See Copyright and Usage Notice
Exploring and Building
Virtual Worlds on the Internet

Glossary of common terms used in virtual worlds

Your Guide to the Glossary

About the Glossary

Emoticons and Social Acronyms

Jargon Resources

Introducing the Glossary

The Glossary

About the Glossary

This glossary collects together the bewildering array of colorful terms used in avatar Cyberspace. There is a lot to this glossary, so read on. Note also that as a service to the avatar community and educators using this book, an updated version of this glossary is also posted on the companion Web site at


This glossary could not have been put together without tremendous input and fact checking from the following people and organizations: Sue Wilcox, many of the members of the Black Sun Interactive company, the Living Worlds initiative, Moses Ma and the Universal Avatars forum, Chip Morningstar and Randy Farmer of Electric Communities, the good people from Worlds Incorporated, Darek Milewski, and the hundreds of users of avatars who coined and explained terms they use every day in the worlds

Emoticons :) and Social Acronyms (what does LOL mean?)

This section will give you a guide to the bewildering array of emoticons and other social acronyms used in virtual worlds. Acronyms can be used to abbreviate when possible, but messages filled with acronyms can be confusing and annoying to the reader, so don't overuse them.

Emoticons and Emoties

The following tables list some of the common ways in which you can use simple text to express deeper emotions and more flamboyant speech in your daily conversations on the digital street.
Emoticon CharactersWhat it means
:-)happy (smiling)
:-Dvery happy (laughing)
:-]silly grin
(:-( very unhappy
:-Oshocked even more
:-|no reaction or scowling
@>-->--A rose, for you

Table: Emoticons for Social Occasions (View Sideways)

EmotieWhat it means
or grin
very big grin

Table: a few basic Emoties

Social Acronyms

Social Acronyms are shorthand expressions for longer phrases. This are used extensively in text chat worlds and the list keeps growing every day. The following are some of the more common social acronyms.
Shorthand phraseWhat it means
LOL, lolLaughs out loud (lol = softer laugh)
ROFLRolls on Floor Laughing
IMHOIn my humble opinion
IMNSHOIn my not-so-humble opinion
BRBBe right back
AFKAway From Keyboard
hehehehehehehehee hee hee hee hee
WYSIWYGWhat you see is what you get! (pronounced wizziwig)
nice 2cuNice to see you
RW or RLReal World or Real Life
c uSee you
cu 8erSee you later

Table : General purpose Shorthands

Flirtatious Social Acroynms
Shorthand phraseWhat it means
ILYI Love You
LAFSLove at first sight
LDRLong distance relationship
LJBFLet's just be friends
LOLove (or lust) object
LTRLong term relationship
MOTOSMember of the opposite sex
MOTSSMember of the same sex
NGNice guy
PDAPublic demonstration of affection
RIRomantic interest
SNAGSensitive new-age guy
TL&EHTrue love and eternal happiness
SOSignificant other
(X)SO(Ex) significant other

Table : Flirtatious Shorthands

Adding Emphasis beyond Emoticons

Note, in addition to emoticons, to add emphasis to what you are saying, you could SHOUT IN ALL CAPs or use *Asterisks* and _underscore characters_ to emphasize words or phrases. It is a good idea not to overuse these conventions, however.

Jargon Resources

I have tried to list all the terms I think you will find useful in your journeys through avatar worlds. However, there is a lot more jargon thrown about which will find its way into your online life. The following Web sites are useful sources about jargon you may encounter.

Cool Jargon of the Day can be found at

Jargon File is a great set of resources at:

Download the New Hacker's Dictionary at: or check out the on-line version at:

Find a searchable jargon index at: and a Jargon file mirror in Japan at:

The European Jargon File searchable indeces are at: and

Introducing the Glossary

The glossary of terms follows. Note that all words indicated bold can be found elsewhere in the glossary. Feel free to bounce your way around the glossary as it can be an education in avatar Cyberspace on its own! If you have seen a new word you think should be in this glossary, let us know by sending email through the avatars companion book Web site at Note also that as a service to the avatar community and educators using this book, a continuously updated version of this glossary is also posted on the companion Web site.

Quick Index

0-9 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

The Glossary



Shorthand for "one dimensional" which refers to virtual environments based on text interfaces. These include MUDs (Multi User Domains), chat rooms, Internet Relay Chat (IRC), and others. This term does not indicate that discourse or the worlds described in text are at all limited, merely that interaction is focused primarily on the singularity of the text chat line.


Shorthand for "two dimensional" this refers to scenes that are flat, having width and height (represented by the x and y axes) but no depth (represented by the z axis).

2 1/2 D

This is shorthand for "two and a half dimensions" which means that a scene is appears flat but in fact has some ability to move avatars or objects "back" into a third dimension. Worldsaway from Fujitsu, and Sierra Online's Realm described in this book, are both examples of 2 1/2 D worlds.


Shorthand for "three dimensional" indicating that a scene possesses three directions of possible motion, left right (the x-axis), up and down (the y-axis) and into and out of the scene (the z-axis). The term "3D" can refer to a 2D image that has the appearance of depth. Of course 3D scenes displayed on a flat 2D computer monitor are only clever illusions, relying on our primate brains to perceive depth from perspective cues.

3D sound

Sound that seems to emanate through a virtual world in three dimensions. For example, as you can experience in Onlive's Traveler (described earlier in this book), as you get closer to talking avatars, the volume of their voices increases. This is related also to stereo sound which gives you different sound out of your right and left hand speakers.



An abstract representation of the world. In virtual worlds, this might mean that instead of sending a scene of a world as fully described geometry, you would send the plans from which this scene can be made. This is like the difference between a whole building and an architects plans for the building. Seeds and eggs in Nature represent abstractions of the plants or animals to be. Biota often use abstractions (L-systems, genetic programs). Abstraction is one of the most powerful techniques and will be essential for the emergence of a large connected and inhabited virtual world Cyberspace.


