January 19th, 2008 by Jonathan J. Klinger
I had the pleasure to attend a real-life conference on virtual worlds at the IDC Hertzelia. The conference dealt with the real issues of virtual worlds, not just the legal issues, but also other issues.
Dvir Reznik of IBM presented their perception of the metaverse and discussed Second Life and other virtual worlds. Reznik compared virtual worlds and virtual reality games. Virtual worlds are made partly in order to increase productivity and solve problems related to distance and other problems which major corporations have now as globalised corporations, of course, however, the recreational features of virtual worlds have much to do with the economy of these spaces as well. IBM first entered SL in order to explore the usage of virtual worlds for business benefits. IBM also allows other companies to use their services in order to provide SL presence, as Sears launched their SL business through IBM. IBM Also enables software and other vendors to test their products through IBM’s platform.
Moshik Miller, a Ph.D student researching virtual worlds’ economy had researched a Second Life project for a Spanish Bank. He explained about the local currency of virtual worlds. Miller explained that more than 1 million US dollars are spent daily on SL, and showed the Linden Dollar exchange rate against the US$. Miller compared Linden Labs with a central bank and elaborated on how the SL economy works. Nowadays, financial services are given on SL including real-estate services and monetary exchange services. Also, the opening of SL to an OSS environment as Miller explained, is problematic (and I dispute) Miller offered a system to reward SL users by converting Linden Dollars to real money, depositing it in a real investment and after profits, receive the profit. (However, I believe the real profit will occur when investments will be made on a SL bank will invest in a SL operation and increase profitability and increase financial options.). Though there are a few comments on Miller’s words, I reckon that he failed to understand the value of virtual economy and the possible profits from investing in virtual economies and not just using the virtual world as a monetary aggregator.
Dr. Hanan Gazit from the Israeli DiGRA chapter explained about the Second Life experience and decision making in computer games. Gazit, as a video-game researcher, explained that “The way that you play says something about you”. Gazit presented his research about Children’s virtual world dynamics. he used a theoretical framework about the Microdevelopment Approach and the Active Theory, Gazit mapped the virtual relations and social networks in virtual worlds.
Dr. Asaf Friedman lectured about the navigational issues in virtual worlds. “When we look a the basic principle of how people interact with images, the brain adjusts to an object, but when we are talking about interactive viewing, we want to do things”. In 2D games, like Pac-Man, you have a different understanding from 3D. The navigation is counter intuitive and still has problems with navigation. Without discussing the Wii, Friedman explained how to design 3D interfaces with intuitive perspective. Perspective is in direct connection to realism; without perspective we are talking only about fragmented reality, where perspectives gave the dimension and reality. Friedman explained the nonintuitivity of the pan-turn buttons on SL and the environment of interactions in virtual worlds.
Prof. Doron Friedman compared reality and virtual reality and explained Putnam’s “brains in a vat” theory and how far are we from this vision. He explained that the main difference between virtual worlds and virtual reality are the interface and display. The problem is presence: we want to create a perfect copy of reality and this would be a photorealistic copy of this world. However, we are very far. In order to create “good” virtual reality, he claims that we should create sufficient sensors which transfers not only the presence, but also feelings.
Lior Flum discussed avatars in WoW. In his research, he concluded that it is not the players who control the avatars, but the avatars, with their social reactions and interactions, are those who control the players and create the social reactions between the players. Grouping, according to Flum, are a cohesion of avatars with an a specific hierarchy which is created by the avatars, not the players.
Heidi Halevy, a Ph.D Student, discussed CopyBot and the emergence of virtual communities; when stating that technology help qualities to infiltrate the virtual communities. Her research included a question regarding performance of bots as technological agents. Her thesis is that bots are technological bodies. Copybot was a few lines of code which were coded in order to debug the platform, and the script reverse engineered objects and textures. This script was publicly available and released as a script that could actually retain information and rewrites ownership and title in the object. According to Halevy, all the signs of a threat to virtual economy were false and that though social fragmentation was made, it hasn’t created too much damage.
I reckon that for the first conference held in Israel regarding virtual issues (without any regards to legal issues) there were quite a few experts who had no time to explain their research. My main problem with this conference was the description. As this was described as a “Workshop” on the invitation sent to me, it was too much of a lectureathon instead.
Legal issues were not the main aspect, however they were present throughout the lectures. When speaking about anonymity and hiding behind virtual identities, when explaining the monetary issues, the law, at least in Israel, was too much behind this development.
Jonathan J. Klinger is a Cyberlaw Attorney from Israel, writing his LL.M Thesis on speech norms at The Interdisciplinary Center In Hertzelia. You can find more of his articles in his blog, 2jk.org (English, Hebrew).
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