The inevitability of voice

Voice in MMOGs is not new.  There has been TeamSpeak and even "Vent."  Yet now with Eve-Online's live testing of integrated voice (fn1), it is perhaps a good time to consider the future.  From the perfect hindsight of 2020, what will we have gained and what are we about to lose?

In "<> 30: a new reality?"  I was uneasy with the trendline that finds online gamers slipping almost without complaint into extensive use of voice in gaming.  I admire kick-a$$ voice-enabled butt kicking in highly tactical environments as much as anyone, yet I do mind the "ebbing away of the distinction between the virtual and the real identity/experience ."

Dan has pointed out that some players are penalized by voice chat because of their RW standing.  Anecdotally, for example, women seem to be put out by young-male gamer voice mongering (throw in a touch of adolescence and a bucket of pseudo-anonymity... you can imagine).

David Edery (recently) and game+girl=advance (GGA, a while ago) posted industry thinking about how voice-masking technology might be used to help compensate for some of this.  "Sound like a man!" wrote GGA.  However, both GGA and David cautions us that masking technologies could be used for evil by online predators.

A while back I was contemplating joining a player organization in a popular MMOG plagued with all sorts of nefarious player actions.  They insisted I come online and chat with them by voice:  it would help them decide whether I was trustworthy.

Here is a case where voice masking would have been inconvenient.

Perhaps voice in online games into the future is all about convenience ("Ma, no hands!").  But just as likely it is about introducing the real world currency of *you* into virtual domains.  It will be done to enhance social bonding (to the exclusion of more) as well help sort out some of the chaos that pseudo-anonymity has wrought (do you sound trustworthy?).

Will you miss the silence of your keyboard?

-----------------------------------------------------------------

fn1.  From here:

2007.02.28 08:29:55 | NEW
Dear players,

EVE Voice is currently active on Tranquility, but set to 'invite only' access. We would like to invite your corporation and/or alliance to help us with load testing, hardware compatibility and general feedback.


Comments on The inevitability of voice:

Judson says:

I always hated voice in warcraft, which I used to play a lot. I usually just listened, which is fine, as long as your not in the guild leadership really. Voice is different, and some people like it a lot, but I grew up on irc. When your main mode of conversation is text, you can talk to lots of people at once, about different things, and the participants don't all know you're talking to other people. When it's voice you all talk about the same thing, in public, usually with the same people. This is especially true in warcraft since voice isn't built in, the only people you can talk to are people that you have already shared connection info with.

I'm 28 and gay. I am somewhat selective in the people in a guild I like. Throw up a vent server, the girls stop talking completely, the shy people shut up mostly, and all that is left are the 12-18 year old guys, and it becomes a locker room. Not so much fun, really.

Posted Feb 28, 2007 10:10:44 PM | link

Jeff Freeman says:

I was uneasy with the trendline that finds online gamers slipping almost without complaint into extensive use of voice in gaming.

Those gamers have just been humoring you all along. They never really did want to play your weird little dress-up game.

Posted Feb 28, 2007 10:22:34 PM | link

Vincent Rijgezel says:

I still remember the old days, telephones had chords and if you wanted to change the tv-channel you had to walk up to the tv and touch some buttons.

But now I never give it a second thought, use what I need and the way I need it. So I can sms on my mobile/cellphone, if I want to say a lot with few words. Or call somebody up, when I want to say little with a lot of words. Eventually it will sort itself out.

Just as long as people still can "ignor/mute" other players. Or open a private channel within the group, in effect muting everybody else but the person you want to speak with. Then it will work in the same way as textchat does now. As for the "Predators", I suppose that you could place extra barriers to prefent this kind of behaviour. Working with invitation only groups, or as a feature that unlocks after achieving a certain standing with the group/guild/corp./etc.!

All in all, I expect that this will make cyberspace only bigger as meatspace is shrinking.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 1:09:09 AM | link

Cuppycake says:

I've never had a problem talking and speaking my mind in Ventrilo. I guess I prefer it because I have mild carpal tunnel. I'm a female gamer and I do get made fun of when I talk on Vent, but it really doesn't bother me much. Most guild I've been in are just happy to have a woman who actually speaks in their guild =P

Posted Mar 1, 2007 1:28:23 AM | link

Owen Kelly says:

I agree with Judson. If you introduce sound the whole ambience changes: the shy are revealed as shy, and the noisy start to dominate. (It is hard to type LOUDER than everyone else in the room!)

In my opinion, the tipping point will occur if/when voice starts to *replace* text chat.

In both SL and in academic Skype conferences I have recently found myself in private side-chats, discussing how and why the main thread was going wrong, planning an intervention with some allies, and then intervening. This is a benefit of text-based talk that simply cannot be replicated with location-based voice chat.

I could live with voice talk in many contexts, provided that this new ability to simultaneously side-chat is preserved. If simultaneous multi-chats disappear then there is a danger that we will simply retrench to "real life with added puppets".

Posted Mar 1, 2007 2:05:23 AM | link

Giulio Prisco says:

I know for sure that I will never miss the silence of my keyboard: if and when I want silence, I will take the headset off and switch the volume off. Just like I do on the web.

The announcement of voice in Second Life has predictably triggered a wave of outrage among those who see VR world mainly as a means to escape reality. Fine, if you don't want to use voice, just don't use it! But I know that for many applications voice is important. So I am happy to have the option available, and the freedom to choose using it or not.

Having more options to choose is always a good thing.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 3:52:06 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

Well, it's not really a case of use it, or don't use it. It's a case of what becomes the culturally accepted norm, and how what you choose to use, or not, affects your place in that culture.

This reminds me of something I read- it was a research paper by one of the contributors here- that came out with the conclusion that players who didn't use voice in guilds enjoyed the social aspect less than those who did. I always wanted to ask whether this was because, by choosing to type only, they were holding back from engaging with their fellows, or whether this was really a case of people feeling like second class guild-mates because the dominant, loud chattering types maybe looked down on them as being unfriendly, or the whole thing gave them mic-fright and put a negative spin on the whole guild thing for them.

Like was it actually listening to Ozzy Osbourne that caused midwestern teenage boys in the 80s to commit suicide, or was it being ostracised and pilloried just for listening to heavy metal and wearing black tee shirts that made them so miserable?

Quiet people, in my view, tend not to enjoy having to listen to a bunch of loudmouths talking over each other, or having to figure out a way to get what they say into the discussion. Easier just to clam up and resign to being a passenger, tune it out and go back to your sudoku or blog-browsing on the other window.

Text may get messy, but it's pretty democratic- everyone gets a say eventually.

When seven people in ten are all chatting away on voice, are the three wallflowers going to benefit? When group meetings are held only on voice, do the quiet get a say? These things tend to be decided by the pushy and obnoxious loud people. The rest of us will have to deal with it, or use our exit-clause and leave the space.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 7:15:18 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>Throw up a vent server, the girls stop talking completely, the shy people shut up mostly, and all that is left are the 12-18 year old guys, and it becomes a locker room. Not so much fun, really.

Right you are.

>When your main mode of conversation is text, you can talk to lots of people at once, about different things, and the participants don't all know you're talking to other people. When it's voice you all talk about the same thing, in public, usually with the same people.

Never thought about that aspect of it, and so true.

My thoughts, mainly in opposition, here:
http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/02/vox_lindeni.html

What I hate about this voice issue is that it brings out the same ugly features in people that being for or against Macs or Linuxes brings out, know-it-all tekkie bullshit.

What's especially humorous to watch -- all these pompous educators who pride themselves on doing 'the serious games' who lobby for voice to teach with. It's a little cultural domination thing. You almost hope all their students are busy messaging, texting, IMing, surfing, twittering and doing bunches of other typing and not listening to them drone on lol.

People who are IRC regulars use their adaption of the typing mode of online communication also as an argument against having any virtual world.

Then you have all these MUD floggers also claiming all their text-typing is superior to a virtual world. But hey, you want text-typing, I give you Second Life, a place that is nothing but the clattering of keys.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 8:08:57 AM | link

Kathy says:

I hate voice. I hate it with a passion. I'm a woman and I'm shy. I am a nerdy bookish person and I'm more at home with text. It's a place where my nasal voice and softness disappear and my ability to write lets my personality really come out. This is a real loss for me.

In overall gaming terms, I think this is the final notch in the conversion from a nerdly geeky pasttime to mainstream. Nerdly people are comfy in text. We aren't as comfy with voice.

In SL terms, this is the beginning of the conversion of SL from a diverse virtual world to a corporate tool. While the majority of users are against voice, the corporate and educaitonal voices are very very strongly in favor of it.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 9:04:24 AM | link

says:

Text (and democracy) are slow. In games with tactical situations, speech is the only way to give orders while fighting, etc. Evolutionarily, speech developed for a reason, and perhaps some of those needs are showing up in games.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 9:39:50 AM | link

Owen Kelly says:

Errm, speech is the only way to give one order at a time to a single large group of people. Text is the only way to give different orders at the same time to (and maintain communications with) many groups of people.

I am "an educator" and I am in SL, and I am very far from convinced about the desirability of voice. Too many educators see it as WebCT on steroids, a cheap n easy way to teach, in which case voice and whiteboards are what we need.

I see it as a (possible) arena for the development of new kinds of learning - and from that perspective I agree with Kathy and others. I WANT my students to be texting, IMing and generally doing bunches of other stuff, and I don't want the quiet ones pushed into a corner by those dressed in LOUD.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 10:06:39 AM | link

Linda Polin says:

Voice in MMOs, bah. I *do* think it breaks the 'magic circle' and I *am* a bit of a magic circle type. When I could hear Nemi's Tennessee twang, it didn't really enhance her night elf vibe, though it did help soften the edges on Cyrinic, our resident king of sarcasm. For me, voice in a fantasy game is the old proscenium arch in the theatre issue. It just makes it a little harder to have the real world drop away.

But, my main WoW guild loves its Vent, and uses it in two ways. First and most often, it gets over-used (imho) as a chat channel. Log in to WoW means log in to Vent. You don't have to, but folks expect you to be there. They love to be witty and funny. It's a party, often even with reference to beverages being consumed at the time. Yeah, that's it; it's a distributed co-party.

We do also use it for raids and instances, though we know each other so well as a team, we are just as likely to be party chatting as strategically chatting in an instance. (Recently, we all noticed we got quiet on our virgin run in Blood Furnace in the new WoW Outlands. By the second run we were yakking again.)

So, for a group of people famililar with each other, it actually enhances the co-play by providing another channel to express familiarity. In my "other" WoW guild, I know people much less well *personally* (as opposed to professionally, as colleagues), and I am not at all drawn to Teamspeex with them. ANd, there it gets used mainly for coordinating dungeon/raid actions.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 10:11:46 AM | link

Cayle says:

I hate voice. I hate it with a passion. I'm a woman and I'm shy. I am a nerdy bookish person and I'm more at home with text. It's a place where my nasal voice and softness disappear and my ability to write lets my personality really come out. This is a real loss for me.

In overall gaming terms, I think this is the final notch in the conversion from a nerdly geeky pasttime to mainstream. Nerdly people are comfy in text. We aren't as comfy with voice.

Exactly…

This will cause further stratification in game oriented online worlds between large, commercial. Achiever oriented worlds ( EQ, WoW, etc ) and smaller, community, hardcore RP worlds inhabited mostly by Simulationist and Dramitist oriented players. The latter are precisely the people who were early adopters of these worlds because they were more interesting than their real lives. I know of NWN persistent worlds where nobody uses voice, even though the world team maintains a teamspeak server.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 10:20:46 AM | link

JuJutsu says:

I sometimes use voice and sometimes don't. The problem that I have using ventrillo is much more mundane and pragmatic than the previous concerns here...My gaming computer is in my bedroom and during the work week any gaming I may get in is at night. I've learned the hard way that typing doesn't generate wife aggro, speaking does.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 10:35:23 AM | link

Jessica Mulligan says:

"Voice chat, bah! Why, in my day, we just opened a window and screamed out chat to the Guild mate who lived across the street! And we liked it that way!" Man, you guys sound like a bunch of Luddites... as viewed by the tech-savvy kids of 2020, :D.

It is just part of the evolution of virtual worlds. As the masking and voice fonts become better and more versatile and the technology become closer to 'no-brainer easy' to use, more and more players will use it; it is inevitable. If nothing else, all those guys who play female characters will use it to seamlessly mask their voices.

Sure, there will always be people who won't use it, but I can envision the day when 80%-plus DO use it.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 10:36:27 AM | link

Linda Polin says:

Yesh, very funny and true, Jessica. Luddites indeed. But just had another thought. One of the downsides of voice is the serial quality. Lordie we step on each other's talk constantly! Maybe we're just not good listeners, but..it's easier to have a simultaneous, multi-topic convo in text. Turn-taking is for wimps. (jk)

Posted Mar 1, 2007 11:28:15 AM | link

Linda Polin says:

p.s. voice fonts! would be so cool to be able to set my undead charrie voice to sound, well, undead. bwahahahahahaha

Posted Mar 1, 2007 11:30:52 AM | link

greglas says:

How far off are voice fonts? I know Richard said MMOG devs should wait for them (and it appears they won't), but I don't know how long the wait will be...

Posted Mar 1, 2007 11:44:27 AM | link

Mike Smith says:

As the landscape of MMO's continues to evolve, I do see Voice as the next natural progression, and one of necessity for those who "play to win" the games. By that I mean those who gain the most satisfaction out of their play experience by consistantly performing at a high level within the gaming environment, and usually in reference to a player versus player situation.

Let us look at EVE: Online for a moment. Over the past three years, the nature of combat in EVE has changed. Large-scale warfare has replaced, in many cases, the casual combat encounter. Because of this, text-based communications in EVE have become outmoded. When you are in a group of 10-200 pilots, commanding them and adapting to an ever-changing battlefiend in a timely manner is just not something that can be done by typing out orders. Instead, rapidly fired verbal commands have become the norm.