A capability in a world. An object may have the affordance of being able to be moved an avatar may have the affordance of being able to gesture.


Agents are chunks of software that have certain amount of freedom to move themselves around virtual spaces or computer networks on their own. The Internet is crawling with simple search agents which are constantly following Web links to build ever larger catalogs of web pages. Agents are designed to serve the needs of users rather than to just exist on their own like biota or become destructive like viruses. Researchers in the field of agents are constantly debating when an agent is an agent or just an ordinary program. It seems that a program graduates to agenthood when it acts with the authority of the user and becomes autonomous, goal-oriented, collaborative, flexible, self-starting, communicative, adaptive, and mobile. Agents are close cousins of bots and somewhat related to virtual pets, daemons, biots, biota and viruses.

alpha, alpha tester

An initial version of a new program which has been made available to a select group of brave and patient users (alpha testers). Saying "this software is very alpha" refers to software that has a large number of bugs or untested features. After alpha, software enters a larger beta test phase.

ambient sound

Sound that is played as a background to a virtual world. If this consists of cheesy MIDI tunes it is often referred to as gratuitous virtual elevator music.


Also called a link, hyperlink, URL or a hot spot. This is a location in a virtual world that can be clicked and will then bring up a page on the World Wide Web or move you to another scene within the world. This term also refers to a spot in the world where an object is to be places (like the Renderware object anchor points in Active Worlds).

ancient, legend

These terms refer to a user in an avatar or text based world who has been around for a significant part of the time the world or its community have been around. These users are usually proud of this fact and often have low citizen numbers. These users may have been involved in the fundamental building of the world or its community.


A social property of a virtual world that guarantees that users can be anonymous. Using a handle, nickname or alias instead of a real name guarantees a certain amount of anonymity. Users may not be anonymous to the people running the world, however, who have to maintain some means to contact their citizens.


Another name for a software program which does some greater task like word processing. Virtual world clients are often called applications.

application programming interface (API)


A forerunner of the Internet. The Advanced Research Projects Agency network went into service in 1969-70.

artificial horizon

Like the little viewpoint rolling in the glass ball in most aircraft, the artificial horizon indicates where you are in space relative to the ground level. This interface is found in flight simulators and in the navigational controls of many virtual worlds and 3D browsers.

artificial intelligence (AI)

A general term for software and hardware systems that seek to mimic or extend higher order functions of the human mind, like cognition, vision or locomotion. An AI is another term for a pretty sophisticated agent or bot in an avatar world.

artificial life

Refers to a field of study that seeks to reproduce the complex worlds of simple living systems like bacterial colonies or the bloodstream. Chris Langton defines Artificial Life as "the study of artificial systems that exhibit behavior characteristic of natural living systems." Artificial life is an important progenitor of biota now appearing within virtual worlds.

aspect ratio

The physical proportions of the width of your screen to its height. Aspect ratios affect how images are displayed. The number of pixels that are shown across the width and height of your screen must be factored into aspect ratios. Square aspect ratios mean that an image will not be distorted when displayed on your screen.

avatar teleport or av port

This is a central area where avatars can travel between worlds. Alternately, an avatar teleport refers to a room or large projection space where people represented as avatars can interact with a crowd of people in a real physical gathering. These are often called cyberphysical events.


An abbreviated form of the term avatar.


Verbal abuse of a user while using their avatar in a virtual world. This can take the form of offensive text chat or screaming or loud music played in a voice/sound supported environment. Also see avattack, boom boxer and head banger.


A vehicle used by a user to move their avatar some distance in the world. Also related to teleport and portal.


Real life actors using avatars to address audiences in virtual worlds.


Addiction to life and interaction in avatar virtual worlds. Related to chataholism. Avaddicts often have one or more virtual worlds on-screen all day and will greet anyone who comes into their space.


Photogenic as an avatar. This can mean that one's face or body makes a picturesque image to wrap around an avatar. This could also mean that one's avatar is so distinctive that people stop to gawk or take a screen shot picture. Avagenic avatars could be destined for avastardom.


An avatar dressed up (or undressed) to look like a beefy hunk. Almost never representing the real person behind the avatar. Designed to kick sand in the face of 90 pound weakling avatars. See also avatart.


Avatars which are copies of popular and fiercely defended trademarks such as Disney or Star Trek characters. Avamarks will be marks for many a media company lawyer in the future. Expect to see blue suited lawyertars chasing avatars through worlds near you.


Offensive avatars, also called rudies, who live to disturb and offend others sharing the same virtual world space. Teenage users are often the perpetrators but not always.


An avactor who is a star in real life and dons an avatar to enter virtual worlds. Like the voices of famous people embodying characters on The Simpsons or stars entering chat rooms on America Online, avastars are sure to make more than just cameo appearances in virtual worlds near you. This term was coined by Sun (Marian) McNamee.


The use of avatars and virtual worlds to provide entertainment, as role playing, virtual theater or other types of grand standing performances. See also avvywood.


Originally the term avatar came from Hindu mythology and is the name for the temporary body a god inhabits while visiting Earth. Avatar can also denote an embodiment or concrete manifestation of an abstract concept. The ancient Sanskrit term avatara meant "a passing down". Avatar was first coined for use in describing users' visual embodiment in Cyberspace by Chip Morningstar in the early days of Habitat back in 1985. In text-based virtual communities, the term avatar is not used, users are identified instead by handles, aliases or nicknames. Avatars are also called: characters, players, virtual actors, icons, or virtual humans in other virtual communities or gaming worlds.


