDIO GLITCH] this part out before. And this was actually one of the tricky things that we had to come up with, was how do we convince someone and let them know how they look like? So we devised a virtual mirror--great question; sorry I didn’t mention this earlier--so they move in a virtual world. They first turn around, and we tell them to turn around, and there actually is a virtual mirror. And we say, “This is how you look in the virtual world.” And to convince them that that’s actually the case, we ask them to take a step toward the mirror and to roll their heads and so actually see their virtual mirror reflection doing those actions. And it’s done in a fairly convincing way, and we tell them, “This is now other people in the world see you,” and then they turn back around, and so they’re in first-person perspective again, but it’s the virtual mirror that lets them see how they look like. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. And how about the answer to Ana’s question? You used a group of independent raters to--
  13. 13. NICK YEE: Correct. So all the faces-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --assess whether an avatar was attractive. NICK YEE: Correct. We had a database of faces, and we had a separate pool of raters rate all the faces. We calculated the average attractiveness for each face, and then we picked faces at the unattractive end, at the attractive end, and faces at the average. And so the other thing that’s also worth mentioning is it’s really important when we ran this study, that it’s not the confederate’s response to attractive or unattractive faces that creates the finding. So what we use the average face for is from the confederate’s point of view, from the research assistant’s point of view. They always see the participant as having an average face, so they’re blind to condition. So the only person who knows whether they’re attractive or unattractive is the participant. It’s literally in their own head. And so that’s how we teased apart the self-perception effect from what’s commonly known as behavioral confirmation. So when I interact with somebody who’s attractive, I treat them differently, and that leads them, in turn, to behave differently. So when we ran the studies, it was really important for us to make sure we isolated and teased apart those two effects. And that, when we were studying self-perception, that we really were studying self-perception. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I’ll say this is, to me, one of the most fascinating things about the types of social psychological research you can do in virtual worlds, is that not everyone sees the same thing. I can see myself as tall, but you can see me as being short. You might
  14. 14. think you’re a bunny, and I see you as a wolf. NICK YEE: And actually, a lot of the studies that we’ve run at the lab focus on the fact that everyone thinks they share the same virtual space, but in a lot of cases they don’t. And so we’ve run a lot of studies where we’ve had these kinds of manipulations. We actually did another study with the height, where we did exactly that, where the participants thought they were tall, but the research assistant saw them as just average height. So again, it’s all in the head of the participant. Of course, as you said, there’s this real interesting case where what if the participant thinks they’re tall, but everyone else thinks they’re short? So there are all these really interesting ways of using the virtual space to run these really cool studies that can tease apart really complicated theories in psychology. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Now one of the, I guess, key results that you found in your first Proteus Effect Paper was that the people who are assigned taller avatars, meaning, I guess, that they feel taller, even though others don’t see them as taller, they play a very simple negotiation game, and you find that they’re more aggressive and also more effective in the sense that they end up with more money. And then what you do in the second paper, which I thought was particularly interesting, is that you then take that--it seems like largely a replication of that experiment--but then, after they’ve done that, you then have them meet someone in the flesh and do a very similar task. And again they end up--there’s this residual effect that, after being taken out of their tall avatar, negotiating as the person they actually are--they end up continuing to be more aggressive and get better outcomes. So why does
  15. 15. that happen, in your eyes? NICK YEE: As soon as we ran the studies in the virtual environment, and we saw several studies that produced consistent findings, the very next natural question was: Oh, my God, does this actually carry back out to subsequent interactions? Particularly because the average online gamer in a game like World of Warcraft, they play 20 hours a week, and it’s spread over that week. So if they get constant reinforcement from that environment, how does it carry back out to the face-to-face interaction? So that was the motivation behind it. And we found that it did indeed transfer. So we did it with the height one. We actually also did it with the attractiveness one. So we ran the study again in the virtual environment, but when they came out we didn’t just replicate it, we said, “Does it carry out other kinds of interactions”? So we actually created a mock dating website, and we sold it. We told the participants that it was a separate study altogether. And I think Tammy just had this question before. So what we did was we had them run the attractiveness study in the virtual environment. They came out, and we said, “Okay, that was the end of that study. Here’s a different study.” We were studying how people date online. And what we did was we put them in front of a mock dating website, and we made them go through filling out a profile, and then we showed them nine photographs--real photographs, not 3D avatars--of people of the gender that they’re interested in, and the nine photographs were selected because they filled the spectrum from unattractive to attractive. Again, these were pre-rated. And our question was do people who had an attractive avatar ten minutes ago in VR, do they react differently than the people who had unattractive avatars? And so within that short time frame of ten minutes,