Are there some downsides to the text-to-voice evolution that seems to be occuring? Certainly. I've found that many times, even in a completely mature and "safe" voice environment, women tend to be more hesitant about engaging in conversation while gaming. Teenagers who were able to mask their age behind mature "sounding" text are suddenly revealed for who they are, and others perceptions of their worth invariably changes. There are, of course, other examples.

I personally think the evolution from text to voice is a good thing. I've led guilds/corps/factions in just about any MMO I've played in, and voice has been a requirement for the past 3-5 years for those who want to join. I believe it makes the entire play experience more personal, as it isn't just some faceless, voiceless, and emotionless avatar you are associating with. Instead, it is a real person whose feelings and emotions you can hear and comprehend. There is nothing "lost in translation" when you hear someone say something, as opposed to reading what they have written.

Moreover, the MMO's I play are strictly those that have open (read: not consensual) PvP. To truly excel here, the people who I lead need to be able to adapt to the changes in my orders right away, while not taking their eyes off of the prize. They need to be able to respond to me without halting or losing control of their character. In a competitive environment like the ones we find ourselves in, voice just makes more sense than text.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 11:53:22 AM | link

Hellinar says:

I just got a Beta invite to Lord of the Rings Online. They have an integrated voice server. I’d agree with Ace that, once you have integrated voice, you can’t just “not use it”. Not using it becomes a statement in itself. My experience of voice in fantasy game worlds is it ups the game part of the experience at the expense of the fantasy.

Since I play more for the story/world aspects of such games, I’d rather do without voice. It does give an easy opportunity to distinguish Roleplay from Game servers though. I hope Turbine put up a Roleplay server with voice chat disabled. That would be a cheap, and somewhat effective I think. Voice on a Roleplay server will have to wait for voice fonts.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 12:37:40 PM | link

Mike Raffensperger says:

I used to be a MAJOR anti-voice chat guy - probably a throwback to my MUD days. But once I started using it w/ friends I changed my tune.

I think in the end it's nearly universal adoption is probably inevitable in certain genres. In team based strategy games, it really is true that the mic is the most powerful weapon. Coordinating your strategy in real-time is just too useful (and with the right people, A LOT of fun).

IMO, the biggest trouble with voice is the prevalence of 13-18 year old boys who just try to be as crass and abrasive as possible. I'm into a little trash-talking, but when people are excessive or hurtful it really ruins the experience for me regardless of if I'm the target or not.

What I like about voice is that once you start using it you find it's much easier to make a personal connection with someone. That can be bad as stated above, but when it's with friends or simply somebody pretty cool you meet online I find it enhances my experience. So in the end the trick will be being able to avoid people you don't like and connecting with people you do. XBL does this pretty well. The PC needs an equivalent.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 12:51:42 PM | link

John Hopson says:

I've never been a huge voice person, but there's just no way to maintain good communication with typing under real time pressure. As an endgame raider in WoW, I need both hands working full time on the keyboard just for gameplay, let alone holding conversations or communicating changes in strategy.

While I sympathize with Judson's issues with voice communication, they're a property of playing with the wrong group of people not an inherent issue with voice. My guild is a group of older players who encourage quiet people to talk and have literally drummed people out of the guild for using homophobic slang on voice chat. Voice just brings out the per-existing nature of the group more strongly.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 1:04:33 PM | link

Cliff Hudson says:

Linda hit the nail on the head, I think. Voice won't replace text because of its serial nature. And worse, voice in games suffers from the inability of players to see each other and use visual cues to decide who will speak next (resulting in collision.) Where voice excels is in issuing directives where the timeliness of the information is critical. It is thus an interrupt-driven communication model in games.

The mishmash we see in current voice-use is, I believe, simply the growing-pains of learning how and when to use a new technology. This problem will likely solve itself as people come to realize the many shortcomings of using voice as they have been.

Text chat is and will remain useful for most other kinds of communication. It won't go away because it is now socially accepted that any given person is carrying on multiple simultaneous conversations in the background.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 1:08:47 PM | link

dave says:

Prediction - 'Mute' societies/guilds evolve in SL, WoW, and the like.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 2:15:56 PM | link

NeuroMan42 says:

We use Skype for small groups and sometimes Vent. Another great utility that we have been toying with, and so far works great is from Screaming Bee, called MorphVOX. Blizzard and other MMO companies need to intergrate something like this.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 2:28:33 PM | link

Allen Sligar says:

Going to have to agree with Jessica, TN gets -10 points for being a bit melodramatic and wow, not a little age bias going on in this thread

If a game or VW wants to get broad adoption they have to anticipate and embrace VOIP.

Besides that, education is not a one way street, a lot can be learned from younger gamers you'd otherwise never meet. Only the very worst or egomaniacal professors dont bother learning from thier students. Just as the very worst Game Devs dont bother listening to thier players.

Thankfully bad game developers dont get Tenure. Not so furtunate those students forced to sit through a semester of lectures by "The Unreceptive Professor".

I can understand the reluctance of RP'ers to use it, to use the less academic term, or VW proponents to not want it r/t escapist reasons.

The unfortunate consequence of SL becoming popular or rather the evolution of SL as a platform for 3d participation commercial and otherwise is that typing just does not do it for a corporation, they need as many channels as possible to "broadcast" the product.

The result might be distasteful to the early adoptors when thier VW becomes a weak reflection of the "meatworld". Especially, when one finds oneself "working" in a VW thats supposed to be an escape.

Interestingly preferance for VOIP adoption breaks down seamlessly (even based on a small data set)
by demographic, more so when you add in variance for Platform (Console, PC). Whats funny is that women gamers in a younger demographic dont seem to have any problem with VOIP, so the comments by the female MMOG/VW users I find particularly interesting.


Posted Mar 1, 2007 4:11:57 PM | link

Eric Ellis says:

The primary issue I have with voice is that it removes me from the RL environment I'm gaming in, and in many cases, that's in the family room with the family while they're watching TV. I'm not much of a TV fan, but we've found an acceptable "alone together" compromise where they watch and I play, and we occasionally interact. Headphones and microphone don't really mix in that environment.

I know there was some traffic earlier on TN about how and where you play in virtual worlds. My own experience is that something to be said for a moderate merging of the two, but voice seems to swing the pendulum a little too far, while text "plays nice" with cohabitation.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 5:15:08 PM | link

Anti says:

I find the arguments about voice vs. text to be bogus. In practice it's not difficult to find yourself in a situation where you have both voice AND text going on at the same time. The text in those situations is both broadcast and single-cast as needed.

More modes of communication can only improve a virtual world. Bring on electronically facilitated telepathy!

Posted Mar 1, 2007 5:36:44 PM | link

says:

I play World of Warcraft in an end-game raiding guild. Voice is necessary for coordination 25+ people. We don't mute people, but we all respect that there are those who are leading us through the dungeon. Many people (80% or more)in my guild choose to listen only when we play.

When we do smaller things, 5-10 players, it takes on a more social atmosphere. While there is cross-talk, we're all pretty close by now and respect each other's turns to speak. But again, there are those who choose not to speak and prefer to listen.

I am in between. I will speak on Vent every once in a while, but many times i will type while others are talking, so that my message is still "heard" but I do not interrupt anyone.

So for me . . . as long as everyone can listen in when the important stuff is being said over voice, I have no problems if others don't want to use it. I oddly don't care for it from a social aspect, simply because 1. private server for guild members only; and 2. I can keep up with many more conversations via text than I can via voice.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 5:57:34 PM | link

Matt Mihaly says:

Prokofy trolled:

Then you have all these MUD floggers also claiming all their text-typing is superior to a virtual world. But hey, you want text-typing, I give you Second Life, a place that is nothing but the clattering of keys.

*Gives her a nice juicy hambone. Trolls love hambones.*

--matt

Posted Mar 1, 2007 9:27:12 PM | link

says:

I am a shy, geeky person, but for me voice makes it easier to speak up. Even if I have the hands free from controlling my character to type at all, by the time I've thought of how I would like to say something and typed it in the conversation has moved on. I also find it nearly impossible to connect with people I don't know outside of the game unless I can hear their voice. Some of that may be that my online experience is all Guild Wars where each player may have many characters. Without hearing a voice it's hard to keep track of who a given character is. Finally, when I am out adventuring by myself I usually don't see the chat going by, even though I have the window open. But I can listen and talk to people if they are on the vent/ts server.

Posted Mar 1, 2007 11:48:41 PM | link

says:

I'm all for a voice chat *option* and also believe as technology advances it's inevitable to see more and more MMOGs offer it. However, what concerns me (as others have noted) is the rise in griefing / moderation / safety issues. They're much easier to identify and handle with a text chat log. However how does one report a griefing/abuse incident (when a moderatior isn't present to witness) and identify (even with a recording) who said what?

Posted Mar 2, 2007 4:39:04 AM | link

Andrew Crystall says:

Bar in mind that in most MMO's, chat is so limited that it IS linear. If your chat is not as basically functional as IRC, you're doing something wrong. Why do I need to use obscure and arcane commands?

Take WoW. I can only have one default chat channel. Even with multiple chat boxes open. How did anyone think that this was a good idea? Heck, my visual chat channel output selector is a mod!

Anyway, the Eve implimentation is Vixox, which plays very very badly with other voice utilities (refuses to be properly disabled, even when "inactive), and is VOIP and thus will suffer directly from QoS and VOIP blocking.

The answer I can see is Teamspeak 3, which apparently is being built so that game integration is perfectly possible.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 7:15:20 AM | link

Astryd Moore says:

From my perspective as a Second Life resident, I think the advent of voice is a shame in many ways but also inevitable.

I've just recently written about this; it's good to see that it's stimulating wider discussion and that it's not universally seen as a good thing.

I suspect there's always been tension between the people who want to extend their RL selves into the virtual space, making it like "Skype-3D", and those who want to take something other than RL there, using it more like a weird Jungian playground for their turbid imaginations. In the early stages of Second Life it was the second group that were hooked and were consequently paying; but in order to finance the next stage of its growth Linden Lab need to provide features which interest the first group at the risk of upsetting the second. And they can afford to lose a thousand people who don't like it, in the worst case scenario; look at their current sign-up rate!

One of the best things about Second Life has been the uneasy coexistence of the two groups so far, and the lack of an obvious way to tell them apart. With the advent of voice I suspect that will change...

Posted Mar 2, 2007 10:38:49 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Astryd, the point is, why would marketing companies and businesses come to Second Life, if it weren't for the attractive concept that a) there is a world and b) it's a world their customers mainly play, not work in.

That's the problem with this "inevitability" concept which is merely a word that those who are pro-voice inflict on dissenters to try to gain power. Nothing *has* to be inevitable unless those who are in power crush those who are not, ignoring democratic participation, even if it is in the majority. There is nothing "inevitable" about

So all these businesses have their self-important little seminars in Second Life. What are the seminars about? How to reach customers through innovative marketing techniques like presence in virtual worlds. And...where are those customers? Driven away by all these idiots in suits talking self-importantly about virtual worlds where they're going to market to other people and have them "interact with the brand".

But they'll be long gone, moving on to the next space if it comes into being or migrating even to lower tech options where they can once again feel free to create and socialize.

This "winner takes all" attitude of platformers will of course kill the very thing that is supposed to be the centerpierce of what they are selling: the world. And the Lindens will be handmaidens to the big corporations in committing this killing.

Having a bunch of suits talking to each other live in Second Life is as interesting as your usual boring RL teleconference call where somebody drones through the week's figures and activities reports. So you can fly to such a thing and so you can even paint yourself blue in such a thing, it can't take away from the basic emptiness.

Only if people can have their complete lives of living, shopping, cybering, creating, gaming, doing all the activities they want to do, will it continue to be attractive. And doing those activities for many is simply not as good when it has to have voice.

As most of the masses of people coming in are not big corporations and their staffs and not educators and their students *yet* (and we can't be sure they will be the majority).

I imagine what LL will do at some point is simply fork off and create an SL 2.0 on a separate grid with a separate asset server or something that can accommodate the need for businesses and educators to have a sanitized and less laggy environment. Then if they attract customers they will manage them directly, and they'll come from their own RL networks and websites, not from the masses signing on for SL as a world.

Of course, that will obviate the whole point, again, of ostensibly coming in to use SL to reach some mass audience, but some of the bigger ones will have the time and money to grow it slower and not worry about it, they already have all the numbers and profits they need as television or other media or computer software companies and they can just use this as an experimental place.

I can imagine that LL would also allow only on a limit basis those who supply land and services to 2.0 and they'll have to pay a lot more or deal at a bulk rate that LL will find worthwhile to include them.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 12:16:15 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I'm going to post a thread on this with stats and graphs, etc. when the paper gets published, but Nate is stealing my thunder, so . . .

In a controlled experimental test of voice and social impact, the group that stayed with text experienced drops in trust and happiness over time playing WoW, and the group that was given voice did not.

Make of that finding what you will, but it's clear evidence to me that voice--in the aggregate--is actually a social good on balance. That's not to say that people all want or like it, but it's clear that it is (in general) good for them.

I expect that voice fonts, masking and opt-in technologies for lurkers will eventually make it more palatable to those who prefer anonymity and less self-disclosure. I agree with those above who think deployment is inevitable, and think it's generally a good thing.

When you strip away all of the neuroses, personalities and status barriers, what you're left with is an understanding that with humans, more communication is generally better than less.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 2:59:33 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

In a controlled experimental test of voice and social impact, the group that stayed with text experienced drops in trust and happiness over time playing WoW, and the group that was given voice did not.

Make of that finding what you will, but it's clear evidence to me that voice--in the aggregate--is actually a social good on balance.

Not at all. That's silly. It's not a social good for those who don't want it; therefore calling it a social good just because *some* want it is misleading.