A name a user chooses to associate with himself or herself with in a text based or visual virtual world. Users often choose fanciful names that hide their real identity. This name is also called an handle or nickname and can be found on avatar badges.

avatar gallery

A special virtual room, page or selection menu to allow you to choose your avatar from a set of canned avatars. Custom built avatars could also be shown here. First popularized in Worlds Chat in 1995.


More common than avahunks, avatarts are scantily clad centerfold avatars, mostly scanned in from magazines and pasted onto 2D postage stamp avatars. Sometimes referred to as "those naked pix", avatarts are the source of more parental controls and an exodus of users to worlds where avatars are built up of an approved set of body parts.


Bodily attacks on your avatar carried out by other users by either passing their avatars back and forward through yours (if your avatar is transparent) or making body contact and bumping your avatar around (as is possible in Onlive Traveler). Avattacks can also take the form of someone repeatedly placing their avatar overtop of yours in a 2D world or blocking your view in a 3D world. Related to avabuse.

avaway team

A group of avatars who set out to explore areas of digital terra firma. An avatar gang that meets regularly. Taken from the Star Trek Next Generation series.


A citizen of an avatar virtual world.

avvy, avvies

Other nicknames for avatar.

Avvies, the

Annual avatar awards at the Contact Consortium Avatars conference. Like the Oscars or Grammies, these awards give prizes for avatars in categories like best humanoid, most emotive, best gestures and animation and most bang-for-the bug (smallest number of polygons used).


The merging of Hollywood and avatar virtual worlds. Virtual worlds on the Internet are now inhabited by thousands of users playing ad-hoc roles some of which are directly modeled on Hollywood themes. In a hypothetical Avvywood, millions would flock into virtual worlds to watch or role play in improvised episodes of their favorite film, TV show or book. On rare occasions, big name talent will make cameo avastar appearances in the worlds. Avvywood is only a dream today but tomorrow..?



An image used as a backdrop over top of which avatars float. This is common in the Palace and Virtual Places and other 2D avatar worlds.


A badge is a name tag on an avatar, with the nickname the user chose when they immigrated.


A severe form of discipline for misbehaving users where the operator or caretaker of the world throws the miscreant out. See also neutroning. The user may or may not be able to log back in using the same identity. More minor forms of banishment include ignoring.

Beta, beta tester, beta program

Software in development which is beyond its initial alpha version. The select group of users who are trying this software are called beta testers in a beta program. Saying "boy, this software is really beta" refers to software that has a large number of bugs or untested features. When software is through its beta phase it is often given the version number 1.0.


Biota is a variety of artificial life that populates virtual worlds. Biota are objects that have organic personalities resembling plants, insects, animals, or resembling forms of life outside of our everyday experience. Biota are characterized by the fact that they exist independently inside virtual environments and may or may not interact with users in the worlds. Biota spread, reproduce, mutate and die based on rules in the world and the properties of the biota. Many examples of biota are 'hackable' meaning that users can open them up and redesign their basic operating codes. L-systems have made possible an early form of biota plants. Genetic programs, neural networks and complexity theory are important technologies underlying biota. Biota may represent an entertaining or aesthetic addition to virtual worlds or a bona fide form of life expressing itself into a new medium.


A biot is similar to a bot or agent in a virtual world but has characteristics of a living thing. Virtual pets or the trusty dog in the virtual homestead that wanders around after you is an example of a biot. Biots are not quite biota as they need interaction with users to stimulate their activities. Biots are not bots in that they could go rambling through their world on their own with no particular purpose.


An individual example of biota.

birds eye view

A viewpoint where you hover above your avatar. Sometimes called god view.

Black Sun

The Black Sun is the club featured in Neal Stephenson's epic 1992 virtual world novel Snow Crash. It is also the name of one of the companies building virtual worlds.

body language

Avatar gesture lingo which is an important part of communication in virtual worlds.

body parts

Components or pieces which can be used to construct a whole avatar.


A Web page location (URL) which is remembered for later revisiting.

boom box, boom boxer

Boom boxers are users in voice supported virtual worlds who crank up their stereos and waltz around inside virtual spaces with their microphones open, thereby disturbing everyone they come near.

borg, borgtar

A borg is another name for a bot or agent in a virtual world. A borg has one difference in that it can sometimes be operated by a person, transforming (or borging) into an avatar sometimes called a borgtar. Borgs are sometimes recognizable by the eyepiece around an eye, which sometimes looks like a monocle. Borgtars which have the monocle in their shirt pocket are currently inhabited. Borg comes from the popular Star Trek Next Generation series.


A bot, (short for robot) finds its roots in IRC and MUDs. There, a bot is a program acting like a user in the chat space and often providing a useful service. Great bots of the past include NickServ, which prevented random IRC users from adopting nicks (nicknames) already used by others, and MsgServ, which allowed the packaging of messages to be delivered when the recipient signed on, and lastly, `annoybots', such as KissServ, which performed no useful function except to send gratuitous messages to other users.

The `Julia' MUD bot which was active in 1990--91, provided a remarkably impressive Turing Test experiment, able to pass as a real human user for as long as fifteen minutes of chat with other users. Bots are making their appearance in virtual worlds in the form of helper avatars like Mysterio in Black Sun or greeter bots elsewhere. Bots with more brains, acting like agents will soon be doing civic duty cleaning up vandalism in areas like AlphaWorld. Of course mistaking a bot for another human user can be an embarrassing experience, so watch for the telltale signs of a bot. Bots are related to agents, biota, and virtual pets.


Bits Per Second, indicates the speed of your connection (usually through a modem).


A browser is a type of program which is able to bring up a certain class of information (like HTML Web documents or VRML 3D models) and allows you to manipulate them. A browser is a kind of client program and usually talks to a server to get its information. A browser is distinguished from a virtual world client program in that a browser is merely a viewer of information, not usually a communications medium.


