Saturday, September 22, 2012

Lab Update

September ... new academic year is beginning, and with that, some changes in the lab. First, we lost our extremely good undergraduate summer students Charlotte and Marie-Ève ... Summer is finished, that's life. But we gained a new lab member, Maxime, who is beginning is Master degree and who will be working on knowledge sharing in virtual spaces (among other things).

I finally officially joined the Editorial Board of "Computers in Human Behavior", one of the best (if not the best) peer-reviewed journal in the field of human-machine interactions, of cyberpsychology and of computer-mediated communication, as member of the Scientific Board. With the explosion of virtual spaces, this 18 years old journal is having its impact growing (and is Impact Factor growing too !), and I am very happy and honored to join the Board !

New year coming, new projects, and particularly new research projects ! Still exploring cyberbehavior, but we need more people for that, so amazing graduate students or fascinating post-doctoral fellows are always strongly encouraged to come and join us in the funny (virtual) world of cyberscientists !

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Comment: Drama, Godmoding, Metagaming

Something which really interests me, maybe even amazes me, in the study of human behavior in virtual spaces, is how apparently paradoxal behaviors can emerge. For example, what is referred as “drama”. “Drama” not like in a Shakespeare’s masterwork, but “drama” like in “I used to really like you, but now that your character tried to kill mine, I really hate you so much”. Especially in immersive role-play environments (note that drama can occur in so many other contexts, but in role-play environments, the disconnection is more evident … for other examples of where and how drama can come, please go in the really nice blog A is for Avatar at the letter D … for Drama, of course).

So, if people go in an immersive role-play environment (such as for instance the Gorean role-play of the Star Wars role-play of Second Life, which both provides on regular basis excellent examples of role-play, and excellent examples of drama), it is arguably to do role-play. In other words, to enact “imaginary” characters in an “imaginary” setting, the setting usually being derived from a science-fiction, fantasy, or historical universe. Role-playing is not a new activity, but the visual support of immersive interfaces such as Second Life, it becomes even more enjoyable. However, the bases are the same than for any of the old table role-play games. With a few exceptions.

First, in a table role-play game, one of the player is the “game-master”, or “story teller”, the one who tells the story and describe the setting so other can inhabit it. In an immersive non-directed environment such as Second Life, there is not such a thing. Role-play SIMs will have Admin (people with out of character powers, having a “out-of-character” police role, such as kicking or banning the griefers, and so on), and GM (“game masters”, whose role is mostly to settle the numerous disputes between players). And indeed, there are a lot (but really A LOT) of disputes between players it seems … Second, in a table role-play game, you KNOW or at least see the real players behind the characters … those players are your friends, you are altogether to “enjoy” a pleasant time and construct a common story. Well, in an immersive role-play environment, it should be the same. But it seems it is not the case.

Indeed, more than often, some disputes emerge between the players. Most of the time it is based on the fact that people put themselves in opposition to each others, and that, like in real life, nobody really wants to be the loosing one. But if there is a conflict, somebody is likely to loose. And then, things go to drama. My character is stronger, no it is mine, and so on and so on … Using a “meter” (an attachment adding some systems of life points to bring more realism to the role-play fights, and used theoretically to remove drama: if you lost the metered fight, you lost it) does not prevent drama to occur AT ALL. I would think that drama comes even more commonly in the SIMs heavily using meters (but that is just a feeling from an “observer” point of view). The current answer against someone calling you to create drama is that this people is “Godmoding” (playing a character with God-like powers: my character is too strong, I can not lose, I can not be beaten, etc …). Or “Metagaming” (using information and knowledge your character is not supposed to have to foster your character purpose … for instance, reading the Tags or profile of the other characters … if your opponent write in his profile: I am a Vampire, directly attacking him with Holy Water or any kind of weapon supposed to damage a vampire without giving him the chance to actually give you role-play clues suggesting he may actually be a vampire).

But now the question remains … if everybody comes to enjoy, why this need to show that you are the strongest? And why this need to develop your character at the expense of others (who come here for the very same reason somehow)? That is simply fascinating me really … Something even more interesting that I observed a few time … When a new comer steps out of character in main chat in a role-play SIM, immediately, dozen of GM, Admins, and older players will rush at him. If they are nice, the new comer will receive a full lecture on how to role-play (by people who may actually not have such amazing role-play skills … for having observed kind of a lot of role-play settings and situations over the last few years, I am always surprised to notice that those who come to you to claim: “I can give you some advices on how to role-play” are often not the best role-players). But more than often, they will simply threaten the new comer with a kick or even a ban.

