Undertaking qualitative health research in social virtual worlds

Authors


Abstract

Aims

This paper discusses the methodological challenges of using the 3D social virtual world Second Life for research and offers some solutions on a range of research issues including research ethics committee approval, gaining consent, recruitment of sample, data collection and engagement with ‘in – world culture’.

Background

The attraction of social virtual worlds to researchers is their ability to mimic the physical world, as they, are seen as ‘places’ where people have a feeling of presence (being there) and social presence (being there with others) through the use of a ‘customisable’ avatar (digital self-representation). Emerging research demonstrating the persuasive nature of avatars on health behaviours through virtual worlds, online games and the 3D web has increased the use of and interest in these areas for delivering health information, advice and support. However, conducting research can be challenging in a 3D world where people are represented as anonymous avatars in an environment unlike any other online media.

Data sources

25 semi-structured interviews were conducted in Second Life from September 2011–June 2012.

Implications for nursing

Nurses wishing to undertake research in social virtual worlds should spend time in-world to acquire technical skills and gain an understanding of the culture of the world.

Conclusion

Our experience of an interview-based study in virtual worlds indicates that researchers require several virtual world technical skills to create innovative tools to recruit, gain consent and collect data and an understanding of in-world culture, language and social norms to increase the chances of successful research.

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