Last week Dusan posted in his blog about the Psychology of Immersive Environments Technology Working Group (or PIE.TWG for short) and I decided to attend their meeting. The group is still in the formative stages, but so far its responsibilities are:
1) Advancing basic and applied research on the psychology of immersive environments, 2) promoting immersive experiences and programs that are psychologically beneficial, 3) defining best practices for the early identification and assistance of at-risk users of immersive environments and the treatment of individuals currently manifesting symptoms of immersive disorder, and 4) collecting and disseminating scientific and professional information on the psychology of immersive environments.
This made a lot of sense to me. I was a little tweaked by the comments made on Dusan’s post. I know most comment sections on any given web page seem like looking into the asylum for antisocial hating misfits who monkey-smear feces on the walls of the blogosphere, but that is not usually the case with Dusan’s blog. Yet people were scoffing at the prospect of people exploring psychology of virtual worlds, so perhaps the smartass comments made me more determined to see what they were up to. So I attended the in-world meeting they called to talk about their working group.
You can look through my other posts and see that many of them are based on my trying to understand the nature of our interactions within virtual reality, how we express our selves, and how it affects us. Why not properly study it? Why not look for ways to use it as a tool? Why not try to enable collaboration with those who are also engaged in these interests and research?
Then there is also the term that they mention “Immersive Addiction or Disorder” – and I guess it was one of the first type of place where people might need the help in a therapy aspect of psychology. First off, from my interpretation, we can assume the “immersive” is analogous with “virtual worlds” or “second life” for that matter. Second, I can think of at least one stark example in my experience of a friend that had to leave second life for this very reason. So the types of reactions I was seeing in people that seem to think there is no place for psychology is simply insensitive, ignorant, or both. When my friend (and most likely, if you know Pais you also knew and loved this guy) left SL, I could not fathom what may have happened. He had lots of friends, he had an avatar through which he created an ultra cool persona, he was an awesome and original DJ, he had developed cool, clever, and successful business lines. Then he was gone. I couldn’t imagine why, and I couldn’t get him out of my mind. I was worried that maybe he had an accident, gotten ill, or maybe arrested, abducted, or any number of things. Finally I found a way to get my email through to him and I was able to find out that he just had to leave. The best that I can understand it, his RL and SL got out of balance, and after he tried different ways to regain a balance, he eventually had to walk away from SL.
We need to understand the forces at work in such a situation, what are ways to identify when we are out of balance, and how to get ourselves back in balance.
I don’t need to steal working group’s thunder… they have a website and a well-written charter. The charter reads like a white paper. They talk about psychological implications of immersive environments, approaches from which to understand immersive words, and an interesting list of scenarios that provide examples. For the academics in the crowd, they have the beginnings of a bibliography that collects scholarly papers in this domain.
Maybe you don’t want to get in the weeds of psychological research. I don’t either really, but I have been interested in the kinds of things we can learn from them and how we can apply it to improve our SL experiences and in turn, our RL. I am also encouraged to think that those of us that could use a little more help and understanding to help us make sense of the world might be better informed and enabled thanks to this kind of work.