Donna Davis: The Promise and Peril of Digital Social Capital in Virtual Worlds - Lessons Learned from People with Disabilities.

Date: Monday 16 October 2017
Time: 14:00 to 15:00 (plus occasion for meetings afterwards)
Location: Behavioural Science Institute (BSI), Radboud Universiteit, Thomas van Aquinostraat 8.00.13, Nijmegen (The Netherlands)
Contact: Dr. Paul Ketelaar,

People engage in virtual environments not only for entertainment, but also for life experience. The attributes of immersion, embodiment and interactivity in virtual worlds have long been recognized as opportunities and assets in education, training and serious gaming. Organizations and game designers have spent decades looking at ways to maximize engagement in these worlds. Nowadays there is increased attention for the social consequences, both good and bad, of virtual reality. This presentation shares insights from a multi-year ethnographic study of individuals with disabilities in virtual worlds. Consider the impact of virtual reality for a deaf person who is treated as a “normal” person for the first time in her life because she is able to communicate in the text-based chat feature of her virtual world. Consider the benefits of virtual reality for people who are homebound. In the virtual world, a quadriplegic person can “dance” and a homebound person can work in a virtual office. Yet, there are also risks of sacrificing opportunities in the physical world for an “easier” virtual alternative. As advances in avatar interactivity in VR improve, the line between reality and virtual worlds is blurring. This presentation will discuss the promise and peril of VR in social innovation through the life lessons of research in virtual worlds.

Information about the speaker:
Donna Davis earned her PhD in mass communication from the University of Florida, where she studied relationship formation in 3D immersive virtual environments. Her ethnographic research continues to focus on the potential uses of virtual worlds, gamification, and other emerging social media, with special interest in disability communities. She is also an inaugural faculty fellow for the SOJC Agora Journalism Center for Innovation and Civic Engagement, extending her work with people with Parkinson’s disease who are participating in a support community in a virtual world. Davis studies online health and disability communities that form in social virtual environments. She is specifically interested in social consequences and media effects of embodiment and the implications this may have on quality of life, in the way communities form, and on how information is shared. Her current work, funded through the National Science Foundation, focuses on digital social capital formed in virtual worlds among people with disabilities.


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