May 24, 2005
Compartmentalization v. Immersion in Virtual Worlds
Over the weekend, I heard an interesting presentation by Helene Michel, a business school professor from France. She described the experience with Vacheland.com, a simulation where visitors can manage a virtual farm. The project was initiated by a public agency to increase awareness of farm issues and to help address negative perceptions due to mad cow disease. The thinking was the participants' attitudes would be positively affected by their experiences managing the virtual farm.
On one level, the project is a success, with 320,000 people tending a virtual farm and an active community developing to discuss the game and figure out how to optimize participation.
However, on the more important level, the simulation failed to accomplish its goals. Many participants compartmentalized the experience, distinguishing between their virtual cow/farm and their attitudes towards real cows and farms. The paper has some great quotes explaining that participants clearly segregated the experience in their minds.
This, of course, strikes at the heart of any arguments that virtual worlds are unique/special/different because they are "immersive." In Vacheland, despite the richness of the simulation, there was no blurring of reality and fantasy. Instead, Vacheland occupied a distinct place in the participant's life. If this conclusion holds true in other simulated environments, then we will have to carefully scrutinize any arguments that virtual worlds warrant unique legal treatment because of their immersive quality.
Posted by Eric at May 24, 2005 01:05 PM | Virtual Worlds
Thanks for this.
I suppose that one definition of immersion might be the failure to differentiate between real and virtual objects -- that's awfully close to "delusion" though, isn't it?
If I get time, I'll post some thoughts on the relevance of these cows over at TN, and do a trackback.
Posted by: greglas at May 25, 2005 06:41 AM
(I came here by way of Greg's post on TerraNova.)
I simply don't buy into the notion that immersion and compartmentalization are mutually exclusive. It's psychologically healthy to compartmentalize one's play experiences, regardless of immersion. Just because the players of this game didn't buy into the propaganda that it presented doesn't mean that they weren't immersed in the experience. It just means that they're critical thinkers.
Posted by: Tess at May 27, 2005 02:15 AM
This is a great point. I think it raises the essential question: what does immersion mean, and how does any player compartmentalization affect that? At minimum, I think we need to understand these psychologies more before we attempt to derive any legal implications from them. Thanks for the comment. Eric.
Posted by: Eric Goldman at May 27, 2005 03:18 PM