I have decided that I’m not going to wait for Linden Lab to issue brand guidelines for Sansar. I am rebranding the Sansar Newsblog under my own name. (I’ve held the domain name for well over a decade, and this is the perfect place to finally use it!)
All of the old blogposts are still searchable and accessible, and almost all the Sansar-related blogposts have been tagged with the tag “Sansar” to make them easier to find. All the old URLs should still work as before.
Along with the new name comes a new focus. I will no longer be focusing near-exclusively on Sansar in this blog. Instead, I will be expanding my coverage to provide “News and Views on Social VR, Virtual Worlds, and the Metaverse”, as my new blog tagline now states. Platforms covered will include, but not be limited to:
Note that I do not plan to write much about Second Life and its many Opensim-based spin-offs; there are already over a thousand avid bloggers who do an excellent job of that! I plan to focus on the newer platforms, especially those that support virtual reality.
I will be closing the Facebook and Google+ groups I created for the Sansar Newsblog, and creating new groups for this rebranded blog.
Sinespace is a new virtual world created by a company called Sine Wave Entertainment, whose CEO is Adam Frisby. Adam is a well-known figure in virtual worlds. Before joining Sine Wave Entertainment, he founded the Azure Islands, a community with a peak of 400 regions in Second Life, and DeepThink, a leading virtual world development company. He was also one of the founding developers of OpenSimulator, the popular open source platform used by countless virtual worlds. (I also believe that Sine Wave is the same company which sells avatar animations in Second Life, although I need to confirm this with Adam.)
Sinespace is based on Unity, whichis a cross-platform game engine used to develop both three-dimensional and two-dimensional video games and simulations. This is a different approach from Sansar, which is building its own engine from scratch.
Here’s a few things you might not know about Sinespace:
Sinespace already has cloth physics! Yes, you can wear a skirt which moves as your avatar does. Here’s a short video demonstrating this feature:
Sinespace has an experimental VR viewer! Adam let me try it out. Unfortunately, I can’t get it to work properly yet with my Oculus Rift headset. But virtual reality support for Sinespace is coming soon.
Like Sansar, Sinespace regions can be quite large. Adam gifted me a dune buggy and I drove endlessly through their Grand Canyon sim! (They also have great vehicle physics.)
In 1961, in the St. Croce orphanage (Italy) twelve children and five sisters disappeared. Research continued in the institute and surrounding territories for two years, with no results until 1970, when, in a niche of a basement, were found several children’s bones. For that reason, the institute was renamed “Orphanage of Angels”. What happened there?
You start off in a small urban apartment in the present day. There’s a bulletin board on the wall, with old news clippings and photographs of the orphanage. As you approach the door of the apartment, it automatically opens onto a hallway leading to a glowing entrance portal. As you cross it, you are transported to the Orphanage of Angels.
There is a truly creepy atmosphere in this experience, as you explore the abandoned orphanage, trying to figure out what happened here. The orphanage is dimly lit, and there is a thunderstorm raging outside. Occasionally a lightning flash illuminates the interior.
One feature that I saw here, that I haven’t yet seen in any other experience, is the clever use of pop-up messages which appear on your screen (or in your VR headset) at certain locations:
I won’t spoil the experience by giving too much away. Be sure to explore every part of this orphanage, and don’t forget the basement! This is a very well-done, atmospheric experience and Sergio is to be commended for this work in pulling all this together. The question is: are your nerves up for Orphanage of Angels?
Endgame is a long-running talk show set in the social VR application VRChat, where participants discuss the impact of technology on humanity (here’s a list of videos of their show on their YouTube page). The show runs Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. Pacific Time. It’s a great example of how VRChat, often derided for its overall levels of anarchy and jackassery, actually can provide safe spaces where people can have mature conversations, connect with each other in a meaningful way, and develop real psychological benefits.
