Establishing Social Order in 3D Virtual Worlds with Virtual Institutions

Establishing Social Order in 3D Virtual Worlds with Virtual Institutions

Anton Bogdanovych (University of Western Sydney, Australia) and Simeon Simoff (University of Western Sydney, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-891-3.ch008
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Abstract

An important security aspect of Virtual Worlds (in particular Virtual Worlds oriented towards commercial activities) is controlling participants’ adherence to the social norms (rules of behavior) and making them follow the acceptable interaction patterns. Rules of behavior in the physical world are usually enforced through a post factum punishment, while in computer-controlled environments like Virtual Worlds we can simply block the actions that are inconsistent with the rules and eliminate rule violations as such. In order to facilitate enforcing the rules in such automatic manner and allow for frequent rule changes, the rules have to be expressed in a formal way, so that the software can detect both the rules and the actions that can potentially violate them. In this chapter the authors introduce the concept of Virtual Institutions that are Virtual Worlds with normative regulation of interactions. For development of such systems the authors employ the Virtual Institutions Methodology that separates the development of Normative Virtual Worlds into two independent phases: formal specification of the institutional rules and design of the 3D interaction environment. The methodology is supplied with a set of graphical tools that support the development process on every level, from specification to deployment. The resulting system is capable of enforcing the social norms on the Virtual Worlds’ participants and ensuring the validity of their interactions.
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Introduction

Every day in the physical world we participate in a number of institutions. Once we enter a work place, shop or university we realize the change of the context and start obeying the rules of the environment we have entered. Our behavior is highly influenced by these rules, which range from not strictly enforceable and rather implicit social conventions (like etiquette) to more explicit and usually strictly controlled instructional norms (like having to walk through a metal detector in an airport or to pay for the purchased items before exiting a shop).

The institutions are trusted third parties, which establish the rules of the interactions and administer strict control in regards to their enforcement (North, 1990). The establishment of the institutions helps in reducing the complexity in the decision making of the participants as well as in increasing the trust between individuals and improving the security of their interactions (Schotter, 1981). Government is one of the most prominent examples of an institution. The rules it tries to enforce are various laws present in the country the government is representing.

In human societies there are two available rule enforcement mechanisms: preventive measures, which prevent the rule violation from happening; and sanctions, which are used to punish the rule violator (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004). While all the possible efforts are put into developing preventive measures, the physical world is so complex that it is impossible to prevent many rule violations from occurring. Therefore, the majority of the rule-control mechanisms used in the physical world is sanction based. The rule enforcement mechanisms of a government, for example, include the employment of armed forces like police or the army.

The participants of non-gaming Virtual Worlds like Second Life also have to deal with institutions when they access virtual classrooms, sell virtual goods or attend research conferences. Unlike the physical world the environment of a Virtual World is both computer-controlled and computer-generated. Furthermore, the complexity of a Virtual World is much lower than the complexity of the physical world. In such environments it is more efficient to employ preventive rule enforcement measures rather than use sanctions. The institutional rules of a Virtual World can potentially be expressed in a formal way and their enforcement can happen automatically by blocking all the actions that are inconsistent with the institutional rules.

Despite such exciting prospects, Virtual Worlds in their current form are rather anarchical environments developed on an ad-hoc basis. Instead of being properly formalized and automatically enforced, institutional rules are often assumed to be part of the common sense knowledge of the users. Some of them are expressed in the terms of services of a particular software product. When it comes to regulation, the rules are still often enforced in a sanction-based manner: by issuing warnings to the rule violators or even banning them if the violation reoccurs. To our knowledge, none of the existing Virtual Worlds offers a centralized technological solution that would enable structuring the interactions of participants and establishing social order in an automatic manner. Moreover, there is no widely used methodology being employed by Virtual Worlds developers that is structured around formalizing the rules of participants’ interactions. Even for those cases where the rules of behavior are controlled by the code of the software, having no clear methodology and no formal representation of the rules makes it extremely difficult to introduce rule changes in the system.

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