An overview of ethical and social issues in shared virtual environments

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Type of work: Article (academic)

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ICT & Information Society | Participation & Uses

Abstract:

Shared virtual reality environments raise a number of ethical and social issues that have not so far received systematic attention. One reason is that virtual reality or shared virtual environments (SVEs) have not been clearly defined. This essay proposes that a strict definition of SVEs is necessary to be able to tackle these issues. It is also necessary, however, to put SVEs in the context of other new technologies and media—as well as identifying their unique features—in order to draw out their wider implications. The essay further argues that the discussion of ethical and social aspects of SVEs should be closely tied to current systems and uses, and it divides these into two groups: instrumental SVEs used mainly in research and as prototypes, and Internet-based SVEs for gaming and socializing. Different ethical and social considerations arise in relation to these two: guidelines for research and development for the former, and suggestions for appropriate and desirable uses for the latter. These two sides, it is argued, will increasingly overlap in the future, and the essay concludes with an outlook on the future development of SVEs.