Virtual worlds are, in essence, meeting places. They aren’t video games, they aren’t chat rooms, and they aren’t social networks. They’ve been around for some time now, and chances are that you have stumbled upon one yourself. The premise of a virtual world is quite simple – users carry on social activities using their avatars in an open virtual environment. While not a video game, users may play games within the world, and while also not a chat room or a social network, users are meant to conduct conversations.
Of course, this is a virtual world. Your environment isn’t going to just be full of white picket fences and suburban houses with pink vinyl siding – this ain’t your mama’s Matrix. In these worlds, you can do anything. You can fly through the clouds, build your home on a deserted island, and be anyone who you want to be. I would compare it to lucid dreaming except in a monitor.
What Are Virtual Worlds?
Human interaction is the goal of these worlds, and no, it isn’t so you can IM the girl down the street who you like-like but are totally afraid to talk to in real life because you think she doesn’t know you exist (except she does, and she’s had a crush on you since the first grade, so she’s only dating the class president to make you jealous).
None of that drama exists here.
These worlds are meant for virtual physical human interaction where it would be otherwise impossible. Arguably, it could be said that you could hold better meetings with communication apps like Google Hangouts. That may be true, but virtual worlds provide opportunities such as world creation, adventures, and the occasional game.
Why Would You Want To Use A Virtual World?
Oh, there are a variety of reasons you might want to use a virtual world. For instance, you could remotely discuss body-hiding plans, arrange for a secret tryst, or even plan for drug shipment routes. Of course, while these reasons are unarguably valid, you likely won’t be participating in such a simulation because of them. Yes, there are bad things (milder than what I described), but there are good things too.
Practically speaking, these worlds are fun. Although they are not social networks, they can be used socially to encounter unique people and experiences one could never see in real life. Some worlds are even programmed to resemble real-world locations, so much like a Google Street View or Photo Tour, you can walk around and explore. However, in this case, you can do so with other people. Virtual worlds also provide the occasional game (using whatever means available), allowing for a variety of recreational usages.
Who Else Uses Virtual Worlds?
Many companies actually use these virtual communities for conferences or remote meetings. Rather than paying for a plane trip and a hotel room, you can simply attend from your desktop. Again, it could be argued that video conferencing would be a better tool for a virtual event. There’s no denying that video is a great device for this, but at the same time, there’s something about the physical aspect of it all.
You can “walk” over to a group and join a conversation, or you could privately engage someone away from the crowd. With that in mind, the physical placement of avatars allows for context: a speaker would be at the front of the room, and listeners would remain in their seats. Virtual classes for universities and business meetings are handled in the same manner. (Parties tend to happen, too!)
Of course, I should mention that other companies see these virtual worlds as advertising opportunities. No, you can’t download a Coca-Cola to your PC (yet), but you definitely can see an ad. Thanks to corporate, you can experience advertising in a way that emulates Minority Report. Speaking of Coke, the soda company actually held a contest in April 2007 for users to design an in-game vending machine for Second Life. Crazy, isn’t it?
What Virtual Worlds Are Available?
MakeUseOf has already put out an article about virtual worlds such as Second Life, Kaneva, and There. In all honesty, Second Life is about as good as it’s going to get. This is by far the widest platform for virtual world exploration, and the others function in a similar manner. However, bear in mind that some of these environments – even though they promote themselves as being free – require the purchase of some paid options for anything wild and crazy. With that said, you can actually sell things in these worlds like character models or attire.
However, there’s other stuff out there, too. Here’s a list of other worlds that you can explore:
Of course, these are just a few virtual worlds that exist online. There are loads more that you likely know about! Do us a favor and leave the URLs to some of your favorite virtual worlds.
What kinds of activities do you do in some of your favorite virtual worlds? Have you ever logged onto to a virtual world? Do you believe that there are any dangers to using a virtual world?
Image Credit: rafeejewell