Ethics in Virtual World Environments Research

Ethics in Virtual World Environments Research

Amit Goel (University of Central Florida, USA), William A. Rivera (University of Central Florida, USA), Peter Kincaid (University of Central Florida, USA), Michele Montgomery (University of Central Florida, USA), Waldemar Karwowski (University of Central Florida, USA) and Neal M. Finkelstein (US Army Research Laboratory, USA)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9837-6.ch012
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With increased use of virtual worlds in education, training, military, arts, engineering, architecture, astronomy, medical, physical sciences, and many other fields, research in the field of distributed virtual world simulation environments has increased manifold in the last decade. This astounding growth has motivated us to think seriously about issues related to ethics in such research. Awareness of ethical issues is not only a responsibility of the researcher conducting research in virtual worlds, but also for ethics committees and institutional review board members. In this chapter we provide an overview of the past and current research attempting to identify ethics issues related to distributed virtual world simulation environments research. We raise questions related to virtual world research ethics that researcher and ethics committee members should ponder, and we provide several references for the reader to engage in thought provoking further study and discussion.
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In this section we provide a brief overview of virtual worlds and ethics followed by related work in ethical issues in virtual worlds, their usage in general, and their usage n particular in research.

Virtual Worlds

A virtual world is computer-based interactive simulation environment where users take the form of an avatar, own virtual assets, perform virtual actions, and interact with other users and computer-controlled actors known as bots or non-player characters (NPC) (Bell, 2008; Schroeder, 2008).

Virtual worlds include three-dimensional (3D) interactive environments such as Second Life and OpenSimulator. Furthermore, the term virtual world represents Multi User Virtual Environment (MUVE), Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG), Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), and Massively Multiplayer Online Social Games (MMOSG). Note that there are subtle differences in each of the above-mentioned terms, but those subtleties make no difference while discussing the issue of ethics. For example, MMORPG focuses on structured objective-based game play, whereas MMOSG focuses on social interaction and communication without a pre-defined structure.

Metaverse is the collective sum of all virtual worlds, virtual reality and augmented reality. The term metaverse was coined in a futuristic science fiction novel titled Snow Crash authored by Neal Stephenson in 1992 (Stephenson, 1992). In the Snow Crash novel human-controlled avatars interact with each other and with computer controlled agents known as bots, in a 3D space that uses the metaphor of the real world. In virtual worlds, users immerse themselves in a 3D environment using avatars to socialize, move around, buy objects, construct objects that they can sell or share, and communicate with other avatars and bots. Thus the immersive and global nature of virtual worlds with large number of users and complex interactions with elements of role-playing are attracting researchers from all fields to experiment using virtual worlds (McKee & Porter, 2009).

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