Doing Virtually Nothing: Awareness and Accountability in Massively Multiplayer Online Worlds
To date the most popular and sophisticated types of virtual worlds can be found in the area of video gaming, especially in the genre of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG). Game developers have made great strides in achieving game worlds that look and feel increasingly realistic. However, despite these achievements in the visual realism of virtual game worlds, they are much less sophisticated when it comes to modeling face-to-face interaction. In face-to-face, ordinary social activities are “accountable,” that is, people use a variety of kinds of observational information about what others are doing in order to make sense of others’ actions and to tightly coordinate their own actions with others. Such information includes: (1) the real-time unfolding of turns-at-talk; (2) the observability of embodied activities; and (3) the direction of eye gaze for the purpose of gesturing. But despite the fact that today’s games provide virtual bodies, or “avatars,” for players to control, these avatars display much less information about players’ current state than real bodies do. In this paper, we discuss the impact of the lack of each type of information on players’ ability to tightly coordinate their activities and offer guidelines for improving coordination and, ultimately, the players’ social experience.