This YouTube video is a compilation of stories demonstrating the profound psychological changes that can occur when people immerse themselves in social VR experiences. The compilation was created by Noah (a.k.a. Psych), one of the three regular hosts of Endgame, who is currently getting his Ph.D. in clinical psychology. It is highly recommended viewing!
We are three Cognitive Scientists discussing Virtual Reality and Cognitive Research, Industry News, and Design Implications! We actively research different aspects of the field, and are involved in various companies related to the topic of VR. With this podcast, we hope to use our commentary to bridge the gap between news and established science. We break down complex topics, discuss the current trends and their economical impacts, and broadcast our views on VR.
The podcast episode in question was an in-depth, 1 hour 15 minute interview with Jessica Outlaw:
Behavioral Scientist Jessica Outlaw is an outspoken Social Scientist in the field of VR User Experience Design. She recently published an Inductive Qualitative study with Beth Duckles, PhD about the experiences of “Millennial, tech-savvy women” in Social VR applications (Altspace, High Fidelity, Facebook Spaces, etc).
In this episode, we talk embodied cognition, implicit biases, gender differences in social behavior and navigation in an unfamiliar environment, as well as the questions the paper raises up about inclusivity and approachability in design.
This is a long, wide-ranging interview touching on a lot of topics. Of particular note is what Jessica has to say about her research on women’s experiences in social VR applications. She wanted to know what tech-savvy younger women, new to social VR, had to say about their experiences.
Most of them found the social dynamics to be very disconcerting. The women had no idea what the social norms and expectations were in the social VR experiences they visited over a thirty-minute period (Rec Room, AltspaceVR, Facebook Spaces). Many women felt unsafe; some women felt that their personal spaces were invaded by other avatars. Talking to another person in social VR wasn’t seen as an attractive alternative to other forms of communication.
One of the four recommendations Jessica makes in her research report is that privacy must be the default in social VR applications, for women to feel safe. Another recommendation was to make social VR enticing and fun to do, and let the community form around their interests, as this leads to better behaviour overall.
Near the end of the podcast, Jessica and the ResearchVR co-hosts discuss a recent news story where a woman was harassed in a VR application called QuiVR.
I was also interested to hear that Jessica also did some work on a project for High Fidelity last year, around the question of what makes people feel welcome in an online community, and what’s appealing to people.
VRChat is the closest metaverse we currently have to the OASIS described in Ready Player One. It’s intuitive, customizable, and allows for the kinds of crazy mashups of characters and environments from different fictional universes that let fantasies run wild. Compared to the alternatives, VRChat is simply way more fun.
The downside of this freedom plagues every virtual space: griefing, or it has come to be known, trolling. VRChat is rather anarchic, and it is still working on developing good tools for users to block those who just want to annoy or harass. According to Wagner James Au, author of The Making of Second Life and the social VR news site New Word Notes, Linden Lab (the developer of Second Life) is still, all these years later, dealing with trolls. But he explains that this openness has been a blessing and a curse.
It’s one reason why Second Life has maintained a pretty large active user base of long-term users, while it’s also failed to gain and keep many new ones… On the plus side, VRChat definitely has much of the same free-form anarchy that made Second Life so exciting 10-12 years ago—the feeling that you’d log in and were sure to encounter some crazy burst of mad user-generated creativity. Even much of SL’s early griefing was entertaining and inventive (if you weren’t a target).
One of the things that Cole notes is fundamental to VRChat’s sudden popularity is the fact that it is also accessible to non-VR (desktop) users. He also states that immersion is a key factor in uptake:
The avatars that populate VRChat allow for immersive elements such as eye tracking and lip syncing. This isn’t new technology, but players accustomed to virtual environments like Second Life or World of Warcraft are often surprised when they interact with characters who can blink and dance and move their lips with a range of motion. This makes for surprisingly lifelike, often humorous interactions.
It’s a good article, and I urge you to go over to their website and read it in full. It should also be required reading for staff at Linden Lab and High Fidelity and all the other companies that are now trying to break into the potentially lucrative social VR market.