Monday, February 27, 2012

Exploration of Virtual Worlds

Dear Mr. Boellstorff,
Margret Mead's book "Coming of Age in Samoa" was ground breaking in exemplifying how culture can be injected into a society. Her ethnography uncovered how detrimental media can be as a promoter of unnatural behaviors, like when many female Samoans developed eating disorders after consuming American television. To me Second Life seems like an invasive media. The very idea that an ethnography can be conducted in a virtual world is mind boggling to me. I think it is very important to note the lens through which participants in Second Life are looking through. In an ethnography, one cannot judge a Second Life avatar solely on how they act in Second Life, however, the background of the person needs to be examined. Although users of Second Life are from all over the world, I don't think that real ethnographic work could be substituted for meeting in Second Life in order to learn about other cultures. It is interesting to hear your Second Life work be compared to your ethnographic work in Indonesia, because a lot of human tendencies are being repeated in both locations. It is also interesting to see the online language that has developed through Second Life. The virtual world as you explained, is definitely exclusive and if one doesn't adapt the language they can become an outsider. While I think your article was an interesting exploration of your ethnography of Second Life, I think the article "Virtual Worlds for Studying Real Worlds Business" by Robert Bloomfield, gave a practical perspective of life in Second Life. Bloomfield's inside look offers an examination of how Second Life harbors not just culture, but a working systems like an economy. The economy of Second Life is what amazes me most about the virtual world. It was extremely intelligent for the creators of Second Life to create Linden dollars because not only does it makes the game more real, it adds more incentive and is profitable. Understanding these infrastructure of Second Life is what would make your ethnography complete. The fact that Second Life has a working economy shows how deeply routed our own culture is in Second Life. When a virtual world is recreated it needs to have a working economy in order for users to find it legitimate. The fact that there is an economy however and fees, creates a digital divide among users which is something you mentioned in your ethnography, but I wish you had explored it further. It is important to note that although Second Life is ground breaking in its technologies it is not available to everyone. It is clear that your ethnography of Second Life gave you incite on conducting an ethnography in real life.  I wonder if there are things you can infer about people who are drawn to become regular users of Second Life? As you mentioned at the end of your article, this research pointed out some discrepancies in Second Life, for example; the fact that when you performed your ethnography you became a native just by making a character shows that there is no real distinction between constant users and those who are just on for fun.
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