Legal anthropologist of gor!
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Legal anthropologist of gor!



Games+Learning+Society 2010 conference presentation.

Games+Learning+Society 2010 conference presentation.

Issues of ethics and research methodology in studying an unusual online community.



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Legal anthropologist of gor! Legal anthropologist of gor! Presentation Transcript

  • Legal Anthropologist of Gor!
    a research conundrum
    John Carter McKnight
    PhD Student,
    Human & Social Dimensions of Science & Technology
    Arizona State University
  • the conundrum
    what to do when
    the customs of your research site
    are at odds with
    those of your professional community
  • the research question
    how is “canon” deployed
    in Second Life Gorean
    roleplay communities
    for political ends?
  • who cares?
    the political wielding of canon within and among communities is relatively (totally?) unexplored at the micro level
    and something of a pressing issue at the global level: fundamentalisms, strict construction
    SL Gor as a process and culture model
  • but…
    methodolgical/ethical issues
    are at least as important!
    internet social science research
    norms contrast powerfully with
    those of the community at issue
    wish it away? side with the
    professional community?
  • what’s Gor?
    28 novels by John Norman
    from 1967 to 2009
    Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche
    Ideology of slavery and
    absolute female subjugation
    an “ontological politics”
    (Law 2004) of essentialism
  • Goreans before SL
    novels out of print 1988-2007
    fandom built around readily available used paperbacks
    “Lifestyle Gor” and online forums
    a fandom of doing more than making
    focus on social/sexual relations
    private, quiet, underground
  • then came Second Life
    ~50,000 active Goreanroleplayers in SL!
    (Au, 2009)
    2007 - recurring conflict between GoreanRP’ers and SL mainstream
    retreat behind the silk curtain – Gorean autarky
    building, machinima, fashion - and RP
  • why study SL Gor?
    very little academic work done
    (Bardzell & Odom 2008, Sixma 2009)
    important site of
    online governance
    a larger political question –
    the appeal and implications
    of submission
  • but Goreans don’t like us!
    after the 2007 conflicts, many Goreans wary of mainstream interaction
    particular aversion to academics
    normative conflicts
    bad methodology
    above all, that conflict of ontological politics
  • a Goreanoldtimer says…
    “You might want to be careful how many people know that you are a) male IRL and b) doing research. …
    Those of us who have been at this for a long time (I have about 15 years myself, including some time as a lifestyler) have seen way too many half cocked academics throw down the abuse card at us, and tend to be gun shy.”
    (“Tiberius” 2010)
  • how to study an RP community?
    from the outside - observation
    reliance on self-reporting – but with Gor there’s that ontological-political gap
    an outsider can see the “what,” but not feel the “why” (Kendall 2009, 2010)
    no easy external observer’s position in SL, unlike LJ roleplay (the “visitor” tag as lab coat)
  • how to study an RP community?
    from the inside - participation
    enables access to emotive dimension
    breaks the insider/outsider dichotomy
    reverses power relations – from lab coat and clipboard to n00b (Hine 2000)
    n00bery is a license to ask research questions
  • but SL introduces complications
    negotiating the ontological-political gap
  • disclosure - the anthro norm
  • profile disclosure
    breaks the magic circle
    violates norms of RP
    arguably breaches general SL norms
    privileges the culture of the observer over that of the participant
    (see Bardzell 2010 for a nice analysis of the SL profile)
  • and yet…
    non-disclosure is ethically dubious at best
    invites exactly the reaction it’s intended to avoid (betrayal over normative violations)
    expected/required/mandated by observer culture (e.g., IRB approval/exemption)
  • reflexivity
    SL Gor as digitally *embodied*
    the (digital) body is the research site and ontological-political battleground
    issues of canon are issues of the essential nature of the gendered body
    The Gorean experience is that of both the male and female, the privileged and the enslaved
  • unnatural acts
    this is why cross-gender RP is both anathema and essential
    not the only invisible border crossing:
    cross-gender RP reflects the traversing of the IC/OOC borderlands/la frontera
    the Gorean doesn’t live in the essentialism, but in the ironic duality
  • squaring the circle
    change the ontological-political conflict from a bug to a feature
    pair Gorean essentialism with postmodernism
    analyze Gor through the lens of cyborg feminism (Harraway 1991)
  • the cyborg
    “is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence.
    No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological polis based partially on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household.” (1991, 151)
    This seems an excellent job description for a critical participant observer of SL Gor!
  • what does this all mean?
    embody the dichotomies
    don’t privilege
    observer norms
  • a cyborg feminist methodology?
    “We usually think that holding to the protocols of experimentation and verification is the most difficult thing. But in fact the most difficult thing is to renounce the truth and the possibility of verification, to remain as long as possible on the enigmatic, ambivalent, and reversible side of thought.”
    (Baudrillard, 2000)
  • contact me!
    John Carter McKnight, MIA, JD
    Blog, CV, presentations
    + Twitter, Facebook,
    LinkedIn, Goodreads, etc.
    Second Life: KaseidoQuandry