I'm amazed at how this totalitarian way of thinking catches on so easily among tekkies. They get to decide - by fiat -- what is a social good. Those who resist are told that it's a social good, shut up. If they try to show, well, no, it's not even a majoritarian chose, they are told to shut up, it's a social good. Why? Because the technical avant-garde thought it was a social good.

Then some "science" is marched forward to show "it's a social good, shut up".

It's really funny how, like Macs and Linux, the same types pushing voice are very good at saying "shut up" when the topic is actually "voice" lol.

Those who bond together better may be doing that anyway. The kind who chose voice may be a self-selected type. They may *already* be disposed to trusting others more by either being younger, or being longer-time gamerz, or not caring as much who they deal with on the Internet, or any one of a 100 factors that have nothing to do with voice.

Texters may be older, less trusting, and more cautious about their standards for contact. And that may explain why they don't tend to build up trust networks -- which in any way, are a kind of conformist-machine that others impose to maintain homogenity.

You might take people who text by choice, put them on voice, and they still wouldn't have trust.

You might take voicers and make them go on text, and they'd still have more trust because they are 14-year-old gamer boyz and not 45-year-old lesbian poetesses or something.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 3:32:26 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I actually didn't decide by fiat. I decided based on data. Those data generated a graph that shows one group going up and another going down where the dependent variables are things that we value: trust, happiness, and well-being. That's empiricism in a blind, randomly assigned, controlled test with no ideology whatsover.

You're welcome to challenge the results and offer your own interpretation, but take care not to accuse the experimenter of some agenda. You've just mocked a year's worth of very difficult work in which I had no idea what the outcome would be. I hope you read the final article and make a more informed judgment.

Note also that I am careful to qualify the results as applying to aggregates and not individuals. Certainly voice is not going to be good for some. It may well be bad, but I doubt it based on the data. The variances on the means of these lines and scatterplots of the raw data do not show giant outliers for whom there are tremendous gains and losses.

More, and longer-term studies on larger groups would of course give us better insight. Like any empiricist, I'd welcome more data. But I would also look and listen to the data in hand and not dismiss it if it didn't agree with my sensibilities. That--quotation marks now appropriate--is how "science" works.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 4:18:58 PM | link

Marcus Riedner says:

I have worked in a number of text heavy environments, from MUD's and MOO's to text based chat. One thing that has been consistent throughout my experience with text based communications is a strong tendency for miss-communication and communication disconnect. In fact, because our company is almost exclusively telecommuters, we are always dealing with the problems found with text based communication mediums.

That is one reason why we are always using VoIP applications like Skype.

The same situations found in the workplace are also, in my experience, found in gaming environments. In addition there is the added stress of time, particularly in fast paced or high tension situations. Moving to a voice based communications method solves a number of these problems, particularly in areas of group dynamics and real-time activities.

The concern about adolescents, vulgarity, bullying, and the problems associated with anonymity in online communications are very challenging issues. These issues go well beyond the gaming world as the Internet and its various communication methods become more widely adopted.

Perhaps the solution will come when video conferencing becomes viable as a common communications medium. I highly doubt it, I think as long as there is a physical barrier such as a computer screen people will feel less restricted from socially unacceptable behavior.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 5:53:19 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Dmitri, I've just explained about the ideology that crept in before you measured a single measureable. You have a built-in assumption, in every woof and warp of your experiment, visible to the naked eye, that voice is better and makes for more trust. While you may claim that you didn't going into it, I have to raise questions about it because unless you indicate otherwise, it seems you used self-selected people who had already pre-selected voice as their option, showing that they are the kind of people for whom voice works AND the kind of people, demographically, for other reasons, who may find it easier to trust strangers on the Internet, at least subjectively, and at least for the purposes of a WoW guild raid.

You've then gone about and found the self-selected supporters of that viewpoint who are voice fans and moved readily to voice.

You've then gone to people who don't support voice, and then imposed on them your notion of "voice is good and makes better community" by measuring them too, with the same ruler, a ruler that says "voice is better". Because -- unless you had this methodology and didn't tell us -- you didn't swap groups, or try the groups with text first, then voice, then back.

You've then said, see, scientifically I've proved that voice is better for trust -- when you chose *the kind of people who make better trust anyway, no matter what* and *chosen the kind of people who don't make trust on the Internet readily for valid reasons* (as if "trust on the Internet* is the absolute good we need measure here and is self-evident and that "those who don't trust other Internet fuckwards on the Internet are bad".

Have you heard of concepts like the Socratic method, double-blinds, etc. etc.?

To do this without any bias, here's what you'd have to do:

1. After you have gathered the data about the voice people and their subjective answers to your questionnaires, and the text people and their subjective answers to your questionnaires, switch them.

2. Have the people who established the voice go for another month and see if text makes their subjective answers now say "our trust deteriorated" (someone can think about the problem of how they are already tainted by having pre-established rapport).

3. Have the people who text and didn't trust use voice for a month and see how they do. You have two separate groups, then you swap.

Yes, I do feel free to *rigorously question* (that isn't "mocking") a year's worth of work, I'm sorry. Because you -- and the many less-informed people who cite you -- will be bludgeoning texters to death with Voice fascism for generations to come, citing this study. Sorry, but I do have to question somebody doing that.

This is supposed to be an intellectual environment where people can ask questions, and test suppositions, and challenge hypotheses.

It seems you have a great deal of emotion tied up into the idea that voice builds better trust such that you have to be defensive in this way by invoking hard work, a year's worth of effort, etc.

The fact is, *even if* you find that *for some people* who are *already predisposed to liking voice better for demographic or ideological reasons* that proves nothing about "voice being better for trust building".

Other people who text will prefer many other things about text -- one of which is the record that it leaves easily to be consulted; another of which is that people who are challenged (deaf, shy, transgendered, foreign, whatever) have a better shot at building up trust and connections by being able to type with everybody else in the scroll. Yet another reason is that people can make terribly biased and subjective judgements based on a voice ("that person is an ugly SUV-driving American based on their nasal twang; that person must be and old codger based on their raspy voice," etc.) Text frees you from that subjective interference.

Science works by constantly questioning. Constantly. that's the hallmark of science. You can't say "I have proved in this one study that voice works this way" because your findings *would have to be replicated*.

Geez, this sounds almost as bad as Nick Yee claiming he can measure avatar's gazes when everyone knows that avatars don't gaze at all.

You're looking ultimately at only one piece of the elephant: what people subjectively say about trust and happiness.

But those who went to voice are the kinds of people who went to voice because they already trust people more and don't mind revealing their voice. They are people who are for all kinds of reason -- not being hearing-impaired, not being foreigners in an English-dominated setting, not being a minority of any type, not being transgendered, not caring if they break the magic or whatever -- don't gravitate toward voice. Hello? You are using self-selected people who will automatically deliver a better result.

Did you create randomly assigned groups, arbitrarily assigning voice capacity to one group and text to another regardless of their past gaming history? Did you inventory their past gaming history, and deliberately mix up some people in some percentage, putting some who used voice in the text group?

It just seems to me that if you take self-selected voice fans and self-selected text fans, you will come out with the voice people saying it builds trust for them more, subjectively. The text people, who don't wish to build RL trust, will subjectively say, no, they don't experience as much trust.

Dmitry, this kind of stuff is just tremendously arrogant, and just not science, but ideology:

"Note also that I am careful to qualify the results as applying to aggregates and not individuals. Certainly voice is not going to be good for some. It may well be bad, but I doubt it based on the data. The variances on the means of these lines and scatterplots of the raw data do not show giant outliers for whom there are tremendous gains and losses."

It's just preposterous, based on one study by one person, to mount a premise that "voice is not going to be good for some". Just as the deaf, the foreign, the shy, the transgendered. Or...are these mere scattered raw data for you, and not people?

o You have self-selected people who chose voice or text at the get-go
o You didn't survey them and mix them up
o You didn't switch them afterwards

(if you did any of these things, I'm sorry, but you don't mention that you do)

o you only have your sample, and we don't know if it is even a representative sample, with geographical or cultural weighting or anything of that sort.

I don't see why, on the basis of one study that doesn't work to remove inherent bias in persons who self-select voice or text, that we have to abide by its conclusions and now browbeat anybody who raises objections to voice, and gun them down now with a new PC dogma, "Voice has been proven to build more trust so you are suspect if you type text, and what's wrong with you that you won't type text?"

BTW, just so that you or others don't start up some tripe, I don't care *at all* if I have to use Voice in Second Life. If a customer wants voice, they'll have it turned on their land, full stop. It's a feature, you offer it, like movies or no push. If they want to hear their landlord talking to them, they will, they already can do that on Skype. No problem whatsoever.

But I also want to make sure that those who do NOT want this have the freedom to live without it. That they are not treated as mere "outliers" (nobody has measured these kinds of minority populations; you yourself no doubt had absolutely none of those minority populations in your study, but correct me if I'm wrong).

You're the one, ultimately, who has made a finding and now grown an entire sensibility around it. I wish to find the facts, not learn about your inherent biases.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 5:56:47 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

I don't actually care what the data turned out to be. The test was exploratory and I thought any outcome would be interesting. It happens that in the tests, voice users fared better than text users. The opposite could have been the case, and I would have reported that just the same. There is no built-in bias to the instrument. The voice users could have just as easily shown decreases. But they didn't. The text users did. What I find interesting about that is #1 the difference for medium, and #2, that the baseline condition of small groups in WoW apparently leads to negative outcomes.

I didn't have the resources to try the variations you suggest in your 1-3. Also, some of those test interaction effects and orders, not direct effects. You have to do the direct test as a baseline first and then others can come in to a) replicate and challenge the results and b) allow for variations and comparisons.

To address your challenges, the groups were existing text-only guilds who had never heard of VoIP use. They did not self-select to condition. If there's a bias there, it's toward late-adopters and people less predisposed to use voice, not more. They were measured in a pre-test and then assigned randomly to the text or voice condition. Then, to be further conservative, the two conditions were compared to see if they matched on prior play, prior association, experience, age, gender, income, ideology and race. When they weren't (income and age differed slightly), we applied a statistical control to the model.

You may consider the use of means and variances and changes over time to be an arrogant method of measuring human behavior. It's certainly a well-worn charge. My only counter is that methods like mine are never good for predicting the behavior of an individual, and I take care not to use them that way. That is the path of blaming Columbine on games, and yours truly has gone to significant lengths to fight it. After a test like this, you'll always hear a responsible social scientist qualify the results using terminology like I did: in general, generally, etc.

The method was a double blind, the Socratic method doesn't apply here, and you are impolite.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 7:03:36 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Dmitri,

At root, you are the impolite one for mustering science in the service of an ideology -- an ideology that privileges voicing, and invades immersive worlds. That's the impoliteness we're dealing with here from the get-go.

And Dmitri, welcome to the Internet. It is a place of free intellectual inquiry where even the non-credentialed and even the anonymous get to ask you to justify your claims. There is no more Ivory Tower.

I know you have a great deal politically, personally, and professionally invested in your research and you resent being challenged. But challenge you I must, because I don't see the validity of your "direct test".

I don't understand why "resources" are needed to do a basic thing: take groups, test them over a month, then switch then, test them over the next month. You had a year, and you appear to be solidly established already, so the invocation of "resources" doesn't add up.

I reject the idea that what you did was "the baseline test" or "the direct test". It's just what you view to be the case.

This statement on your methodology is already looking a whole lot better than the way you first presented it:

"To address your challenges, the groups were existing text-only guilds who had never heard of VoIP use. They did not self-select to condition. If there's a bias there, it's toward late-adopters and people less predisposed to use voice, not more. They were measured in a pre-test and then assigned randomly to the text or voice condition. Then, to be further conservative, the two conditions were compared to see if they matched on prior play, prior association, experience, age, gender, income, ideology and race. When they weren't (income and age differed slightly), we applied a statistical control to the model."

And it's unfortunate that it takes direct, confrontational challenges from me to pull out that information; it wasn't on your website anywhere, not in any publication, and not here.

It's much, much better if you take a sample group of all texters, then poll them to see if they have any prior biases by being voice players in another game or something (I presume that's what you mean by your queries about "people less predisposed to use voice").
If they are then truly randomly assigned for voice or text, it seems solid.

But then you really have to go on to the next step, or rather, to have a parallel group. And that is a group that starts out as all voicers. And then that group is mixed up. And then the voicers are seen if in fact their sense of cooperation and trust and happiness goes *down* or *deteriorates* due to being texted now. If it does, and you can also correlate that with texters-to-voice improvements, perhaps you have a workable premise.

But that premise is only value about this selected sample. The sample is "the people who play games today". That sample is a tiny self-selected sample of people good at technology and inclined to experiment because gaming and video technology in general isn't pervasive even throughout the developed world. So once you do a lot more kinds of experiments, you might find that it isn't true.

There's also the actualities of field testing. Voice might work for those 10 kids playing WoW doing a quest. It might work for that one professor who has 20 docile students listening to him to get a grade, while they privately text and AIM and IM their friends in....yes, text, not voice.

But will it work for a crowded sim of 100 people or even 20 from all over the world trying to accomplish reconciliation of some basic political difference, in real life or Second Life? Maybe not. Let's not make any false claims of hands-across-the-sea and circles of people linking arms and singing Kumbayah, shall we?
It's just a raid in WoW, so far, hmmm?

The broader problem I see with this, no matter how much it's fixed up is that there are a number of built-in cultural biases that get delivered in social cues even if not delivered in the test. These include basic tenets of a belief system that usually brooks no challenge, and whose proponents even become angry and defensive like the most orthodox of creationist belief if questioned:

o all technology is good
o progress is good
o progress and technology are inevitable
o voice represents higher technology and is better
o text is outmoded and not progressive
o science is always right
o testing with one sample albeit using rigorous criteria is enough to extrapolate a premise across all other boundaries from that experiment

Every parent in the universe knows that Columbine is indeed related in some way to video games. They just don't have any direct line of cause and effect and can't be suer HOW it is related; perhaps the relationship is only subjective, spiritual, tentative. And that's because there likely isn't one that plays out as 'science'.

