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Jul 30, 2007



You can think of many virtual worlds as video games that thousands of people can play at once, together. Each player controls an animated character, called an "avatar." But other virtual worlds don’t even have something you would recognize as a "game." Instead, they are more like three-dimensional spaces in which you can get together with friends to talk, watch movies or listen to music. These worlds tend to have very active economies, because they allow residents to create and sell their own content, from clothing for their avatars to software that will animate objects and store data.

98 words!


A virtual world is a shared, two-way media experience. It allows users to play, work, talk and share content using Web-enabled, graphic software. In a VW, you usually control a 3D character and use him/her/it to interact with things provided by the publishers, and with other users. VWs may enable audio and video sharing, economic transactions, chat, the ability for users to create their own items and environments, and other interactive systems. The main attraction to these worlds is the ability to share convincing alternate realities with many other players. (90 words)


Online games that are like playgrounds where thousands of people can participate at the same time. Some virtual worlds are also used for more serious purposes, such as business.

(Not accurate, but being accurate will loose comprehension. You analogies: Epcot, conferences etc)


Say something like: “Spending part of your day in a virtual world will become commonplace profoundly normal, ultimately displacing both desktop computing and other two-dimensional user interfaces. As a hothouse of innovation and experimentation, cyber-reality may even accelerate the social evolution of humanity.”

Then tell 'em they could get rich by investing in virtual property, if they play their cards right.

(Emphasize that card-playing is meant in a metaphorical sense, as gambling is illegal.)


I agree with Ola's statement. I think part of the perception problem with virtual worlds is all the bombastic descriptions that the BBC News and other "normal" media love to cook up. It either sounds incredibly insincere, a press release, or something way too "nerdy" to be taken seriously.

Keep it nice and simple, state the facts.


I would just say: "A virtual world is an artificial environment meant to let people interact with each other and the environment itself, in a number of ways, usually by the mean of avatars".

I think VWs may be so different in scope, goals and every other aspect, it would be pretty usless (and confusing) to try and point out the many faces a VW may have to un unexperienced listener. You shall easilly take the time to be more exaustive on the matter, if you have to


"You see, it's like a big networked doll-house... You each bring doll with whatever clothing you can make/buy... You walk it around (or you can fly!)... You can make stuff out of little scraps of stuff and rig it up to do stuff, like a magic Erector Set, or Capsela, or Lego Mindstorms... and your dolls can dance and gamble and kill, and steal and have sex..."

Eh. That won't work.


In most cases its a digital representation of a literal world. Imagine being able to step into concept art that you'd find in a book such as Harry Potter, and once inside you are able to move around and interact with a virtual digital environment.

I would go further to define a world by the roles I'm able to choose within the world, and the means or extent that I'm allowed to play them out.


I'd start of with shared knowledge, in this case, Star Wars.

"Let's make a video game out of Star Wars. You control one of the characters from the bar on Luke’s home planet. Now imagine everyone else in from the bar is also controlled by someone else playing the same game at the same time. So when you go up and talk to someone for information, maybe the location of Jaba’s lair, there is a real person sitting at another computer asking you for if you know where to get a cheap speeder. Generally, if you have missions to complete you’re playing an MMORGP, otherwise you’re in a virtual world."

Yes this is not a perfect or complete definition (an MMORPG is not distinct from virtual worlds), but sometimes you need to simplify things to help explain them, such as how I distinctly remember learning that there's nothing less than 0 and that you can't take the square root of a negative number. Fill them in on the details after they begin to understand it.


A virtual environment is a digitally created version of a real, fictional, or conceptual environment. A computer game is an immersive virtual environment as it tries to hold the player’s attention. Virtual reality is an environment designed to be immersive by changing the view according to the movement of a user’s head (such as head mounted displays or CAVES). A virtual world is socially immersive. It typically allows people to wander around controlling 3D low polygon characters, through which they can type or perhaps speak to other players. In more advanced virtual worlds they can also build nd trade objects. [100 words]


Above was me, apologies.



This is 200 words. It is a bit tounge in cheek, but there is some truth in it as well.

Virtual worlds are like SWIFT.