  16. 16. we found that people who had attractive avatars actually picked more attractive potential partners than the people in the unattractive avatars. Again, we know now that it looks like these effects carry out for a short amount of time when people come out of their virtual environment. What’s still not clear is how long those effects last. It’s very likely that these effects are just totally washed away when they leave the lab, and it’s 30 minutes, an hour later. But what’s interesting is that even to a short amount of time that they do seem to have that effect. And, of course, the bigger question is what happens to people who spend 20 hours a week, half a work week, with a particular avatar; how do those behaviors cross over? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, and I think anyone who’s played an MMO or a video game for hours at a stretch knows I’m not the only one who has been lying in bed with my eyes closed, seeing myself do whatever it was I was doing in-world for the last three hours. So I could imagine that there’s going to be a lot more carryover when people are much more immersed for a much longer time than you did in your study. NICK YEE: Right. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, one of the papers that I thought was particularly interesting was--this was again with Jeremy Bailenson, “Walk a Mile in Digital Shoes: The Impact of Embodied Perspective-Taking on the Reduction of Negative Stereotyping in Immersive Virtual Environments.” You’ve got to love academic papers. If it doesn’t have a colon in it, it’s not serious work. So in here you have people take on the avatar of an old person or a
  17. 17. young person and provide some evidence, I mean somewhat, I guess, mixed evidence-- NICK YEE: Mixed, yeah. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: --that actually being in the form of an old person reduces age-related bias. So can you talk a little bit about what you see as being the mechanism for that? NICK YEE: Yeah. In social psychology, one of the mechanisms that they found that effectively reduces stereotyping and negative prejudice of other social groups is this notion of perspective-taking. And here’s what they used to do that they found was effective. So the simple thing of giving someone a photograph of someone of a different social group and say, “Imagine a day in the life of this person, and just write a short paragraph about it.” That, in and of itself, was effective enough to get the participants to reduce the negative prejudice. And the mechanism that they think is behind this is because, when you ask someone to take someone else’s point of view, it reduces their sense of the distinction between self and other. So by asking someone to take someone else’s point of view, it gets them to feel that the self and other are more similar than not. And so what we did was, we said, “Instead of doing verbal or narrative perspective-taking, what if we did it directly via an avatar in a virtual environment”? So that was the motivation behind it. Our results were a bit mixed. We looked at discrimination and prejudice in a variety of different scales and measures, and I think we looked at three, and it only came up significantly strongly for one of those three. So there was some tentative evidence that this
  18. 18. may or may not be effective, but it was an interesting direction to look into. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, for all of these results one explanation is this “them” like self-perception theories, as you said, that we look at sort of ourselves from the outside to actually interpret who we are on the inside. There’s also the possibility that it’s a priming explanation, that you’re just sort of triggering people to think in certain ways so they could see another avatar that’s old, and it might have the same effect. You actually did some work to try to tease those out. NICK YEE: Yeah. There have been some really interesting studies on priming, and here’s a really seminal study that really gets the point across. So in one study they presented--let me think which one’s better--they presented key words related to old age and being elderly to participants. They’re either presented elderly-related words or very neutral words, and what they found was people who were exposed to the elderly key words walked slower to the elevator exit when the experiment ended-- ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I did see that study. NICK YEE: --than those who got neutral words, right. And so in the literature of priming, there’s this finding that when people are primed with key words from a specific domain, they unconsciously behave more like those variables. So in our study, when we showed someone an attractive avatar, one counterclaim is that they were just being primed by attractiveness, and attractiveness primes friendliness, and that’s all you’re seeing. It has nothing to do with this self-perception stuff.