Do people who are socially isolated tend to play video games and then reinforce their social isolation? Do addictive video games work negatively on people already vulnerable to social isolation? Are video games an expression of the culture's already existing inherent violence and despair already inbibed by young people? These are all good questions to keep asking, and asking each time there is a violent incident where somebody plays video games. Video games don't get to be absolved just because they're cool and progressive and high-tech and give lots of geeks good jobs; they don't get to be indicted for causing evil, either, just because an evil-doer plays them who happens to commit some other crime. But you must remain curious, and open to the fact that perhaps in some cases, the diminishing of the value of human life, and the reinforcement of social isolation, mix to produce deadly results. If you refuse to even entertain that hypothesis, you are not a scientist, but an idealogue.

Why can't the Socratic method apply?


Posted Mar 2, 2007 7:38:48 PM | link

Astryd Moore says:

Dmitri wrote:

In a controlled experimental test of voice and social impact, the group that stayed with text experienced drops in trust and happiness over time playing WoW, and the group that was given voice did not.

Make of that finding what you will, but it's clear evidence to me that voice--in the aggregate--is actually a social good on balance. That's not to say that people all want or like it, but it's clear that it is (in general) good for them.


Oh Dmitri, I want to take issue with this on so many levels :-)

Firstly, I think it's relevant that your study was conducted in WoW. The key thing to remember about WoW is that it tells you what to do; there's a point to WoW, a "win condition", if you like. WoW users spend the majority of their time in-world working towards fairly narrow pre-defined goals about which there is widespread agreement -- quest chains, guild raids to collect epic armour, and so on. In such an environment people's communicative efforts are geared towards working collaboratively on those shared goals -- practical arrangements to do with who is going to kill what, and who gets what types of treasure. Because the behaviour of others is likely to impact directly on whether or not you achieve your goals, WoW players apply a pretty narrow set of criteria to people who they might be thinking of partying with. Will they collaborate well or not? Can they work as a team? It is a real pain in the ass when someone you are partying with in WoW lets you get killed while they take the treasure and run.

So, because your study was conducted in WoW, I assume you're talking about trust in that very narrow WoW sense, of "trust to kill the Xes", or "trust to let me pick up any Ys that we find". And if you are then I don't see how that applies to Second Life. What kind of trust assessment am I to make of someone there? There are no goals in Second Life -- not in the narrow sense of the WoW goals. It's a much broader view of someone's character that's required, and figuring that out is an open-ended process that takes time and can just as easily be done over text -- perhaps more easily. If I discover when using voice that the furry I'm talking to is a human with a Venezuelan accent, or that the Gorean slave girl over there sounds a lot like my uncle, or the ganster dude with the guns and bling is very shy and has a terrible stutter, how has that helped me to assess anything useful? Am I now just going to be pointlessly mistrustful of that person for all the wrong reasons?


Secondly, if you take an existing world of WoW players and give half of them voice, of course the other half who are still texting will feel that they're missing out on something new. They may also imagine -- whether or not it's true -- that voice would make it easier to assess the trustworthiness of their fellow players. Accurate information about people's real intentions is a perennial human want, and people will of course project that quality into the new thing, particularly if they don't have it. Of course they will experience drops in trust if they feel that there is a more reliable method of communication that is being withheld from them. Oh, and of course many geeks will experience drops in happiness if they are prevented from using the latest technology and told to stick to text. I bet when the Burning Crusade expansion came out recently, if you'd asked a group of players to carry on using the old version, they would have experienced "drops in happiness" too, as they saw all of those level 70 blood elves running about the place.


Thirdly, even if it were true that introducing voice made people more trusting than they were when using text, it's not clear to me that increased trust levels by themselves are a "social good". Your study didn't report on whether people became more trustworthy in the voice group. So in the absence of any observed change in trustworthiness, why is it better to trust people more? Increased levels of trust with unchanged behaviour could be seen as a social ill, surely?


Prokofy -- broadly speaking I agree with you. I think it is quite possible that the interesting and quirky "early adopters" will be long gone from Second Life by the time that the corporates are there in force trying to market things to them. However, with the numbers that LL are currently signing up, everyone who arrived before 2006 could leave tomorrow and they'd hardly notice. In fact it would give them a couple of months' breathing space from the population increase while they got their asset server sorted out.

I hope it's clear from what I've written that I'm by no means an enthusiastic pro-voicer. So when I say it's "inevitable" I don't mean because I think it's a social good, or because it's the right thing for Linden Lab to do, or even that the majority of people want it or will benefit from it. I just think it's inevitable in the old-fashioned sense of "unavoidable". Firstly, I imagine that someone in the geek core of Linden Lab (James Linden?) has been driving this project forwards for a long time, because of a personal conviction that voice would be Really Cool. Secondly, I imagine the commercial relationships involved with Vivox et al are already at a stage where it cannot be backed out of. Oh and it's been publicly announced too, so that would make it doubly tricky. And finally, once it's released into the grid then some people will start using it straight away; those people will look down on the voiceless and inculcate feelings of inadequacy and untrustworthiness in them, and they will feel compelled to adopt it; and by means of those individual choices it will slowly percolate through the population.

I really hope you're right, and that LL do bifurcate the grid into two; one with the "world" as we know it, and the other that's been cleaned up nicely for the businesses and educators. That could work quite well actually. On the one hand the "world" will be full of creative types who can feed ideas and content to LL, who can use them to add value to their business offering; on the other hand the corporates can pay vastly more money for their sanitised virtual space, which can be fed into improving the creaking infrastructure behind Second Life.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 8:31:02 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

You have no idea what you are talking about.

Welcome to the Internet. It is a place of free intellectual inquiry where even the non-credentialed get to rant, but also a place where I don't have to read your comments anymore.

Of course, if we were on voice, maybe you'd be more persuasive.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 8:39:22 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Astryd,

Yes, the context of the use makes a great difference, and results from a type of WoW player, at a specific time in the game's lifecycle and from a certain guild size do not readily apply to any other virtual space. The link to SL is not a strong one. I offer the WoW findings as a single data point from which others can build by replicating the tests in SL and other spaces and in different ways. That will be all to the good. In the interim, this is the only data point I know of on VoIP in virtual spaces, so it's merely a start.

I agree that a study of SL would need to be carried out very, very differently.

For the rest of the methodological details about condition, assignment, etc, I'm going to beg off until the thing is published and I can share it fully. However, if you want a copy of the under-review version, contact me off-blog and you can see it all.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 8:45:58 PM | link

greglas says:

Dmitri --

That's interesting -- I don't read a lot in this area, but are your findings pretty much consistent with previous work on email? I.e., the tone drops out, hence there's more potential for miscommunication/misunderstanding?

Posted Mar 2, 2007 9:03:53 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Well said, Astryd. You've summed up the issues well. And of course this study is related to WoW and games that already have voice as a means to coordinate killing on raids, where everyone is driven to kill.

Let's see if it works as well when people are driving to collaborate not to destroy, but to create. I'm going to say: no. It crushes dissent and minorities. That's wrong.

"those people will look down on the voiceless and inculcate feelings of inadequacy and untrustworthiness in them, and they will feel compelled to adopt it; and by means of those individual choices it will slowly percolate through the population."

Yes, but what kind of world is it where you bully and harass people and humiliate them into accepting a feature? A feature that in fact "scientists" haven't proved is better for virtuality?

>Welcome to the Internet. It is a place of free intellectual inquiry where even the non-credentialed get to rant, but also a place where I don't have to read your comments anymore.

>Of course, if we were on voice, maybe you'd be more persuasive.

Um, you're the one advocating voice with your "science". So you'd be the one ranting and "persuading" using a voice.

I'm still texting and happy to go on texting -- or voice, depending on what the customer requests. And I remain inquisitive about the real value-add of Voice, because I don't see it. laggy, crashy, expensive, divisive. The real question is whether people will admit it doesn't work or be ideologically driven once again with the Geek Agenda as Astryd aptly pointed out.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 10:13:55 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

That's about right. Consider a spectrum of richness across media: face-to-face, video, audio, text.

As you move from left to right, you lose cues and information. There are, for example, thousands of cues from a face to face exchange that we lose in voice-only and text-only communications. I mean, has anyone *not* had a misunderstanding via email because they conveyed the wrong tone accidentally? Voice fixes that, but face to face fixes it even better because you also get the gestures and eye and facial cues.

So as you lose cues going from richer to poorer media, you get both misunderstanding and anonymity. The latter has complex pros and cons. Imagine having the ability to hide certain aspects of yourself at your workplace: appearance, sound, etc. Those who do hide these things get a mixed bag of outcomes: they can enter new spaces and avoid marginalization, but at the same time they suffer from having less information and even--here I'm hypothesizing--real affective ties.

I think that human relationships inherently involve some risk and exposure. Without giving something of yourself up, you can't get something real in return. And the media we use often dictate how much we give up, on purpose or by accident. So I think the people using voice are engaging in slightly more full relationships because they are giving away more about themselves. I've watched lots of people move from text to voice and seen it have a pretty familiar pattern. It makes one subset uncomfortable right away because they fear ostracism, racism, and many other isms. And they are right to worry because those things do happen. Locker rooms do sprout. Homophobia and racism can reappear. But not always. Results like mine collapse a lot of other phenomena into one line, and it's only when we get follow ups that we start to discover the intervening variables.

In the end, those who disclose more about themselves (i.e. take that risk) get more in return, I think. They are less lonely. McKenna and Bargh found that about 5 years ago, and I think it fits the voice data as well: self disclosure leads to a deeper series of ties between people, even online. It's more information and it's more human and engaging, capitalizing on the sensory and interpersonal tools that we have evolved over millenia.

It'll be really interesting to watch as people create and manage opt-in and opt-out and masking tools to mediate their levels of exposure. They're essentially saying how much of themselves they want to reveal with their choices. And, the data from my one study and the McKenna and Bargh and others, generally suggest that those people who take the richer media and use it will probably fare the best, socially and emotionally. McKenna actually found that this effect transcended how shy people were, i.e. the shy people who took the leap of faith thrived, and the extroverts who didn't started having losses. It's a bit counterintuitive at first, but it's a better explanation than just that shy people suffer. It tells when and why.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 10:29:56 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

*That's about right, Greg.

Posted Mar 2, 2007 10:33:49 PM | link

greglas says:

Thanks for the elaboration.

Just a thought (and I realize this doesn't follow exactly) but I wonder if you're right about the above, the radically transparent/zero-privacy/full-life-history-and-baggage-online set might have something going for it.

http://www.collisiondetection.net/mt/archives/2007/02/_every_time_you.html#001630

Posted Mar 2, 2007 10:41:46 PM | link

Daniel Speed says:

> Let's see if it works as well when people are driving to collaborate not to destroy, but to create. I'm going to say: no. It crushes dissent and minorities. That's wrong.

Welcome to Terranova, where Prok crushes any dissent with her quite normative views on what the world and people should be like through the use of text alone.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 6:02:22 AM | link

Astryd Moore says:

Dmitri, what you say in reply to Greg sounds very interesting and persuasive. However it assumes that people come to something like Second Life in order to bring their Real Life selves into the virtual space; and how richly and fully and genuinely they are able to bring themselves in will of course correlate with how well they communicate, how accurately their trustworthiness is assessed, how fulfilling this experience is for them, and so on.

I don't think it's a given that this is the only way to engage with the virtual, though. There's another kind of engagement -- what you might perhaps call a Jungian one -- where people come to Second Life to play out archetypal themes, or aspects of self. They can bring different aspects of themselves here by means of the creative use of alts. I use the example on my blog of two people I know in Second Life, one male and one female, who I strongly suspect are "played" by one person in Real Life; there's something about their respective personalities and the interaction between the two that is being expressed here by that Real Life person, and it's only possible because the limited engagement of avatar plus chat allows for a certain amount of "creative dishonesty" on his/her part.

Going back to your study on WoW for a moment, did you use a "normal" WoW server for your study, or an RP server? My experience of normal WoW servers is that the persona of the WoW character is worn very lightly, and role play is not taken that seriously. I've never been on the RP servers, so I don't know how seriously they all take it, but I'd guess that the RP community in WoW would have been more resistant to voice because it would make it harder to be anything other than themselves. Tricky for many people to role play being an orc or whatever when using voice; people are better text actors than voice actors.

Much of the culture of Second Life exists because of this kind of roleplay, and the scope for creative dishonesty makes it possible. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes annoying, sometimes seedy and unappealing on closer inspection, but I think it gives Second Life some of its flavour.

There was a case in the UK a few years ago of a supermarket being taken to court because their Stilton cheese, when examined under a microscope, was found to contain the dead bodies of mites and their excrement. The case was thrown out because all Stilton contains that stuff, it's supposed to. The trick is to enjoy the flavour it brings without looking too closely.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 6:21:53 AM | link

Astryd Moore says:

Daniel, isn't Prokofy just offering his view of the likely effect of voice on social processes? I don't read what he says as being prescriptive; more like a prediction.

It's an interesting point he's making, if I understand it correctly. The kinds of cooperation and collaboration required in a hunting party may well be entirely different from those required when building a community. Hunting requires speed, coordination, accuracy and a certain kind of trust. (It is admittedly tricky to type during combat in WoW.) Community building requires the evolution of consensus, the toleration of dissenting voices, the peaceful coexistence of minorities. The features that make voice useful in one situation might actually hinder the other.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 6:30:28 AM | link

Daniel Speed says:

Prok is her own worst enemy. Whatever valid opinions and statements she brings to the discussion table, she herself marginalises through her long aggressive posts which are frequently just used to bludgeon people into submission. I find it ironic that one of her arguments against voice so closely mirrors exactly what I think she engages in.

