Networked Imagination

Reading  Vaneeesa’s interpretation of what is presence in virtual worlds made me think of an article I read a while back (and which thoroughly influenced my research and interest in virtual reality) by Thomas and Brown. While I am applying their concept of presence to virtual environments akin to SL, MMOGs, especially WoW, were the original context of their research. Basically, Thomas and Brown posited that while the “action” occurs in a virtual space, any experience in such a space actually occurs in both virtual and actual contexts. In other words, players reflect on their in-world experiences in an actual context to form not only abstract concepts, but also relate virtual experiences (as we are doing on this blog) to both actual and virtual settings by sharing mutually constituted reality with participating, yet physically disconnected users.

What is so fascinating to me about their research is the concept that within any virtual environment lays a networked imaginative state that is at once unique to the individual player and collectively shared by all. As many of us have experience, this networked imaginative state allows us, while immersed in a virtual space, to think beyond what we see and act out on the screen. A shared imagined reality gives virtual environments, including blogs in my opinion, their power and allows for a shared sense of presence where users feel as if they are engaging with the environment as a shared cultural and social place. Without that we could never compare, as we have done, blogs or virtual worlds to the salons of yore.

Snapshot of Scottius Polke’s Lunamaruna. Purple skies anyone?

What do you think about this theory? To what extent does networked imagination play a role in your virtual experiences and the bonds you form with others in these environments?

If any of you are interested in reading the actual article, here is the reference:

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2007). The play of imagination: Extending the literary mind. Games and Culture, 2(2), 149-172. doi: 10.1177/1555412007299458

Author: Kathleen Cool
I am a graduate student studying how people experience informal education, particularly art, in virtual worlds such as Second Life. My background is in both Art History and Computer Science. Please feel free to email me or IM me in SL (Kathleen Koolhoven) if you have any questions regarding my current research or want to participate in my study.

12 thoughts on “Networked Imagination

  1. Hi Kat… I totally agree with your observations on networked imagination. The imagined reality is very real when it’s being lived. It’s amazing to me how strong my connections are with virtual people i’ve never met. I see people adapt with ease into roles that are completely outside their normal lives. This is not true of everyone in these virtual worlds, some cling tenaciously to their real identities, real lives and want you to be “real.” Creating an imagined reality with people who feel that way has been practically impossible for me. I can’t explain why that is, but I believe this is one of the dividing lines you find in virtual worlds.

    There’s something I’ve puzzled over on many occassions. I definitely have memories and emotions and all kinds of feelings related to my experiences in virual world, but because there’s no smell, no tactile feelings, no sense of kinesthesia, I believe I have more difficulty remembering events over a long period of time. The memories are strong, but maybe they are more difficult to be triggered.

    1. That is so interesting, Yordie! I’ve never really thought about it before, but it makes perfect sense! Memory and learning do involve many senses of which some (such as odor, tactility, etc.) are hard, if not impossible, to replicate in virtual environments. It would be interesting to explore how individuals with different learning styles experience virtual environments. I, for one, am a very visual learner. With that said, I have not experienced, to the extent you have described, a sensorial loss in virtual environments. I am assuming that since my “primary” sense, vision, is satisfied, I am able to perform with relatively few obstacles in such synthetic spaces. What do you think?

      1. The only reason I noticed this was I noticed that various friends would have different pieces of memory of recent events. It’s not like memory breakdown, more like a memory fog. And I think visual learning would be equally valid in both RL & VR. But the kinds of memories I’m talking about are memories of events, like going for a date or taking a ride on a road or attending a concert.

        I think I was more inclined to notice this memory thing because of my study of experiencial learning. I had laid out some software architectures to manage learning in a VR, and I discovered that there is a body of work on the issue with regard to robotics, particularly kinesthesia. I doubt that people who didn’t already have that background would be as inclined to notice the problem (assuming it is).

        It would be useful to do a survey and see what others experiences are with virtual memories. I’ve found that when I ask people casually, they assure me they have no problem remembering. I think a test of that memory might show if this is true or not. I’ve also wondered it this “problem” might be related to text talk where you avert your eyes from the scene going on to read text. In situations where we use voice, I’ve noticed I get a lot more of a sense of what’s happening. But I think the key question is my predispostion to this notion that there is a problem.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Yordie! I was not familiar with the phenomenon. Are you familiar with any current research investigating the problem?

    1. I haven’t tried to research this issue beyond my casual observations within the context of my past experience. The story of my experience in this area is a very long story and I’m not sure I could summarize it, even after a decade of work. hehe. But i do believe it made me aware of how memories are manged in our virtual world. With all the vid games and virtual worlds, I suspect there is someone who has done serious work in this area.

      1. This is such a fascinating topic, Yordie! Thank you for bringing it up. I started looking for more information on your theory and stumbled upon this paper
        As you pointed out, the authors of the paper found that the addition of tactile, auditory, and olfactory cues could increase the sense of presence in a virtual environment as well as memory for the objects and events in the environment. It is interesting to note that it does not appear, within the context of the study, that increasing the level of visual fidelity enhanced users’ sense of presence.

        1. I read the Abstract but haven’t read the paper yet. I still wonder about retention. It seems to me that with the extensive use of computer simulation in trainging soldiers, sailors and airmen, someone knows the degree of retention. I’ll bet if anyone knows it would be the defense department.

