Assignment 5 >
Active Worlds |
DescriptionVZones (a new incarnation of Worlds Away, described in the Rossney reading) is a 2D environment populated by 2D avatars. Each avatar has a head and a body, can face in 4 directions: front, left, right, back. Facial expressions are limited to normal, happy, sad, mad; gestures can be selected from wave, bow, shrug, present, jump, react. The background of each room was composed of highly detailed bitmaps, almost garish in their colorfulness. (Think 80's graphic adventure games.) The background was static, except for some nice dynamic details like fluttering butterflies.
The VZones interface has two frames, a scrolling text display area at the top where messages scroll upwards, and the graphic view of the room at the bottom.
In VZones, it is a sign of communicative competence to avoid overlapping avatars so that your avatar is covering up another avatar. This is analogous to the preservation of personal space and comfort zones in real-life interactions. Unfortunately, in VZones the movement of avatars was rather difficult. I could not precisely position my avatar at any spot; rather, I had to "walk to" an object or a character, in which case my avatar would end up positioned right on top of my target. Partly because it was clunky to move the character around, people in the same room did not move right next to each other when having a conversation. Most of the time, they did not even turn the characters to face each other. Being in the same room was sufficient context to maintain a conversation, without having to be right next to the other speakers.
One of the central activities in VZones was the physical modification of avatars. A typical avatar starts off with a default head and body, but the owner can modify it in two ways. One is to go to a machine where users can purchase new colors for hair and skin as well as new clothing. Another is to become a registered user and be allowed to obtain new, ever more fanciful heads. During my stay in VZones, if users were not chatting, they were constantly trying on new skin color, clothing, or heads they had collected. There was a performative aspect to the way avatars would suddenly break a silence in conversation by popping off their head and replacing it with a new one. Such actions provided conversational fodder, and occupied much of the users' time on the system. Modifying the avatar or trying to obtain different physical elements were the significant activities aside from chatting.
The chat message display in VZones provided context information about the history and flow of conversation. Each message is displayed on a new line, with older messages shifting up one line. Each message is positioned closely above the avatar who spoke the line, and is colored according to the avatar. By looking at the general pattern of color and spacing over time, one can get a quick sense of the turn-taking and the ebb and flow of the conversation. By following the colors, one can also follow the movement of an avatar through the room, since the colors indicate the locations in discrete points of time when a message was sent.. Some details are missing: for example, you cannot find out who said a particular message (or indeed who is the owner of a particular color) within the message listing.