A Breakdown of Virtual Worlds & Terminology

Okay, so I’ve been really REALLY thinking about this for some time now– since there has been such a surge in the VW department not everyone really fits under the same expectations associated to the broad term Virtual World. As of yet, I have not seen anyone really get into depth about this, so I thought I’d share my own izzinology or izzilosopy:

(A-typical) Virtual Worlds:
You build your own virtual protagonist and explore a 3D like environment by moving your character using the mouse or the arrow keys. Contains community components where you can interact, speak (perhaps limited), and engage with others and/or the setting. You might have your own room/house/area to decorate, and perhaps a profile to express yourself. It’s a large sandbox of play– roam, play, hang out, do activities, engage, etc.

Example: Club Penguin

Lockbox Worlds:
Like the above, except there is ultimately no free will. Every option for interaction has been pre-scripted, pre-designed, no room for error. To communicate, you choose from a list of options (or no communication at all). To design your place, it is only so big to fit furniture and no room for furniture-spelling. Basically the only moderated component would be a screen name.

Example: Disney Fairies

Dynamic Worlds:
You create your avatar/protagonist, but it remains in static form– like a still photo or an avatar with limited movement (think waving or blinking). To explore the world, the user must engage in the point & click method. The world is dynamic, yet you cannot move virtually as you might in video games, etc. To engage yourself in the world you examine the map/area, find something to dig deeper in, point, and click. Dynamic Worlds are more engaging to the user directly, as they are not constantly reminding users that they’re playing through a character they have to control. Occasionally there is the drag & drop ability to affect your avatar/room. And sometimes certain Dynamic Worlds allow for a virtual chat room/area where you can actually move your avatar around the flash/chat interface.

Example: Neopets

Story/Content World:
Want more from a book you might have read? A tale you might have heard? Well, Content Worlds are basically just that– a visual tour of places from a story. Usually it’s a drop down menu with people or places. Select one and see it and read about it. It’s very “view finder” if you catch that reference. It’s bringing you the world you’ve seen before, but in another medium.

Example: Harrypotter.com (Warner Bros site)

Choose Your Own Adventure Worlds:
For the goal oriented Virtual World Explorer– this world is less like a large theme park and more like a series of quests/missions. There is rhyme, reason, and anticipated adventure waiting for eager brains. Many of the adventure worlds jump from the A-typical virtual world to the dynamic click & follow worlds, and they can fit easily in the lockbox mentality as well. Community can be involved– as users like to see others inhabiting the world (reminding them of the competition level). Community chat elements can be leveraged for gaming as well– cheat round ups, etc, but not necessary. Some Choose Your Own Adventure-esque worlds have opportunities for non-quest behavior for the bored kids that are stuck and kinda just want to be weird (I have a term for those lovelies. They are what I call the “Go Go Loners” which I will detail another time).

Example: Kingdomofloathing.com or Foster’s Big Fat House Party (Cartoon Network)

Singular World:
There are also the Virtual Worlds (whether A-Typical or Dynamic) that are one player only. The world is your sandbox, adventures await– but you’re the only free thinking element within. Several VWs coming out this year started this way– it’s a good opportunity to see community-free game play, that way you can develop early game-oriented play patterns.

Example: Littlest Pet Shop’s upcoming Virtual World (got to check it out this past weekend at the Digital Life Conference in NYC)

Virtual Dress Up World:
Not so much about the world– Virtual Dress Up (or Dynamic dress up) is more or less following the dress up play pattern. Some are drag & drop/coloring activities (like girl play avatar systems of detail). And some are a little more worldly– allowing you to virtual shop through a virtual clothing store/mall, etc, and buy clothing for your doll/model/avatar. It’s brilliantly crafted for the play pattern alone (with community elements here and there to help encourage healthy competition & inspiration, etc).

Example: Stardoll.com

And (for now, as I might define more in the coming days) last but not least… the little known…

Chat Room Virtual Community:
Not a world by any aesthetic means. HOWEVER, never ever disregard the power of collective imaginations. Blank canvesses make more things happen than any uber skilled designer/programmer. Twenty people on a similar ground of understanding (say… Star Wars location: Naboo Swamp) conversing regularly while wanting to interact in some way with the brand (Jedi-Izzy had a treehouse with never-ending M&Ms that shot staples at the annoying Fetts, while Qui had a hockey rink, and Steph had a red couch– we all watched the daily sith battles as they entered our chat, or interacted in some way with a random Star Wars wedding… YES, i know, I’m a geek– but there’s collective power in the world we built, and it was just as real as the experience created in some of these Virtual Worlds today). If you see– there are forums for major networks where fans/audience/users sit around “drinking” pop or martinis, or blogs where kids are passing “cookies” and falling in pits of “peanut butter.” The imagination is a powerful thing… and it can make virtual worlds out of text and white screens.

Example: Long Lost Talkcity’s Star Wars > Naboo Swamp

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  1. mom
    October 4, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Izzy-
    This is great. Would you indulge us by providing a couple examples of each type? Great if they are youth oriented, but adult examples are fine too. I’d love it!
    Thanks!

  2. October 4, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Thanks “Mom”!! That was a great suggestion. 🙂 P.s. LOVE your blog.

  3. mom
    October 5, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    Thanks, Izzy – so, so helpful. Much appreciated! as are the kind words (aw shucks). Love yours too. That’s why I’m always here!

  4. Liz
    October 7, 2007 at 9:32 am

    Hi,

    We have a new blog article on our VastPark site that may be of interest to you.

    Bruce Joy, the founder of VastPark, has written what he sees as ‘The 9 new rules of the virtual web’

    I hope you get a chance to have a look at the post, and enjoy what you read.

  1. October 4, 2007 at 3:30 am
  2. October 4, 2007 at 3:39 am
  3. November 19, 2007 at 10:47 pm
  4. December 1, 2007 at 2:24 am
  5. May 21, 2010 at 4:31 pm

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