Standardization in Virtual Worlds: Formation of Hope and Fear

Marco Otte


There is a growing interest in using virtual worlds for commercial reasons. However, if creative technology is the opportunity, then why are virtual worlds not used to their full extent in business and trade? One reason may be that technology is not developed far enough to connect. Another may be the lack of trust in the reliability of the technology and of the people you meet. After all, virtual people are highly fictional and virtual world technology oftentimes is not that robust. The present financial crisis will not easily redeem this effect.
We wish to focus on yet another aspect, in that new advances in science and technology always come with enthusiasm-inspiring hopes and show-stopping fears. When are such hopes and fears warranted and when are they fictitious themselves? If we could create standards, a recipe, or protocol, to measure people’s hopes and fears during online transactions, connect this to a decision support system that estimates the probability that the user’s expectations are right, user and adaptive system could take measures to deal with the situation, either by going ahead if all is clear, taking away undue fear, or downplaying false hopes.
If commerce is the goal and creative technology the opportunity, then standards may reduce insecurity and uncertainty. Standards reduce the risk of malfunction and regulate user behavior, so that the whole interaction becomes more predictable. In doing so, standardization enables a community that uses virtual worlds like they use real worlds to interact, negotiate, and do finance. However, to get to a true program of undue-fear prevention and justified-hope promotion in virtual worlds, standards need to be derived from human-centered theory and then tested in virtual worlds. In this paper, we want to contribute to theory development through the reconciliation of technology acceptance (e.g., Davis, 1989; Bhattacherjee and Premkumar, 2004), hope formation literature (e.g., Reading, 2004; Snyder, 1991, 1995; Averill et al, 1990), risk perception (e.g., Slovic, 2000), problem solving (Norman, 2008; Jonassen, 2000; Mayer and Wittrock, 2006; Nijstad and Stroebe, 2006), and the goal-to-requirements chiasm (Hoorn et al., 2007).
This effort is unique in that hope and fear underlie most of human behavior but are never applied to virtual worlds as a construct, let alone that standards are developed to regulate them. A theory of future-oriented behavior in virtual worlds is unique because to date it does not exist, blending in cognitive science and communication with software and hardware technology. What sets apart virtual worlds from other technologies is that it content-wise immerses the user in the fiction – so where is the reality? Technologically, all the goggles, data-gloves, and sensors make someone feel like a cyborg – a treat to some, a menace to others.
We present a framework that we call Your Virtual Future (Figure 1), in which we describe hope and fear formation during future-oriented behavior in virtual worlds. This framework acknowledges the users’ experience and knowledge of real and virtual worlds as they are immersed in the contents as well as in the hardware. It accounts for the user’s personal capacity to accept delayed gratification and to be able to build up realistic hope. It moreover explains how users select solution paths within the affordances of the virtual world.
Although standards exist for expectations management in a variety of areas (e.g., commerce, requirements engineering, project management, human resources), we did not find them for technology use. We will end the paper, then, with an attempt to formulate the requirements for a standard on undue-fear prevention and justified-hope promotion in virtual worlds – in relation to contents as well as equipment. False hope and undue fear actually are the net result of overestimating the impact technology has on someone’s life, work, or tasks. A way to prevent this is by providing feedback (e.g., disclaimers, warning labels) and by adapting the technology to the user’s convenience. In other words, user protocols are the human side of standardization for expectations management. The technological standard requires a generic interface or shell that serves as a layer to all virtual worlds to tap a user’s state anxiety, to feedback regulating instructions, and to automatically self-adapt the system.

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