The SASP-SPSP Sponsored Teaching Fellowship

Social Psychology
Virtual Reality Workshop

Professor James Blascovich and
Dr. Andrew Beall

University of California at Santa Barbara

20-24 May, 2002
at the

Social Psychology Laboratory
Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia

For details, contact:

Professor Kipling Williams   Cassie Govan
Department of Psychology   Department of Psychology
Macquarie University   Macquarie University
Sydney NSW 2109


Sydney NSW 2109
(02) 9850 8067 (office)   (02) 9850 6713 (office)
(02) 9850 8601 (fax)   (02) 9850 8601 (fax) (email) (email)


Virtual Reality Workshop Summary

The task seemed easy enough Ų bring two VR experts out to Australia and get them to teach a group (with little or no computer programming skills) everything there is to know about VR technology∑in a week! Well, perhaps not „everythingš there is to know about VR technology, but enough to do the programming and design of a few virtual environment experiments by the end of the week. We also sought to bring media attention to the workshop and to hold a public forum.

As unrealistic as these goals might sound, we actually did it. Professor James Blascovich and Dr. Andrew Beall (from the University of California at Santa Barbara) came to Macquarie University in Sydney for a week and held the workshop for 12 social psychology post-graduate students and academics. The workshop was the first SASP-SPSP teaching fellowship sponsored event, hosted by Kip Williams at Macquarie University. The group met at the Social Psychology Lab from early in the mornings until late in to the evenings Ų working hard at learning programming, discussing implications and ethics, making 3D heads, designing experiments, and drinking lots of coffee. This is a summary of what we achieved in a week∑

Monday May 20:

Jim gave an introductory lecture on what VR is about (and how we shouldn‚t call it VR, but we should call it Immersive Virtual Environments...sorry Jim!). It all sounded very interesting and Matrix-esque∑We also got to experience the worlds for ourselves Ų then we thought we were in the Matrix! We all got to have a go at walking across a ravine bridge, playing ping-pong ball, visiting a casino, jumping off a cliff, and swimming in a room of killer whales. By this time we were all wondering how on earth we would be able to make these types of worlds. This is where Andy stepped in. Andy is the Director of Systems Development at RECVEB (Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior at UCSB, and developer of VRUT Ų a key VR programming language). It was his job to teach a bunch of novice programmers how to program VR worlds using Python and VRUT. When he asked how many of us had any programming skills, he was probably wishing he was back in sunny Santa Barbara! Nevertheless, he persisted and began with a lecture on the various programming languages we‚d be getting very familiar with over the week, and then we started the programming tutorials. By the end of the first tutorial, most of the group were wishing they were in sunny Santa Barbara too, but Andy convinced us that we just had to keep working∑.

Tuesday May 21

To motivate us to learn the programming, the group was divided into two teams. These teams worked together on a group project to be tested out on the last day of the workshop. At first it was suggested that we make the teams Aust vs. the Rest of the World, but there were a few defections and trades and we end up with Aust/US vs. NZ/Aust.

Once the teams were sorted out, we settled down for a lecture by Jim on his VR Social Influence Theory and how we can use VR technology to test the hypotheses. This included lots of interesting discussion and questions.

The groups were keen to get back to working on their projects∑Team Aust/US had decided to develop a virtual ball-tossing game to extend Kip‚s work on ostracism to the VR world. Team NZ/Aust had decided to do a VR version of the chicken study where a person has to decide when to get out of the way of an on-comer walking down a narrow corridor. Before we got too carried away, Andy got us to do some more programming tutorials∑we were trying to make avatars throw balls on a beach and walk down narrow hallways before we had mastered the more basic skills of making shapes bounce∑

Once the tutorials were over for the day, each group keenly worked on their projects. Team NZ/Aust were out taking digital photographs of hallways to make their world look just like a real hallway, team Aust/US were trying to work out how to get their avatars to wear bikinis as they throw the ball on the beach∑obviously it was getting late∑

Wednesday May 22

To begin the day, Jim gave us a lecture on Ethics in VR research. There are the standard ethical considerations that go for any type of social psychology research, but there are also a few considerations unique to VR research (for example, anyone using this technology has to carefully screen participants for sea-sickness and motion sickness).