This isn't to say that I'm particularly keen on having voice coms imposed on me. As a developer, I'm in the difficult position of having to conceal my identity when I play, but I also do live presentations. If someone connects my voice (or IP) to my developer identity then I'm going to have difficulty participating in some aspects of our game.

As can be seen from some of the stuff that's been going on in Eve Online recently, there's clearly other issues with the real world leaking into games - the games start to get introduced to the real world too. Social networks outside of the virtual world, that are created by the virtual world can be very positive, but clearly it can also take harassment, griefing and other negative behaviours with it.

This is a larger issue than just voice - we have the concept of the magic circle that sort of implies it can be bad for stuff to leak in (that up to individual opinions and debate of course), but perhaps there should also be a "reality circle".

Whatever my views on some of Prok's posts here, for example, I don't think that she should be harassed with phonecalls or emails, but I suspect that the annonymity and disconnection from real life (and laws that are meant to protect people) of some of these social spaces is also the thing that encourages some people to behave in horrible ways across those boundaries, where the protections offered to people are so much weaker. You might get banned for harassment if you sent horrible messages to someone in-world, but if you can figure out their real-life email, you can go make a disposable email account and do it outside, where the virtual world operator has no logs or recourse.

The only option for the people that run these things would initially appear to be to take these systems in-house, to make them secure and give them the ability to respond against those that would abuse them.

I don't think it's correct to imply that no community building occurs in WoW or other online games, just because they also include gamey bits.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 7:13:49 AM | link

lewy says:

Astryd Moore wrote:

"Community building requires the evolution of consensus, the toleration of dissenting voices, the peaceful coexistence of minorities."

That's a definition of one type of community, certainly, but it's not a universal description. In Japan for example there is a proverb which runs "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down." Is diversity required for a successful community? I would argue that the Japanese answer would be "No".

In fact, in terms of community I would argue that Korean guilds, for instance, have a much higher degree of cohesiveness than their Western counterparts. It's even more interesting when you consider that the issue of voice chat in Korea is moot when the play style is getting together in person with your guild to play at the local PC cafe.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 7:57:53 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

lewy,

We're about to see whether the Western culture, which emphasizes the individual and the protection of minorities and universality of rights will ultimately prevail in various ways over the Eastern culture, which emphasizes the collective, conformity, suppression of dissent, and "Asian values". It really does come starkly down to these features of culture, whether in games, worlds, or real life. And they really are clashing, more and more, which accounts for a lot of the stresses and strains in worlds real and virtual.

Before, the fighters could stay in their own corners, so to speak, but with globalization, and with something like the Metaverse spanning continents in cyberspace, they will become both more and more confrontational and more and more exposed to each other along their respective fault lines.

If you think this is a facile remark, you have only to look at your own post, where essentially you say, "Korean guilds are better just because they are, because I say so, because I think community means suppression of dissent which leads to cohesiveness" and where I can say, "More cohesive for WHAT purpose? Suppression of dissent? prove that this is both economically and politically viable and flexible enough for the many challenges facing real and simulated life".

Daniel, I'll tell you what the worst enemy here is: aggressive conformity, aggressive imposition of views, and arrogant and obdurate expression of those views, over and over, by the largely male geeks who populate a forum like this even if numerically they aren't in the majority.

It often takes a challenge to them by someone who doesn't fear ridicule for others like yourself to come out of the woodwork. Did you step up to the plate before I spoke out? No, you did not. So now, you have me to kick around for having taken a more vocal and princpled position, and can make yourself look the liberal, even while agreeing with me, by kicking me to gain cameraderie with those've I've challenged, then proceeding to agree with me. That's really a neat trick : ) and I've seen it played out many, many times, especially here.

When someone comes on with an unjustifiable "scientific" position, and aggressively suggests that it is "just better because I say so" and cites their year-long study in an aggressive bid to influence everyone's games and worlds and policies, you bet they need the strongest most aggressive pushback. They don't get to be cited ever and anon by gamegod tyrants , in a world they don't even participate in, without some questioning and some pushback.

They never get that, so that's why it comes as such a shock. *Gasp*, a credentialed being who has academic status *gasp* is lording it over us and telling us how our world spaces should be run based on the strength of one *unpublished and even as yet not peer-reviewed* (!) study which they bruit about on a forums -- without consequences.

This "hijacking of the discourse by preview" is something I see all the time here and elsewhere Internet academics are watering -- look at how much "cred" Nick Yee got into a head of steam in game-related and then RL media before there was a single link to click on to see the text of the study. Very serious and very obvious flaws have been pointed up in this study, but "only" by the Second Life Herald -- everyone else either fears challenging someone already blessed by the game conference circuit and the media or else blindly follows them or doesn't think about the issues hard enough.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:52:18 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Astryd, great points here.

Yes, you are absolutely right to point out how one social context can make a difference in mediating effects. There will be different patterns within WoW including the differences between RP and other types, and even within servers as guild sizes fluctuate. What's more, I argue in the paper that game mechanics themselves have a great impact on social incentives and flavor. A game that rewards cooperation in groups and a game that penalizes it are probably going to generate different patterns. That's a level of nuance that I did not capture in this first study, but those unknowns are controlled to a great degree by the random assignment operation: anything weird has an equal chance of appearing in either condition equally and so cancelling out over a large enough sample. I had 100 in each group, which is more than the standard 25 or so, so it's a decent bet that those mediators got ruled out.

In the back end, I lay the issues all out and suggest how follow-up studies could start parsing out those variables. Like I said before, the first study in an area is the broad one, and then we drill down into more specific applications to see if the broad pattern holds. And when it does or doesn't, we can say something more intelligent about the overall patterns across groups and the like. What I have here is a fairly blunt instrument, but--and especially when combined with the interviews we also did--it offers some pretty good insight on why the patterns occur and educated guesses on when they may or may not elsewhere.

WoW is seemingly socially less complex than SL since it's more narrative driven and has some quasi-linear scale to its play. But even there you find a lot of subcultures. Dedicated SLers who haven't joined a long-term guild in WoW or elsewhere might assume that there isn't a complex social world with real relationships, but there is. Yes, there are hunting parties and task coordination to think about, but there are also very clearly social clusters of varying strengths, hierarchies of organization, politics, love, etc., etc. These things all happened prior to voice appearing, but, according to the data, its introduction has changed the mix. So yes, the mechanics are a big factor, but there are still humans involved, so there are going to be things that will be common even when comparing to SL--including, I suspect, *some* commonalities in the text->voice transition.

Still, SL is probably far far more varied. If I were undertaking a study of "the effects of VoIP in SL" I would have a pretty gnarly sampling challenge up front, trying to understand the various subcultures and their distribution in order to sample representatively. The only way around it is with a true random sample survey first, which would require help from LL.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:54:19 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Welcome to Terranova, where Prok crushes any dissent with her quite normative views on what the world and people should be like through the use of text alone.

No, welcome to Terra Nova, where the site owners and their coterie pre-crush any dissent with their guest selections, preambles in opening posts, and smack-downs. In that setting, anyone expressing normative views -- which is a very good thing to be doing -- will seem like a crank *shrugs*.

I've never advocated "text alone" like some Mudder, and I've already made clear that I will be using both because I am not ideologically wed to some privileging of text over voice or visa versa. Both will be available and we'll use both. I do definitely want to challenge the aggressive voice faction, however, with their many invalid assumptions.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:54:46 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

as predictably triggered a wave of outrage among those who see VR world mainly as a means to escape reality.

The escape of reality is a multi-billion dollar business around a world. Businesses, marketers, and academics have stampeded into it precisely because it is so lucrative. It's the height of cynicism to begin to Puritannically deride those who go on worlds and spaces as "escaping reality".

Whose escaping reality more, the person who has an ordinary job and family preoccupation most of the day, but then dresses up as a fox or elf and role-plays in Second Life for $9.95 a month? Or the marketer who has followed them into this world to intrude with branding and is spending millions on PR stunts and "training seminars"? I would suggest it's the latter person who might have less a grip on reality and is in the more precarious position.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:57:32 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>What's more, I argue in the paper that game mechanics themselves have a great impact on social incentives and flavor. A game that rewards cooperation in groups and a game that penalizes it are probably going to generate different patterns. That's a level of nuance that I did not capture in this first study, but those unknowns are controlled to a great degree by the random assignment operation: anything weird has an equal chance of appearing in either condition equally and so cancelling out over a large enough sample. I had 100 in each group, which is more than the standard 25 or so, so it's a decent bet that those mediators got ruled out.

>I fail to see how randomness generated in one game setting wholly dominated by that game's exigencies corrects for the bias of that game's features.

Only studies in different settings, say, the Sims Online or Toon Town or something might generate the necessary untainted body of data.

People in WoW are in a setting where voice is culturally privileged and encouraged, and achieves the task at hand: getting a dozen or more people together to kill a monster.

Again, randomizing the sample by finding people with various backgrounds can't undo the imprint already set by that feature set.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 10:00:40 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>When you strip away all of the neuroses, personalities and status barriers, what you're left with is an understanding that with humans, more communication is generally better than less.

>This is the least tenable of all the conclusions.

In the modern world since the Enlightenment, and especially in our modern market economy, efficiency, growth, and progress, which many claim as values, have all been made possible by communicating LESS.

In the ancient and classic worlds, your lineage, parentage, geographical location, tribe, nation, guild -- all of these mattered terribly and affected your economic station in life. Your right to buy and sell, and buy and sell things of a certain type, would very much hinge on all these markers, which were all elaborately communicated.

In the modern economy, you don't have to know someone's father and be approved by them to do business with them. Indeed, a set of neutral, non-status or lineage based markers apply instead of those old oppressive features -- things like "quality repuation" or "price" or "customer service". You don't buy the watch because it is made by the honourable craftsmen of the great watch-making family, though references to craftsmen lineage still play a role in marketing, you buy it because of its price, design, marketing, and warranty.

Creating the ability for lots and lots of people to do business with each other without having to address all the underlying cultural and lineage issues is what the modern marketplace is all about.

Second Life strips away the markers and cues even further, allowing selection of one's own markers and affiliations and the making of one's own cues. That has been its freedom. You can enter into alliances large or small with all kinds of people all over the world precisely because you do not present your being with a set of cues that say "black" or "white" or "East" or "West".

>Neuroses, personalities and status barriers" are precisely what are communicated in voice. In the English-speaking world, as soon as someone opens their mouth and proves they are "from Michigan" or "from Australia" their status may go up or down.

So all that's happening is that a conservative old-world-based movement clinging to status and lineage and cultural markers like voice has reasserted itself aggressively, mainly for the purpose of market share.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 10:07:11 AM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Ultimately, what I'm loathing about this debate is the inability of people to use common sense. Merely because an unpublished and unreviewed study is cited, suddenly geeks can stampede and call "voice inevitable". Says who?
Says other geeks who try to impose inevitability and are in a position to make something inevitable *by force*?

What's especially insidious about this debate is the subject that works like this:

1. "Games are escape from reality, people who escape from reality waste time and don't accomplish anything, they use text, their activities are worthless for business and education."

2. "Serious games or business applications in virtual worlds are enhancement of reality. People who enhance reality are more real and are doing Important Things. They accomplish a lot! Why, they're organizing a Training About How to Enhance Reality right now for which they are taking payments and getting paid! This is business! It accomplishes...um...a lot!"

If voice was the wonderful business and education facilitator that everyone imagines, um, why did email ever become some an explosive revolution, the effects of which we feel still today?

Why didn't everybody just stay on the phone? Hello?

Why was the entire Internet itself for God's sake created based on TEXT, with sound a very distinct second?

Why has Skype, which is free, or was free, not installed on every single computer everywhere?

Why even go on writing email when you have Skype which not only builds trust and facilitates business -- or so the experts are telling us -- but certifies you as someone In Touch With the Real?

We had voice in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and we could have just kept voice -- if it were all that.

Hello?

Posted Mar 3, 2007 10:52:26 AM | link

nate_combs says:

> When you strip away all of the neuroses, personalities and status barriers, what you're left with is an understanding that with humans, more communication is generally better than less.

----------------------------------------

I actually agree with Prok's point here (though Prok, please cut back the hedgerow to allow other voices to be heard).

I don't think that the case has been made that for all game contexts *more* communication == better, even as a general statement. Better quality communication is better. Too much information is bad on many occasions - e.g. "toilet flushing" example I gave in <>30 post.

A counter-argument per Dmitri's trust thesis might go as follows - "well, more trust is always better, non?" Well, not necessarily. For example, in the example i gave about having to audition for a player group (trustworthiness), I actually would have much preferred not having to audition and just having fewer priviledges. Gee, like all I want to do is just play with your group and I don't really want access to the yer stuff!

However, in that case, it ran contrary to the group's culture: small tight group vs. an onion-styled (layered) model of trust/priviledge. The latter of course may not appeal to some players, but is inclusive of more (including I would guess, casual - or casually-minded - players).

Voice is w/out doubt better suited for some kinds of in-game situations - e.g. examples of event-based interruption ala tactical combat with large number of players. I'll buy the argument it is a lot worse at multi-channel communications among lots of casual players.

Ace's point is also a powerful one - one that I've witnessed on some occasions - once the power players gravitate to a voice channel, the rest of the pack will feel compelled to follow.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:12:12 AM | link

Hellinar says:

I’m looking forward to seeing the full study. But I will jump in with what I have understood so far. The study was done using WoW raid groups, yes? An activity in which most people would agree voice is superior. Which is not surprising, as I’d say a WoW raid closely mimics the kind of group hunting activity voice was first optimized for long ago. But maybe you have simply shown that using the right tool for the job has social benefits?

