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Embodiment and presence in virtual worlds: a review

Abstract

The multimodal, 3D-graphical communication platforms known as virtual worlds have their historical roots in multi-user domains/dungeons (MUDs) and virtual reality (VR). Given the extensive research on these technologies and the novelty of virtual worlds as a topic of study in information systems (IS), it behooves us to learn from the concepts, theories and insights generated primarily by other disciplines that have focused on these technologies. Because neither MUDs nor VR have significant organizational application, thus locating them outside of the IS discipline’s purview, very little of this literature has found its way into IS research thus far. This article reviews the extant literature on virtual environments and seeks to make its insights accessible to IS research on virtual worlds. In particular, this will focus on concepts, theories and insights regarding embodiment and presence, which are afforded by the avatar, a distinguishing technological artifact of virtual worlds.

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Notes

  1. The FutureWork Institute (www.FutureworkInstitute.com) has developed this application in Second Life.

  2. The recent development of 3D technology for the home might make VR much more accessible though. In 2010, Sony launched a 3D controller called the PlayStation Move. It resembles the Wii but is able to depict the player's movement in 3D space.

  3. A subset of VR technology, known as ‘second person’ VR, relies on avatars to represent the user (Heeter, 1992), but these representations have traditionally been of the generic, one-size-fits-all variety (Lok et al., 2003).

  4. As virtual experiences are perceived as ‘real’ and involve ‘real’ people, the term ‘real’ is problematic as an antonym for ‘virtual.’ Following Lee (2004), the term ‘actual’ will therefore be used instead of ‘real’ for the most part.

  5. The term ‘external world’ highlights the information processing (Mokros and Deetz, 1996) or representational (Barad, 2003) perspective that underlies the extant literature's conceptualization of presence. This perspective assumes that the external world and objects within it exist, that we perceive them with our bodily senses, then rely on language to represent them and, in this abstracted form, make them amenable to mental information processing.

  6. Evolutionary psychology explores how certain features of human behavior have been designed by natural selection to ensure the specie's survival (Riva et al., 2004).

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Acknowledgements

Funding from the National Science Foundation, Grant IIS-0848692, made this research possible. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. I would also like to thank Shauna Bowers, Chris Sauer and three anonymous reviewers for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.

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Schultze, U. Embodiment and presence in virtual worlds: a review. J Inf Technol 25, 434–449 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1057/jit.2010.25

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Keywords

  • avatar
  • virtual reality
  • telepresence
  • social presence
  • co-presence
  • self presence