However, and that strikes me by the contrast, I observed a few times that when people get very respected in a role-play SIM, they can freely step out of character. And then, everybody in the SIM seems to applause with two hands: “Look, he (or she) is such a REAL role-player, he can allow to go OOC” (huh? That’s against SIM rules, no? What if I go OOC? Oh, right, I am not a good role-player).

I somehow would be very interested to study this phenomenon. What happens exactly during the inter-individual exchange process … What are the initial steps of a drama situation … usually they do not resolve nicely (people seems to get durably hurt by drama), so how could we find ways to reduce the negative side effect of such conflict-related resolutions? But then, how to experimentally study drama without interefering with the process? (an observer can hardly come and ask people: Hey, guys, fancy for a bit of drama? Let’s go, I observe you!).

Any suggestion welcome …

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Comment: Metaverse, Hyperverse, Cyberverse

A comment to add to the debate on the Metaverse initiated last week by the blog post of Chris M. Collins, and enriched by numerous contributors, both in different blogs and comments. A comment, maybe in a form of a summary.

From reading the different blog posts, and comments on them, and the Twitter debate which emerged from all that, it seems that three main conceptions of the Metaverse exists simultaneously :

1 - Some people consider the Metaverse to be directly related to a particular setting (Second Life, as the original one, or Opensim), in what we could call a "system-dependent" conception of the Metaverse if we would be speaking in biological terms. Or, if using a more correct terminology in terms of cyberpsychology, as a "platform-dependent" approach. The Metaverse is represented by the "best" platform at a given time, "best" meaning either the most popular, the most user-friendly, the most innovative. When the current platform gets outdated, for a reason or another, people would simply "move" to the next platform, hence, the "Metaverse" (being the sum and synergy of the people inhabiting it) would follow the transition.

2 - Some people consider the Metaverse to be much more than a single platform, but the interaction of multiple platforms over the Internet. The different platforms interacts with each others, and interact with the other facets of Internet, with the social media, and so on, forming what we could call a "Hyperverse".

3 - Finally, some people, like myself and Botgirl Questi for instance, seem to believe in a wider definition of Metaverse which would include both augmented reality, and, more important, would ultimately reach human body via implants, thus connecting the "network" to the "mind" (see previous comment), thus leading to the emergence of a true "Cyberverse".

Obviously, there is a hierarchical order in these three levels, one preceding the other. But saying that, I don't consider any level of interpretation to be inferior to the other. A lot of things can be understood about human behavior in virtual spaces with a single-setting "platform" approach, being a MMORPG like WoW (see for instance Guitton MJ (2010) Cross-modal compensation between name and visual aspect in socially active avatars. Computers in Human Behavior, 26:1772-1776 [PDF] ; Lortie CL, Guitton MJ (2011) Social organization in virtual settings depends on proximity to human visual aspect. Computers in Human Behavior, 27:1258-1261 [PDF] ), or an immersive virtual environment such as Second Life (Guitton MJ (2011) Immersive role of non-required social actions in virtual settings: the example of trade role-play in the Second Life Gorean community. Design Principles and Practices: an International Journal, 5:209-220 [PDF] ; Lomanowska AM, Guitton MJ (2012) Spatial proximity to others determines how humans inhabit virtual worlds. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 318-323 [PDF] ; Guitton MJ (2012) Living in the Hutt Space: Immersive Process in the Star Wars Role-Play community of Second Life. Computers in Human Behavior, 28:1681-1691 [PDF] ).

Even if more complex to investigate (at least for what is related to the experimental design), it is possible to touch the integrated "Hyperverse" level (for instance, when studying the co-existence of a Second Life role-play setting and a related and supporting blog, such as in Guitton MJ (2012) The immersive impact of meta-media in a virtual world. Computers in Human Behavior, 28 : 450-455 [PDF] ).

The idea of "Cyberverse" somehow echoes the concept of GUTE in AI (the "Grand United Theory of Everything", for a review of the history of concepts in Artificial Intelligence, see the excellent paper French RM (2000) The Turing test: The first 50 years. Trends Cogn Sci 4:115–122). And in a way similar to what AI-researchers are facing for the highest levels of integration, it is currently very difficult, not to say almost impossible experimentally speaking, to approach and study the Metaverse at the "Cyberverse" level, especially given the fact that the technologies are still far to be fully mature.

Still, technological advances are likely to make these three levels of interpretation merge de facto in a very near future.