Real geographic scenario based virtual social environment: integrate geography with social research


Journal:《Environment and planning B- Planning & Design》, 2013, 40(6): 1103-1121.

Cite as:Chen M, Lin H, Hu M, He L. Real geographic scenario based virtual social environment: integrate geography with social research. Environment and planning B- Planning & Design, 2013, 40(6): 1103-1121.

Abstract: Existing online virtual worlds, or electronic environments, are of great significance to social science research, but are somewhat lacking in rigour. One reason is that users might not participate in those virtual worlds in the way they act in real daily life, communicating with each other in familiar environments and interacting with natural phenomena under the constraints of the human–land relationship. To help solve this problem we propose the real-geographic-scenario-based virtual social environment (RGSBVSE). The aim is to enhance the ability of current virtual worlds in social issues studies by promoting virtual geographic environments that are built with real scenarios in the physical world. In this paper we first discuss the potential shortage of current virtual worlds for serious social research. We then explain how real geographic scenarios can contribute to building a virtual social environment by providing (1) real geographic data, including the time dimension, in terms of data acquisition and organisation; (2) dynamic or real-time natural phenomena and processes for scenario simulation and expression; (3) shared spaces that enhance participants’ interaction through a mix of virtuality and reality; and (4) shared hot spots of social phenomena for researchers from multidisciplinary (eg, sociology, psychology) performing collaborative research. Furthermore, two of our projects, the virtual Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Virtual Globe of the Chinese Family Tree, are introduced as case studies, to illustrate how the RGSBVSE can play a significant role in a number of critical social research issues from the local to regional scale.