Social VR is a rapidly growing industry with platforms (e.g., RecRoom, Altspace, VRChat) creating a new type of gaming/social environment where players not only have the opportunity to play a game with other players but can also take breaks and socialize, similar to a real-world country club environment. My work focuses on how communication in VR differs from other mediums such as computer-mediated and face-to-face communication and seeks to understand how design choices, such as avatar design can affect connection and social presence (e.g., feeling like you are there with another person). This work is important for designers to follow and understand because although social interactions during video game play have already been extensively studied, these findings may differ in significant ways for the virtual reality medium, and thus, approaches to social gaming design that were standard for 2D platforms may no longer be the optimal path for social VR gaming. Further, while VR is not new, its price point has dramatically decreased in the last couple years making mass consumer use of VR a likely event in the near future, and although VR has the potential to fundamentally change the way humans interact in virtual spaces, research is still needed to understand the psychological effects of communication conducted via this medium. For instance, as we have seen from research on the negative impacts of social media use on mental health—a technology many thought would only lead to connection—research is necessary to fully understand both the positive and negative effects of social interactions and social gaming in VR.
This talk will discuss preliminary results from two ongoing studies. The first study compares how different communication mediums (i.e., face-to-face, computer-mediated, and VR) affect connection and social presence. This study will answer whether VR is better for social gaming in terms of eliciting the highest social presence and connection between players compared to traditional 2D forms of gaming (e.g., console, computer). The second study evaluates how avatar choice (e.g., create your own avatar vs given a limited choice of avatars) and avatar-user match (i.e., if an avatar looks like the player in real-life) affects social presence and connection. The results of study two could help designers decide how they would like to structure the avatar creation/selection component of their VR programs. For instance, there is significant research demonstrating that user's behaviors change depending on how their avatar looks (i.e., the proteus effect). This study will explore how VR users react in terms of forming connections with other users when avatar-user match is high versus not high and when users are able to create their own avatar versus offered a limited choice of pre-made avatars.