Errors in a program which might cause it to crash or behave differently than avatars.

building inspector

A building inspector is a class of agent which watches building activities in a world and informs the user if he has done something unacceptable, such as pick and object that is not available for building or encroached on a neighbor's property.

bumper pool

A game played where avatars can make body contact.


cache, caching

A place on your hard disk where files are stored, sometimes temporarily. Many virtual worlds build caches of scenes, avatars and other objects. These caches must be filled, cleaned out and checked every once in a while by the virtual worlds software. Caches speed up your experience in the world as the software running the world will take objects from your hard disk rather than downloading them from the Internet.

camera position

A place where a viewpoint is set onto a scene. You can jump between camera positions to see the scene from different angles and with different lighting.


The operator of a given virtual world or area of a world.


A channel is a computer term for a pipe flowing with data. Programs can open channels to then exchange data one way (asynchronously) or two ways (bisynchronously). IRC (Internet Relay Chat) operates on a system of channels.

Character animation

A field which seeks to generate cartoon or virtual human characters using digital tools, often for use in films or TV. Sometimes these virtual characters are given their body movements through motion capture.

Chat room

This is a name for an area where text chat is entered and seen by all users as a scrolling list. Chat rooms are often set up around specific themes like people in their 30s or love and romance. Chat rooms don't look like rooms at all but like a teletype machine running in a window on your computer.


Addiction to chatting on the Internet, through virtual worlds, chat rooms, IRC, voice chat or other channels to kill vast amounts of time in idle conversations with strangers. Chataholics in-avatar are often called avaddicts. Chataholism can lead to greatly emboldened communications skills for shy or overtly techie persons and actually initiate or improve social skills in real life (RL).


Proper etiquette while chatting online. An example of this is saying goodbye when you finish a conversation.


A trick in a gaming world that allows you to get around the limitations of the game or gain a skill or knowledge nobody else has. Sometimes called a hack.

citizen number

This is a number issued to a user upon immigration. Unlike the immigration number (which is usually used for database purposes), the citizen number is associated with the user's privileges and identity.


A name for a software program that runs on your computer and talks to another piece of software called a server, which is somewhere out on the network. Most virtual worlds have their own custom client programs talking to servers.

client/server Network

This is a network made up of client programs communicating with central servers.


The replication of an avatar with all of its properties intact or the duplication of and entire virtual world. World cloning is often done when an area of the world gets beyond a certain population threshold. An identical copy of a room or series of rooms will then be cloned and a fresh set of users allowed in.


Computer Mediate Communications is a field that studies and develops computers, software and networks to enable different kinds of person to person communications.


Another name for programmers.

collision detection

A process inside virtual worlds where the virtual worlds program is watching for

complexity theory

A theory that posits that complex processes, systems and structures can arise from a few simple rules. Related to biota and artificial life and a key foundation of research at the Santa Fe Institute.


The act of taking data and representing it in a compressed form, allowing faster transmission or less disk storage.

coordinate system

This is a method of knowing where you are by using sets of numbers. For an example of how coordinate systems work, in AlphaWorld you can report your position using numbers like 105 North, 187 East, 1 Altitude, 180 Degrees Skew. By entering these numbers in a teleporter, you will be placed out at 1050 meters north, 1870 meters east, floating 10 meters above the ground and facng south (0 skew is north).


Central Processing Unit, your computer's "brain".


Your software just failed and had to be shut down. This is also called dump or die or a number of other terms not to be repeated in polite company. Neal Stephenson's book Snow Crash referred to the ability of a virus program to crash people's lower brain functions and kill them (don't worry, your copy of Windows 95 will not do this.. yet!).


Computer Supported Cooperative Learning is an area of study and product development which supports learning through software and networks. CSCL supports distance learning and helps set up virtual universities.


Computer Supported Cooperative Work is a field that seeks to foster collaborative work through computer and network technologies. Groupware is a kind of software that comes out of the CSCW field.


Cyberspace is a term coined by author William Gibson back in the early 1980s borrows from the term first used by Norbert Wiener in his 1948 classic Cybernetics (formed from the Greek term for steersman and reflecting the feedback mechanisms of ships). Appropriate to the navigation theme, a cybernaut is a person who boldly ventures forth to explore digital realms opening up in Cyberspace.

cyberphysical event

An event where avatar virtual worlds are projected near or around a group of people who are using the 'virtual presence' of the users in-avatar to create a combined creative or party atmosphere. Sometimes called an avatar teleport.



A program that runs in the background waiting for certain events to occur. Mail daemons lurk in wait of emails with malformed addresses to then hurl them back at the sender.


Refers to a control surface usually placed across the bottom of the screen. Like a dashboard in a car, software dashboards help you navigate through three dimensional spaces. They can also look like controls in an airplane and feature such interesting navigational controls as an artificial horizon.


A default avatar, or the avatar you are given when you first enter a world and before you have had a chance to select one of your own. Dummytars often look like storefront display dummies or crash dummies in automobile safety tests, hence the name.

dial-up access

Using your modem and a telephone line to get access to an online service as opposed to having a direct connection to a network which runs all the time.

dialogue box

An interface control that comes up to allow you to select a series of settings. Dialogue boxes usually sport an OK and Cancel button.


digital mixer

A social event in a virtual world meant for singles, a kind of cocktail party for avatars. Internet dating services are driving the growth of romance worlds.

digital village

An area of a virtual world constructed by a set of users to look like or act like a small community. Also called a virtual village, these areas usually stick to a common theme, like the Olde England of Sherwood Forest Town, a digital village in AlphaWorld.

digital space

A general term describing parts of Cyberspace, whether they be websites or virtual worlds.

Direct 3D

A set of extensions from Microsoft that support the rendering of 3D scenes.

directional sound

Sound that can seem to come from certain spots in a virtual space, not just emanating as uniform background sound.


