Framing Social Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments: The Influence of Technical and Social Factors
Virtual Reality (VR) for multiple users is a new technology which is increasingly used for diverse purposes such as distributed collaborative work, visualization, and entertainment. Despite this, little is yet known about what kind of social interaction the technology generates. The aim of this thesis is twofold: to contribute to the technological development of well-functioning multi-user VR systems and similar communication technologies, and to make a contribution to the multi-disciplinary research field by proposing an integrated approach for future studies of social interaction in Shared Virtual Environments (SVEs).
The thesis consists of five studies which analyze different aspects of interaction in SVEs. The first study investigated how different VR systems influence the subjective perception of presence, co-presence, collaboration, task contribution and task performance, when carrying out a collaborative task in a SVE. The second study investigated whether, in an Internet-based SVE, language minorities are usually accepted or rejected by the language majority and how different social conditions affect the outcome of the language encounters. The third study is an analysis of status differences and stratification in SVEs. The fourth study investigated how the communication process in a SVE varies depending on which type of technical system is used. The fifth study explored how players of a massively multi-player online role-playing game socialize on- and offline and how the social interaction is influenced by social and technical factors.
The five empirical studies contribute towards an understanding of the technical and social factors which influence interaction in SVEs. The studies support the overall aim of the thesis in that they make suggestions for technology development and design and for further studies of multi-user VR and other communication technologies. The thesis also provides broader insights into some of the problems that accompany new communication technologies and suggests solutions to some of these.