  19. 19. So what we did to tease those two apart--again, here we were leveraging some aspects of virtual reality--was, in one condition, we ran the same manipulation. They saw themselves in the mirror, and they did head moving and so forth. In the other condition, in the priming condition, we said, “Okay, if it’s just priming and it’s not you being in this body that’s important, then, if we showed you a video playback of someone else who looked in the mirror, and we told participants that you’re looking at a video screen of someone else who was in this room”--so they’re getting the exact same visual stimulus as someone else did. The only difference is that it’s not them. They’re not embodied in that avatar. And so that’s what we did to tease those two effects apart. And what we found was that the effects were much stronger when there was embodiment, when people believed that it was their avatar, when they believed that this was them, not simply that they were primed by some third-party visual stimulus. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You know what I love about that study is that researchers are always emphasizing the importance of matching the method that you use to the questions that you’re asking. And it’s hard to imagine a better method than that to get at this distinction between self-perception theory and priming. NICK YEE: Absolutely. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, before we move on to the next basic research topic, we’ve got a bunch of questions. So we’ve got two classes of questions. One, they’re coming from a whole bunch of people so I’m just going to paraphrase. I get the sense people are asking
  20. 20. about endogeneity. You were very careful in your studies to assign people to avatars that are tall or short or unattractive or attractive so that you could know that it was actually the manipulation, your controlled manipulation of height or attractiveness that generated their behavior. But in virtual worlds, in fact, people choose their own avatars. So can you say much about sort of the feedback loops that might arise? Do you think there are feedback loops where someone chooses an attractive avatar? They see themselves as better but, of course, other people see them as more attractive and treat them nicer, which is reinforced and so on. Have you done research on that? Or is that maybe on your “to do” list? NICK YEE: That’s something on a “to do” list. So you know, of course, looking at user behavior in avatars, you’ve really also got to look at the choices. So in our studies, we focus on the effect side of the issue. But absolutely, the choice side is just as important. But it also happens to be a lot messier, because choice studies are inherently non-experimental so they’re a very different class of studies altogether, but they’re equally important. Some of the findings we’ve seen is that it has a lot to do with personality variables, it seems. So whether someone creates avatars that are similar or dissimilar to themselves physically seem to have some personality variables interwoven in there. So it’s definitely very important. It’s a very important part of the issue. In our studies, we focus very much on that effect side, but the choice side is definitely equally important. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Dizzy Banjo asked this, and I think he was not being serious, but he asked, what is the implication of all this for furries? I don’t know if you want to go there, but your call.
  21. 21. NICK YEE: [LAUGHING] I’m not sure. Yeah, I’m not sure either. I’m not sure either. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Well, let’s move on then, and let’s talk about a study that you did do in Second Life. This was “The Unbearable Likeness of Being Digital: The Persistence of Nonverbal Social Norms in Online Virtual Environments.” Now, as I understand this study, you took hundreds of snapshots of avatars in Second Life and had people code the gender of people who were being close enough that you would call them being in dyads. And so you had the male-male dyads, the pairs, and the female-female dyads, and you found that the male-male dyads stand farther apart and share less eye gaze than the female-female dyads, which is also something that you would expect in real life. Now, I have heard a number of people criticize this study by saying that in Second Life it doesn’t matter where your avatar is standing or which way it’s looking. You can use your camera controls to have a point of view other than in between your avatar’s eyes, and you can be in Instant Messaging chat and things like that. How would you respond to that type of criticism? NICK YEE: Yeah, it’s two things. First of all, we really were looking at the avatar gaze and not the user gaze. And the reason we did that was because, just anecdotally from my own experiences, in games, the first game that came up that let you run through people, I think, was [Dark Street Hamlet?]. What was interesting was people still ran around other people because the thought of running through someone was really psychologically uncomfortable. So we very much were focusing on the avatar level, not where you’re looking, but how you positioned your avatar. To the bigger question, of course, what about people using IM and don’t need to talk face to face?
