John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This section first created in May 96

Life at the Palace

A Cyberpsychology Case Study

The Palace is one of the original client/server programs that creates a highly visual, spatial, and auditory chat environment. It is an excellent example of the trend toward graphical, interactive domains on the Internet, sometimes referred to as "habitats," "GMUKS" (Graphical Multi-user Konversation), or, "multimedia chat." More recent programs (e.g., Everquest, SimsOnline) usually involve a game of some kind, including specific rules, social roles, and objectives. Palace is a much more open-ended environment with no specific purpose other than socializing and, for many users, experimenting with one's online identity. Currently, there are many Palace sites located across the Internet, varying widely in technical and artistic sophistication as well as graphical themes (e.g., a futuristic Cybertown, a haunted house, Japan, Star Trek, etc.). Some sites are commercial, some private. Some even may be considered "art."

Any given Palace site consists of various interlinked rooms. Users can move freely within and between the rooms. A unique feature of Palace is the ability to create icons to represent oneself. These icons, called "avatars" or "props" can be changed at will. Users talk with each other via typed text that appears in balloons that pop out from the avatar's head, similar to characters in comic strips.

My social science research at the Palace began in 1995, shortly after the opening of the first and original Palace site known as Main Mansion, or simply "Main" or "Mansion." It consisted of approximately 30 rooms - including a bar, a game room, bedrooms, a study, a beach, a moor, and several surrealistic locales, such as the orbit of an alien planet and an underground space that looks like Hades. My research at Mansion consisted of an intensive case study of the psychological and social dynamics of this new online community. What makes the Palace environment so fascinating is its highly visual and spatial qualities. At that time, this was a new dimension to social interaction on the Internet, and certainly a predictor of the online multimedia experiences that have appeared since Mansion first opened.

What follows is an outline of my research. This "Life at the Palace" is a subsection of my online hypertext book The Psychology of Cyberspace. In fact, my career as a cyberpsychologist began in this Palace study, with my very first article focusing on the members' "addiction" to Palace life. Since leaving the community, I expanded my research to other cyberpsychology topics, while Palace evolved in its own new directions. These articles therefore serve as a window into, and a psychological record of, the early days at Palace. No doubt, many of the observations here still hold true for many Palace sites, and for cyberpsychology in general.

Since my days at the Palace, a variety of other avatar worlds have come and, in some cases, gone. One of the most successful worlds has been Second Life.

2. The History of the First Year (or so) of Palace

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