Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Comment: Virtual Spaces, Virtual Worlds, and Embodiment

Just some thoughts, and some definitions ... We use and talk about a lot of different fancy words, which relate to even fancier concepts ... But it somehow seems that we often fail to really define these concepts. In a field such as cyberpsychology, which not only borders other different fields (psychology, linguistics, AI, ...), but is also undergoing an amazingly fast evolution, definitions are important. But then, they do trap us as well, so they probably can not be absolute. Anyway, here are some notions with which we are playing: virtual space: any environment which does not have a physical reality (well, and even that does not make sense, as the virtual space is usually stored somewhere in servers ... but you got the idea); virtual world: a virtual space which presents a visual interface strong enough to support a certain degree of autonomy of the avatar (the "embodied" representation of an agent) and a certain degree of internal coherence; embodiement: the process in which a human can "put himself into an avatar", to "appropriate" the virtual body (in "lay words", just watch (again) the movie "Avatar" to get a better idea of what I am talking about!). So, World of Warcraft or Second Life are virtual worlds. Facebook or a blog (for example, this amazingly good blog) are virtual spaces. So, instinctively, one will say that you can have an embodiment process in a virtual world ... but what about getting embodied in a simple virtual space? Well, probably you can as well, at least to some extent. Your Facebook page is part of your ... but not fully you (even if several excellent studies address the level of self-disclosure in social networks or webpages). A blog becomes an "extension" of your (if I were not a scientist (and thus, already insane), I would ask myself about my level of sanity, as I am obviously doing a blog). More seriously, this simple consideration questions the notion of embodiment, or, more exactly, of the virtual body. And that has implications for the way we study human behaviors in virtual spaces.

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