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Undertaking qualitative health research in social virtual worlds.

McElhinney, Evelyn; Cheater, Francine M.; Kidd, Lisa


Evelyn McElhinney

Francine M. Cheater

Lisa Kidd


Aims: This paper discusses the methodological challenges of using the 3D social virtual world Second Life for research and offers some solutions on a range of research issues including research ethics committee approval, gaining consent, recruitment of sample, data collection and engagement with 'in - world culture'. Background: The attraction of social virtual worlds to researchers is their ability to mimic the physical world, as they, are seen as 'places' where people have a feeling of presence (being there) and social presence (being there with others) through the use of a 'customisable' avatar (digital self-representation). Emerging research demonstrating the persuasive nature of avatars on health behaviours through virtual worlds, online games and the 3D web has increased the use of and interest in these areas for delivering health information, advice and support. However, conducting research can be challenging in a 3D world where people are represented as anonymous avatars in an environment unlike any other online media. Data sources: 25 semi-structured interviews were conducted in Second Life from September 2011-June 2012. Implications for nursing: Nurses wishing to undertake research in social virtual worlds should spend time in-world to acquire technical skills and gain an understanding of the culture of the world. Conclusion: Our experience of an interview-based study in virtual worlds indicates that researchers require several virtual world technical skills to create innovative tools to recruit, gain consent and collect data and an understanding of in-world culture, language and social norms to increase the chances of successful research.


MCELHINNEY, E., CHEATER, F.M. and KIDD, L. 2014. Undertaking qualitative health research in social virtual worlds. Journal of advanced nursing [online], 70(6), pages 1267-1275. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 25, 2013
Online Publication Date Oct 25, 2013
Publication Date Jun 30, 2014
Deposit Date Nov 9, 2015
Publicly Available Date Nov 9, 2015
Journal Journal of advanced nursing
Print ISSN 0309-2402
Electronic ISSN 1365-2648
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 70
Issue 6
Pages 1267-1275
Keywords Qualitative health research; Second life; Virtual world research; Technology; Research methods
Public URL


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