Modeling Reality with Virtual Worlds

Since about 1995, virtual worlds have been replicating real life interactions in the digital space. These real-time, three-dimensional experiences that can be used in many ways such as health, business, social, etc. In this post we will explore the different ways virtual worlds are used today and how it may be used in the future.


Virtual Worlds for Personal Use

When you first think of virtual worlds, personal use is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Many people use virtual worlds as a way to enhance their social life. When you create a virtual world avatar, you can then allow that avatar to go to bars, beaches, museums, etc., all within your computer! For example, MTV created a virtual world called VLES (virtual lower east side) which is, as the name suggests, a virtual replica of New York’s Lower East Side, where you can go to many of the same shops and bars that are there in real life! According to the New York Times, “In the fall of 2006 MTV started Virtual Laguna Beach, a 3-D world meant to simulate the Southern Californian beach community of its semi-reality show ‘Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County’; in short order it added virtual worlds based on its shows ‘The Hills,’ ‘Pimp My Ride,’ ‘The Real World: Sydney’ and ‘Kaya.’”


Virtual Worlds in Health

There are many people in the world who cannot have a normal social life due to their medical conditions. This has lead to the creation of many virtual world communities made specifically for people with certain illnesses to interact and simulate a normal social life, as well as learn more about their condition. For example, David Savill of Gloucester, England created a virtual world in Second Life called Naughty Auties, “to serve those with autism spectrum disorders and their friends and family.” Dr. Fred Volkmar, a professor in Yale University’s Child Study Center, said, “Although not much research is yet available, there is clearly considerable potential in use of new technologies for fostering social skills.”

Another example of virtual worlds being used in healthcare are virtual hospitals. Of course real patients don’t use this to get treated (not yet at least), but they are being used to train healthcare professionals on how to handle certain situations. According to the Wall Street Journal, “dozens of hospitals, medical schools and health foundations have staked out space in the online community Second Life, where participants can build their own virtual clinics and stage just about any training drill they can imagine.”


Virtual Worlds in the Workplace

Virtual worlds enable you to chat, give interactive training sessions and conferences, and also to collaborate. Of course it would be easy to translate these benefits into the workplace. In a article it states that, “more than 1,400 organizations — including large companies, educational institutions, government agencies and even the U.S. military — use Second Life to hold meetings, conduct training and prototype new technologies more efficiently.” It allows employees from all over the world to come together in one place without ever leaving their countries or cities.

There are many other ways to use virtual worlds besides the ones listed such as gaming, education and commerce. In the future, virtual worlds will become more popular and more big companies will start to explore it in order to create a more dynamic experience for consumers. Colleges may start hosting online courses via this medium and you may be able to see a doctor for health information this way. With the rise of two-way communication in marketing, community building, etc., I can envision big brands like Apple or Macy’s exploring virtual world options.

Can you think of any other ways to use virtual worlds?

Do you have any experiences to share?

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