I was born and grew up in Hong Kong. Both my parents had been in the US for college before moving back to Hong Kong, so I grew up bilingual in Cantonese and English. When I was 14, I went to Choate, a boarding school in Conneticut.
Then I went to Haverford College, a small liberal arts college outside of Philadelphia. It was in my sophomore year (1998-1999) that I took a required methodology course with Doug Davis where I learned the basics of conducting online survey research and made my first webpage. In the beginning of my junior year, a pair of seniors were carrying out research in exploring whether players of different game genres have different personalities. They chose Quake, StarCraft and EverQuest as the exemplar of 3 genres. At that time, none of us had ever played EQ, so we went and got a copy to try it out. I was the only one who liked the game.
So in the spring of my junior year, I took an independent study with Doug Davis to apply my skills in an area I was interested in - immersive online environments. At that time, there was a lack of quantitative data related to MMORPGs. Working with Doug Davis, I defined my research goals and collected narratives and demographic data from around 1000 EverQuest players through online surveys which I created, publicized, processed and analyzed statistically. Apart from the demographics, I also gathered qualitative data relating to the appeal of the environment, the in-game relationships that players developed, and gender dynamics.
For my senior thesis the following year (2000-2001), I continued my research in EverQuest by using my earlier findings to guide and structure a more quantitative project. I was interested in how age, gender, personality and play frequency interacted with a variety of issues – such as gender-bending, relationship formation, and in-game dynamics. I also collected data on the experience of playing the game with a real-life romantic partner, or playing with a child or parent, as well as exploring how individuals project or idealize their personalities onto their virtual personas and what they might learn from their online experiences.
Over the course of the year, I collected over survey data from about 4,000 respondents. I also developed and refined my methodology to be able to efficiently publicize my surveys, process large data files, and accumulate a growing respondent base. Early on, I realized the value of a sustained respondent base because I could collate data from an individual’s past and future surveys, thereby allowing me to ask more complex questions, as well as obtain rich profiles of individual users.
I also learned the importance of publicizing the findings of my research online. My research has been cited in the Washington Post, CBS, TechWeek, CNET, the Associated Press, Nature.com, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal among other news outlets. The work presented here has also been used as course reading at academic institutions, such as Stanford (History of Computer Game Design), UC Berkeley (Research Topics in HCI), U. of Washington (Intro. To New Media), U. Mass (Social Issues in Computing), Loyola New Orleans (Interactive Media), and Haverford College (Foundations of Personality).
After college, I worked about 2 years for Accenture Tech Labs, an R&D group in Chicago (2001-2003). During that time, I continued to collect data from online players and figured that I might as well go to grad school so I could spend more of my time studying virtual environments. In 2003, I started working towards a Ph.D. in Communication at Stanford University. At Stanford, I worked with Jeremy Bailenson in the Virtual Human Interaction Lab where we used immersive VR to study the psychology of social interaction and self-representation in virtual environments.
During my graduate career, I also worked for the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) on their PlayOn Project. The project collected census data from 5 World of Warcraft servers via a Lua script 24/7 with a 15-minute interval. I helped analyze the data over a 2 year period. For example, we performed social network analyses on guilds and examined which metrics were most likely to lead to guild survivability over time.
For my dissertation work at Stanford, I examined how the appearance of an avatar can change how the user behaves both inside and outside the virtual environment. For example, in a series of several studies, we found that users in taller avatars negotiate more aggressively in the virtual environment and that this behavior carries over to other social interactions outside of the virtual environment. We dubbed this "the Proteus Effect".
After I graduated from Stanford in 2007, I started to work at PARC as a research scientist, which is where I am now. I'm also maintaining my ties with the VR lab at Stanford and working on several projects as well.