As a counter example, suppose you took two groups of accountants who regularly cooperated on a complex numeric report using text. And made one group use voice for the activity for a year. Maybe the social factors you are measuring would deteriorate in the voice activated group in this case. Numeric communication is a late development in evolutionary terms, so voice is not optimized for it. Using the wrong tool for the job would make life worse.

In my view, computer mediated communication will ultimately be better than face to face for cooperation on the large complex, world scale problems that now face us. And computer mediation is easier with a virtual world player/avatar split than in face to face communication. “Face is face is always better” blithely ignores the parasite problem in social interactions. We have an evolutionary impulse to get more out of social sharing than we put in. The people with the best face to face skills are often the parasites, not the contributors. Computer mediated communication can reduce this effect.

I’m recalling a long ago study by a friend at LSE that showed that computer mediated decision making could produced better results from a group than face to face interaction. At least for toy problems where the researcher knew the optimum answer. I’m not finding the reference though. The point is that face to face activates a lot of the ape level behavior that isn’t well suited to some of the problems we face in the modern world. I’m thinking that an uneasy recognition of that is embeded somewhere
in Prokofy’s many posts.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:31:20 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

It's a good point, Nate. I admit that I do come at this with normative background and bias, and that's that I assume that trust and liking of others are generally good. I do that because the debate in Sociology and in Communication is mostly about the decline in civic society and whether media help or hurt things.

The main argument is Putnam's familiar one--that social capital is on the decline, largely because people spend more time with passive media than with each other. The last few years have seen many researchers (myself among them) exploring how and why interactive media can reverse that trend by getting people to communicate more with each other. So my assumption is that more communication--when compared with watching TV--is a social good across society, if not for every individual. Individuals should be informed and given their own choices. And so I'm keenly interested in whether one form or use seems to make people happier with each other and helps build communities better. That, in a nutshell, is my research agenda.

And I would completely agree that there are times and places where too much information is bad. Chief among these are irrelevant information that wastes time and energy. And for individuals, less information flow leads directly to higher personal gains, whether in the form of more advantageous transactions (I know more than you do), or social interactions (I can disclose less about myself and limit my exposure to social risks).

But I'll stick with the broader point that at least having the option to have richer communications is probably a good thing if it continues to be shown to improve relationships within communities. Maybe it won't, but I hypothesize that it will based on the data and theory I know.

For those who don't want to establish trust of relationships like in your example of the casual player, sure it'd be a big waste. They don't want relationships because they just want the short-term goal. OK, no problem for them.

But the problem for society in general is that our sense of community has been on a radical decline for the past 50 years by most benchmarks. Check out the Saguaro Seminars data or Bowling Alone for the trends. My totally normative hope is that those trends get reversed through some intelligent use of new media and help us start reconnecting more people in more substantive ways. There are a lot of disconnected people out there, even online. They risk nothing, and they get nothing. And while they feel comfortable in their ability to stay isolated, they are more prone to depression and mistrust over time. They are a reflection of our culture at large, safe and comfortable and isolated in hermetically sealed suburbs, never having to leave home, confront people unlike them, or make an effort to build a real community. No doubt someone here will blast me for saying it, but I'd like to see people be happier and in more solid relationships, and to see communities form and deepen.

BTW, people reading the various screeds posted in here might get the impression that I am part of some secret cabal hell-bent on destroying something, and that I do really stupid work and jealously guard my findings and allow no dissent or challenge. I hope people can see through that. Anyone is welcome to not only contact me for a paper before it's published, but once it's published, anyone can have the original source data. The academic system requires that we not share everything during the peer review process (which is what I'm in the middle of), and that we share everything afterwards. It's intended to be a transparent process and to allow for vigorous debate once a paper is done with peer review. My paper has been presented at peer-reviewed conferences and in presentations, but isn't in print yet. Anyone can use that as ammo to blast it, but it's a cheap shot.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:50:38 AM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Hellinar:

No, it wasn't raid guilds. It was only smaller groups, ranging from 8-15 members, so it wasn't about very large-scale group coordination. It was mostly about small group socializing, questing and such. Many groups contained clusters of families and pre-existing friends.

I do suggest in the paper that the drops in trust and liking in the text groups might simply be a reflection of the guilds reaching the end-game and feeling stymied and bummed out by not being able to run MC et al. The data were collected during about when that would have occurred, and I think it would create unhappiness in many smaller guilds, and even political tension as they considered breaking or merging. But the interesting thing to me was that the voice groups (who could still use text BTW) were insulated from the drops. All else was equal.

Also:
"We have an evolutionary impulse to get more out of social sharing than we put in. The people with the best face to face skills are often the parasites, not the contributors. Computer mediated communication can reduce this effect."

Actually, from my understanding of the evolutionary psych literature, there is significant debate on that point. There are many reasons why selfish behavior makes evolutionary sense for hoarding resources and protecting our genes, and yet nearly every human has altrusitic tendencies and patterns that "make no sense." People will do irational things to help groups at their own cost, consistently defying game theory models. Scientists are debating whether these tendencies are part of brain function, socially acquired or something else, and the evidence seems to suggest that it's genetic. But again, it seems to be in dispute, and I'm merely an avid hobbyist in ev psych.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:59:49 AM | link

Astryd Moore says:

Dmitri wrote:

I admit that I do come at this with normative background and bias, and that's that I assume that trust and liking of others are generally good. I do that because the debate in Sociology and in Communication is mostly about the decline in civic society and whether media help or hurt things.

The main argument is Putnam's familiar one--that social capital is on the decline, largely because people spend more time with passive media than with each other. The last few years have seen many researchers (myself among them) exploring how and why interactive media can reverse that trend by getting people to communicate more with each other. So my assumption is that more communication--when compared with watching TV--is a social good across society, if not for every individual. Individuals should be informed and given their own choices. And so I'm keenly interested in whether one form or use seems to make people happier with each other and helps build communities better. That, in a nutshell, is my research agenda.

Dmitri, isn't that essentially conceding the point that Prokofy made earlier about you having an ideological agenda? He said

Dmitri, I've just explained about the ideology that crept in before you measured a single measureable. You have a built-in assumption, in every woof and warp of your experiment, visible to the naked eye, that voice is better and makes for more trust.

It sounds like you're agreeing with him, by saying that your research interest is focused on how to solve a perceived problem of declining social capital by the use of interactive media. Your assumption that "more communication ... is a social good" sounds very similar to Prokofy's contention that "you have a built-in assumption ... that voice is better".


And surely even if voice does generate social capital, that doesn't automatically equate to social, rather than individual, good. I'm not an expert on Putnam, but I gather he distinguishes between bonding social capital (ties within a homogeneous group) and bridging social capital (ties between different groups within a community). It's possible that voice may create large amounts of bonding social capital that may benefit members of particular groups -- "packs" of 18-24yo males and the "locker room" effect, for example -- but little or no bridging social capital (the shy / mute / deaf will be outcast minorities). This might be harder to predict from looking at a more homogeneous community like WoW, where everyone is there for the same objectives and there is less bridging capital required.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 12:31:20 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Seeing the context you are coming from, I have no problem with believing voice enabled grouping in WoW would give better social results than passive TV watching. Or even text enabled grouping. I guess I am more focussed on the other end of the scale, where face to face and voice seem to be doing a dismal job of addressing world scale problems. I’d put this down to the bias in “natural” communication toward dealing with local, short term, direct effects. Which were the only kind of effects we had to worry about in our tribal days. Now the most intractable problems are the ones with distributed, distant, long term, probabilistic effects. Problems our traditional communication tools handle very poorly. I see some of the stuff in VWs are harbingers for tools that can address those problems. Making voice the dominant communication medium doesn’t help in those contexts.

I’m certainly not denying we have evolved a strong altruistic streak as well as a selfish one. But I am thinking that our communication strategies evolved in environment in which there was no trusted, neutral, third party opinion on what was being communicated. Open source social communication tools might be able to provide some of that function, and change the game somewhat. Unlike a human, a computer program could perhaps be verifiably altruistic. Those kind of tools need the full bandwidth of the communication to pass through the tool though, which is tough with voice at the moment.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 12:36:48 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>please cut back the hedgerow to allow other voices to be heard).

Oh, stop it, Nate, don't be silly, post as long or as many posts as you like and don't be controlling. The other voices are already heard, in spades, loud and clear, using their credentialed, media-saturated and game-conference panel platforms to shout as much as they like with their minority points of view. You actually have to work overtime with longer and more frequent posts to counter the propaganda of the establishmentarians.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 1:17:37 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

My son says voice is better for a WoW raid because: "When you are pressing all the buttons to attack, you can't type, or pay attention to the chat log."

Duh.

Blinks.

Why isn't this stuff more obvious to adults if kids can get it?

Posted Mar 3, 2007 1:19:35 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Astryd,

No, actually, I don't think Prokofy's point is valid there. I draw a dinstinction between my normative goal of finding better ways for people to establish trust and community, and the correct medium in which that can best happen. The CMC literature on voice did not suggest that it would automatically be superior to voice. Text could have been better. If it had been, then my normative goals would have lead me to say after the data were analysed "in comparison, text is better for society" or some such thing. (And, no doubt, such a statement would have set someone else off in a different way) I did not go into the test thinking, knowing or hoping for one medium to outperform the other. My hope was that I'd learn more about their relative benefits and/or faults and then pass that information along for debate.

Also, unrelated, I find that the WoW community is more diverse than you are giving it credit for. Everyone is not there for the same objectives, and bridging is often crucial. That's like saying that SL is only for selling things. You might take a look at the interview project I did with the PARC team where we asked WoW players about all of these things in depth. It's in Games and Culture last year, or you can email me for a copy.

Hellinar, you raise interesting points, and I'm inclined to agree with you that voice is not a solution that scales to all settings. The tests here are only small-group oriented ones and don't comment on its ability in larger groups. It might help there, or it might cause problems, or both. That's an empirical question that I haven't gotten to yet.

What did you have in mind with "world scale problems"? Are you thinking of nation-level political conflict, mass publics assessing each other, or something else?

You know, the idea situation is one in which there are a range of tools available to people and they are also taught the pros and cons of each so they can make informed decisions. Media literacy is really the way forward.

I noted above that in my test of voice, that the group could still use text, and they certainly did. But it's availability enabled them to have more choices and to suit situations better with more tools. The CMC literature I like (Walther, e.g.) shows that users appreciate having a range of choice and adapt to them. Rather than thinking of this as voice vs. text in always all-or-nothing, we should think of it as text vs. voice + text, which is specifically what I tested. All I did was give them the tool to use if and when they wanted to, and in combination with text as they saw fit.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 1:19:53 PM | link

Astryd Moore says:

I just found an excellent piece by Richard Bartle on the deleterious effect of voice on virtual worlds. I wish I'd found this earlier.

Virtual worlds are just that, virtual. People play them to get away from reality; they play them to get away from themselves. In a virtual world, you can be someone else. By being someone else, you can become a better you. Why do people play the same game for hour after hour, night after night, for week after week, month after month? It's not because they like the game; it's because they like who they are.

Designers who don't understand that should go away and not come back until they do.


Posted Mar 3, 2007 2:05:58 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

My biggest problem with voice is that it makes valid topics out of things that people get to simply not bring up when communication is text-only.

I know, for instance, a woman who plays WoW a lot who suffered very severe vocal cord trauma some years ago and literally can't talk loud enough to be heard except by screaming. She communicates with the world through writing, and her prose is what you'd expect from a woman of her age and circumstnaces - nothing about it hints at disability, no suggestion of the troubles in having to always place pizza delivery orders via e-mail and SMS, just to grab an example, and having to text back answers if the delivery driver has any questions. She types well, and in a no-voice-comm environment, her disability disappears.

When voice chat is expected, then she has to write about her disability.

Now, she plays with good folks on several servers, there's never a problem with it, but the fact is that she has to earn an exemption and thereafter stand out as a special case getting special treatment. Her game fun is lessened.

Then there's the rather surreal situation a friend of mine is in, also in WoW. He is in a large but relaxed raiding guild which suits him really, really well. He discovered, though, that one of the guild's longer-time members is someone he used to work with, who hates him passionately. As my friend tells it, it was a chain of misunderstandings, and I believe him - but there's probably someone else in the same situation who earned it, so I don't make "deserved it" a criterion here. The point is that my friend can play happily right alongside the other person, who has no idea who he is, but it wouldn't take long of hearing his voice to tip off the other person. Yes, there's masking software, but my friend feels like that would be actively misrepresenting himself in a way that just being J. Random Gamer does not.

And it goes on and on. A former colleague of mine played very heavily in several MU*s while going through gender reassignment surgery and treatments. Again, text provided the luxury of simply not bringing up some things. Similar concerns can apply to everyone from those who simply have voices that irritate others to far weirder complications.

I should note that I have no trouble in believing that for a lot of people voice chat is more trust building. If someone were to say, "Bruce, you're making a lot of fuss for marginal cases, freaks, and weirdos," I'd agree - I am one myself and I associate with weirdos of various sorts, some with chosen weirdnesses, others with weirdness forced upon them. I really have no interest in what other sorts of players are doing so long as their fun doesn't trample on mine; I'm very concerned about keeping things good for the folks I want to talk to.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 2:08:20 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Astryd, I love that quote. Thank you for sharing it.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 2:10:07 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Just read this whole thread with a lot of interest. Astryd makes a number of very interesting points. I generally agree with the critical take on the Putnam model of social capital. As I've told Dmitri, I prefer Bourdieu's take on social (as well as cultural and market) capital, because it avoids the normative charge that Putnam's take seems to unavoidably take on.

In a way (as Astryd pointed out), the issue is what we mean by "trust", and under what circumstances. My take on the forms of capital in these worlds is something I've already written about, so I won't reiterate it all here, but it makes sense, I think, to think about trust in relation to the interests and goals of established groups (perhaps relative to/excluding other groups). That is to say (and Dmitri alluded to this as well), the contribution to an increase in trust that voice in WoW makes does not necessarily mean that society as a whole is better served by this kind of multiplication of means of communication.

