Don't Stand So Close To Me

MP3 Download


Win Rosenfeld's avadork. hide caption

toggle caption

When our intrepid producer Win Rosenfeld told us he wanted to "spend some time in an online community" for a piece he was researching, we assumed it was only a matter of weeks before we saw his mug on To Catch A Predator. But it turns out he was actually looking into a legit (and really interesting) phenomenon in the virtual world of Second Life. Check out the video:

This video requires version 8 or higher of the Adobe Flash Player.Get the latest Flash Player.

You can click on the download link above to hear an interview with Win about working on this story.

Click here to subscribe to the Bryant Park Podcast.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

This is a great topic to cover and have been waiting for it for a while. I am an anthropology graduate student in Florida. personally, I play WoW (World Of Warcraft) and have noticed similar behaviors in the game that people exhibit in real life-such as body language. In this game you can chat in a general channel or a private one or one specific to your party or guild. People also make great use of 'emotes'(typing a command for you character to act out) such as waving 'hello', nodding, sitting, shrugging, etc. I find it interesting that in real life body language is so essential to communication that it is transferred to the virtual world.

Sent by Maria | 2:16 PM | 5-3-2007

People also host talk shows in virtual communities. During the time when NPR was dipping its toe into the blogosphere with the Mixed Signals blog, I alerted Andrea Seabrook to a Wired story that profiles the talk show This Spartan Life that is filmed in Halo 2.

Sent by Steve Petersen | 2:40 PM | 5-3-2007

It'd be nice if, like YouTube, you allowed me to post your video on my blog, as an object.

Sent by Brian Tristam Williams | 7:07 PM | 5-3-2007

Brian -- we feel your pain. We're working on it. In the meantime, I think we're going to post this on tomorrow sometime and it will be completely sharable. We'll post a link when we get it there.

Sent by Matt Martinez | 7:18 PM | 5-3-2007

Very interesting addition to NPR...I have always been a fan of NPR and now find it even more interesting...good move in trying to reach the younger demographic.

Sent by Judy Phung | 12:04 AM | 5-4-2007

"What's normal in secondlife isn't necessarily normal in real life?"
*Voiceover with red cyborg playing guitar*

Hey, I resemble that remark sunshine!
[but,er, have you ever seen a band called KISS in rl by any chance?]

Your friendly red hot rocking cyborg SL Live musician;-)

Enjoyed the article...I've noticed this personal space effect myself for some time. We tend to project ourselves into virtual worlds, so it makes sense.

Komuso Tokugawa

Sent by komuso tokugawa | 8:33 PM | 5-5-2007

Absolutely fascinating. Great article and video.

Sent by Ray O'Leary | 8:41 AM | 5-6-2007

I've been a fan of Nick Yee's other work with the Daedalus project for some time now. He studies social phenomena in MMORPGs such as WoW. As a WoW player myself, I find his observations fascinating.

Sent by Nick Savage | 9:22 AM | 5-6-2007

Very interesting video, thanks for posting it online!

Sent by . | 10:02 AM | 5-6-2007

Technical issue: flash is not being detected properly on Linux with Firefox.
I can t see the video

Sent by Stephane | 11:25 AM | 5-6-2007

Re: Stephane's tech issues -- any one else having problems? Email your request to us and we'll try to help you out.

Sent by Matt Martinez | 11:58 AM | 5-6-2007

If Second Life modeled the real world in the particulars under study, then the conclusions could be reasonable.

However, since the Second Life avatars are known to be distorted (mean height ~2m), and camera positioning is like every other MMO - stand too close to something and it falls out of view or occludes your view - this study tells us absolutely nothing.

The points the article makes about real human interactions are valid, but the Second Life correlates are highly suspect.

Sent by Thomas Newton | 11:59 AM | 5-6-2007

OK, my take is that your video is very well-produced, but lacks in substance. Really--where's a story here? As an SL "resident", it took me all of an hour to get the less-than-amazing obvious observations that your reporter and his academic source belabor here. I don't wish to be cruel, and I do wish your videoblog all the best, but please serve a nutritious meal instead of a bowl of candy. thanks.

Sent by Viajero Pugilist | 2:58 PM | 5-6-2007

One could argue that "real" human interactions only seem more valid because the reality that humans experience is filtered biologically under "normal" circumstances. But to argue that only physical experience of reality is valid would imply that their absence is less valid. So if you are blind, or deaf, or have some other difference in how you perceive the physical world, your experience is somehow less valid? Instead, I would argue that social phenomena would actually be easier, and more scientifically accurate to study in simulated reality, because there is the potential for accessing the actual data that measure variables such as viewing angle or distance of separation. Not to mention exact transcriptions of verbal/nonverbal text. These are the very essence of scientifically rigorous forms of evidence that the social sciences should be enthusiastic about leveraging.

Sent by Tracy Hartford | 3:14 PM | 5-6-2007

regarding stephane's comment:
Technical issue: flash is not being detected properly on Linux with Firefox
Im running Ubuntu 6.06 LTS, viewing this page with Firefox and Flash 9.31.
- I have no problems viewing the video, so obviously - this is not a Linux problem, per se.