There is a tangible front end, a development team, a governing body, customer care, data centers and a global network. Virtual world run the second largest data centers in the world, behind the major financial institutions that connect to SWIFT. VWs have maintenance shutdowns every week, often lasting for hours, SWIFT is far more stable probably because the user base is so large and global chaos would result if the inter-bank transfer network shut down for 3-7 hours every Wednesday.

Both systems create opportunities for wealth generation through services offered by their members Chinese gold farmer and Royal Bank of Scotland both make money through a process that consists entirely of manipulating data. The market places value on national currency and also on virtual world currency. In many cases we never touch the money, we just know it is there because the network and servers tell us so. The potential for fraud is there, and the governing body has to make a substantial effort to combat it and to make the system secure. SWIFT is better at this than the VW companies.

All the money in SWIFT is virtual, and so is all the money in a virtual world.


I agree with Ola.

(Hope this isn't derailing, but it's also fascinating for me to see how deep the niche of comprehension is in some of the responses above. Most people are really not going to get references to things that to us are commonplace -- the details of Star Wars, 3D characters, words like 'immersive virtual environment', avatars, etc. Randy's visual of dolls killing, stealing, and having sex is right out of the Twilight Zone. :-) )


I work with accountants of all ilk and of various age demographics regularly. My wife is also a CPA and former public auditor.

I don't think any of the above definitions, as great as most of them are, will reach your audience. I guess it depends upon how much self-selection there will be in your audience, but if you're talking about the types who generally frequent such conventions, they will have a need to ground everything in real-world analogy. Importantly, not in analogies that themselves cause debate ('fair market value', for example).

And the first "A" of the AAA means all these accountants come from a rules-based paradigm. Explaining things more or less in terms of rules and process might be more comfortable for the audience to relate to.

All that said, I can't offer a better definition myself, so take my comments as worth L$0.02 invested in virtual tulips.


How about...

You know how when you talk to someone on the telephone it sometimes helps keep the conversation straight to imagine the room they are in or the expression on their face?

[Association with something lots of folks do]

Virtual worlds are like visual aids, created by a computer, that help 10's or 100's or 1000's of people imagine the same place so that they can act in a more coordinated way.

[Bridge to the description, show that it is a group activity]

People look at the computer screen and see the same thing that the people they are talking to see, including a representation of them. Using the keyboard or the mouse each person controls their own representation, like pulling the strings on a marionette. They talk, they move around, they exchange items and information.

[Does require that the reader have used a computer -- but that might not be too big of a stretch. And limits itself to computer I/O to keep it simple]

The virtual world helps them keep it all straight and focused on the tasks at hand. And virtual worlds can be more than simple visual aids, they can be active: doors can open, cars can move people around, even completely computer generated characters and situations can be constructed to interact with the real people.

[Could be dropped, but responds to "so what?" -- emphasizing the computer mediated aspect of the communication]

Want to be a race care driver competing with real people but with no chance of being injured in a crash? In a virtual world you can. Want to learn how to fire somebody without taking the risk of a punch in the jaw or the trouble of an expensive trip to a seminar? A virtual world could be constructed to help you do it.

[A couple of examples]


A Virtual World is the ultimate making-money machine : it does not legally exist , but it produces money. A Virtual World is legally inexistent , but in it you can do all significant financial and commercial activities wich will bring you the very real money. Banking ? E-commerce ? Retail-sales ? Stock Exchanges ? Gambling ? Porn ? You name it, i implement it ; and it'll produce income , while legally it doesn't exist. To make a Virtual World to function and to produce money , you need only three things : a bunch of programmers, a smart lawyer to write you a tricky EULA and....ummmm....i was almost to say " players ", " participants ", " investors ", but then i realised you dont NEED them : a loser is born every 5 seconds so that's a natural endless ressource. In the worst case , you'll be able to make a nice pile of money for few consecutive years, until the Accountants and the Lawmakers will start to ask themselves "....what the f is an Alice , afterall ?! " Not to mention the years until they'll figure the answer. If ever.


And btw, Robert , don't be shy, you can mention God's name here , np, it's virtual , it's on internet. And the blog have a Disclaimer and an EULA i guess.


"Virtual Reality."

Two words. I win!

