Designing a visual component of communication within 3D avatar virtual worlds
Over the last few years 3D avatar virtual worlds (AVW) have emerged on the Internet. These are computer generated, multi-user, graphical spaces within which people meet, form social groups and interact with each other in real time, typically through the exchange of text or audio messages. Each user is represented within the space by a digital image known as an avatar, which is usually humanoid in form, and is predominantly under the control of the person it represents. This thesisd escribesa creativep roject that is concernedw ith aspectso f social communication between users of "Ws. In particular, an avatar is designed that is capable of performing body language, and a set of useful gestures are implemented that support aspects of social interaction and integrate with verbal discourse in a meaningful way. In addition to this, a number of scenic properties are derived that enable better comprehension of the non verbal communication, e. g. spatial arrangement, camera position and lighting effects. The research consists of a number of interrelated design activities which include reviewing the literature on avatar design in order to locate goals and variety of the project, therefore building on the on the work of others; a comparative review of three popular 3D AVWs to explore the design problem; a study that aims to gain an understanding of the social dynamics involved; the adaptation of a diagrammatic technique for the purpose of modelling social interaction; the development of 2D and 3D prototype techniques exploring the application of the social interaction modelling technique; a body of creative work developing ideas for conveying non verbal communication and the appraisal of the effectiveness of this creative work. The research contributes to the field of avatar design in a number of ways. Firstly, it develops our understanding of social dynamics in virtual worlds. Secondly, it postulates modes of non verbal communication for both individuals and social groups that supports multi-participatory social discourse. Additionally, a number of useful research techniques have been devised, such as a linear diagramming technique that can be used to represent the structure of conversation thereby facilitating the exploration and understanding of the dynamics of AVW social discourse. The work is of interest to those working in the field of avatar and multi-user virtual world design. It may also be of interest to anyone thinking of using an avatar virtual world for the application of collaborative leaming, collaborative games and conferencing.