Microsoft's extensions which support 3D sound, among other things.


Domain Name System. This is the system that links domain names to their respective IP (Internet Protocol) addresses for the Internet. The computers on the Internet know each other according to their IP addresses which are a series of numbers. You know these IP addresses by names like DNS translates back and forth between these names and the numbers needed by the Internet.

Domain name

A domain name is assigned to a computer on a network as a way for it to be more easily identifiable to people using that network. The DNS is the database for the Internet that matches domain names to IP addresses. The domain name is used as part of a URL. When you enter the URL of a site you want to visit in your browser, the browser first makes a request to the DNS to get the proper IP address so it can find the computer you are looking for.


A popular 3D shoot-em-up game of the early 1990s which proved that you could do fast 3D with characters running around dungeon levels.


The process by which you grab software or other things, like art, music or webpages, off the Internet. The opposite of upload.


Instance of a shared object replicating the state and behavior of a pilot.


An avatar used as a default, often looking like an automobile crash test dummy. You are often assigned a dummytar when you first enter a new virtual world as a newbie.



A symbol created with text characters, like the smiley face :) to express emotion

emotion or mood wheel or panel

An interface to allow you to quickly set your avatar's mood, by changing facial expression or body stance.


A text symbol like use to express emotion, like an emoticon.

entry chimes, doorbell

A sound or text message used to announce the arrival of a person's avatar into an area of a virtual world

entry view

The viewpoint you get upon first entering a particular part of a virtual world, especially after just teleporting.

examiner mode

A mode allowing you to spin, zoom in on or otherwise examine an object. Used in VRML browser interfaces.

exit gong

The sound effect or text generated when an avatar leaves an area or world. Related to entry chimes.



A term for a face on a polygon or other shape in the geometry of a virtual object.

facial expressions

The set repertoire of emotions an avatar model can express.

FAQ, FAQ page

Frequently Asked Questions, usually of a technical or social nature.

farcaster door

Another term for teleport, a door that takes you into a new virtual world.


A collection of computer data, organized under a name. A file could contain music data just as easily as a software program.


An Internet security mechanism whereby a piece of software or hardware is checking all the sources and destinations of data packets and blocking those it feels are risky. Firewalls are often used by companies to keep unwanted traffic and visitors off their internal intranets.

first person view

First person view is your viewpoint as though you were inside your avatar, looking out through its eyes. In this view, you cannot see your avatar's own body. See also birds eye view and third person view.


Seriously nasty, funny or overtly descriptive messages, usually sent as emails or text chat sometimes to flood someone's account, related to spamming.

flat shading

Shading composed of flat colors with no textures or other surface effects.


Taking your avatar up high above the virtual surface and soaring along, try it!


File Transfer Protocol, a mechanism to get and put files over the Internet.

frame, frame rate

A frame is a distinct view of a 3D scene. As you move through a virtual world, you are seeing many frames of that world, creating the illusion in your mind that you are traveling through the world in three dimensions. Frame rate is the speed (in frames per second) that the rendering software can generate these distinct views.

friends and family space

A virtual world designed for meetings of friends and family. This space might have pictures, messages, voices and anything else that represents aspects of your life to the world.

full duplex

Two channels allowing sending and receiving at the same time. In a full duplex voice system, you can be talking and hearing someone else all at once.



A set of servers or programs on servers that control access to a files or services.

gender bending

The act of behaving like someone of the other sex. Wearing a male avatar when you are a woman is a common form of gender bending used to avoid male avabuse.

genetic programs

Small programs which may be based on strings of symbols that behave analogous to genes. These programs may compete in a common soup and reproduce and mutate their basic gene strings over time. Tom Ray's Tierra project is an example of a large scale experiment in genetic programming. Genetic programming is an important component of biota found inside virtual worlds.


An expression which an avatar can give, using facial or body movement, a sound or text sequence, or special flags or graphics, like a waving hand symbol.

gesture pallet

An interface device allowing you to pick and send gestures out through your avatar. Related to emotion or mood wheel.

ghost mode, ghosting

A mode in which your avatar is lurking near others but not participating in the conversation. Sometimes your are depicted as hidden in a cloud or shown in a lurker list.

GNU gzip

A public form of compression (gzip) offered by the GNU free software foundation, whose members believe all software should be free.

god view

Like birds eye view, seeing your avatar from above.

gouraud shading see also smooth shading


gravitated surface

A surface for which there is gravity.


The effect of gravity in a virtual world, sometimes created by making a surface sticky, holding your avatar down on it.

ground zero, gz

The default entry point into a virtual world.

group chat

Chat set up between a specific set of named users. This chat is usually private.



The very first virtual world supporting avatars. Created by Chip Morningstar and F. Randall Farmer in the mid 1980s.


A way found by devious users to get inside software and make it do things the designers did not intend.


A name a user chooses to associate with himself or herself with in a text based or visual virtual world. Users often choose fanciful names that hide their real identity. This name is also called an alias or nickname and can be found on avatar badges. Handle is a term often used in citizens band (CB) or HAM radio.

head banger

Avatars in a virtual world who travel around clubbing the heads of other avatars. This occurs in virtual worlds like Onlive Traveler, where avatars can make body contact.


A particular top level page on the World Wide Web that leads to other related pages underneath it.


A virtual world designed to act like a homepage. This is a world in which you represent your personal or business to the world, and meet people. See also friends and family space.

Homo Virtualis

Another name for those of us caught up in communities and life in virtual space.


Some virtual worlds have a boundary beyond which there seems to be nothing until you approach it, whereupon more of the world streams in. This boundary is often called a horizon and these worlds are using something called proximity-based streaming


A term for a designated person in a virtual world who is hosting an event or serving as an in-world helper. Hosts are also called acolytes.

hot spot

Also called a link, hyperlink, URL or anchor. This is a location in a virtual world that can be clicked and will then bring up a page on the World Wide Web or move you to another scene within the world.


