Virtual Worlds – More Than Just Games

A virtual world is an online community that takes the form of a computer-based, simulated environment. Users interact with one another in this world through text-based, two- or three-dimensional graphical models called avatars. These worlds are purpose-built for social, entertainment, training and other purposes. These simulated worlds are accessible via computer terminals and special-purpose devices that render virtual content and provide input/output capability. Learn more:

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These simulated worlds are populated with objects that may be based on real or fantasy worlds. They are governed by rules (e.g. gravity, topography, locomotion) and are designed to evoke some sense of presence for the user. Communication among participants can be accomplished using text, graphical icons and other visual gestures as well as audio (voice).

Although many studies focus on the use of virtual worlds in education, the technology is used for a broad range of activities from gaming to collaborative work. Consequently, the literature identifies different terminology to distinguish between this broad spectrum of applications. These terms include virtual world, multi-user virtual environment and immersive virtual reality (IVVR).

For example, some of the earliest virtual worlds are massively multiplayer online role playing games that include a virtual social environment and are often referred to as MMORPGs. Similarly, the educational video game Whyville offers simulation-based activities that allow kids to experiment with and understand a wide variety of phenomena. As the emergence of new immersive technology such as virtual reality and extended reality headsets continues, the definition of virtual world will need to be clarified so that it can continue to be applied in a broad range of contexts.