The reason this has to be the case is related to the cultural competencies that voice (or text!), over time, generate a context for. That is, voice doesn't exist in a vacuum; VOIP creates a context where a lot of pre-existing cultural competencies can find purchase in new domains. Naturally this can increase trust, of a sort, because it allows for a skillset honed to pursue interests with others elsewhere to be put to use to accomplish group (institutional) goals. The same is true of text, of course, so really claims about potentially deleterious effects are more about the clash of two groups' different preferred competencies, imho, then about absolute qualities of voice, text (or games and the magic circle for that matter).

As Dmitri always points out (as he is an empiricist scientist, rather than an ideologue), the findings of his project are provisional, and represent one data point in a very big universe of possibilities for voice in virtual worlds. The trick, if we want to talk normatively about policy aims and the like, is what to do with the finding that the addition (not substitution -- an important distinction) of voice allows people to work together more effectively (without assuming that this is an unmitigated social good, in all its implications). The challenge is (as always) how to leverage individual and group interests in ways that incent people to exert effort that ultimately benefits society, without the resources (the forms of capital) thereby generated becoming concentrated in the hands of groups that have every advantage in being able to keep that capital in their hands over time.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 3:44:15 PM | link

greglas says:

Thomas --

I haven't read all the posts in this thread, I tend to think the thin-veiled/thick media line is an emprical fact, not just a matter of relative competencies.

Stepping forward from there, it would seem there's utility in deeper information exchanges to the extent they foment trust and social knowledge. I realize you might have circumstances where, for instrumental purposes, you want thinner/veiled communicative media and/or Richard's fiction (voice fonts incl.), and sure, that is fine & right in those circumstances. Dim the lights and turn up the white noise when that's needed.

But I find it hard to argue with Dmitri's sense that ceteris paribus, in the general case, thicker media is "better."

And in response to some of what Dmitri's been dealing with here, I think the marginalization effects that flow from thicker media are due to antecedent dispositions and codings. Thin/veiled media may allow masked players to *pass* by avoiding disclosure of these things, but that's not generative of a constructive solution to those problems -- in fact it may just serve to perpetuate them. (Jerry Kang had some interesting thoughts on this at one of the State of Plays.)

Posted Mar 3, 2007 4:24:25 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

Astryd/Bruce/Richard: That quote is great for role players. For the rest, I'm less sure. And if you look at server allocation across WoW realms, the RP population is a relatively small fraction. The WoW players we interviewed placed genuine value on being themselves and on being with others, sometimes in voice and sometimes not, sometimes inside the magic circle, and sometimes explicitly outside it.

Thomas, as always, I'm intrigued by your comments, and have no desire to see an accretion of capital be a result of voice coming. How do you think that would happen? Do you think it likely?

Across the masses, I really don't know. The marginalized and at-risk are probably more worth worrying about, right? Take Bruce's handicapped person and vilified co-worker. How do they get served best in a system that allows both kinds of media? They are inherently in a losing situation if the system demands voice and they demand a level of anonymity. But then again, their choice of anonymity represents a loss for their online companions, too. Those people get less information and can make fewer informed judgments. In the handicapped person's case, maybe their guildmates learning that made for a more substantive relationship with the group. In the co-worker's case, it lead to a deeper, but more negative relationship. It's a nice illustration of the various possibilities.

And also, no one has responded to the tested concept that online it's not the shy, marginalized or handicapped that inherently suffer, but those who aren't willing to self-disclose.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 4:27:11 PM | link

greglas says:

Thomas --

Pre-emptively, since I have made this mistake in prior threads, I should state: I'm not disagreeing with you. Probably just paraphrasing what you just said (which was very insightful) with a different emphasis.

Though, of course, you're free to disagree with me on the claim that there is a thick/thin media distinction and that thicker media is "good" all things being equal. :-)

Posted Mar 3, 2007 4:28:46 PM | link

greglas says:

And, just to note briefly, I pretty much agree with what Dmitri just posted -- though in fairness to Thomas, I'm afraid we may be trying to make him defend an argument that he wasn't espousing! :-)

Posted Mar 3, 2007 4:31:53 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Hehe -- my goodness, I'm terribly confused now. A surfeit of politeness is the cause, no doubt (but, unquestionably better than the alternative ;) ).

Perhaps a concrete example (from another domain) will help. Jerome Karabel's book, The Chosen, shows how a *broadening* of admissions criteria served the interests of Harvard, Princeton, and Yale in limiting the amount of Jews admitted into those institutions over the early part of the 20th century. Taking in *more* information about applicants -- captaincies of secondary school athletic groups, for example -- was a way to measure cultural capital (the competences that marked those coming from privilege), and exclude those who were not the right "sort". The ultimate aim was not only to quiet the complaints of alumni alarmed at the rising number of Jews, but also simply economic -- there was good reason to believe that these culturally (class) competent students would more likely make the high incomes that would ensure robust endowments. (Malcolm Gladwell had a nice piece on this book, by the way, here.)

So I guess I return to the notion that I'm skeptical that we can generalize to social goods from the effects of social capital that serve particular groups for particular purposes. The paradox is in the higher/lower bandwidth (however you'd want to parse it -- thin/thick, etc) spectrum itself. We shouldn't be surprised that more information is more opportunities for social action generally, and that means more opportunities for *both* unintended consequences (perhaps the only route to positive social change against inequality, as you both perhaps suggest) *and* exclusion. So I see amounts of information flowing as itself normatively neutral. To find a critical or normative footing under these kinds of circumstances, I tend to focus less on the breadth of possible communicative action, and more on the relationship between institutional controls and sources of instability or change. But then, you knew that already. ;)

Posted Mar 3, 2007 5:37:33 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

I realize that I didn't answer Dmitri's question about how and how likely this might be for voice and virtual worlds. I guess I think it very likely, because for the most part people are people. Of course, the interesting thing about virtual worlds is the way they (can) reconfigure the relationships between market, social, and cultural capital, and I think the unstable and open-ended nature of these environments, currently, is reason to hope that economies could emerge which are resistant to the accumulation of capital by certain groups. Over the long haul, I tend to be a bit pessimistic, however.

For example, I don't think it that unlikely that this could happen. Voice would play a role in that, allowing for yet another means of verification of group (class, ethnic, etc) status.

Don't get me wrong, however. I don't think the advent of voice is an unmitigated evil. I do think that it will contribute to these spaces having more meaning and more stakes. And that, in a way, is the challenge right there.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 5:49:12 PM | link

Hellinar says:

Dimitri: By “world scale problems” I thinking of the of the kind of problems we are generating by having a world scale industrial civilization, that we didn’t have in small scale tribal societies in Africa. A particular class of these are the ones where the accumulation of small, distant, probabilistic, effects leads to a big and world wide problem. Our environmental problems are the famous example. A hundred thousand years ago, one of our ancestors could cut down a tree in the forest, and ignore any but local, immediate effects. Distant effects were effectively damped by the much larger natural world. With a hundred million people cutting down trees using power tools, the small distant effects add up, and on a world wide scale, become a problem.

With so much of our natural communication tools evolved to deal with immediate, local and short term effects, we need some un-natural tools to deal with this stuff. Computer mediated communication seems the current best fit for this. Thick media may well be better than thin. But better yet, for some classes of communication, would be thick input, filtered to remove the misleading dross, and with content added in transit to enhance understanding at the final destination. I think VWs might be a good place to do this, but not if you make them so realistic no filtering goes on. Voice in VWs enhances our ability to communicate in the familiar old ways. Which can be bad news if you are trying to communicate in an unfamiliar new way.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 6:44:20 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

>I think the unstable and open-ended nature of these environments, currently, is reason to hope that economies could emerge which are resistant to the accumulation of capital by certain groups.

Why is that a value to you, Thomas, what is the reason for it, and why is it somehow a bad thing if "certain groups" accumulate capital? Virtual worlds themselves wouldn't come into being if "certain groups" couldn't accumulate capital.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:34:36 PM | link

Prokofy Neva says:

Building trust *to do what*? The narrow-gage goal of killing a monster in WoW, for which you need both hands free to press lots of different firing and flying buttons and you need to move fast and communicate quickly to a large group of people does better with voice.

But the study wasn't about efficiency for the tasks at hand; it would be a no-brainer then that voice would win as the tool of choice for WoW quests.

Rather, there was a higher-minded intention to show "what creates trust".

I agree with Astryd that indeed my point is valid, and that this notion that "trust is a good" is backdated then into the results.

Why is trust good? It's merely political correctness. People don't trust one another. And as well they shouldn't!

I'm well aware that "trust is largely implying a context here of trying to devise ways for people to have more trust on the Internet, the entire "trust and verify" movement among geeks to create every new ways to bond, tribalize, filter, check, mute, admit, advance, etc. based on shared, emotional, quick judgements on people related to social cues.

That's why you get stuff like blaze's Bonded Avators and "trust circles" for commerce. I shudder at that stuff, as it takes us back to the Medieval guild age or the oppressive small town. I'm not interested in how to ever find more elaborate filters and toggles to push to "trust people more".

Rather I think what the modern, non-guild, urban person would wish to do is make his or her way in the world without trust. That is, I don't need to know your father to buy a used car from you. I don't have to trust that only you make the quality trousers. There's plurality, choice, diversity, freedom. I don't need to like you to buy something from you. We can find goals that we can accomplish together without ever having to bond, have special time together, or socialize.

That sort of rapid cooperation and trust "just enough" that bad faith won't occur (always a risky business on an Internet filled with W-hat types) is all you need for transactions to transpire. And that's why I don't think trust is the goal, or trust the highest value, or trust is relevant.

What is relevant is the level at which transactional cooperation can be faciliated. Can I get a short-term or long-term goal done? There are some people I may only wish to work with for the purpose of preserving the view on a sim; others I'd want to work more deeply with for the purpose of owning a sim cooperative. I think the beauty of Second Life is that you don't have to like someone to cooperate. That was my realization in the post http://www.secondlifeherald.com/slh/2007/02/walking_to_the_.html among others.

That is indeed what I like best about SL and don't want to lose -- the ability to have a protective medium where I don't have to sit and hear somebody's RL story or their nasal Midwestern twang, or they mine; we can just discuss a book or make a store together or transact a rental lease. That's the value of the urban place in the modern world as well. I don't have to sit with you in the marketplace, drink tea, and haggle over a price. I go in the store, you've put it on your product automatically, or even used a bar code, and I buy it, or I walk to the next store. It's great!

"Trust" as a discussion is totally in a vacuum if it is studied for its own sake of monitoring squishy touch-feely feelings of warmness as a tribe basks in the glory of their WoW kill. Trust has to be harness to a goal of use, doesn't it? I mean trust FOR WHAT?

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:46:51 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

It's not a bad thing if certain groups accumulate capital. The problem for any society is when that concentration of capital becomes so extreme, and it becomes so easy for elites to hold onto that capital through time (across generations), that innovation and creativity are shut down, and end-of-empire decadence reigns. Of course, the converse is also a problem; socialism showed what a bad idea it is to attempt centralize the distribution of (market) capital, which removes individual and group incentives to exert effort creatively in order to accumulate cultural, social, and market capital.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:51:44 PM | link

Thomas Malaby says:

Correction: That characterization of the economy (beyond market capital) under socialism is too broad; it was much more complicated than that (connections and cultural competence became *very* important, as Melissa Caldwell's excellent ethnography explores). Let's just say it didn't work to attempt to iron out market incentives.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:54:58 PM | link

Edward Castronova says:

Dmitri is right, those who have argued against him are wrong. They should be quiet. If they were wise, they would try to improve their minds by learning from him.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 9:57:36 PM | link

nate_combs says:

greglas>
And in response to some of what Dmitri's been dealing with here, I think the marginalization effects that flow from thicker media are due to antecedent dispositions and codings. Thin/veiled media may allow masked players to *pass* by avoiding disclosure of these things, but that's not generative of a constructive solution to those problems -- in fact it may just serve to perpetuate them. (Jerry Kang had some interesting thoughts on this at one of the State of Plays.)
---------------------------

I'd be interested in a citation to Jerry Kang's thoughts. However, as an ideal, greg, this sounds great, but in practice, I'm suspicious. I'm inclined to believe that sometimes the imperfect figleaf is sometimes hard to beat - even with the most diabolically clever mechanisms. Folks may choose not to answer email, out of politeness, etc. In a perfect world everyone works these things out explicitly. However, people are not perfect.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 10:40:02 PM | link

Dmitri Williams says:

OK, I think I understand the accretion of capital argument, but it's not readily apparent to me how implementing voice will do this in MMOs. That's what I was getting at with Bruce's two extreme cases. In small groups and medium sized groups, which is what most of these communities are, it would seem to be a fairly grassroots tool for communication similar to text, i.e. it doesn't inherently create hierarchy within groups; It's of the people and for the people and typically doesn't privilige a ruling group and help them acquire more power or resources.

The obvious downside is when a community splits over the information disclosure problem and the voicers begin to disciminate against the texters. Or, the texters miss out on opportunities that arise on Vent. I have seen how that can happen in large guilds first-hand, but what often occurs is that those who don't want to self-disclose lurk on voice (I read "my mic doesn't work" a lot) and reply in text. Those who don't learn to adapt in large guilds fare poorly because they miss out on social chatter and game events. When voice splits communities anyway, it's usually because someone is an ass. And, frankly, they were probably an ass in the prior medium as well. Hearing them just makes it more unavoidable. Ignorance is surely bliss for some, but in the long run, I don't think so--excepting RPers, who are special case.

I can see how it could potentially create a stronger division in a VW like SL where the communication comes closer to the public agora. There there might be a greater social norm for location-based communication than say the Orgrimmar bank, and a voice majority could crowd out a text minority. Or, the reverse is possible, too, if SLers generally reject the medium. Given the disimilarities and commonalities between an MMO guild and the many cultures in SL, it's hard to say.