HyperText Markup Language, the language used to create pages on the World Wide Web.


HyperText Transport Protocol, the way data is moved around the World Wide Web.



Short for identity or identification.


When an avatar is not speaking or doing anything else, it may be idling. The person inhabiting the avatar may be away from their computer temporarily.


The act of blocking out communications with someone in a virtual world. This is usually a feature of the interface and is also called muting.

immigration number

This is a number issued to a user upon registering to use and enter a virtual world. This is usually used to index the user into the citizen database. There is often a related citizen number which is tied more closely to the user's identity.


The position of being inside your avatar. Someone might say "I met you in-avatar".


Similar to in-avatar, the act of being inside a virtual world: "I met her in-world".


The global connection of computer networks using a common protocol, TCP/IP.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC)

A mechanism to chat in real time through the Internet.


An internal company version of the Internet, usually protected by a firewall or other security mechanisms.

IP address

Internet Protocol address is a way to identify a machine or user on the Internet. IP addresses are made up of a series of numbers like which are later assigned to a more human readable address like


jacking in

The term from cyberpunk writers for connecting your awareness to a virtual world. In Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson's characters jacked in to the Metaverse, a large scale digital planet and society.


A programming language used ubiquitously across the Internet. Java is used as a kind of glue to tie programs together between clients and servers.



The universal term for ultra hip, extremely neat or just plain cooool.

kill bot

A bot (automatic agent avatar) that is designed to kill of avatars, objects or processes in a world.



A program, bot or user that builds or decorates landscapes inside virtual worlds. Also see shaper.


Delays in getting date through the Internet, from your computer to a server to someone else's computer. Often manifests itself as delays in voice or text chat or very poor swordfighting in gaming worlds.

light source

An artificial light placed into a virtual world to cast light onto a scene. Shadows can also be produced in this way.


Level of Behavior, where an object in a virtual world can exhibit more or less behavior if you are closer or farther away from it.


Level of Detail, where more detail is stored and revealed for objects when they are closer to you than farther away. This is an important technique used to cut down on rendering times and increase frame rate. See also LOB.


Mathematical formalisms based on the work of Aristide Lindenmayer which are able to generate lifelike plants and other branching forms and patterns found in nature. L-systems are often used to generate biota in virtual worlds.

lurker, lurker list

The act of listening in on conversations but not participating. Also called ghost mode for avatars. If you are waiting outside a chat auditorium, you might be in the lurker list.


Mac OS

The operating system found on Macintosh computers.


Author William Gibson's term for a large virtual world in cyberspace.

MB or Megabytes

A measure of data storage, the size of a hard disk file or the amount of memory in your computer, roughly equivalent to one million bytes.

member list

A list of users of a virtual world which you want to keep in touch with or chat privately with. Also called a friends list.


Author Neal Stephenson's term for a large virtual world in cyberspace.

MHz or Megahertz

A measure of the clock rate of your computer's central processing unit (CPU) or of your microphone's gain level.


A standard for representing music is a digital form.


A general term for any object in a virtual world, from a house to an avatar.


The piece of hardware you use to communicate with other computers on the Internet.


Multi Player Game.


Common abbreviations for various flavors of the common MUD (Multi User Domain/Dungeon), a system of text chat and virtual world building created in 1979. There are now hundreds of MUD communities, many set up as role playing games.

motion capture

A method by which motions in real life are captured and used to drive animation, say, of a virtual human or other character. Body suits or batons are often used to digitize motion. Avatar gestures are often produced using motion capture systems, as in the OZ Virtual worlds.


An avatar used by more than one person. Like an avatar with a multiple personality disorder, you can be talking with the avatar and the person on the other end might suddenly change.


Multi-User technology which supports avatars or some other representation of users in a shared world. Usually this implies that the users can also communicate in the world. Also called mutech or MU.


The same as ignoring, the act of choosing to turn off communications with someone.



An avatar which has the ability or duty to take you on a tour through a virtual world.


An open effort to provide a simple neural network plug-in and Java library to builders of virtual worlds. Nerves is designed to provide a basic 'wiring' for avatar Cyberspace, allowing you for example to turn on the lights in a virtual office space, gesture with your avatar or grow and tend digital plants.


The common term for etiquette on the Internet.

neural networks

Software that replicates the behavior of biological neural networks, carrying symbolic or numeric signals around pathways which sum and split the signals. Neural networks are used in pattern recognition and learning and lie at the heart of behaviors of agents, bots, biota and virtual pets. Neural networks are expected to provide a more fundamental 'wiring' of virtual Cyberspace in the near future (see Nerves).


A form of banishment where from the misbehaving citizen's perspective, all other avatars disappear and they are left to wander alone in the world. Neutroning was first done on July 13, 1996 in AlphaWorld.


A popular term for a new user of anything, including an avatar world. Newbies are often seen wearing dummytars.


A name a user chooses to associate with himself or herself with in a text based or visual virtual world. Users often choose fanciful names that hide their real identity. This name is also called an alias or handle and can be found on avatar badges.


A term for some junction or end point in a network. Your computer at home could be seen as a node of the Internet.



Another generic term for anything in cyberspace, from tables to daemon bots to avatars. Also like model.

Operating System or OS

The big piece of software that runs your computer and allows other programs to work on the hardware.



A private message sent between two users in an avatar world. Sometimes called a telegram.


Terms or phrases attributed to or like those of Mark Pesce, the co-creator of VRML.

phone ring

A wake up call (usually a sound) sent by one user of a virtual world to another. Sometimes goes along with an instant message or page.


