One interesting thought that popped into my head -I have the vatsim software for my flight sim, I presume it would work and as I mentioned its a very good thing. I wonder why I havent tried it. My thought is that I dont want to look like an idiot in front of real (all be it virtually real) people. People get mic fright in real life, the unwillingness to talk on the radio. I wonder if thats the same in a virtual sense? In WoW and similar there isn't the requirement for real time voice communication and action, you can chat via text if you feel so inclined but you respond at your leisure. I wonder how it would be if you could only chat using your real voice and the normal rules of sound were enforced so you could be out of earshot of things if you were too far away...
This led me to wonder about the nature of voice, the problem of mike fright, and the great big hairy furball of the magic circle.
Richard has an extended meditation on the introduction of voice into VWs, where he argues against it on the basis that it kills the magic circle and ruins the play characteristics (and lots more, of course, but I'm paraphrasing). I think that this is right if your job, as Richard's is, is to think about this from the perspective of the designer of immersive MMOGs where suspension of disbelief is key. But this can't be the complete answer from the Terra Nova perspective. First off, we have the empirical observation that the punters love it and are rushing to use voice. There could be lots of reasons for this, but my guess is that it may have something to do with that problem we keep bumping up against: the love of the magic circle, which I will define (badly) as the intuitive sense that these worlds are separate places where the self may be expressed without the limitations of the real and should therefore be protected against the osmotic pressure of real world considerations like money (and voice and external regulatory activity). Now, I don't buy the magic circle in the way that people like Richard and Ted do. I think the concept and experience of VWs as wholly distinct place is useful and I often find myself immersed in the environment; but my acceptance of the concept is highly contingent. Like most people I'm not a role player, even in games where that is rewarded. So I don't have any obvious play-based objections to the introduction of voice (pace Richard) or RMT (pace Ted). And in performance-critical environments such as MMO raids it's hard to imagine doing without Teamspeak or Vent; otherwise how else can the raidleader scream that "the next hunter to grab aggro will get booted"? (Although I do recall the amusing moment when of the class leaders in one old raiding guild I was involved in finally got a mike and we all discovered that he was a 12 year old. There was an extended period of total and utter silence. You could hear the crickets).
Leaving aside the magic circle problem (yes, please, let's leave it), the effect of voice doesn't play out consistently in all worlds, and the reception of it must be different depending on the social conventions and milieu. The truly social worlds (SL, There, etc) don't have any sense of a magic circle as far as I can tell. If the standard greeting in There is "ASL?" then it's not a big step for its residents to expect to hear reallife voice as well.[fn1] The social conventions of There assume identity-revealing behavior, and voice is an important part of that.[fn2] It's a neat trick, and totally in keeping with the social expectations of the world, for There to introduce a space-sensitive voice system where your voice fades as you walk away from me. It's hardly a surprise that it would be done in There and not, say, WoW. (Where I have never been asked for ASL info; unlike say CoH where I got it all the time).
Which leads me back to the thing that motivated my interest in this to start with: the psychology of voice use by players when it is available. Krista-Lee Malone, one of Thomas Malaby's students is looking at the way that women play MMOs within raiding guilds. One of her neat observations is that some women just refuse to talk at all, and will initially claim all manner of hardware-related excuses to do this. Or in the end they just abandon the pretense and it becomes clear in time that they don't want to talk and won't. Although I'm not female, I've had some experiences with mike fright. Of the two raiding guilds I've been involved in in WoW, I basically never said anything at all in one guild because I didn't have any sense of possessing any social capital within that guild and also because I felt that my voice would signal me as a Kristevian Other (Like the rest of me, my accent is Australian; and the rest of that group was distinctively North American). Even in the other raiding guild, where I feel much more at home, it took a while to feel comfortable saying much.
I don't have any strong sense about voice, except that it's pretty clear it is a significant issue to study. Richard's essay on this was called "Not yet, you fools". I wonder if today's response is "Yet. And yes, we were fools."
fn1: "Age, Sex, Location."
fn2: Let's leave for another day the interesting paradox that a world that has been adopted by teenagers has (internally generated) social conventions of identity disclosure that are problematic for exactly that class of individuals. I find it hard to conceive of a better lesson for "Save the Kiddies" regulators of privacy and identity than the emergence of these conventions in There and Myspace. But I digress. More on this when I get a moment.