Virtual Chironomia: Developing Standards for Non-verbal Communication in Virtual Worlds

Gustav Verhulsdonck, Jacquelyn Ford Morie

Abstract


Online virtual worlds offer new ways to explore evolving forms of social interaction, including the use of non-verbal elements used in conjunction with other communication modalities of text and voice. Ancient rhetorician Cicero coined the term “chironomia” for non-verbal communication elements that were used in a persuasive manner.  Non-verbal communication is an inherently human trait and, while virtual worlds provide an immersive space for interaction, they also introduce new questions regarding standards and best communication practices within them. Because virtual worlds present a richer environment with multiple semiotic modes of interaction, they add additional channels for communication over previous text-based online modalities. In such worlds, users can select and execute non-verbal behavior in a rhetorical manner by animating their avatar thus performing in a virtual context. Therefore, communication in virtual worlds presents an intentional “speech act” in which a speaker purposefully seeks to evoke a particular response or transmit specific semantic content.  As people's behavior in virtual worlds evolves and codifies, virtual worlds as a communication platform will need to develop standards based on successful user practices. In this paper we propose the need for a virtual chironomia – a standard for non-verbal elements in virtual world.


Keywords


virtual worlds; standards; non-verbal communication; computer-mediated communication (CMC); rhetoric; avatars; embodied conversational agents; deictics; proxemics; symbolic interaction; gestures.

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