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What is a virtual world?

June 10, 2010

At an NMC Conference session this morning where there was some disagreement about what constitutes a virtual world. One person suggested that anything created by a game engine did not fit the bill. Another felt that the ability to create content was a requirement. My impression from many in the group was that unless the environment had at least the functionality of Second Life it was not a virtual world.

Here’s what Wikipedia says: “A virtual world is a genre of online community that often takes the form of a computer-based simulated environment, through which users can interact with one another and use and create objects.”

All of this boils down to semantics and it’s far from earth-shattering, but I have a much broader sense of the term. I prefer this definition from World Theory: “A virtual world is a computer-mediated reality which presents the user with an experience which can be reasoned about as if it is a world, but the representation of that world is not required to be analog to a possible physical alternative.”

I don’t see much point in saying “Second Life is a virtual world, but World of Warcraft is merely a game”. Sure it it’s  game, but it’s a world where are interacting in a life-imitating environment that does not exist in flesh and blood.

I believe it makes my job as an educational technologist harder when people insist on fine distinctions. Maybe the environment created by a game engine is not as flexible as Second Life, but it is still a virtual world in my book. Any thoughts out there?

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 20, 2010 9:54 pm

    I have to agree. “Computer-mediated reality” – that is the key. Computer might be in different forms, but interacting other people in real-time on real-place but non-earthly environment using these technology defines ‘virtual’ itself.

    I am a gamer myself (unfortunately not on WoW), and that’s “virtual world” at it’s best form.

    Just my 2-cents. Nice post by the way. Cheers.

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