The virtual worlds could teach children about tolerance and integration
The University of Sunderland is to be involved in a major study into the use of virtual worlds to solve cultural differences.
The programme is known as eCUTE (Education in Cultural Understanding, Technology Enhanced).
It aims to develop cultural awareness by engaging children and young people in a virtual world.
It will use intelligent characters who display various types of cultural behaviour, in virtual environments.
The research programme involves leading experts in emotion and cultural psychology, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, human-computer interaction and cultural computing, from all over the world.
Eight research partners from academic institutions in Portugal, Germany, the Netherlands and Japan are taking part.
Sunderland's role in the project will be to evaluate the success of the virtual worlds in the learning process.
Dr Lynne Hall will be leading a team made up from the university's computing experts.
She said: "This is an incredibly prestigious project which will have real world impact. We anticipate significant impacts for the games sector and for cultural learning.
"In the Europe of the 21st century, many cultural, ethnic and religious groups must live and work together.
"It is clear that this is not always a smooth process and that cultural differences can lead to social stresses and sometimes outright conflict."
The virtual worlds will have characters that display behaviours from different cultural, social and ethnic backgrounds and it will then simulate different scenarios that users will respond to and learn from.
It will be tested on children aged nine to 11 and young adults aged 18 to 25.
The research programme is scheduled to last for three years.