Human behavior, Second Life (Game), Social groups, Social networks, Virtual reality


Virtual worlds and massively-multiplayer online games are rich sources of information about large-scale teams and groups, offering the tantalizing possibility of harvesting data about group formation, social networks, and network evolution. They provide new outlets for human social interaction that differ from both face-to-face interactions and non-physically-embodied social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter. We aim to study group dynamics in these virtual worlds by collecting and analyzing public conversational patterns of users grouped in close physical proximity. To do this, we created a set of tools for monitoring, partitioning, and analyzing unstructured conversations between changing groups of participants in Second Life, a massively multi-player online user-constructed environment that allows users to construct and inhabit their own 3D world. Although there are some cues in the dialog, determining social interactions from unstructured chat data alone is a difficult problem, since these environments lack many of the cues that facilitate natural language processing in other conversational settings and different types of social media. Public chat data often features players who speak simultaneously, use jargon and emoticons, and only erratically adhere to conversational norms. Humans are adept social animals capable of identifying friendship groups from a combination of linguistic cues and social network patterns. But what is more important, the content of what people say or their history of social interactions? Moreover, is it possible to identify whether iii people are part of a group with changing membership merely from general network properties, such as measures of centrality and latent communities? These are the questions that we aim to answer in this thesis. The contributions of this thesis include: 1) a link prediction algorithm for identifying friendship relationships from unstructured chat data 2) a method for identifying social groups based on the results of community detection and topic analysis. The output of these two algorithms (links and group membership) are useful for studying a variety of research questions about human behavior in virtual worlds. To demonstrate this we have performed a longitudinal analysis of human groups in different regions of the Second Life virtual world. We believe that studies performed with our tools in virtual worlds will be a useful stepping stone toward creating a rich computational model of human group dynamics.


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Graduation Date





Sukthankar, Gita


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


College of Engineering and Computer Science


Computer Science

Degree Program

Computer Science








Release Date

December 2011

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Doctoral Dissertation (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Engineering and Computer Science, Engineering and Computer Science -- Dissertations, Academic