Quality of Virtual Life
TRANSFORMATIVE CONSUMER RESEARCH FOR PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE WELL-BEING, David Glen Mick, Simone Pettigrew, Cornelia Pechmann, Julie Ozanne, eds., New York: Taylor and Francis, 2012
44 Pages Posted: 12 May 2010 Last revised: 19 Jun 2014
Date Written: April 29, 2010
Current virtual worlds, such as Second Life, The Sims Online, HiPiHi, and There.com are visually rich three dimensional platforms for social and economic interaction that offer their users the ability to literally live virtual lives. In 2010, at any given point of time, upwards of 70,000 users can be found in avatar form (i.e. as a digital alter ego that provides a virtual representation of the user) inhabiting Second Life, while its counterpart, HiPiHi, has been touted as the vanguard of a vast Chinese project to construct a network of virtual worlds capable of supporting billions of avatars (Keegan, 2007). Driven in part by "a whole generation of children... growing up on Club Penguin and Webkinz" (Anderson & Rainie, 2008, p. 88) over half of Internet industry experts interviewed by the Pew Internet & American Life Project agreed that by the year 2020, "most well-equipped Internet users will spend some part of their waking hours - at work and at play - at least partially linked to augmentations of the real world or alternate worlds" (Anderson & Rainie, 2008, p. 5). Within these complex immersive environments, the idea of virtual lives that are either complements or substitutes for one's real world life is already a day-to-day reality for many virtual world users.
Given that increasing numbers of people are living at least parts of their lives in virtual environments, an important question is how such virtual life impacts one's happiness, well being, and overall quality of life. Quality of life (QOL) and subjective well being (SWB) both have vast literatures and exhaustive reviews are available elsewhere (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Hagerty, et al., 2001; Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005; Ryan & Deci, 2001; Sirgy, Michalos, Ferriss, Easterlin, Patrick, & Pavot, 2006). QOL is largely the domain of the social indicators literature, with an economic and public policy focus, while SWB is largely the domain of the psychology literature, with an emphasis on the processes underling SWB. The fundamental motivating questions of this chapter are whether virtual worlds are sufficiently distinct from real life environments that it makes sense to introduce a new multidimensional quality of virtual life (QOVL) construct, how QOVL would be expected to relate to QOL, and how consideration of QOVL becomes an important consumer welfare issue as people spend increasing amounts of time in virtual environments.
Keywords: virtual worlds, quality of life, subjective well being, QOL, SWB, Second Life, happiness, avatar, avatars
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