And @ Ted. lol, thanks, but I think that's not entirely true. I've learned a great deal from the discussion here about how and why the results might or might not extend to other spaces. (I've also learned when to ignore a loony post.) As many here know, generalizability is a key concept for me, and I want to do it intelligently.

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:06:02 PM | link

Andy Havens says:

Fascinating talk. Er... type. Couple things.

1. Not sure why voice has to be any more/less confusing than text in terms of operational confusion in a group/ambient signal/noise sense. As Prok's child pointed out, you can't watch the text-flow very easily when doing something else with yer eyeballs, but you can listen. Also, r.e. the idea of too many "voices" at once... that can be mitigated by good UI. We are not confused/disoriented by voice use in RL, there's no reason why we can't have an even better experience of it in VR. Cached comments, click-to-play speech bubbles, instant voice-mail, point-to-point speech, etc. etc. All kinds of fun stuff. If anybody had described the way a chat room or IM session of today works to somebody 20 years ago, they'd have called you delusional.

2. There are probably many people who would benefit greatly from voice in games/VWs who are currently "marginalized" by some current requirements of text. You know... people who can't type. Or who type badly. People with bad arthritis, various degenerative neurological diseases, no hands, one hand, etc. The claim that the use of voice will be hard on some people is odd; speech is one of the earliest and easiest forms of highly structured data driven communication we learn, and the only one that requires no tools or light. McLuhan partly bemoaned the rise of the alphabet because it helped destroy an "aural" space that he believed was "cooler." The sound of the human voice is incredibly powerful.

3. I don't think anyone here is advocating a requirement of voice. I didn't see that anywhere, did I? So... there you go. Keep texting. I love text. There will be, for a long time, I think, many instances where it is both required and preferred. Even by folks for whom picking up a phone or headset is as easy as... picking up a phone or headset. Certain environments will favor voice, others will favor text. Certain players will want aps that favor one, others the other. It is arrogance on anyone's part to assume one or the other. I think Dmitri's study is interesting as one data point... but like so many other single data points, who knows what it will mean?

4. When voice becomes common, better tech will begin to push/creep voice into other levels of the UI, allowing for stuff we haven't even thought of. The same way that nobody figured out a good 3D rotate/zoom scheme for games until, well... until they did. We may even get good voice-to-text (finally...).

5. More tech, more sensory data, more... more... is inevitable. Can't stop the rock.

6. Prok: Voice is not a tool of big-biz, marketing, PR. If anything, text is. Why? Text is much more easily commoditized, bought, brought, faked, scammed, glammed, adverticketed, copied, pasted, wasted, boiled, broiled, etc. Text is the stock-in-trade of me and my compadres in marketing/PR land. Yeah, we can get up in front of a room full of 30 or 60 or 90 people and yakkity yak once in awhile... but text? Oh, baby... that's what we went to school on. You want to control people? You want to fake people? You want to use all those subtle, funky, clunky rhythms that get folks who aren't paying attention in trouble? Bring on the text!

All them studies that show how often people get in trouble for mis-reading text cues? We marketing folks love that crap. Why? Because it proves that *careful* use of language -- what we do for a living -- is still a valuable trade skill. As one of my profs used to say, "Just because everybody can write, seems everybody thinks they can write."

We pay good copywriters upwards of $300/hour. Now... you may say, "That's not the kind of text we're talking about." Sure. But the kind of marketing or PR or overbearing speech you're railing against isn't the kind of speech that's going to go on 99% of the time in SL, either. What's going to go on in SL is me pointing my cursor at someone, choosing a voice-costume, and whispering to them while we dance. It's going to be four friends sitting around a campfire, all sounding like Scotsmen. It's going to be a faster way to move from one animation to another while communicating.

Frankly, it's not going to be a big deal. And for the folks who want to skip it, it's going to be fine. Just like now, the folks who don't want to talk/type at all don't have to. How many times do we pass right by people and not say "Boo"? Or do we get a simple one-word answer to a long-ass question. You may assume they're an ass or a noob or in another IM or AFK or high or whatever. Same for somebody who isn't voicing. Assume what you want. That's your burden.

I love text. Don't plan on giving it up. I also don't plan on picking up a mic/headset for use in a game until I can disguise my voice. Because that just sounds like more fun. ;-)

Posted Mar 3, 2007 11:46:49 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

I wish that the folks being glib about "it'll be okay" with regard to people who don't want to use voice, and who various reasons can't use it at all or only with significant tweaking to protect against various manifestations of unwanted attention, had more experience of living with disability. Because frankly the great blessing of a lot of limited-bandwidth interaction has always been that it takes no effort to keep private something you wish to keep private, that you have to live with publicly all the rest of the time. That being on display all the time is wearing in a way that's just very hard to capture without going through it. The intrusion of this particular bit of the normal physical environment can feel very unwanted, on up to trying to go about your life in a home that's repeatedly burgled. Sure, you can overcome it. But it really drains a lot of fun out of whatever you have to do there.

Notice that I'm not attempting to deny that for a lot of people, voice does enhance the play. I've seen, or rather heard :), it in action myself. I just wish that the people who will end up designing and critiquing the interfaces for voices took the desire not to use them seriously and integrated courteous decline requiring no further rationale as a feature. That's the heart of my concern: being able to choose the less popular outcome without it being spectacular, confession time, or anything else.

Posted Mar 4, 2007 12:42:07 PM | link

Bruce Baugh says:

Oh, one quick follow-up.

I hope not to sound too drama queenly about any of this. It's not so much that any one part of this is a ghastly horrible awful burden. Anyone with a reason to prefer not talking in game is likely to have a lot of practice dealing with it elsewhere in life. It's just that there are a great many things we can do when we must, and get by, but that are a nag and a discouragement and when they loom up to cramp fun time, it feels like such an unnecessary burden. Which is why the details of presentation and the etiquette of using vs. not using are so important - they can do a great deal to make the burden light, but only if choices other than the most popular one get considered early on and throughout the process.

Posted Mar 4, 2007 12:45:55 PM | link

greglas says:

Nate, we're doing big generalizations here, clearly. My argument is essentially that if we had a choice of ONLY two settings for society, I'd go with the heavier information setting, all things being equal.

Yes, you're right, passing and avoiding are a good strategies for someone with more risks related to disclosure. Yes, as Thomas says, providing thicker information enables arbitrary and irrational/immoral discriminatory choice to be exercised against those who are already marginalized.

I'm not saying the fig leaf / anonymity tool isn't worthwhile or doesn't have value. It is and it does -- we create regularly create spaces and laws to enable this sort of thing. (Richard would probably say it's why we create virtual worlds.) So I'm not arguing for some kind of Kantian categorical imperative. There are not only two options.

All I'm saying is what you said, *as an ideal*, more information should win.

A couple relevant cites:

Kang, Trojan Horses of Race, 118 Harv. L. Rev. 1489 (2005) (discussing how to break discriminatory codings).

Saul Levmore, The Anonymity Tool, 144 U. Penn L. Rev. 2191 (1996) (explaining some of the virtues of veiled speech).

And there's Lisa Nakamura, of course.

Posted Mar 4, 2007 10:10:21 PM | link

Mathew Reuther says:

Personal experience with voice communication over the past few years has led me to form my own opinions.

To start with: I was hesitant to start using Teamspeak 2 but my wife and I were persuaded to give it a try. Within a month of beginning to use it we made listening on the server mandatory for all those individuals involved in raiding. (This experience started in Everquest II but has since followed as I've moved around games.) Grouping and casual content were not voice-required within the guild, though a number of people regularly used it.

Of the individuals who USED voice I noticed a great deal of trust develop. People came to believe in the sincerity of the others they interacted with. Thousands of years of human culture seem to point to the fact that voice is the dominant form of human communication as well, so I'm not really shocked by this.

The individuals who were most hesitant to use voice communication were also the individuals which were least trusted by their guildmates.

Voice is practical and augments text chat admirably. It is a tool, like any other, which should be taken advantage of as technology continues to move forward.

Just my 2 cents . . .

Posted Mar 4, 2007 11:40:40 PM | link

says:

"""
My son says voice is better for a WoW raid because: "When you are pressing all the buttons to attack, you can't type, or pay attention to the chat log."

Duh.

Blinks.

Why isn't this stuff more obvious to adults if kids can get it?
"""

Cats and dogs living together! Im agreeing with prok!?!

Yeah. Its as simple as that really.

Drink the kool aid people. Folks are already using teamspeak and ventrillo to aid immersion and gameplay , this stuff is already adding to whats there.

That and when my corp enters a system in eve online, I'd love to be able to pipe "The imperial march" into local for dramatic effect.

Posted Mar 5, 2007 1:11:29 AM | link

dmx says:

Oh yeah btw. I wonder how the angst around this parallells the introduction of 'talkie' movies back in the early days of cinema. Might be some interesting history to take counsel from there.

Posted Mar 5, 2007 2:39:37 AM | link

Richard Bartle says:

Dmitri Williams>That quote is great for role players. For the rest, I'm less sure.

Everyone in a virtual world is a role-player, except those who have played the role for sufficiently long that it has become them and they have become it.

>The WoW players we interviewed placed genuine value on being themselves and on being with others

But they're not themselves: they're elves, orcs, gnomes; they're mages, warriors, warlocks; they're male, female, aldor, scryer, horde, alliance.

In a virtual world, you can be and become yourself. If you couldn't, you wouldn't play 2 or 3 hours every night for months on end. If your virtual self is divorced from your physical self, there's a better chance that the virtual you can (paradoxically) become the real you.

Communication isn't just voice. People often complain about the lack of visual cues in online communications. What if someone were to produce a piece of software that could superimpose a webcam image of your face over that of your WoW character. Your in-game character has your real-world face. Now, when you talk, we can see the facial expressions that go with the words, adding an extra channel to refine meaning further. If voice is a good thing, surely voice+face must be a better thing?

Would you play a virtual world where your avatar's face was your own?

Richard

Posted Mar 5, 2007 3:28:07 AM | link

Ace Albion says:

Well, Richard, from my experiences with friends heavily into EverquestII, they are not their characters. The characters are nothing more than cute dolls-cum-chess pieces. Any emotional investment in them was at the level of a favoured toy or associated with the time and effort spent moulding them. They would run multiple characters, interchangeably and would be known as the people at the keys by their guildmates, not their characters (which were more like a deck of picture cards).

Role-playing is dead, the internet killed it. While laughing on Vent about Jeff and Linda's two year old's antics at the store on Saturday.

Funny thing about "improving trust". Trust in itself isn't helpful. It just makes you feel good inside- it doesn't protect you from harm.

Only one time, in all my SL experience, have I known someone to deliberately, spitefully lie/misrepresent the situation to get at me to hurt me. It was someone who was always wanting to talk business on voice with the rest of us. I could see he was the type who reveled in the different playing field of smooth talking politic speech, where he could use his vocal powers to influence things his own way. Not so much with having to type with the rest of us peons. I could see I was being played, though the situation was maneuvered in other ways anyway. With speech there's a (good as it happens- I'm a sucker for smooth talkers) chance I would have been persuaded and then felt a total chump as well as realising I'd been lied to. So I saved myself some embarrassment by some healthy distrust not polluted by suave talking. I'm sure I'd have felt all warm and fuzzy and happy and social right up until I saw the knife sticking through my back though.

I'm also sure that the guy from EVE who was one of the leaders of the ars technica in-game alliance was well trusted and chatted amiably on their TS/vent servers, right up until he walked out the door with 17 billion ISK of their assets and told them to Go Fuck Themselves.

That increased trust is nothing more than some chemical instinct trigger. It's a sham. It's higher bandwidth communication, but that bandwidth also means colouring, and white noise.

As a side note it made me smile to see Bruce posting here, because I actually exchanged thoughts with him on usenet threads on a WOD newsgroup many years ago. Back when I was stupid and hung my identity out for anyone to see. I only intend on doing that when there's some good reason to do so, like it would boost my income. Voice is on the wrong side of my personal firewall.

Posted Mar 5, 2007 6:15:33 AM | link

Astryd Moore says:

That's interesting, Ace. I have played WoW from time to time, and I must admit I have far less invested in my WoW characters. I think that's another reason that I'm hesitant to generalise too far from Dmitri's study of WoW....

I also agree with your comment on the danger of improving trust without an improvement in trustworthiness. Since Linden Lab stopped asking for credit card information on sign-up, it's well-nigh impossible for them to associate an avatar with a corresponding RL person. RL people who come to Second Life for nefarious purposes are less likely to be brought to account -- and, as I've previously observed, LL's sanctions are against the avatar and not the RL person. This is fine for dealing with people who have heavily cathected their avatars -- a sanction against the avatar will act as a deterrent -- but many of the griefers and other more sociopathic problem characters will not be deterred.

Richard -- "face+voice" is an unnerving thought experiment. I suspect that people's answers to that question will place them pretty clearly in one group or another.

I went to a public meeting the other day in Second Life, about the voice issue. There was one person there who was an enthusiastic and, er, "vocal" proponent. I couldn't help noticing that his was also the least well-edited and well-dressed avatar there. I wouldn't normally judge someone that way, and I didn't bring it up at the time, but it seemed to demonstrate the limited extent of his investment in his virtual persona.

Posted Mar 5, 2007 7:30:34 AM | link

Andrew Crystall says:

Bruce Baugh,

If it's more efficient, people are going to use it. It's no secret that deaf people can't get into the top PvP corps in Eve, for example, because those corps coordernate battles using voice.

The shoe can be on both feet, of course. I know several seriously dyslexic people (I'm dyslexic myself, but it barely affects my typing) who mis-spell most words they type, but are fine with voice chat.

Posted Mar 5, 2007 8:33:14 AM | link