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Apr 15, 2007



Ren, that feeling you're describing sounds reminiscent of proprioception.



Jamais > Ren, that feeling you're describing sounds reminiscent of proprioception.

Yes, I did for a moment think of the set of interoceptive senses, it’s a projected analogue of one or several of those I think.


Of those, might be interesting to note that Eve's camera is the only one I know that's explained away in the world fiction (though it's probably not the only game to do so if you inclue non MMOs). The player camera is obstinately a "camera drone" that the pilot conrolls like they do the rest of the ship.

Second Life's camera has design requirements that most other worlds don't have: fine controll by the user who is trying to create in-world content (and about a year ago, the scriptable "follow-cam" was introduced for a different subset of requirements, particularly movement-heavy ones. However it's still the "builder's camera" that's the default.


I notice social agency was not mentioned--have you never been in a world where your feeling of that world was affected/inspired by the way others appeared to act inside it even if you did not know exactly what they were doing or thinking? Or perhaps past or present 'peopledness' is too subtle and complex to be a key element yet..


I must say I find this approach much too technocentric. What happened to good old embodiment? And haven't we had this discussion in new media studies for at least 10 years?


To me, Second Life's physics seems very "dream like" - much more so than other MMORPGS - though I'm not sure why this is. I think it's something to do with the way the camera view-point moves. (Obviously, flying has dream-like qualities, but I feel the effect even when walking).

Strangely, Second Life feels very "silent", even though there's music in many places and some sound effects. I think I experience written text as if the words were spoken aloud (even though I'm actually reading them with my eyes), so that a text-based MUD with no real sound feels full of noise, but when there's little text chat the world feels silent.

I recently spent a couple of hours building something in a location that was landscaped as being half-way up a mountain in winter, and then I telported to a Carribean beach because I needed to go fetch something. Obviously, the actual temperature of the room I was actually in in RL didn't change, but it felt as if it did. I suspect that this is bit like Pavlov's dogs salivating at the sound of the bell even when there's no steak. If my eyes see visual cues that would normally correspond to a chsnge in temperature, my body reacts in anticipation of the change.


@Susan. I agree -- SL = dreamlike in many respects. The odd juxtaposition of so many disparate visual elements, the lack of ambient noise in most places, pop music in others, so many wildly divergent toons, etc.

In terms of physics, one of the things that has always made me, well... go "hmmm"... is the flying/falling contrast. I start to fly, and I lift off the ground gently. It's more float-y than really soaring. And I can hang in the air, standing like an angel, turning and pointing, focusing on far away things... all very calm and serene...

Until I stop flying. At which point I plummet... very quickly... arms and legs pinwheeling madly... to crash upon the ground.

Of course, I can "fly down," and land gracefully, and learning to do that provides a level of, "Cool. Now I can do that." And there are anim packs that help mitigate. But for weeks when I first started playing the delta between the "Angelic flying/floating" vs. "Clumsy, death-dive" experiences gave me a wee frisson every time.


What's even more vital than camera movement is for things in the world itself to have their own autonomous movement.

There's nothing that gives Second Life a more powerful feeling of realness than landing on a sim and seeing giraffes stampede across the savannah, or trees wildly waving in the artificial wind (they do that, there is weather).

@Susan I think the reason SL feels "silent" in places is because it simply doesn't move in a lot of areas. It's starkly still. In RL, not only organic things, but inorganic things move, or at least flutter or push or do something if pushed. In SL, you can pan around and feel yourself in a frozen jello sometimes.

The shadows also make a difference, if they are maxed out and depending on your graphic card, making things have depth.

In this very stark immoveable landscape, especially if there are no Linden trees, suddenly seeing an avatar which is of course moving seems odd. Even grotesque if you really peer at them.


It is interesting to think about the relative importance of sensory factors for a sense of place (I learned a new word today - "proprioception"!) versus the issues of things like social agency, persistence, etc. In other words, that something feels like a place because you can talk to someone there, even if from a sensory perspective there's very little, like a phone call. The importance that designers and participants in virtual worlds often place on graphics capability within the technical limits of the time make me think that the sensory side of things is helpful, but I still suspect that the social action is more fundamental.

This is a discussion that's gone on for quite a while in some quarters, including new media studies, but is certainly worth reexamining, since 1) not everyone has participated in those discussions, 2) those discussions have drawn from a fairly limited range of theoretical and empirical perspectives, and 3) the technological landscape of course continues to change so swiftly. Thanks for opening the conversation!


Good point about feeling of space. I reckon all valid, especially the huge zoom and range of motion of Eve - makes it feel like you are in the deep end of the pool.

I wonder if the other missing element isn't manipulation. I get a sense of space when I can manipulate it. I know that the project from Australia - Outback Online - is heavily about the manipulation of one's environment. Wonder how that will change the sense of space.


Ok that was random...

What about building layouts? Or color palettes? Or lighting? Or sound design? These have less to do with the feel of the world than Alt-Zooming does???

Pardon my complete incredulity but... wow...


"Proprioception!" That is key! And Julian is absoulutey right. It very much has to do with embodiment.

I've actually studied this issue quite a bit. My research with Uru players showed that the addition of an avatar to the Myst world had a significant impact on the sense of presence, and players in particular mentioned the concept of proprioception. So I would posit that the experience might be less about being in "space" and more about "being" in space. I also wrote a position paper for called "Seeing and Being Seen" in which I also conclude that the presence of others, of witnesses as it were, also enhances this sensation.

One of the features of There.com that best encapsulates this is the way in which avatars turn their heads to look at whoever is talking and sometimes nod. It is a classic psychological reinforcement (it's actually called "mirroring") which makes the speaker feel they are being seen, heard and recognized. So these affirmations of presence, "I am here and you see that I am here," are also I think very important in creating a sense of place and presence.

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