  22. 22. For us, that really was just noise. It was noise that clearly we couldn’t account for, but it was simply dampening the effect. But even given that dampening noise, we still found those significant differences, that there were still those same differences in interpersonal space and eye gaze that varied along in gendered ways that matched what we knew about face to face interaction. So you know, one effect that we found was it relates back to the equilibrium theory. So for example, when you’re in an elevator, when you’re very, very close to other people, it’s very uncomfortable if you have to look them in the eye because both interpersonal space and mutual gaze are expressions of intimacy. So when you’re in an elevator and you’re close to someone, you have to avert your eye gaze, because you’re not very intimate with this person standing next to you. So it’s the same way--then a lot of party situations, for example. People will pick the people they’re talking to and look at them and be fairly close to them, but they’ll angle themselves so they’re not looking at anyone else, even if they’re back-to-back. It’s that equilibrium theory. So we actually found support for that in Second Life as well. When you’re looking at social group cluster in a kind of like small party situation, we see that effect where the closer that people get to each other, the more likely they avert their eye gaze, again, for the equilibrium effect. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So we’ve got a tag team question here from Intellagirl Tully, Fleep Tuque and Lyr Lobo, which is, basically, what about problems that some people have
  23. 23. poor motor control or camera control or movement control? How would that interfere with your results on the study? NICK YEE: Again, that’s also in the noise--and just anecdotally--and, of course, this can be something that we can do a study in--is that, even among players who’ve just started using Second Life or they’re a little slow, they will eventually fix themselves. Early on we ran these tests where we studied what would we see if this actually can happened, so we actually logged into Second Life, and we just walked avatars really close to other people to see what they’d do. And more often than not they backed away, and they backed away within a ten-second time frame. Of course, this was something that we could go in and get a sense of how many people have really bad poor motor skills, but I think most people are fine with the basic [principle?] of backing away and getting closer to things. For those who don’t that just gets added to the noise. And, again, even with the noise, we did find those significant differences, all of which were fairly consistent with face-to-face trends. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, you conducted another study that looked at people interacting with one another, but in a rather different way. You had a haptic joystick. So as I understand what this is--I don’t even know; Greek or Latin for “touch”?--so you actually had people using--this is in the paper, “A Virtual Interpersonal Touch: Expressing and Recognizing Emotions Through Haptic Devices,” with Jeremy Bailenson and Scott Brave. And so people had a joystick that they could move in two dimensions, and they could do it fast or slow, and someone else would be holding a joystick somewhere else and it would move in their hand? Is that what’s going on in this study?
