Having a second opportunity in Second Life

November 17th, 2010 by | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

The Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff is not just for those who are tech geeks or gamers.  When I started reading the book, I first thought that doing anthropological field work in Second Life was tacky.  I couldn’t imagine the idea of sitting in front of a computer and immersing myself in a virtual world.  One of the reasons I choose to study anthropology is because I enjoy physically moving my body throughout the landscape to observe cultural differences and interacting with people face-to-face to gain a greater understanding of their lifestyle.

However, Boellstorff puts his thoughts into ethnography studies outside of the box.  He immerses in a different world with people known as avatars.  He is interested in examining how people interacted in Second Life and why they are part of Second Life.  Avatars not only build their own homes and businesses but also get into disputes over property rights that seem as if it is an incredibly important issues.  Avatars exchanged good utilizing their own currency known as lindens.  Avatars have their own set of language by utilizing words that are not used in real life such as “teleporting’ which means digitally transporting oneself from one place to another, “rezzing” which means to create or to make an object appear, and “prims” which are materials used to create items in Second Life.  Avatars had their own neighborhood meetings to discuss ideas and issues in their communities.  Protests and rallies were held in Second Life.  Avatars even get marry in Second Life.  Boellstorff attended a wedding in Second Life where he was able to view a beautiful sunset.  Avatars go to bars and parks and even have a job as a fashion designer.  On top of that, Boellstorff interacts with his neighbors via chatbox, and he did all of his interviews in the chatbox.  Boellstorff sums up well on what it means to examine Second Life:

“Virtual worlds provide the opportunity for many forms of social interaction, and this can include anthropological research.  Just as I can attend a wedding or build a house in Second Life, so I can interview those in Second Life about their experiences and engage in ‘participant observation,’ following people around in their daily lives as a member of the community.’

Moreover, Boellstorf spoke of how culture truly exists in Second Life:

“I spoke of ‘culture in virtual worlds’ rather than ‘virtual culture’ to underscore how cultures in virtual worlds are simply new, ‘highly particular’ forms of culture.”

While a female avatar could be a male in a real life and vice-versa, at most of the time, Boellstorff only knew the gender of avatars, not of those people in real life who were simulating the avatars.  Every avatar had their own personality, their own choice of clothing styles and even skin colors.  Avatars were indeed self-conscious of their looks as they would ask other avatars for opinions on their hair and clothing.

The most moving part of Boellstorff’s study was examining how people with disabilities in actual world were given a new way of experiencing life.  While many deaf people are able to speak and hear utilizing cochlear implants, some deaf people communicated solely through sign language and they were given the opportunity to interact with more people in Second Life than they would in the actual world.  People who were bound to wheelchairs were given the opportunity to experience walking and constructing buildings with other community members.  Boellstorff explains how people with physical disabilities has a pleasurable experience in Second Life:

“Residents with more permanent physical disabilities also found new possibilities in Second Life’s potential to allow them to experience different forms of embodiment: ‘there is the advantage of not being body bound, being able to be yourself.’  Such residents spoke of the pleasures of activities like flying (which cannot be done in the actual world by anyone) and dancing, skydiving, and swimming (which are possible in the actual world but cannot be done by many disabled people.  One disabled resident summed up the impact of Second Life for those with permanent disabilities by stating it ‘allows you to be free to explore yourself.’

Life is seemingly real in Second Life, which provides a validity for anthropological research.

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2 Comments

December 8, 2010 at 2:40 pm

Hey Rachel, Just though you might want to know:

Four Stone Hearth #107 – Anthropology blog carnival posted today here! And you are mentioned in it.

December 12, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Interesting research. I guess some good can come out of it.

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