Engaging the Disengaged via Performance in Online Virtual Worlds

Donna Z. Davis

Abstract


In 2010 an estimated 3 billion hours were spent weekly playing online games. Only recently, however, have these environments been considered more than entertainment. After an initial failed approach following media exuberance of these environments as a panacea for marketing and alternative meeting and work space, companies, governments, universities, non-profit organizations, and marketers are beginning to re-explore the use of these games for social engagement as well as opportunities to engage workers, volunteers and consumers. As more is known about performance in these virtual spaces as experienced through immersion, interactivity and the sense of presence, these environments may indeed offer creative solutions to the challenges of shrinking budgets, displaced workers and socio-economic or cultural alienation. Using digital ethnography to understand the nature of 3-D game culture, this 2-year study explored the development of relationships and the strength of trust and reciprocity in Second Life, a 3-D online immersive social environment. This study supported previous findings of online trust as participants reported a willingness to trust their virtual counterparts equally (40%) or greater (32%) in the virtual world as they did in their real lives. This trust was often attributed to a sense of safety as a function of role play and anonymity in these environments. Implications of this research add to growing evidence of using virtual environments for business, education, and as viable cultures unique to the virtual world; where individuals from the edges who may feel marginalized and disengaged as a result of physical world barriers such as age, gender, race, or even extreme shyness may feel empowered to participate and collaborate in planning and problem resolution.

Keywords


virtual worlds; engagement; digital ethnography; social capital

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