Making Virtual Worlds Real: Goffman's Interaction Order in Second Life

  1. JoAnn M Brooks
  1. Independent Scholar
  1. Ulrike Schultze

+ Author Affiliations

  1. Southern Methodist U.


Considerable research has been done to answer questions of how virtual environments can be made sufficiently real so that users to feel that the virtual space exists and that they are present in it. Much of this research has identified antecedents in the technological (e.g., representational fidelity) and psychological (e.g., suspension of disbelief) realm. These theories fail to account for the social nature of virtual worlds (e.g., MMORPGs, Second Life) where interactions with others play a role in constructing the virtual setting such that it is experienced as real. The purpose of this paper is to add a social dimension to the existing research on how virtual settings are experienced as real. We rely on Erving Goffman’s (1983) interaction order as a theoretical lens to analyze three examples of social interactions in the virtual world, Second Life. These examples vary in the degree to which a sense of shared reality has been accomplished. Our analysis highlights the various mechanisms (e.g., joint engrossment, involvement obligation, and social occasion) inherent in social interactions that contribute to making places, people and events real. We conclude that adding such a sociological sensibility to our theorizing of social virtual settings (including virtual team meetings and phone calls) contributes to our ability to conceptualize the increasingly blurred boundary between the “real” and the “virtual” that we increasingly encounter.

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  1. doi: 10.5465/AMBPP.2014.16259abstract ACAD MANAGE PROC 2014 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 16259