Name: Janneke van der Zwaan (30)
“Cyber bullying during chats or online gaming is increasingly viewed as an important problem. I’m developing a tool to help victims share their experiences with a computer. It won’t stop cyber bullying, but hopefully it’ll be able to comfort people socially and emotionally.
I’m creating a virtual character that children can chat with; for example, if a child has been called names or harassed by others while playing Habbo Hotel, he or she can chat with the virtual character. The victim is asked questions about what happened, so the virtual character can help out. There will be pre-defined questions and answers, because otherwise there are too many possibilities. The virtual character will give hints, like for example how to block other users, while also letting the victims tell their story.
The virtual character is a cartoon version of an old Mac computer, designed that way by a company to look like someone who knows lots about digital and virtual things. I’ll test whether the character should show emotions visually and if he could show emotions in what he writes. I’ll test what works best, but I think it’s worth developing a virtual character that could do both.
I’ve done tests with children, working together with psychology students at Erasmus University Rotterdam. In the near future I’ll do more tests to see how the reactions will be towards my virtual character.
I discuss my research and findings with a group of experts, who for example work at Habbo Hotel or give anti-bullying training. They focus a lot on extreme circumstances, such as what to do if someone wants to commit suicide. They also have bad experiences with virtual agents that are used by websites like ns.nl. These agents often do not understand what you mean.
I appreciate their feedback. But I would also like to show that my virtual character works differently, especially if it can show emotions – something a computer normally does not. I’d like to stress that my virtual character will not be perfect, but one must start somewhere. And I know I can show that it could work and comfort victims of cyber bullying.”