In this section we will provide a brief overview of the currently ongoing research endeavours of the lab (both the core team and our students). Some of our work is described in the ‘Blog’ section of the site in greater detail.

Gestural Work in Arizona Sunshine

Using multimodal conversation analysis, we investigate the use of non-verbal resources in Arizona Sunshine, a cooperative multiplayer VR game. Specifically, our research focus is currently centered on instances of hint-and-guess sequences and their non-verbal/verbal resolution.

Attention Management in VRChat

VRChat, the arguably prime social space of VR, displays a range of interactional peculiarities. In VR, there is currently no way to distinguish gaze from head movement. This limitation gives a peculiar twist to classical Goffmanian considerations of how interactants manage visibly displayed attention.

Exploring Asymmetric Modalities and Epistemics in MR

There are a number of mixed-reality experiences that pit VR-immersed players against people in the ‘real world’. In the context of this project, we explore ways to make sense of spaces at the intersection of realities, and ways to approach the fundamental asymmetries that are pervasive in such spaces.

Becoming a VR User

VR is strange, especially for first-time users. Things don’t quite behave as they should: you might be physically standing still whilst moving at high speeds in the virtual world. Other VR users could decide to walk through your body without any resistance. And the mere fact of wearing a HMD might cause nausea and discomfort to a considerable number of users. In this project, we use a Beckerian symbolic-interactionist ethnographic framework to investigate how ‘enjoyable VR use’ is cooperatively constructed in social VR spaces.

Replicating Experimental Research in Virtual Reality

A number of branches of psychology are currently experiencing the so-called ‘Crisis of Replication’: for a number of reasons, several high-profile findings have failed to replicate in new experimental environments. One possible explanation for this failure to replicate is the presence of inexorably indexical social factors that turn an ‘experiment’ into an ‘experimental situation’, and therefore affect the results in unexpected ways. In this research project, our lab has launched a joint research project with the Cognitive Science Research Lab of RANEPA in order to investigate the possibility of replicating psychological experiments in pre-constructed virtual spaces which, as the reasoning goes, would afford far greater control over the experimental situation.

The non-Mutuality of Perspectives in VR

One of the fundamental assumptions of phenomenological sociology is the importance of situated interactants being able to imagine what the ongoing situation looks like from the perspective of a copresent interactant. This is what makes it possible, for instance, to point out an object in a space, even though the perspective of others does not match the perspective of the person pointing. In VR social spaces, this assumption needs to be reconsidered. VR users may selectively delete other participants, or may see a different set of objects in a shared room. Thus, a new user entering a VR social space has no immediate way of knowing what the room looks like to either of the other copresent users. This project investigates the methodological and conceptual peculiarities of researching VR-based intersubjectivity.

The Problem of Anonymity in Virtual Reality

In sociological research, especially when it comes to videography and other recordings of naturally occurring interaction, the preservation of the anonymity of the research participants is of the utmost importance. However, the notion of ‘privacy’ is connected to ‘identity’. The latter is linked to the way we, in the real world, have constructed identity around a set of trace-able documents and visual representations (such as photographs in passports). In VR, things may not quite work the same way. For instance, even though some virtual spaces feature no names, and have identical avatars for all players, it would be overly hasty to assume that anonymity is thereby an automatic fact. This project investigates the way identity is constructed and traced in specific VR spaces, and how this impacts the question of research ethics.

Sexual Encounters in Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is becoming an increasingly busy and varied space for social encounters. This includes interactions that, from a purely descriptive standpoint, could be described as ‘sexual’. However, since the users of VR do not necessarily assign the same level of ‘real-ness’ to the interactions in VR, we can observe encounters between, for example, male friends, self-identifying as heterosexual, engaging in flirtateous activities whilst using female avatars. This project investigates the practices of expressed deliminations of sex-like activities in VR, and the sense-making activities along the categories of sexuality, gender, identity and seriousness.

The Memetic Evanescence of VRChat Avatars

In VRChat, users may switch their avatars on-the-fly. If another user allows it, other VRChatters may copy their avatar. Since avatars are frequently constructed as attention-seeking-devices, we can investigate the way avatars behave much like viral memes: an novel avatar enters a specific room, makes an impart, is copied by some enthusiasts, who, in turn, try to replicate the avatar’s attention-grabbing success in other rooms.

The Microsociology of Absence

Many virtual spaces involve the co-presence of dozens of different VR users. Yet, sometimes, we observe that no outwardly displayed mutual alignment or interaction seems to occur. In this research project, we investigate spaces with seemingly absent interaction of copresent VR users.