AWABA Virtual Online World for Australian Kids" >Page 1, 2, 3,4

Miriam English the AWABA Designer on the social aspects of VR

Because multi-user virtual worlds are less about technology than about the people inhabiting in them, it is interesting and often surprising to see how people socialise there.

Many worlds have peacekeepers that solve disputes and prevent people being obnoxious. AWABA has a number of people who have decided to help, but dispute resolution has fallen largely to me (Miriam). I try to play down my role in the world by referring to myself as the janitor -- after all, I clean up unwanted objects and help people. When faced with objectionable behaviour, rather than threatening people or telling them what to do, I try to reason with them or attract them into using the world positively. This almost always has the desired effect. On the rare occasion that this doesn't work and I need to resort to ejecting them from the world for five minutes. It doesn't take long for them to realise that such behaviour is uncool, and that they can get much more out of the experience by creating something of their own instead of the immature gratification of hassling people. I have found that the language used in such situations is very important. Objectionable behaviour must be referred to as uncool, and rather than saying that they are acting immaturely, I try to accurately guess their age out loud. They are often appalled to find that everybody either knows their real age or underestimates their real age.


Reproduced with permission of Online Australia

One of the nice things about VR is that somebody who acts offensively can return in another guise to be a more reasonable person. One young kids that I had a lot of trouble with, who would not respond well at all, who I had to eject 3 times over about fifteen minutes, returned under another name, and actually became interested while I was explaining to a delighted girl how easy it is to build. I have not had any further trouble from him. Another person was playing a joke, which the first few times was quite funny: he would put flame objects inside other people's buildings. However the joke wore quite thin after a while, when Morgan (the other person helping with world maintenance) and I would spend hours deleting the flames. He actually built up many enemies in the world. We have heard nothing of him for some time now... I suspect he tired of the silly game and is now a helpful citizen of AWABA. This aspect is very interesting and could present a lesson we could learn from in the outside world. A friend of mine who calls herself Shmeg (in honour of the the Science Fiction comedy Red Dwarf) is the manager of GalaxyWorlds, another universe. One thing she is very proud of is that a lot of the most helpful people in her universe are kids who have been banned from other universes.

Related to this point that people can enter the world somewhat incognito is the fact that some kids have revealed themselves as gay, which would be extremely difficult, and sometimes dangerous in real life. As the rate of suicide is terrifyingly high among gay youth, this may show some promise as a way of boosting their feelings of self-worth, and perhaps saving a few lives.

I have been surprised at the extremely low incidence of flirting in AWABA. I kind of expected that it would be, to some extent a sea of simmering hormones, but it has been a very cerebral place. While there is some joking about sexuality there seems to be little of the overt sexuality you find in real-life groups of kids. I guess they don't feel the need to prove themselves in a virtual space.

Lastly, something very unexpected has resulted from a bug in the world. The world normally uses a device called the object registry to prevent people building on top of another person's building. This is currently not working properly in AWABA, but has given rise to a couple of unforseen effects.

Most importantly is that many people have worked in loose cooperation on projects, which normally would require them to share something called a privelege password. Many people don't understand what a privelege password is and if the registry was working properly many of these projects simply would not have happened.

Another result is that kids have had to learn how resolve disputes themselves. As nobody can hurt another in VR, the worst that has happened is that minor sign wars have cropped up where someone would create a sign over someone else's doorway, and another would respond with a sign over that other person's doorway. When you consider that this is the worst, it is not very bad. The best that has happened is that people have apologised for misunderstandings and have happily resolved their differences and become friends. This is very cool and not something which happens very much in real life. It is almost normal in AWABA.

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