Want Social Norms? 9 Steps to Building a Strong Culture (Part 5)

Jessica Outlaw
Feb 2 · 4 min read

Rituals and Ceremonies: Easier than Programming AI Moderators

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

Social VR is part of one married couple’s origin story. They met and married in a Social VR platform and it was featured in Wired magazine.

Part one is on Heroes, Archetypes and Mascots. Part two covers the importance of Symbols and Artifacts. Part three was on the function of Language and Jokes in culture. Next was the importance of crafting legends. Part four was on Stories and Myths. This article will address the role of rituals and ceremonies.

Rituals and ceremonies are how we mark transitions in our day and in our lives. The ritual of going to lunch marks the halfway mark in the work day and the ceremony of marriage marks a new phase in a person’s life. These events (whether spontanous or planned out for months) help us orient to where we are in space and in time.

Incorporating rituals and ceremonies into your platform can imbue it with familiarity and meaning.

Rituals

Rituals can take many forms. A ritual could be showing up to the same place every day, attending a weekly event, or following social norms about how to behave (not talking over a guest speaker giving a lecture).

Social VR rituals might include attending a weekly meet up, or getting a safety reminder every time that you log in.

Rituals are events, but they are also an expression of values. The hobbies that people participate in, the hours they work, and the events they attend are all expressions of their values and interests. It can be inferred that a person who has weekly band practices and regularly buys tickets to music festivals places high value on music, for instance.

Companies express their values in similar ways. Annual tech conferences are an expression of the value tech companies place on progress and innovation. These rituals set the tone for technological development in the next year and rally people together behind the cause of pushing the boundaries of design even further.

Whether daily, weekly, or monthly, rituals are an opportunity for communities to form around shared values and interests.

By incorporating rituals into social VR platforms, developers would provide users with more opportunities for building community. People want to find others who share their views wherever they go and VR is no exception.

Regular rituals, such as weekly and monthly events, are great opportunities for community-building. Just as people look forward to their weekly poker, tango, or DnD night, they can look forward to weekly VR meetups. These kinds of events are how people expand their social networks beyond their immediate circle and build meaningful bonds over time.

Annual rituals are the opportunity to rally community on a large scale and make statements about what your platform values as a whole. If you were to create an annual event for your platform, what would be celebrated? Would it be a competitive event, or a community building one?

These kinds of community-centric rituals can help draw users to your platform and keep them coming back. If people use VR to attend regular meet-ups in social VR, the presence of recognizable faces from week to week may provide them with a sense of familiarity and welcome. For those who fear large groups of people, this may be much less anxiety provoking than being dropped into a group of strangers with whom you may or may not share any values.

Robin K. Wilson curates VRevents.io, a calendar of events that spans multiple social VR platforms.

But rituals also operate on a small scale. Simply designing opening and closing sequences for users who enter your platform (or device) can ease the transition between time spent in the physical world and time spent in the virtual world. These transitions can be jarring to the senses, but if you give users familiar stimuli that indicate their arrival to and departure from the platform it will provide them with a sense of ritual and structure.

Ceremonies

Ceremonies and celebrations tell you a lot about what a person, or company, values. Does anything get celebrated in your platform?

Celebrations, like rituals, can be driven either by the company or the community. Community driven celebrations can occur naturally and spontaneously. If something positive and memorable happens within your platform, it can become lore (see part four of this series on Stories and Myths) and codified as a recurring celebration. This is a powerful way to enforce values organically.

As VR becomes incorporated into more and more people’s lives, it will also become connected to rituals outside of VR. One couple met in a social VR platform and went on to get married. There is an opportunity for developers to allow this ceremony to be reflected in VR, e.g. by allowing their avatars to put on wedding rings.

Providing users with opportunities to celebrate in VR will help them create positive associations with VR platforms.

Takeaway questions:

  • What are the things we all do together?
  • What happens when you show up to new places in social VR?
  • What do we celebrate? What are we valuing in that celebration?

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

You can follow Robin K. Wilson on Twitter to learn more about VRevents.io or to post your own social VR events there.

Series overview

1. Heroes, Archetypes and Mascots

2. Symbols and Artifacts

3. Language and Jokes

4. Stories and Myths

5. Rituals and Ceremony

Jessica Outlaw

Written by

Culture, Behavior, and Virtual Reality @theextendedmind

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