Sent by z | 4:51 PM | 5-6-2007

Very insightful video, I never thought about these issues myself before, even though I spent several months playing WoW.

Sent by razr | 6:31 PM | 5-6-2007

Absolutely Superb piece of work, well made, well thought out and VERY interesting.


Sent by Paul Clevett | 5:03 AM | 5-7-2007

Enjoyable! I play Eve Online, and while we don't use avatars but rather starships, when someone who has an entire solar system to be in decides to pull up within a couple of meters of me, it makes me very uncomfortable. I wonder if it's because then you're without a doubt the center of someone else's attention, and that makes you self-conscious. Of course, there's a threat factor in Eve that's not present in SL, but I tend to think that we are all to some degree in our Own Little World, and having a stranger invade it with a stare or their physical presence interrupts that reverie. We don't like being the center of attention until and unless we want to be.

Sent by Brian | 9:12 AM | 5-7-2007

Thank you for a very interesting piece. I have noticed the same phenomenon in Myst OnLine (Uru), which is ceratinly a game, but also involves a lot of social interaction. People can try it for free at

Sent by Walt Scrivens | 10:39 AM | 5-7-2007

While Second Life is collapsing under it's own weight. Experiments like these are interesting but the outcome was all up predetermined. People are people. If in a virtual world or the real one. The same social rules apply, and if violated, it has the same meaning and impact as if someone come up to you in RL and did the same thing.

On a side note. Second life represents everything that is wrong with online games. It allows the worst immoral, and self destructive behavior possible in the guise of a video game. The gambling, and online prostitution still cost real money and ruin real lives. The fact that casinos and online brothels are the most popular attractions in the game, and the fact that you can deposit any amount of money you wish to obtain these "experiences" totally bypassing any laws concerning the subject of online gambling really scares me of the possible fallout from such unrestricted access to these destructing activities. I tried second life and found it to me the worst of humanity, and human behavior all concentrated in one please for easy shopping. Once I figured out the reason for Second life's success and it's false promise, and lure of get rich quick schemes, and so called "harmless" fun I uninstalled the client, never to use that game again, ever.

Sent by George | 11:37 AM | 5-7-2007

Great piece :)

For those who want to get MORE information about how people are interacting with their environments and each other in Second Life, hit CTRL-ALT-D to bring up the debug menus, then go to Client > Character > Show Look At. You will then see exactly where people are pointing their cameras, and whether their stares are intentional or just the result of default avatar animations. Dark sunglasses won't be able to hide their glances!

Sent by Blue Linden | 3:47 PM | 5-7-2007

Interesting. I wonder, though, how much venue matters. I wear a HUD that tells me how close people are... and that is often the only way I know they are there because I am using my camera controls and looking at something very specific (as when building) or something quite far away (as when shopping in a high lag sim).

This morning at the library I found myself spinning around looking for somone who said 'Hi'. *laugh* I think I am much less conscious of the positions of other avatars than I am of people IRL.

I think that these rules may obtain in social situations (where people are actually chatting) but look how close people stand who are hanging around Lucky Chairs or shopping in the same store but ignoring each other. I'd be interested to know how much personal distance does matter.

Sent by Rosmairta Kilara | 12:17 PM | 5-8-2007

I'm an anthropology major, and I am glad that there is going to be rudiments of ethnology being done on the internet.

On the downside, this video seemed really culturally biased, ascribing American standards to proxemic values. This leads people to believe that there is a psychologically healthy level of personal space and eye contact when this is more often culturally determined.

Sent by Alex | 9:47 PM | 5-8-2007

Alex -- that's a really good point. I hadn't thought about cultural differences and proximity -- are there any examples of cultures where proximity is dramatically different from American standards? Anyone out there have examples?

Sent by Matt Martinez | 10:06 PM | 5-8-2007

Interesting, but not exactly academic. It does match my own experience in SL. As to the cultural question, I am bilingual and spend time in both English and Spanish-speaking areas. The cultural norms do seem to be slightly different in Spanish speaking areas.

Sent by Cynthia Alvarado | 10:49 AM | 5-9-2007

Japan is one country where personal space is much smaller then in America, theorized to be related to population density. Wonder if there is a rural/urban difference as well?

Sent by Flaffer | 8:02 PM | 5-10-2007

I think Thomas Newton's comment about camera angles is important. In real life, an analogous "technical" issue might be the level of ambient noise in a given room. Virtual social norms are doubtless some combination of the cultural norms participants bring with them and the restrictions imposed upon them by the virtual environment itself.

Sent by Ben Haines | 9:14 PM | 5-27-2007

Interesting...I am reclusive, and thought Second Life would help me 'loosen up' around people albeit in avatar form.. Not so much. I enjoy Second Life more and more each day, but my real life lack of social graces overflows into my second life.

Sent by D Shilova | 5:21 PM | 10-8-2007

Excellent post - very interesting!

Sent by Arcadia | 3:53 PM | 11-7-2007

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from