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Do you love gaming? Are you technologically savvy and need a new way to meet others? Maybe becoming a member of a virtual world is right for you! Before we discuss the in’s and out’s, let’s take a look at what the concept of a ‘virtual world’ really means.

VirtualWorldsReview.com defines them to be, “an interactive simulated environment accessed by multiple users through an online interface. Virtual worlds are also called ‘digital worlds’. There are many different types of virtual worlds, however there are six features they all have in common: a shared space, graphical user interface, immediacy, interactivity, persistence, and socialization/community”. By taking a look at these different features we can get a better understanding about what these virtual world’s entail.  

Why is there such a thing as a virtual world, when we all have the real world to live in? This is a common question among those who first come across the concept. Digitalspace.com us gives many reasons as to how you could put virtual worlds to use. He starts by referencing what might be the obvious first impression, virtual worlds as home entertainment.Using Onlive Traveler, users can play sports games against each other and even construct their own cities. Ever want to partake in a sumo wrestling competition? In a virtual world you have this opportunity! When was the last time you went skiing? Played bingo? Went dancing at the disco?

Virtual worlds can also do wonders in the classroom.  Using a virtual world as a collaborative environment, students are given the opportunity for distance learning with real-time group work. It gives online group work a colorful and interactive face, instead of a blank screen with black and white characters.

Businesses also take advantage of virtual worlds by paying for advertisements to be displayed (on virtual billboards or on virtual shop windows etc). They also use these sites for long distance meetings.  Virtual shopping malls hold actual stores, such as Island Records and Borders Books. There are also Planet 9 Studios, as well as a Visa Bank. You and your avatar can browse the shops and even make purchases using real or virtual money (depending on the site). 

Another major reason for people to create an avatar and join, Second Life for example, would be for a creative outlet. Not only do you get to personally design your own avatar, but you get to design their entire environment. The user gets to be who they want to be, just in a different world.

A very interesting example of an individual using a virtual world as a creative outlet is Amy, a Second Life user. Amy tells her story on an MTV documentary called True Life: I Live Another Life on the Web. She embodies an alter ego that contrast who she is in real life. Amy is a rockstar who suffers from terrible stage fright. She knows that to be successful in real life she needs to break out of her shell, but for now she buffers this fear by preforming her music in her virtual world. The interesting point about it, is that she’s actually pretty successful at it! Amy has a huge fan base and followers who’s avatars come to see her play her shows at virtual bars in Second Life. Without this outlet, would Amy be able to ever preform her music to others? I question whether this is going to be a permanent escape from her fears, or just a temporary solution until she can find the strength to face a real audience.

This brings me to my next point, does using a virtual world affect us psychologically? Tina Indalecio, a writer for Psychology Today, wrote an article titled “Exploring Identity in the Virtual World- Is that REALLY you?” She poses the question about how individuals explore their identities in these virtual worlds and if they are the accurate personification of the self. The element of anonymity within virtual worlds, allows users to have a safe area to behave the way they have always wanted to. It creates a way for individuals to break out of their shell and socialize with others.

Angela Arian, referred to virtual worlds in 2008 as, “domains of ‘liquid identity’ because you never really know ‘who’ the individual is. The virtual identities can be quickly self-defined rather than preordained.” It is difficult, if not impossible, to tell if the user is being true to who they are in real life. Is this a positive or negative thing? I think it all depends on the player’s overall reason for even using the virtual world. Everything that happens, not only in virtual worlds, but in any sort of communication on the web should be taken with a grain of salt; it is important to not install all of your trust into someone or something that is online.

Whether using an avatar in a virtual world is for you or not, the concept of living, working, socializing online is available to you as a creative outlet. I am eager to try second life myself just to see what all the hype is about. I encourage you all to do the same.. and who knows, you could be the next Amy; a virtual rock star.

Science Direct Angela Adrian: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0267364908000290

Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/curious-media/201004/exploring-identity-in-the-virtual-world-is-really-you

True Life: I Live a Second Life Online:  http://www.mtv.com/videos/true-life-i-live-another-life-on-the-web/1586148/playlist.jhtml

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