Our Testing Methodology
The Challenge of a Multiple Avatar Meeting
Coordinating the Event
Emergent Special Language
Determining Social Status
Schools of Thought
We were informed by the world supplier (Worlds Incorporated) that meetings of more than three users were rarely tried. We took this as a challenge and were pleased to find useful results coming from a meeting of a dozen avatars on the site. Two or three meetings were carried out simultaneously at different parts of the site (each group never exceeding five avatars). We hope that this experience will lay the groundwork for cooperative building in our next exercise.
Coordinating the Event
To hold an event of this kind takes a great deal of coordination. We found that several avatars (users) are needed to perform the following functions:
In addition, event times were posted in GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) to accomodate the wide geographical dispersion of participants.
- Greeter: One to greet guests at the gate.
- Tour Guides: One to tour avatars over the site and guide them to a discussion
- Talk Leaders: One or more to carry on the discussions
- Crier: One to advertise the event and its coordinates in town center or another frequented location in the world
As communication in Alphaworld is only possible through text chat and avatar body motion, we were curious as to what could be communicated through such a narrow cultural conduit.
- We attempted to enable multi-avatar discussion through the use of a talking circle, an innovation suggested by Leif Bennet of Worlds. This turned out to be of only of limited use. Placing all avatars in one plane (as on the ground level) was too restrictive for viewing and conversing.
- A more practical talking stance was to have avatars floating.
- Avatar communication was also effective at eye level in corners inside the cabin.
- Lag on text entry into fields and lag on replies appearing over Avatar's heads often broke threads of conversation.
- When a participant dies (a connection is lost or the system crashes) there is no indication that the avatar is no longer communicating. This was disconcerting to users as they felt they were being ignored.
- Emotion could only be communicated with text and the use of emoticons (:. Even though you could not hear voices, a sense of voice and emotion came through in text and body movement.
- The use of UPPERCASE by the talk leader was soon requested to stop by others in the discussion. Uppercase commonly conveys SHOUTING in text based worlds such as MUDs or chat rooms.
- Body movement is limited (no gestures) but still useful as an expressive medium: During this event, avatars invented three dances: the Slam, Avatar Rock and the Shuffle.
Navigation in this environment is accomplished with a combination of mouse movement sometimes known as pucking and keyboard keys (cursors, plus, minus). The lack of a map of the whole Alphaworld construction space or local area makes orientation difficult. Coordinates at the top of the window let you know your location relative to town center (ground zero). These coordinates are in NEWS format (105N 187E for Sherwood). Users can use built in teleports to move to a coordinate rapidly or must walk there using a variety of speeds. Once at a site, they can be guided by another participant's avatar. Following was relatively easy and possible in both first person and a second person bird's eye point of view.
- The most common means to tour the site was with the use of a flying guide.
- We also found that paths are useful instruments in guiding avatars toward a desired meeting place.
- The cabin was built with a roof open to the sky to allow easy landing from above. Doorways at ground level were also used to gain entry but less frequently.
- One participant chose to Teleport his avatar directly to discussion sites.
Special terms were used or coined during the event:
Emergent Special Language
- Collabatar: an avatar being run by several people, often taking turns during a long session or taking over for special communications (that avatar is an anthropolgist? let me talk to her!). Several people can drive an avatar and often do not indicate that a different person has taken over.
- An avatar using terms like way cool and pix and abbreviations gave himself away as a younger (13 year old) participant.
- Many more terms are in use in this and other worlds and the list is too long to enumerate here.
Resepected Veterans were known by the fame of their avatar names and their self stated longevity in the world. The New World Times community newspaper, edited by Dataman (Russell Freeland), established some of the known names and community legends. Participants would also announce when they first came into the world by its software release number, e.g. I came in at 0.38 (an ancient!).
Determining Social Status of Individuals in the Community
One participant felt that all construction should be freeform and located anywhere. Others felt that separated lots should be defined and protected. Fears of vandalism arose several times. A character named King Punisher is renowned in AlphaWorld for vandalism of unprotected sites.
Schools of Thought on the Community Plan
In a visual world like AlphaWorld, property is paramount. Text worlds such as MUDs tend to value the dialogue and ones mastery of it, and veteren status and special powers that are assigned to it.
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