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Chapter 6. It's Not a Game, It's a… > Virtual Worlds as Tools

Virtual Worlds as Tools

The third way that virtual worlds are viewed by researchers is as tools. In this situation, virtual worlds are interesting purely because of what they can be used for, rather than for any intellectual merit of their own. This isn't to say that researchers in these areas disparage virtual worlds, it's just that their focus is different. If such an attitude were a crime, it's one that virtual world designers would themselves be guilty of. They rely on computer scientists for the hardware and software expertise they need, but are only really interested in what this allows them to do design-wise (or, more likely, prohibits them from doing); computer science provides the tools they need, but is only a curiosity beyond that.

Some of the fields that use virtual worlds as tools do so because they can derive new techniques in their own fields that way. Virtual worlds can therefore expect to be the immediate beneficiaries of such techniques. Incredibly tempting though it is to look at what these fields promise for virtual worlds, this is not the book where it's going to happen. My mission here is to promote virtual world design as a subject worthy of serious attention; although the general development of virtual worlds may benefit from an examination of worlds-as-tools research (I certainly hope it does), these don't actually validate virtual worlds as a worthy pursuit in themselves. Thus, I shall restrict myself to giving a very limited overview of the fields concerned as they impact on virtual world design; designers who are sufficiently enthused can hit a few search engines if they want to find out more.


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