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To Teleport or Not to Teleport: Travelling in Virtual Worlds

Methods of travel within virtual worlds differ according to distance and the rules imposed by the system. The most common method to move large distances is the teleport - allowing new locations to be reached according to a Cartesian co-ordinate system. Teleports are common place within environments such as Second Life and ActiveWorlds with teleportation achieved through either selecting a location on a map or clicking on an object which has been setup with a teleportation script.

As an example, in the panoramic sphere below the small red triangle is a teleport object taking the user back to the main section of our work on Second Nature Island within Second Life.

The same is true of ActiveWorlds with teleports being a key feature of the ability to jump between servers and chosen locations. However, the ability to teleport was not always part of the original ActiveWorlds systems which evolved through the influence of Neal Stephenson's seminal science fiction novel Snow Crash.

In Snow Crash, the ability to teleport was blocked:

You can't just materialise anywhere in the Metaverse... this would be confusing and irritating to the people around you. It would break the metaphor (Neal Stephenson, Snow Crash, 1996, page 42).

Pressure from users resulted in teleportation stations being introduced at select points around the central section of ActiveWorlds original environment known as AlphaWorld, but it caused concern amoung the developers. The New World Times, a virtual newspaper, reported in 1998 that 'there is still some concern that teleportation will ruin the simulation of reality in AlphaWorld'.

Teleportation was subsequently introduced throughout the ActiveWorlds system and it is now central to the majority of virtual environments. Indeed within Second Life teleportation is integral to moving around the world. Pictured below is a map of teleports in our own ActiveWorld circa 1999 (click for a larger version):

In 1998 the developers of ActiveWorlds were worried that teleporting would ruin the simulation, by 2007 the expanse of virtual environments has meant that teleportation is the only option.

In Second Life you can materialise anywhere in the Metaverse, it is not confusing or irritating to the people around you and indeed perhaps even enhances the metaphor...


  1. For some time now I have an idea of 1/2 teleport device that could be used in a real world (as it is now with Skype) or in virtual. Skype video chat is used for communication, conversation between people (1st level contact), but what I had in mind was a constant stream of whats going on in another place. I know its already in use as webcams showing town centers, shopping malls interiors, but they all show masses of anonymous people (3rd level contact). I see it rather like 2nd level contact where people are recognizable but not being spyied because this is a 2way transmission (cameras and displays are on both ends). This could be easily applicable for the virtual worlds where you can see and communicate with other places without necesity to teleport.
    hope I was clear since Im typing it in a rush:)

  2. Anonymous2:50 PM

    Thats a neat idea!