Ok, I'll explain a bit more; Virtual Reality, I've found, is a term people are going to be a lot more familiar with via pop culture than "virtual world" if you're not going for a super-techical explaination and it describes nearly the same thing if you switch out funky goggles for persistance.

So slightly longer version:

"Well you're familiar with the idea of virtual reality, right? A virtual world is the digital environment where it takes place. What makes it a world is that when you leave, disconnect, turn off the computer, the environment, the whole simulation continues to run; it's persistant. At the same time other people can be connected to it and communicate with each other and the changes you all make can be observed by everyone else. And instead of wearing goggles you controll an avatar, a character that represents you, with the mouse and keyboard. Some virtual worlds are game worlds (insert examples), others are for working and socializing (insert Second Life or other examples here)."


C-Park, it's about VWs, not about Messenger with Voice & Webcam or GTA Vice City & Counter Strike.

The only thing one can do in a VW for cheaper and for easier is : to produce money without being enforced any liability/accountability. Anything else does already exist on internet and fuctions much better , for cheaper and easier.


I like the playground similarity. A VW is like a playground where you don't know anyones real name, and everyone wears a mask which allows them to do virtually anything without real consequences. :)


Yeah, unless you consider getting rich and avoiding the IRS as real consequences.

And except for the fact that the server is located in a real country and monitorised by a real Intelligence Service. And your real data " leaked " to real interested peoples. And in order to play a VW you must first install their spyware Warden Client. And their EULA says : " we may do anything at any momment and you can only kiss your money good-bye ".


Perhaps any of the explanations could be used if you first laid WHY (if at all) Virtual worlds matter or are useful to the audience in question.

Just as with our undergraduate and graduate students - the key to conveying an idea is to make them experience the need to understand it.

just my 55 Lindens.



Virtual World: A place to play dolls and make-believe on a computer, and to interact with others doing the same.


Taking your first comment as a starting point. 96 words.

Online virtual worlds are like video games, complete with realistic animated 3D graphics and sound, that thousands of people can play together, through the Internet. However, unlike typical video games, general-purpose virtual worlds such as the popular "Second Life" have no single objective or purpose. Players are free to move about the virtual world and interact with it and with each other in any way they like-- primarily through talking, creating objects and buildings, and modifying the landscape of the virtual world, and even buying and selling ownership of virtual objects and access to virtual land.


It would be better just to give some specific examples and show screenshots though.


A tough challenge. I’ve had a few opportunities to present virtual worlds to academic audiences and it’s been as hard a concept to effectively explain as I can remember. My first two attempts were dismal failures. The first time, I thought I was clear in my explanation, but the audience was non-responsive. Then I showed them an actual virtual world and the first reaction was “It’s just a cartoon.” I wanted to scream “It’s not just a cartoon!” but I restrained myself.

After these unsuccessful efforts, I realized that they had no meaningful experience to make sense of what I was describing. I had forgotten the old adage that gaining new knowledge occurs most effectively when people can connect the new content with their previous knowledge and experience.

The most recent presentation proved far more successful by focusing on the role of play and learning followed by a brief slideshow of various virtual world screenshots with some lively music from a virtual world and famous quotes about the value of play. In the future I’m thinking about other ways to connect the virtual world concept with familiar life experiences. I would suggest not being limited by fact that they are academics or business/ accounting professors. Look for other connections to everyday life, or even childhood. My initial reaction to my first virtual world experience (Everquest 1) was that it reminded me of Peter Pan’s “Neverland”… full of adventure, interesting characters and danger, yet eventually you return to the safety of your home. I’ve sometime used that reference in talking individually with other academics about the virtual world experience.

Humor helps too.


One other thing, though not exactly a direct answer to the question. But possibly helpful in these situations (I'm repeating a comment from another thread, so if you've read this from me before, please skip).

When I've had people tell me that they think participating in VWs (or MMOs) is "insane" or "ridiculous," and ask, "Why would anyone spend time or money in a not-real world?", my response has been to ask: "Do you read fiction?"

For some, that's all it takes. They do the "ah-ha" look, and understand that for some other people, engagement in a VW might be the equivalent of reading non-reality based prose.

For others, I've had to explain that, in reading fiction, you are purposefully delving into a created space, and spending time in a world that an author has imagined and set down for your benefit. It's not necessarily an educational place, nor based on any kind of real-world issues. But we still spend money and time in fictional worlds.

