Virtual Worlds and the 3-D Internet

Virtual Worlds and the 3-D Internet

Carolyn McKinnell Jacobson (Mount St. Mary’s University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 25
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-122-3.ch007
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A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment, usually modeled after the real world, accessed through an online interface, and inhabited by users in the form of avatars. The purpose of this chapter is to explore how these interactive, immersive environments are being used by a variety of organizations. Although various kinds of virtual worlds are introduced, this chapter focuses on the interactive 3-D virtual world of Second Life, describing its demographics and its features. Ways in which Second Life has been used by businesses, educational organizations, and political entities are then discussed. Legal issues associated with virtual worlds in general and Second Life in particular are raised. The chapter concludes with some ways this technology is expected to evolve in the future.
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The Internet is continuing to evolve, and the second phase promises to be as revolutionary as the first. In the early 1990s, the World Wide Web project led to widespread public interest in the Internet as a source of what would become massive amounts of interlinked, hypertext documents and applications. For about the first 10 years, interaction mainly consisted of a person accessing content on the Web. Since the beginning of the 21st century, the Internet has provided a much more dynamic platform, becoming more visual and allowing users to interact with each other in communities and share information in real time. The new Internet is a social medium, and online communities are taking on a new dimension, quite literally, in the form of immersive 3-D virtual worlds.

A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment, usually modeled after the real world and accessed through an online interface. It is inhabited by users in the form of avatars: two- or three-dimensional graphic characters that may resemble humans, animals, or imaginative creatures that take on fanciful names. These digital doppelgangers can then walk or fly around this virtual world, meeting other avatars, playing games, attending concerts and other events, and carrying on conversations through text chat.

Virtual worlds, sometimes also called digital worlds, have a number of characteristics in common (What is a Virtual World?, n.d.). Multiple users share a common space that is depicted visually, ranging in style from 2-D cartoon-like imagery to a more immersive 3-D environment. Any number of users may participate at the same time and interact in real time. These users are able to create, modify, and submit customized content. The virtual world permits and encourages the formation of in-world social groups, which may take the form of clubs, guilds, communities, sports teams, and so forth. The virtual world continues to exist whether or not an individual user is logged on.

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