  24. 24. NICK YEE: Yeah. So the issue we were looking at--it was one of these really far out, far out ideas--was can people express emotion via two degrees of freedom on a joystick? And how well can people express emotion and how well can other people detect that emotion? And so we set that one and said, “What do you think will happen? Do you think people can do that”? And so that was what was behind that study. We could [AUDIO GLITCH] say where we asked people to express emotions and then another set to try to guess what that emotion was. It was a really interesting study of instead of just doing [type chatter?] by facial expressions, what are other ways that people can do to express emotion? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And so what you found is people were better than chance at recognizing emotions through these sort of very simplified handshakes. They were not as good as they were with real handshakes? NICK YEE: That’s correct. We found effects where there were some emotions that people were more likely to take by chance, I think. Like angry was fairly easy, but it still wasn’t as good as other, more direct, methods. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I mean this seems to be, at this point, one of the problems. I mean I know that there’s a big literature on the medium and how it affects people’s ability to communicate. I’ve seen studies where they have people, via email, attempt to be either sincere or sarcastic, and they feel quite sure that they’ve conveyed themselves clearly, but, in fact, the people reading their emails are, you know--basically it’s random; they’re no better than random at being able to figure out sarcasm versus sincerity. So I do worry about whether it’s in games or work-related use of virtual environments, whether people are going
  25. 25. to have an easy time, really, communicating with one another. NICK YEE: Absolutely. Yeah. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Let’s move on to a second big area of your research, which is on demographics. You know, who is playing games and why. And so as I mentioned last week, we had Richard Bartle on the show, and he talked about his four types of players: the achievers, the explorers, the killers and the socializers. Now, in your case, you have five types of motivations for game play. You’ve got achievement relationships, immersion-- NICK YEE: There’s actually a more recent version of that but, yeah, but I think the interesting difference between how Richard approached it and how I approached it--and we’ve actually had fights about this--is that, when I came into the space with a psychology background, for me what was most important was how do we actually measure these things? How can we actually tell whether a person is A or B or C or D? And the discomfort I had with Richard’s model was that it had never been empirically tested. I mean specifically this: that, for example, Richard proposes in the explorer type that there’s a kind of person who really likes understand, whose [AUDIO GLITCH] really needs to understand the game mechanics, who also likes to explore the world and figures out exactly where the geography ends. So that, for him, is an explorer type. When I looked at those types, my first question was do we really know that those motivations grew together? So for example, I know that there are people who like [the Minmax?], and I know other people who like to explore geography, but are they actually the
  26. 26. same kind of person? Do those two motivations correlate? So for me, my method was let me generate a list of different motivations that people say they have in MMOs. I’ll have people fill out the survey telling me how important each of those is to them, and then I’ll just cluster in the background, and then I’ll know how these things cluster out. So some of the differences that are different between my model and Richard’s models, for example, that the people who like to [Minmax?] are not the same people who like to explore the limits of the geography. Another thing is, in Richard’s model, role-playing is assumed to be an overarching thing, so there’s no role-playing motivation. To Richard, I think for him it’s either [AUDIO GLITCH] or social motivation. Whereas, when I looked in and did the [AUDIO GLITCH] the role-playing motivation was its own thing. They’re people, and it’s not related [AUDIO GLITCH] motivation, not overarching motivation [AUDIO GLITCH] that I was looking at so [AUDIO GLITCH] up with the taxonomy from his experiences. But for me, it was more important to come up with a model where we could really go in and statistically measure [AUDIO GLITCH] how do people change as they get older? How are men different from women? Which of those motivations best predicts who’s more likely to spend more or less time or more or less likely to quit an MMO? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now, you mentioned gender, and I know you got some pretty significant gender differences. And then, on the other hand, in some of your other work, you’ve argued that actually there’s nothing inherent about existing MMOs that makes them less attractive to women than men. It’s actually the channels that introduce them to MMOs. So I guess, first, could you talk just a little about what the gender differences are in