With VWs/MMOs, we just get to do more stuff than read.


Well, I'd say something like this:
There are two different traditions of virtual worlds. The first elaborates on social technologies such as teleconferencing and computer-mediated communication to create the illusion of a shared space around human communication. The second elaborates on the computer game to create a game in which you collaborate or compete with hundreds of other players from around the world.


On second thought, reading your Worlds for Study link, you might want to ask them their background and what they do.

For example as an educator/trainer what interests me is the ways in which VWs combine elements that have been used separately in education: multimedia, games, synchonous CMC, and simulation.

Some people from business might be interested in VWs as a form of teleconferencing and telepresence.

Others might be interested in VWs as part of the evolution of electronic entertainment. Again, your audience might be familiar with both electronic games, and fee-based social games/sports such as chess or soccer. VWs (in part) combine these two.


Just had some fun creating a tagcloud from all your definition: http://larica-virtual.soc.uniurb.it/redline/?p=198 Is that how terranova's folks define VW?


Very cool tag cloud. Can I steal it?


Sure! take it! (if i get time I'm going to work a little more on this)


Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself:)


Owwww what a wonderful post and what even more wonderful comments! My favorites:
- TeN's matrix quote above... :)
- Ola Fosheim Grøstad's analogy of the playground
- F. Randall Farmer's analogy of the doll-house in principle, as it sheds light on character development, which I recognize in many virtual worlds, like SL, WoW and EVE. Add to that the multi-user context and you've got an interesting process-based understanding of virtual worlds, instead of focusing on the product, i.e. the technology (3D, audio, graphics, etc).


A 'virtual world' is an online "game" that allows thousands of "players" to interact and communicate with each other and the "games environment" in such a way that complex real world like economic and social systems between the "players" can arise within the "game". The reason these "games" are reffered to as 'virtual worlds' is to emphasize the serious nature and (economic) importancy of these "games"... Many "players" spend up to 40 hours a week "living" in these "games", and the economic value that is created within these 'virtual worlds' even surpasses the GDP of many (small) real world countries.

(100 words ;))


lol, What about just showing them what it is? Bring a laptop with internet access and show them what it is like to be in an MMORPG/Virtual World. As you show them around, you can talk about the various aspects of an MMORPG/Virtual World. Have one of your students play another character back at home or something, and meet up with them at some place in the world, and maybe do a couple of transactions, quests, etc. =)


@Ian : best ideea ever ! Oh, btw, with the same occasion you could put a valuable blueprint in her/his inventory , or better , give her/him an Entropia ATM card and a 8k USD " loot " . From other players' money, ofcourse, that's the most important part.


" Andy Havens says:

One other thing, though not exactly a direct answer to the question. But possibly helpful in these situations (I'm repeating a comment from another thread, so if you've read this from me before, please skip).

When I've had people tell me that they think participating in VWs (or MMOs) is "insane" or "ridiculous," and ask, "Why would anyone spend time or money in a not-real world?", my response has been to ask: "Do you read fiction?"

For some, that's all it takes. They do the "ah-ha" look, and understand that for some other people, engagement in a VW might be the equivalent of reading non-reality based prose.

For others, I've had to explain that, in reading fiction, you are purposefully delving into a created space, and spending time in a world that an author has imagined and set down for your benefit. It's not necessarily an educational place, nor based on any kind of real-world issues. But we still spend money and time in fictional worlds.

With VWs/MMOs, we just get to do more stuff than read. "

Yes. Ginko Financial : you make fictional statements , i pay you real cash. At the end of the day, you cash-out the $ 750,000 . What we call that ? Some peoples calls it a scheme, some calls it a Ponzi , some peoples calls it a Virtual World . The ones making profit from both the scammer and the victims , are the VW's owners, harboring the " fiction " . You cannot run a Ponzi in real life, so you rent a space from LL and you do it there. You promises are fictional, the money you make/we lose are real , in your bank account.

Reading a fiction is called " lecture ".
Being part of a fictional financial relationship with real money, is called : a scammer and a loser. In the real life , there are laws against it. In the Virtual Life, not.

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