Often referring to different body parts of avatars: torsos, heads or arms.


An instance of a shared object whose states and behaviors are replicated by other instances drones.


An Internet technique where a short data burst is sent out to see if another machine on the Internet is able to respond. This term is being used more in social virtual worlds: "ping him to see if he is awake".


The act of rolling forward and backward, see yaw and roll.


Short for pictures or images.


Picture Element, the colored dots that make up anything displayed on computer screens.


Like a bookmark for favorite Web pages, it is a remembered location in a virtual world. This location can be stored and retrieved for later revisiting.


A listing of characters who are participating in conversation or play-acting in a particular virtual world area.


A piece of software that attaches to a larger program to enhance its capabilities. VRML often comes as a plug-in for a Web browser.


The basic building block of many 3D scenes. Polygons (often built up out of triangles) are fit together, lit and texture mapped to build up objects from trees to avatars.

polygon count

The number of polygons in a scene. Polygon budget refers to the number of polygons a designer is allowing a scene to have, which among other things affects frame rate.

polygon count, polygon budget

pop-up menu


Like a teleport, a means to jump a distance in or between worlds.

portal hum

The sound effects sometimes associated with portals or teleporters. The original Star Trek transporters had a very memorable portal hum.

port number

An Internet mechanism identifying a point of access to read and write data to a server.

postage stamp avatars

Avatars made of two dimensional images pasted together. Commonly used in two dimensional virtual worlds like the Palace or Virtual Places.


Point to Point Protocol, the most common method used for those connecting to the Internet by modem.

production values

A Hollywood term denoting the look of a movie or TV show. Great special effects equals high production values. Virtual worlds are often criticized for having low production values (although their users often don't think so).

progress bar

A misnomer for progress, it names the small slowly moving meter that is shown to you while downloading or rendering large objects. Often accompanied by the instructions "please wait..".


An all encompassing term denoting the capabilities of an object. "That avatar has great props, you can smile, dance and play the guitar".


A general term meaning the rules or language controlling a dialogue. Protocols are usually necessary only between computers and diplomats.

proximity detection

A mechanism to determine closeness or contact between objects in a virtual world. Proximity sensors are used to trigger actions "bump that tree and the apple will fall on your avatar's head".


An Internet term meaning that something is acting as an agent. Proxy servers are agents for servers


The act of using your mouse to move around in a virtual world. This often involves picking up and putting down your mouse repeatedly, similar to pushing a hockey puck around.


Forcing a piece of software to send or reload data, "Pulse that world again, maybe I will see your changes".


real life (RL)

People, objects and places in the real, physical world. One's 'day job' real existence.

real time

When things happen with a minimum of delay, you are in a real time situation. For example, if your chat is sent right away to someone else who can respond right away.


The act of restarting your computer (or your life, your relationships).


Regions are areas of a world which are visible around the immediately around the user.


Forcing software to go and get an object again, like reloading a Web page.


The process of taking the description of a three dimensional world and producing it in visual form. Often 3D scenes are rendered a frame at a time.

rendering artifacts

Junk left over in a scene by the software that rendered it. It is not part of the scene.


A software package commonly used by developers of 3D virtual worlds to present their worlds and models to the users on screen.


The motion of rolling around your axis, see pitch and yaw. This could also be understood as leaning sideways.

romance world

A virtual world oriented toward singles or other people in search of romance. Often the place of virtual weddings and digital mixers.


The term robot was coined by a Czech playwright, Karel Capek, earlier in this century. Playwright Capek's 1923 work was called "R.U.R., Rossum's Universal Robots." Robot derived from rabotai, the Czech word for work. Also see bot.


Role Playing Game.


A nickname for a verbally abusive user of a social virtual world.



A set of VRML or other 3D format objects that are fit together to provide a coherent whole, such as a room, building or forest.

screen left, screen right

Similar to theatrical stage instructions like "exit stage left", a way to describe the movements of avatars into and out of a scene. These terms are usually applied to virtual worlds with third person point of view.

screen shot or screen capture

The act of taking a digital capture of what is on the screen or shown in the current window. This is done by pressing the Print Screen button on PCs and some combination of function keys on a Macintosh. Screen shot images fill this book and many an album of virtual photojournalists.


A set of instructions defining or controlling the behavior of an object or avatar in the world.


A software system coordinating the experience of a virtual world as shown to one or more users through their client programs. Servers also coordinate communications between users, the positions of avatrs, and changes to the world. Servers often exist on separate computers tied into the Internet.


The act of stalking someone's avatar without communicating with them. This form of avabuse can freak people out.


A program or interface tool that allows you to shape an object in a virtual world. Shapers can also be bots which can build to suit.

shared object

An object in a scene whose state and behavior are synchronized across multiple clients. With shared objects, one user can make a change and the other users, no matter where they are in the world, will see that change.

single user mode

The unfortunate occurrence when a server is not available and you are forced to enter a world off-line, as the sole inhabitant.


Another Internet communications protocol, also see PPP.

soft disconnect

Being disconnected from a server but the world is still being displayed. Often, the avatars stop moving or speaking. In a hard disconnect, you are notified of the problem and often your client software shuts down.

spam, spamming

The act of flooding people's email boxes with unwanted junk mail or offensive messages.

spoofing, to spoof

Using software tricks to make someone else's avatar say things that the owner did not say.


A method wherein parts of a larger virtual world, sound or video segment are sent so that you can start experiencing them before the entire file is downloaded.

suspension of disbelief

An often used term in virtual worlds which means that you are "so into" your experience with other people on the screen that you stop being aware of all the technology and start believing your are "really there" with them.



Terminal Control Protocal/Internet Protocol is the fundamental "language" allowing programs to send data on the Internet.


A private message sent between two users in an avatar world. Also called a page.


