Human Factors

Like the first lecture, this is just an outline.

Human Factors

Single user VR systems are concerned with Human Computer Interfaces, HCI, between computer and user.

NVEs must pay more attention to human to human interfaces. This is the Computer Mediated Communication, CMC, part of an NVE.


Essential for CSCW, including NVE, because the impact of each bug or crash is multiplied.

If given application crashes about 1 day in every 100, and lose 5 minutes each time:

Individual user uns every working day, will crash about every 5 months,
= about 15 minutes per year

Group of 10 collaborating (same time) every day, now crashes 1 in 10, or every fortnight. Each crash loses 50 minutes since failure of one affects whole group.
= 22 hours per year.

And this is assuming that the system is still as reliable when ten copies are interacting with each other rather than just a single user!

Grudin Principle

Jonathon Grudin, Microsoft, 1988: In any kind of CSCW, those doing the work should be those who benefit.

Counter example: networked calendars. Everyone had to fill them in, but only senior managers gained any advantage - and they had secretaries to manage their own calendars.

Why will people want to use your NVE? "Because it looks really cool" won't be enough!

Be better than reality

Just because you can create a virtual model of the real world doesn't mean you should.

Good: simulators. Both military and airlines need highly realistic VEs.

Bad: forcing people to walk everywhere in virtual environments. MUDs and MOOs allow teleporting directly and instantaneously to any given location.

Don't assume that because it's VR, it's better

Example: Mac desktop for navigating file system. Command line interfaces relied on user memory and symbolic commands. The Apple Mac introduced a 2D spatial layout for the filesystem, so users could rely on recognition instead.

This is breaking down for todays huge internal hard disks, and doesn't work for the far more complex WWW. Lots of companies have tried creating 3D version of the web, a William Gibson style cyberspace. They've all gone broke.

Real solution to the "unthinkable complexity" has turned out to be Google, which isn't even 2D graphics.

NVEs for work

Here we will look at CSCW type software: a team of people who (probably) know each other and who have come together to perform some real world task within an NVE.

Tasks and channels

Task is why people are in NVE.
Channel is how they communicate

Task types: (very broad overview):

Consequences or significance of each task increases from first to last.

How rich a channel is how expressive it is in conveying not just ideas but also emotional context.

Response time matters for more expressive channels. The millisecond delays in long distance video conferencing or phone calls are enough to make those channels less expressive than face to face.

The more important the task, the richer channels should be. It is very easy to be misunderstood with just plain text of email or instant messaging.

Predictions that video conferencing would replace face to face meetings in business have not come true, partly because of awkward implementations but also because people are simply not comfortable making important decisions without a same place, face to face, communication channel.

Don't overlook existing technology! Rather than implement a computer voice chat system, why not just use cell phones?

Identity and roles

Identity and role are the basis of

You can't have authorisation without authentication, even if the authentication is no more than "somebody."

A real world individual may have multiple online identities, or multiple roles for a single identity depending on the task. Example: Within ANU computer systems system administrator has unlimited powers, a staff member can do lots of things, a student very little. A single person may have three identities, one for each. The staff identity will be used for browsing the web, reading email, and so on without worrying about system-wide consequences. The student identity will be used to test that lab exercises haven't been accidentally written to require staff authorisation.

Early researchers and VR writers often predicted that people online would frequently change their identities. This has not happened, at least in work-related NVEs, because other people become upset if they find out that you've been pretending to be someone else. Even so, most people show some differences in behaviour online compared to offline.

This is perhaps disappointing: online CSCW theoretically removes gender/status imbalances that exist in the real world. Unfortunately, the richer channels put them back! Hope for future (from Donald Norman) is real time special effects generation, which will allow anyone to speak or look how they wish over video/audio.

NVEs for play

NVEs are also created for as public access systems, museum/installation art pieces, and in particular MUDs, MOOs, and MMOGs.

It may not be "work", but this does not mean that users will accept an inferior system or be less emotionally involved in tasks. Since they are paying to use the NVE rather than being paid, they often have much higher expectations and commitment in time or money.

Work based NVEs are usually written for an existing community: company employees, fighter pilots, etc. In playful NVEs existing social groups may move online, and social groups will form from people who meet online.

Online identity is virtual, "constructed", and very changeable. If you are becoming an elven wizard or post-apocalyptic warlord, changing your personality is not a big deal. It can still be disconcerting to those used to the real world where identity is fairly stable. Gender swapping - males online as females or vice versa - is very common in NVEs.

Avatars are the visual/aural/whatever representation of your identity in an NVE. Your avatar need not have any resemblance to your real world appearance, and participants will expect a great deal of control over the appearance of their avatar.

Guidelines, mostly from Brenda Laurel:

Sociology of MMOGs

Now that the largest MMOGs have populations of a hundred thousand or more, and have been established for several years, quite a lot of research is being done into the social aspects of MMOGs, just as earlier researchers looked at MUDs and MOOs.

The results are often fascinating, and if you are planning to build a commercial MMOG, you really need to be familiar with the differences between how people were expected to behave in MMOGs and what they actually do.

One example is real world social groups. MMOGs, or at least the first few, did not take into account real world social groups. People started using email and instant messaging to communicate over distances that weren't "allowed" by the MMOG itself. Most players don't build their online avatars up by hard work as the designers intended, instead they are twinked by their friends to higher levels and abilities.

Another is the interaction between the virtual and real world economic systems. Huge amounts of real money are being spent, already, on virtual properties and goods. This was completely unforeseen by the original designers. Economics professor E Castronova has written a number of entertaining and thought provoking articles on the topic.

Written by Hugh Fisher