  27. 27. motivations for play? And then talk a little bit about these channels [AUDIO GLITCH]. NICK YEE: That’s a great question. For example, when you look at the motivation differences or any kind of play-style difference in an MMO, and you slice it just by gender alone, you’ll always come up with gendered finding. So for example, you always find that men are more likely to do the things that relate to achievement, and women are more likely to do things that relate to socializing and relating. For a while, early on, that was the slice that I was looking at. But when you back out from the picture and you look more at social access, social context issues, you see a very complicated kind of picture. For example, when you talk to women and you ask women playing MMOs, “What do you think is least appealing to you? What would you like to see more of? Why do you think there aren’t more women playing MMOs”? Very few of them talk about the game mechanics. What all of them talk about are the cultural constraints. So they always talk about the female avatars, how being the female avatars makes them really uncomfortable. It reminds them that they were meant to be spectacles within a masculine world. So that’s one. Another thing is when you look at gender alone, you find those gender differences, but it’s only when you take other variables into account that you see the full picture. So for example, when you take age into account, what we notice is that age actually accounts for twice the variance in the achieving motivation than gender does. And what that means is, the people who score highest on achievement are young players. Young male players are the most competitive and achievement-oriented players. And, as people get older, that decreases significantly. And that decrease by age, the effective age on achievement is actually twice as high as of its effect on gender. And, of course, we have all this talk about
  28. 28. games for men and games for women, but we hardly ever hear, “What would games for older people look like, and how would they look different from games for younger people”? And so for me it was really important to bring other factors back on the table so we’re not just looking at the gender issue. But there’s another way to slice it, and that’s the access channels, how people get in the games. One of the really interesting things in MMOs is that women are more likely to be introduced to the game via their romantic partners, and one of the ways that female players in MMOs talk about this is that, within the game, there’s this cultural notion that women don’t really like to play these games, but, if playing with their boyfriend or husband, it makes sense because it’s their husband who brought them in. So you know if [AUDIO GLITCH] playing these games [AUDIO GLITCH] dating or marrying a guy, and then they had to make a rubric, one real interesting [AUDIO GLITCH]. Rob, are you still there? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yes, I am. NICK YEE: Okay. I just [AUDIO GLITCH] Second Life [AUDIO GLITCH] crashed. I might crash out really soon. One of the things [AUDIO GLITCH] is that women are likely to play physically in the game space [AUDIO GLITCH]. A really interesting question of people [AUDIO GLITCH] ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m afraid I may have lost you, in fact. Yes, Nick Yee has disappeared into the ether. Well, they say that the sign of a good speaker is someone who leaves you wanting more. And so I think Nick did a very nice job of that. Yes, Jeckel Thor,
  29. 29. Nick Yee has left the building. Now, of course, the interesting thing is, he is probably still talking. It’s like when the cell phone cuts off and someone is in the middle of their discussion. Okay. Well, anyway, I guess that was not too badly timed because we only had a few minutes left as it was. I have about 30 minutes left of content and questions I was hoping to get to, but maybe we’ll get Nick back on the show another time. So anyway, I would like to extend my thanks, I guess, I don’t know if posthumously is the right word, to Nick Yee for coming on to Metanomics. I’d like to apologize to the many people who did not get a chance to ask Nick some questions, and we had actually a really interesting one from Opal Zavalota(?), on NMC’s sim, about interview research being conducted in Second Life. Oh, wait. I see I have filled up enough air time that Snowdrift Heron, aka Nick Yee, is back. Nick, you there? NICK YEE: Yeah, I’m back. Can you hear me? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Wonderful. Yes. This is what happens when you’re a rock star like you are is that we get so many people, even on the 4 sims that everyone has lagged. We’re really just about out of time so I guess, if I could, let me jump to a couple questions and let you just answer them. So one is from Opal Zavalota, who’s actually at one of our event partners New Media Consortium’s sim, and he or she is asking, Can you talk a bit about your interview research methods? I know you did quite a bit of interviewing in World of Warcraft. Have you done interviews in Second Life?
