Want Social Norms? 9-Steps to Building a Strong Culture (Part 4)

Stories and Myths: Easier than Programming AI Moderators

The author at Joe and the Juice in Los Angeles

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts about how to create and influence the culture of online platforms, specifically in social VR.

Part one is on Heroes, Archetypes and Mascots. Part two covers the importance of Symbols and Artifacts. Next was the function of Language and Jokes in culture. And this article is on the importance of crafting the legends in your culture.

One of the most impactful ways to disseminate social norms is via storytelling. Stories define the behaviors that are acceptable and esteemed within a given culture, as well as what behaviors are frowned upon. Myths and fables have been used by cultures for centuries in order to teach their children to differentiate good from bad and safe from scary.

Storytelling uses heroes, symbols, language, and jokes — in short, all of the other tenets of culture I have already discussed — in order to craft a narrative. Stories are how we imbue these archetypes and symbols with meaning and how we pass that knowledge from person to person.

Creating Legends

Legends, myths, and stories are how we interact with places we have never been and times we have never experienced. They are how we choose where to go on vacation or what book to read next. The games and stories that become legendary to a generation — such as Harry Potter or Pokemon — do so because the first few people to pick them up are so eager to share their positive experience with the story that it becomes a legend.

Not all legends are positive, however. There are stories that me people tell me about social VR that end in harassment. But there is an opportunity for VR developers and community managers to turn this story on its head.

Rather than users walking away from social VR experiences talking about the harassment they experienced, they could tell the story of the supportive VR community that stepped up when someone tried to harass them. Or the VR platform that followed through on their report of inappropriate behavior and wanted to make sure they felt safe returning to the platform.

In order for these more positive narratives about harassment to emerge, there needs to be transparency about the reporting process. What happens when a user gets reported? Is there a remediation process for harassers? If the only story that a user walks away with is that they were harassed, the story they walk away with is a negative one.

Transparency is important because it is how culture is made visible to people. It informs users on the values that are upheld in your community.

Codes of conduct are one impactful way that social VR platforms make culture visible to users. But there is an additional opportunity to make users who uphold the code of conduct rewarded through symbols or badges, thus incorporating users into the narratives that define your platform.

Consider what stories circulate about your platform. Do users walk away with positive experiences? And if so, what aspects of your platform are revered? How can you build on the already positive stories circulating about your platform?

Here are some examples of the function of stories in VR:

A couple examples of positive stories that could take place in social VR are

  • People could share tips and trips of how to build and customize.
  • Tell a story of a friend they met in a different country
  • Attend a community gathering that was meaningful and accessible only in via social VR

Stories are a piece of your brand that gets circulated. Even if you don’t generate the stories yourself, you can pay attention to when good stories happen and amplify them. Good leaders listen for those stories closely so they can repeat them.

Takeaway Questions

  • What is your social VR platform’s origin story?
  • What stories get repeated?
  • What do they tell you about the culture you have?

And finally, a recommendation for people interested in world building and storytelling. Jesse Damiani hosted Kent Bye in AltSpace VR recently on the topic of “ Future Dreaming in XR: Shifting Consciousness with World Building & Immersive Storytelling,” and if you missed the live event, you can catch up here.

List your own examples of stories and myths in the comments below. And contact me if you are interested in an evaluation of your own social VR culture. Sometimes these stories / myths / legends are difficult to see when you are awash in them.

Series overview

1. Heroes, Archetypes and Mascots

2. Symbols and Artifacts

3. Language and Jokes

4. Stories and Myths

5. Rituals and Ceremony

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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