The Third Culture: The Transforming (Visual) Culture in Globalized Virtual Worlds

The Third Culture: The Transforming (Visual) Culture in Globalized Virtual Worlds

Hsiao-Cheng (Sandrine) Han
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1665-1.ch018
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The purpose of this research is to improve the understanding of how users of online virtual worlds learn and/or relearn ‘culture' through the use of visual components. The goal of this research is to understand if culturally and historically authentic imagery is necessary for users to understand the virtual world; how virtual world residents form and reform their virtual culture; and whether the visual culture in the virtual world is imported from the real world, colonized by any dominate culture, or assimilated into a new culture. The main research question is: Is the authenticity of cultural imagery important to virtual world residents? This research investigates whether visual culture awareness can help students develop a better understanding of visual culture in the real world, and whether this awareness can help educators construct better curricula and pedagogy for visual culture education.
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3D animated virtual worlds such as Second Life and Open Simulator are new habitats for contemporary people (McLeod, Liu, & Axline, 2014; Wasko, Teigland, Leidner, & Jarvenpaa, 2011; Edwards, 2006). These virtual worlds do not require a storyline; users socialize, travel, and explore their creativity. Virtual worlds allow people who live in physically different places to communicate and learn from each other through the use of images, despite differences in their cultural backgrounds (Pearce, Boellstorff, & Nardi, 2011; Verhagen, Feldberg, van den Hooff, Meents, & Merikivi, 2012). In virtual worlds, each resident has the freedom to reconstruct a real world environment, create a world inspired by science fiction, or construct an imaginary, artistic atmosphere. The virtual world provides vast possibilities for visual expression (Burnett, 2002).

Virtual world content creators come from anywhere around the world and from diverse cultural backgrounds, and visual communication among residents in the virtual world is not limited by geographic location. Thus, the mixed and matched visual imagery created in the virtual world is often more culturally complex than the visual imagery of the real world (Han, 2015; Han, 2013a; Han, 2013b). All 3D visualized virtual world images, such as costumes, architecture, and even ordinary decorations, are influenced by the cultural backgrounds of their creators. This acknowledges that images are influential, and people learn and build objects in the virtual world reflecting their own ideology or knowledge based on what they have seen and observed in real world. Therefore, it is imperative to note the importance of visual culture in virtual worlds as a reflection of real world.

In this chapter, the term authentic imagery designates imagery that respects the cultural and historical background of that imagery in real world. In virtual worlds, residents come from diverse backgrounds, and they are able to freely create any visual image. There are many Asian sites created by Westerners, and artifacts that look as if they were made by aboriginals, but these virtual places and objects have actually been appropriated by people without considering their cultural backgrounds. Within this context, authentic imagery means imagery in which the elements and symbols of that imagery follow the cultural and historical background of the culture of origin.

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