Virtual Places

Virtual Places

Erik M. Champion (University of Melbourne, Australia)
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 6
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-563-4.ch109
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Communities identify and are identified by not just the clothes they wear or by the language they speak, or even by the way they greet each other. Communities are often identified by where their activities take place, how they use spaces to construct meanings, and the traces left by their social interactions. These “trigger” regions are thus not just points in space; they are also landmarks, havens, homes, ruins, or hells. Communities, then, are identified and identify with or against, not just space but place. For places do not just organize space; they orient, identity, and animate the bodies, minds, and feelings of both inhabitants and visitors. Presence researchers have often cited and used, the sense of “being in a place” as a test of virtual presence. For example, Biocca (1997) says people feel present in real imaginary or virtual places. Slater (1999) says one aspect of presence is feeling that one is in another place, and not just viewing a set of images. Researchers often use the term “place” in their presence questionnaires (Lessiter, Freeman, Keogh, & Davidoff, 2000; Schuemie, van der Straaten, Krijn, & van der Mast, 2001; Slater, 1999). While much debate has centered on the meaning of virtual “presence,” there has been far less debate on a virtual “place.” Presence in virtual environments is often defined as the subjective belief that one is in a place even though the participant knows the experience is mediated by digital media (Slater, 1999). Yet presence can only be clearly defined when relating it to place, if place itself is clearly defined and understood. Place itself may mean many different types of location, the feeling that one is in or surrounded by a type or kind of location, or the intensity of that feeling of being in a particular place. One may well feel spatially surrounded, or be able to say an event happened in a certain position in a virtual environment without feeling that one was experiencing a strong or unique experience of place. To understand how and why people can feel a sense of presence then, we need to have a clear and appropriate sense of place. And if we do not have a strong sense of place, then perhaps we do not have a strong sense of presence. Many writers (frequently from architecture) have made the distinction between place and cyberspace, and suggested that virtual environments usually lack the former (e.g., Benedikt, 1991; Champion & Dave, 2002; Coyne, 1999; Johnson, 1997; Kalay & Marx, 2001, 2003; Kitchin, 1998). Given the premise that place is a necessary part of creating a meaningful virtual environment, the question is raised as to how we can best gain a sense of place via virtual environments.

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