I am working on a short definition of virtual worlds for an educational audience. Here’s what I have so far:
In a nutshell, virtual worlds are computer-generated, persistent,
three-dimensional, multi-user spaces, where people interact with each
other and the environment through their "avatars." Some examples of
virtual worlds are Second Life, Whyville, World of Warcraft and
Webkins. These three-dimensional environments often mimic
characteristics of the real world, including having land, water, space,
gravity, buildings and even weather. Virtual worlds are populated by
"avatars" which are controlled by human users, as well as non-player
characters or "bots," which are controlled by software. Different
virtual worlds have different features and emphases, including the
ability for users to communicate with each other using voice, to create
objects and structures, to buy and sell goods and services, and to
share video and audio content with each other. Although often compared
to video games, virtual worlds aren’t necessarily games with explicit
ways of "winning" or points to accumulate.
number of educational institutions are exploring the potential of
virtual worlds as a new medium for education. Among the unique
affordances of virtual worlds are: their capacity to facilitate
engaging and immersive experiences, the ability for educators and
students to be distributed anywhere in the world, the sense of
"presence" and versimillitude, and the possibility of simulating
phenomena and experiences that would be difficult or prohibitively
expensive to do in the real world.
Did I miss anything important? Is there anything incorrect or obtuse in this that bears unpacking?
UPDATE 5/1/08: Rafi sent me Giff Constable’s much more elegant and parsimonious definition of virtual worlds that totally pwns mine:
Virtual worlds are online environments that have game-like
immersion and social media functionality without overarching game-like
goals or rules. The core value is a sense of presence with others at
the same time and in the same place.