          1. Interesting to see you guys talk about the sensory aspects of immersion – I was just making my first visit to Cloud Party and responding to Botgirl’s lovely post inviting us to her place there.

            I was very impressed by Cloud Party, but being such a photo bug, and a narcissistic one at that, even more than CP’s current lack of avatar customization, I was frustrated by lack of camera controls. The fact that I couldn’t compose my view / picture very tightly, and couldn’t compose my avatars presence in the view / photo were frustrating and left me much less immersed.

            I’ve read that all this and more is in development for CP, but in terms of your discussion, it hadn’t occurred to me that I’m such a, oh gawd, “camera whore” that the current lack of ability to frame my world leaves me feeling less immersed in it.

            No doubt you’ve heard about peeps who go to a place like Disneyland and can only “experience” it if they have their video camera on every moment and actually like viewing the world thru the camera screen more than thru their own eyes.

            1. There’s a wonderful scene in the first episode of Star Trek Deep Space 9 where Sisko and Dax land on a mysterious planetoid. They keep cutting from Sisko’s POV to Dax’ POV. Thru the eyes of the troubled Sisko we see a dangerous, erupting, volcanic world… thru the eyes of the sublime Dax, we see an idyllic garden of Eden.

              I think to some degree RL experience has always been this way. Interestingly though, in the virtual world it can literally be this way. You and I could be standing right next to each other, but I might have “Sisko Windlight Settings” and you might have “Dax Windlight Settings” and we’d literally be in two different worlds in the same place at the same time.

              Jeremy Bailenson at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab

              has looked at streaming different data to different users. Right now, even though you and I can have different “windlight settings” on our browser… or in our minds… the SL platform does, as far as I know, stream the SAME data about avatars, positions, activities, etc, to each of us.

              But Bailenson notes that it’s very simple to stream different, mediated data to each participant. This is a bit of a different direction than your post, and it’s own deep and rich topic.

              Anyway, yes, I think RL or SL the richest experiences are the moments where it at least feels like you and I are sharing a common experience. I’ve certainly had the experience of talking with someone after a nice experience and we sometimes just say the same things over and over — to an outside observer we’re really just babbling idiots saying nothing, but it’s a way of savoring that experience, that moment, that taste, a bit more fully and for a bit longer…

              1. I think you’re right on target when you say “….[in] RL or SL the richest experiences are the moments where it at least feels like you and I are sharing a common experience… it’s a way of savoring that experience, that moment, that taste, a bit more fully and for a bit longer…”
                Ultimately, it’s a sense of co-presence, of seeing and feeling similar things simultaneously that allows us to get immersed in the moment (and the environment). Many of the people I have interviewed so far have, in fact, stated that being able to visit a museum, exhibit, or like you said, share a common experience, makes SL that much richer, and the experience that much more memorable. I think that as social creatures, the ability for us to mutually share an experience on which we can later reflect makes it more memorable and therefore easier to remember because memory cues are embedded in the person with which the experience was shared.
                I was thinking about what Yordie said yesterday about it being more difficult to recall virtual experiences because of the lack of sensorial cues, and it made me correlate that experience to a dream. Due to lack of sensorial cues, dreams are often not remembered in the same way as lived experiences are. However, I have noticed that when the memory of a dream is shared with someone through reflection, the memory of the dream lingers longer.
                Just like in experiential learning, the ability to reflect on concrete experiences is essential to forming abstract concepts, it is important in virtual environments to take the time to self-reflect and simply “savor the moment.” This is often done, as in RL, through social interaction, casual discussions with friends and acquaintances, or even discussions on blogs, as we are doing.

                1. Dreams are funny / amazing in so many ways. We should definitely produce some content on that 1/3 of our lives. haha – unless you’re an avid gamer of course, then it’s probably only a stingy 1/6 of your life!

                  Your previous comment about avatar dreams is so fascinating, especially as I haven’t, that I know of, experienced that.

                  It is interesting that we most often don’t remember dreams. But if you keep a dream journal by your bed and start to write the moment you wake up, you can not only record the fragment you have, but in doing so you often recall more details as you go.

                  Do we not remember dreams because they’re unimportant? Or do they seem unimportant because we don’t remember them? How many fleeting “daydream” ideas do we quickly forget? How would life be different if we took the time to remember our daydreams and act on some of them?

            2. I’m very interested in developments in CP, Vanessa. I think you nailed it with the camera control thing. I’d feel lost. I even find myself even trying to use SL camming techniques on my desktop, i’ve become that reliant.

              I’ve never heard about the vid-cam peeps at Disneyland before. I haven’t been to Disneyland since i lived in So Cal, but for me it was not only my favorite date (i was dating then — men and women even, shhhhhh…hehe) but it was a place that could transport me and bring out my inner child. Anyway, it sounds like some people are missing the point, trying to capture the moment, rather than live it.

              When I went to Hawaii on vacation, I didn’t take a camera. Instead, I lived every single moment will all my senses. A friend asked why i wasn’t photographing it and I said, its all being saved in my mind. I’ve always been a photographer but for this trip, I just wanted to experience. It wasn’t some grand plan, I just felt that this is the kind of place you need to experience. And wow those memories are still vivid over 20 years later. Full sensory.

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