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Bot-avatar Pesters Second Life Users (For Science!) 124

holy_calamity writes "A bot-controlled avatar that tracks down lone avatars in Second Life and purposely invades their personal space has been created by UK researchers. The idea was to see if users value their virtual personal space. Bots avatars are not encouraged by Linden Labs — although this one is being deployed by academics, presumably spam-avatars (spavatars?) won't be far behind."
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Bot-avatar Pesters Second Life Users (For Science!)

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 05, 2007 @10:58AM (#21241147)
    ...researchers stalk people online to see if they mind.
  • Statistics! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Aladrin ( 926209 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @10:58AM (#21241149)
    "Out of 28 avatars approached this way, 12 simply moved away and 20 also responded via text chat."

    So they 'simply moved away' and some also responded by text? Then they didn't 'simply move away'.

    And 28 is a pretty small sample. Why bother having a bot for so small a sample? Wouldn't it have been a lot easier to just do it by hand? Or just let it run a few days before publishing the results? And those who stayed put... How many were idling (not even at their computer) and how many simply ignored the childish idiot that was harrassing them? (You don't have to play online games for long until you've met enough idiots and learn that ignoring them is the best possible course of action, especially the ones that want to get right up on you and do stupid things.)
  • One flaw (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @10:59AM (#21241175) Journal

    They observed that female avatars were less guarding about their personal space then males, a behaviour apparently the same as in real life.

    The flaw? Female avatars do NOT have to be controlled by a female user.

    Would a male playing a female mimick this behaviour? IF that is the case, that would make a far more intresting study. If it isn't then their measurements are flawed since they cannot tell what sex a user really is.

  • Re:Statistics! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by kebes ( 861706 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @11:05AM (#21241249) Journal

    Why bother having a bot for so small a sample?
    Well, it may be that for research purposes they want the behavior of the approaching avatar to be as consistent as possible. Therefore they use a bot to automate the approach so as to avoid the experimenter biasing the results somehow.

    That having been said, I totally agree with your post: 28 events is a ridiculously small sample size to try and measure the behavior of people in virtual worlds. Considering they went to the bother of writing a bot, one would hope they will leave it running for awhile longer to accumulate more data.
  • IRB issue (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ckolar ( 43016 ) <chris@kolar . o rg> on Monday November 05, 2007 @11:05AM (#21241259) Homepage Journal
    The article mentions fleetingly at the end that the ethical issue is still up for grabs. I wonder if they actually got IRB approval for use of human subjects. Even though it is a bot that interacts with the other avatars, it is still an investigator-designed intervention into this space, they are collecting data in a deliberate and systematic way, and looking to generalize the results. The fact that they are collecting data without consent and using it in this manner strikes me as a violation of user privacy. Yes, I serve on an institutional IRB, and no, this would never pass in my institution. It is frightening that these researches imply that there is somehow a lower standard for virtual environments (it is not the avatar that is being studied, but the human on the other end) for the conduct of psychological experimentation.
  • Re:Personal Space (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @11:15AM (#21241359) Homepage Journal
    The first thing I thought of was a response:

    "Virtual Shotgun". For those who really want their privacy.

    While I don't normally understand why you'd play an online game to just be alone - from what I understand of second life you could have the equivalent of 'prepping', IE you're creating something to be shown later. Whether this is a house or an adult accessory, it doesn't really matter.
  • Re:Personal Space (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @11:30AM (#21241519)
    Not to be alone. But I tend to choose my company and spend my (spare) time with whoever I want to spend it with. Bots and stupidheads are usually not in that group.

    I mean, imagine you have a party and someone keeps trying to sell his Amway crap, going on everyone's nerves. Wouldn't you throw him out?
  • by nweaver ( 113078 ) on Monday November 05, 2007 @11:41AM (#21241627) Homepage
    An interesting part of the article was the discussion of the technique involved.

    Apparently, Lindon doesn't want bots, so you can't script avatars. But items can be scripted, and items can instruct avatars to do things. So you just script an item to instruct the avatar what to do...

    Trez cool. (Now if only you could make the item replicating and infectious.... :) )
  • by xPsi ( 851544 ) * on Monday November 05, 2007 @12:15PM (#21242047)
    Back several years ago when Star Wars Galaxies just came out, my brother did a similar avatar experiment on me. SWG only allowed one character per server per game copy so my brother went out and bought a second copy of the game and another computer to run a full time mining character on the same server as our adventuring characters (ah, the glory days when we still thought that kind of thing was important). He failed to mention this detail to me. One day we were out questing (using headsets) and this very random character came up to me in Mos Eisley and started following me around typing a stream of non sequiturs like "what's the frequency Kenneth? Reveal the blue bug rathouse conspiracy!" over and over. My brother and I had this extended conversation in the headsets about how random and rude this was until I finally caught on when the freaky character mentioned some inside joke (which took me aback initially). Invasion of "online space" is rarely Evil, but it can be really, really annoying and distracting. I doubt this is a surprise to anyone.

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling