Ever wonder how the introduction of voice into a virtual world would affect user immersion? I’m wondering in particular what it would do for dirty talk during 3D avatar sex. Would people still dish out the same meaningless drivel that they seem to often do via text while getting laid in Second Life? Or worse yet, would the stale and canned conveyances grow even more lame, devolving further into two- and three-word phrases uttered during the heat of cyberpassion? Then again, maybe it would actually improve. Who knows?
At any rate, I read an interesting post today at 3pointD.com about how voice is to be integrated into the interface of the massively multiplayer sci-fi game EVE Online. What I thought was particularly interesting was how the company that created Second Life apparently viewed bringing voice into its own virtual space.
“Part of what’s stopped Linden Lab from bringing in voice support, though, according to the Lindens I’ve spoken to, is that it would break the immersion of the world for many residents,” 3pointD.com’s Mark Wallace writes.
This would more than likely be true in a lot of cases. For example, I think it’s safe to say there are many users in Second Life whose real-life voices wouldn’t exactly be a perfect fit for the various personae they take on in their synthetic surroundings. I mean, could you envision a fire-breathing dragon speaking like a 19-year-old girl? Or a voluptuous female avatar conversing in the timbre of Barry White?
Granted, there are already users in Second Life who use voice to augment their in-world experience at their own discretion via outside communications tools such as Skype. But like I explained, that can shatter immersion for a good many users.
That’s why I am intrigued when I read the forward-looking musings of staffers from Vivox, the company behind the voice program being integrated into EVE Online. In the past, I’ve read quotes from Vivox execs explaining how they plan to ultimately develop “voice fonts,” so that users can customize their voice inflections to better suit their virtual selves. What I wonder is if one’s avatar would be able to lip-synch along with their in-world speech. I also wonder what the audio quality would be like, as well as how the feature would be actuated from a logistics standpoint. For instance, would one be able to wear a headset that could be used in lieu of a computer mic?
Regardless, I’d be very interested in using a voice font feature should it ever be incorporated into the Second Life interface. At this point, I can’t even venture to guess if I’d like it or not unless I actually experience it. I have no idea how it would affect my own immersion. Perhaps after using it, I would continue to enjoy typing text instead. Then again, texting can be pretty annoying at times during avatar sex. I mean, your hands are already busy trying to execute the act on the screen, which can involve using both the mouse and the keyboard. And your hands may be busy doing other things, too. Ya know?
On the flip side, perhaps the less we engage with the keyboard and mouse, the less likely we are to connect with the on-screen depictions. It’s been my experience, through reading and observing, that the less a user is tactilely or physically involved with the interface, the more likely he or she is to lose interest. Which also brings up the question, how far should developers of games and virtual worlds go in simplifying the 3D virtual sex interface, or just the virtual environment interface in general? I guess perhaps the really competent ones might already have a sense of the answer to that question. Or not. Dunno.
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