Interacting and Designing

in Virtual Worlds on the Internet

Bruce Damer

Contact Consortium

343 Soquel Ave, Suite 70

Santa Cruz, California 95062-2305 USA

E-mail: via our webmaster


Multi-user virtual worlds are proliferating on the Internet. These are two and three dimensional graphical environments inhabited by users represented as digital actors called "avatars". Through this medium, a wide variety of Internet users are participating in a large scale social experiment and collaborating on a variety of projects. The inhabited virtual world is an exciting new medium for HCI professionals including interaction and graphic designers, and educators and researchers focused on distance learning and teleworking. It also appeals to children and ordinary users of the Internet as a vast new digital playground and a venue for personal expression. This tutorial will introduce participants to a variety of inhabited virtual worlds and give them hands-on experience in collaboratively building and interacting with other users in the worlds.


virtual worlds, social computing, avatars, collaborative workspaces, VRML, three dimensional interfaces


For the past two years, the Internet has played host to a new medium: the mult-user virtual world. These environments are graphically rendered in two or three dimensions and represent the presence of participants as digital characters known as "avatars". Participants navigate their avatars through these digital spaces, communicate with other users, build structures, teach, learn, and engage in a variety of collaborative activities. On-line virtual worlds represent an new frontier for interaction design, computer supported cooperative work and learning and touch upon many other interest areas of HCI.

Copyright on this material is held by the authors.

This tutorial will introduce HCI professionals and novice users alike to the medium of multi-user virtual worlds. No prior knowledge of 3D modeling, VRML or online communication is required.

Origins of the virtual worlds medium

This technology could be seen as a graphical extension of MUD and MOO environments but it exhibits some of its own unique characteristics, including:

Figure 1. Scene from AlphaWorld showing users represented as avatars participating in a virtual wedding.

Virtual worlds borrow from both the virtual reality and computer gaming field. However, this medium does not require the kind of immersive equipment (such as head mounted displays) found in virtual reality systems. In addition, virtual worlds employ fast 3-D graphic rendering engines found in gaming environments but their application is almost purely social. Avatars do not die or kill other avatars in virtual worlds.


The tutorial will employ several virtual world environments, including: AlphaWorld (see Figure 1), CyberHub, the Palace, Traveler Utopia, Virtual Places, V-Chat, general VRML 2.0 environments and others which become available by the time of the tutorial. Within the virtual worlds, special areas will be constructed or designated for use by tutorial participants. The Virtual University server within AlphaWorld will be made available for the tutorial.


The learning objective of the tutorial is to give participants enough background and hands-on experience of this new medium that they can use on-line inhabited virtual worlds in their research or professional projects. It is our hope that the tutorial will also encourage more HCI professionals to participate in the development of the virtual worlds medium.


These collaborative exercises will involve the formation of teams, who will brainstorm a design of a shared, 3-D space and its interfaces. The design will be presented to the entire tutorial for a critique and then built collaboratively within a virtual world. The exercises are designed to address key issues in 3-D interfaces, virtual community, cooperative and participatory interaction design, usability testing, teleworking, CSCW and CSCL, the World Wide Web and social issues.


Demonstrators will include members of the Contact Consortium, a non-profit research membership organization dedicated to the development of the virtual worlds medium. Throughout 1995 and 1996, the Consortium has engaged in extensive usability testing of virtual worlds provided by its member companies, which include Worlds Incorporated, Intel, Black Sun Interactive, Time-Warner Interactive, Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (Software Division), Microsoft, Philips and others. The Consortium has engaged in the collaborative construction and staffing of a virtual town (Sherwood Forest), a virtual university (theU) and has hosted in regular social experiments in these online worlds.

Other demonstrators will join us from around the world as avatars in-world to assist with teaching, demonstration and participate in the collaborative exercises themselves.

Demonstrators will help participants learn how to navigate, communicate and build within virtual worlds, including AlphaWorld, PointWorld, thePalace, Virtual Places, Utopia and others as they become available closer to the conference date. The collaborative construction exercise will take place inside AlphaWorld or possibly another environment.


User experiences in design and collaboration through the virtual world medium are extensively documented on the World Wide Web at