After some more coffee, we were back to our group projects. After a while, Andy saw the need for some more tutorials and we continued with these until it was time to attend Jim‚s colloquium.

Many interested staff and students from Macquarie and surrounding universities turned up to listen to Jim‚s talk. He gave a great talk and showed lots of interesting video clips of the various worlds. Everyone seemed very excited when Jim invited them all back to the lab to have a go at experiencing the worlds for themselves (well, everyone except Andy, who saw a line of 30 people waiting to have a go!).

Once the visitors left the lab, the workshop participants continued on their projects for a little while longer∑

Thursday May 23

Another morning lecture from Jim∑this time on Archiving issues. As more and more people begin to use VR technology, how can we share the worlds that are being created? Sharing of worlds will facilitate replication of studies, and the less time spent on programming, the more time spent on coming up with ways to effectively use that world for good research. But there are ownership issues. We have to make sure that the person who spent hundreds of hours programming a world is credited by anyone who uses that world for research.

Everyone was keen to get back to the group projects, so a few more coffee top-ups and it was back to alley walking and ball-tossing∑

After lunch, Andy gave a lecture on the various software and programs that are needed if we were to set up a VR lab. We looked at photo programs, 3D modelling programs, programs to make individualised 3D heads, and the essential programming software of VRUT and Python (with which, by this stage, we were intimately related!).

The groups were then left to finish up their projects∑and both teams looked like they would be ready to show off their worlds tomorrow (with a bit of help from Andy∑!)

Friday May 24

Before we got to the fun part of testing out the worlds, we sat down and talked about the week. This was the first time Jim and Andy had run a workshop like this, so they were keen to hear our feedback∑which was overwhelmingly positive.

As we began testing out each group‚s world, we realised how much we had learnt in such a short time. Put the HMD (head mounted display) on for the team NZ/Aust world, and you‚re standing at one end of an alley with two agents (Roy and Lili) at the other end. Lili begins to walk towards you∑the DV is how close you‚ll let her get to you. As soon as she‚s gone, Roy begins to saunter down the alley∑again, waiting to see how close he can get to you. Impressive stuff from team NZ/Aust. Then it was time to see what team Aust/US came up with. On with the HMD and suddenly you‚re no longer in a lab in Macquarie Uni, but on a beach with two people standing nearby (who look remarkably similar to a few of the people from team Aust/US∑that 3D head program is really good!). You press a button on your game pad and you see that you‚ve just thrown a beach ball to one of the others. This game of catch continues for a little while, until our two agents decide they don‚t want to throw it to you anymore∑so, you stand there watching the agents throw a beach ball to one another for a few more minutes. Feeling ostracised, you take off the HMD and realise that you‚re back in the lab∑Good work team Aust/US (although the agents weren‚t wearing bikinis!).

A reporter from Australia‚s top science radio program (The Science Show, ABC) came to give the VR worlds a try. She was impressed by how „realš it felt (you can listen to the story she presented here: The Science Show (The VR story is about 40 minutes into the show from Saturday June 1st).

So, there you have it Ų a week in the life of learning VR Ų successfully! On Friday night we finally got to go out and have a few drinks to celebrate the end of a long (but very enjoyable!) week∑yes, this was the first night we got to go out to celebrate Ų a record surely?! Making up for lost socialising time, we also had a reception at Kip‚s house on the Saturday night.

Our aim is to get the projects we started fully functional and ready to be used for a real study. An unintended bonus is that the two worlds could be incorporated Ų i.e. if a participant got ignored on the beach, would they be more or less likely to act aggressively in the alley?

So, HUGE thanks to Jim and Andy for a fascinating week Ų we learnt a lot and had a great time!