Some who studies evidence of design in nature, or the use of design as an explanation of natural phenomenon.

Teleport, teleporting

A mechanism, often represented as a gateway or glowing doorway, by which people can move their avatars over a large distance inside a virtual world or jump between different worlds. Also called a portal, farcaster door or wormhole.


An Internet tool used to remotely log into an account from any computer. Used for older text chat sessions and often supports MUDs and MOOs.

terminal velocity

The maximum speed which you can make your avatar move through a virtual world, without resorting to teleportation.

texture mapping

The wrapping of images composed of pixels onto a geometric frame, often made out of polygons. This technique is used to make plain old flat geometric shapes come alive.

third person point of view

Third person view is a viewpoint allowing you to see your avatars and others from outside. Related to birds eye view.


Lines of conversation between people. Threads are often intermingled in the scrolling text chat windows

toad, to toad

To permanently and totally exile a player from the MUD. A very serious action, which can only be done by a MUD wizard; often involves a lot of debate among

the other characters first. See also frog, FOD.


A distinct neighborhood in a virtual world comprised of a larger city. Townships are usually associated with an association of builders and inhabitants.


A direct lifting of a trademarked image or sound, then usually made as part of an avatar. Also called avamarks, you might hear someone say "look at that trademark over there, the Michael Jackson".

transitive behaviors

Actions made by one user or object that are expected to affect another user or object such as the ability of a person using an avatar to affect a common environment and be affected by it through text chat, body language, object manipulation.

Turing Test

A test devised by Alan Turing in the 1940s as a measure of machine intelligence. In the Turing Test, a human subject would communicate with a computer and other human subject via teletype, not knowing which participants were computers or humans. If the human subject is unable to consistently determine between the human and computer conversants, then the computer (or its software, rather) passes the Turing Test. Text processing programs like Eliza from the 1960s or bots in IRC and MUDs and virtual worlds in the 80s and 90s come close to passing the Turing Test.



The feared Unrecoverable Application Error in Windows programs, no hope here, shut them down.


To stop lurking and join a conversation.


The process of moving data from your computer up to a place on the Internet, opposite from download.


An operating system commonly used to run servers on the Internet.


Uniform Resource Locator, commonly referring to links to Web pages, the famous http://.


vending machine

A mechanism in a virtual world allowing the purchase of objects or capabilities. These facilities can be manned by vendor bots. Also called vendos or vendroids.



Like camera position, a place from which a certain view and lighting of a scene in a world is set.

virtual elevator music

Background music of a cheesy nature usually composed in MIDI and sounding like very early synthesizer compositions set to Lawrence Welk.

virtual human

Another term for avatar but much more broadly defining any representation of the human form in a digital medium. Character animation producing virtual actors for feature films or a digital representation of a human face for language instruction are both types of virtual humans. Virtual humans are often not embodied by real people, as opposed to avatars.

virtual photojournalist

A person who enters virtual worlds and takes copious screen shots of avatars in action. Often hired to cover virtual wedding ceremonies.

virtual reality

The term coined by Jaron Lanier in the 1980s to describe immersive digitally rendered visual experiences. Usually associated with goggles or head mounted displays. Virtual worlds are often called "virtual reality on the Internet" although they don't require the goggles.

virtual pets or v-pets

Pieces of software that behave like pets. Your avatar could have a faithful dog that would chase you around and search out fire hydrants. These are also called biots.

virtual university

A difficult term to define, it has been used most widely to describe distance education courses through email or Web pages. Avatar virtual worlds are hosting more experimental virtual university projects, where students and instructors meet in the world.

virtual wedding

A wedding ceremony held inside a virtual world. Sometimes representing weddings in real life (RL) but often bonding two people together who are not married in real life. A form of advanced cyber-friendship. Some virtual worlds have hundreds of these weddings per months. Related to virtual weddings are digital mixer singles events.

virtual world, worlds

The generic and shortened form for navigable visual digital environments. These worlds can be inhabited by users represented as avatars.

virtual community

A generic term classifying regular group communications through digital media. Virtual communities may form inside text chat rooms or avatar virtual worlds if people share enough common goals to keep coming back and continuing with their conversations or other shared activities.


A virus in the context of software is a small program that embeds itself into some part of a user's applications or operating system without the user's knowledge or permission. Viruses can make copies of themselves and spread from computer to computer via media like diskettes or by being carried through networks. Viruses are designed by programmers (often called hackers in this context) to cause benign or destructive effects in a large number of computers. Viruses can possess the ability to mutate and escape the detection of the many virus scanner programs designed to fight software viral plagues. Benign forms of viruses are related to biots, biota, agents and virtual pets.

voice disguising

In voice supported virtual worlds, the ability to change the pitch and other properties of your own spoken voice as to sound different (to make a woman sound like a man, for example).


Virtual Reality Modeling Language, an animated 3D virtual environment specification developed and supported by a large number of companies and other organizations.


Web site

A set of HTML documents housed in a server which can be accessed with the HTTP protocol.

Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT

The most common operating systems for personal computers.


A way to view the elements of a 3D scene, showing only the edges, not the faces, of polygons or other shapes.

workspace, virtual workspaces

The concept of a shared virtual world being used as a collaborative environment to enable business.


A common nickname for the VRML file extension '.wrl'.


Another term for teleport, a mechanism to take avatars from one place to another within a virtual world.


The World Wide Web or Web, a giant collection of documents based on the HTML language and using the HTTP protocol. Sometimes mistaken thought of as the whole Internet.


X Windows

A windowing interface system used on UNIX operating systems.



Rotation from side to side. Also see pitch and roll.



An online magazine, usually represented as a Web site. Citizens of virtual worlds create many zines around their favorite worlds.


© Copyright Bruce Damer, 1997-98, All rights reserved.