  30. 30. NICK YEE: Yes, with the qualitative stuff, it’s mostly within the online gaming context and open-ended questions on surveys. We actually did a study with Demetri where we used the census data from World of Warcraft to get a representative small cross-section of players in Guild, and then we had actually a structured interview script, and we actually went into World of Warcraft and then interviewed them via script. But most of my training has been on the quantitative side so, on the qualitative side, I’m much weaker, especially in really talking about complex interviewing methods. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And let’s see. Well, let me ask, is there anything that we missed talking about that you would specifically would like to let people know about? NICK YEE: Let’s see. No, I think we covered good ground. The only other chunk of research was the PARC PlayOn stuff where we did the census scripting and some of the findings from that, but I think we covered good ground. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I think we’ll have to have you back to cover what we did miss. I do have two closing questions. The first one comes from Intellagirl Tully, which is, do you envision new research methods or new approaches to current methods being developed for virtual worlds research? What would you see at the top of the list? NICK YEE: Yeah. I just want to answer Renaldo’s question that just came up right here. You can find all my papers on the website, nickyee.com. They’re all there as PDFs. With the new research methods, I think what’s most fascinating to me are the kind of studies like Proteus Effect where we really leverage the possibilities of teasing apart different people’s
  31. 31. viewpoints, being able to really play with reality. So for example Jeremy has this notion of transformed social interaction. A really simple example is that here I am in this conference room, and my avatar can really be looking at one point at a time similar to physical space, but there’s no reason why--because all of you in the audience are watching this from your own screens--why my avatar can’t be looking at all of you at exactly the same time. Because that’s possible. Because we really don’t share that same physical space. But if my avatar were able to do that, he’d be that much more effective because we know eye gaze helps a lot of things like persuasion, likeability and [enablements?] and so forth. So for me what’s interesting is thinking about what are ways in which we can break those physical rules of interaction in interesting ways and leveraging them for social benefits? Whether that’s changing the physical rules; fool people into thinking that they have the same viewpoint, but they really don’t. And I think those are the most interesting ways of doing research in these environments. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So actually the term--that’s a non-zero-sum eye gaze. Is that what that’s called? NICK YEE: Non-zero-sum gaze is the term that Jeremy uses for that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I don’t know if anyone has ever had a video call with Christian Renault, but he is the master of looking you right in the eye while he is talking, to make sure he has your attention, even though he’s in the middle of a snowstorm in Iowa and I’m in my fourth-floor office in Ithaca. And I can just imagine him then staring eight
  32. 32. people in the eye, and they all believe he is talking directly to them. That does seem like an exceptionally useful research technique and also, I think, something that’s going to be very important as we think about the future of virtual work. Okay. We have time for one more question, which is, would you recommend the aspiring academics follow in your footsteps, getting a traditional Ph.D. to study these rather non-traditional topics? NICK YEE: That’s something that I’ve struggled with, too, especially as we’re gaining some momentum now in the game studies field. Looking back, I think it’s still very important to be grounded in a particular perspective and methodology, and it’s really hard to get that in an emerging field. And a lot of the things that we know and the methods we have in traditional fields are actually highly applicable to Virtual Worlds, and I think are still equally fruitful. So I’d say it’s very possible--it’s much more an issue of finding advisors and faculty and colleagues who are open to applying these methods in these new worlds. But whether you’re in psychology, communication, sociology, law or economics, there are ways in which there are real interesting crossovers in doing novel and provocative research in virtual worlds. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And I’ll say I see, just looking out in the audience, representatives of a number of different universities, including places I know that are active in virtual world research. Of course, my own Cornell, your Stanford, and Indiana Emory University, and I’m sure there are many, many others I am not mentioning.
  33. 33. So Nick, thank you so much for coming on the show today. It’s really been fascinating, and I hope we’ll be able to get you back on at another time, and you can talk about the next 14 studies that you’ve done maybe in about three months. Let me also just say to the people who are listening who may not know Metanomics that well, we have this show every week, and I’m always looking for academics who are willing to talk about their research because, at this point, so many people are so early on, they don’t yet have stuff they’re willing to go public with. So if you are an academic conducting research in or about virtual worlds and you’re willing to talk about it publicly, please contact me, Beyers Sellers in-world; Robert Bloomfield, rjb9@cornell.edu, in the real world. And, again, thank you very much, Nick, for being on the show. I hope we’ll see you again. NICK YEE: Rob, thanks so much for inviting me on. And, everybody in the audience, thanks for much for coming. This was really, really fun. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Bye-bye, all. AUDIENCE: Thank you. That was very good. Document: cor1011.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer