An Insiders’ View of Social-Networking within Socially-Shaped Virtual Realities: : A Virtual Ethnographic study, to explore the effects of how Social-Networking can attribute to the Social-Construction, Shaping & Use of ‘Massive Multiplayer On-Line Realities’ Ryan E. McGarrie Supervisor: Dr. Ben Light Informatics Research Institute: Information Systems, Organisations and Society University of Salford, Salford, United Kingdom
Introduction: Research Brief
Given the rapid growth of ‘persistent online virtual worlds’ over the past few years and the obvious trajectories each iteration has taken, from genre, navigation, appearance and functional design – e.g. gaming (e.g. WoW), socialising (e.g. Second Life) and collaborative development (e.g. Croquet).
This research aims to explore and highlight the intended, unintended and perceived issues that social-networking mediums, (in this case) MMOR (Massive Multiplayer Online Realities), can have upon the way they are socially-shaped & constructed.
– for instance; through power, cultural values, ideologies & anti-social behaviour
Research Brief: Aims & Objectives
To explore a geographically, ethically & objectively diverse user-base to highlight how each will use or misuse ‘massive’ socially-constructed virtual environments for different purposes.
To do this, I intend, to spend as much time with these groups as possible, to look at the attitudes they hold towards the technology, society and the environment. By exploring a variety of ‘relevant social groups’ & societies in very different environments to highlight how the various methods & forms of social-networking can attribute to the design, construction and use of a technological artefact.
Although MMORs are prime real-estate for researchers & ethnographers. This research aims to (hopefully) make a unique contribution by combining key principles of SST & SCOT with regards to anti-social-behaviour, power, perceptions and interpretive flexibility – within a social environment, rather than a traditional gaming ethos.
Research Environment: Persistent Virtual World’s
A Virtual World, often set in an online fantasy environment .
Navigated & explored in real-time via an avatar – an in-world, 3-Dimensional representation of your fictional-self.
Runs continually, independent of whether the user is connected or not. Thus, the world doesn’t stop just because your not their.
Created, explored & changed by its residents.
Research Environment: Second Life
What is: Second Life
A persistent 3D virtual world, created, maintained and owned by its (12 million registered) users, also known as a MMOR (Massive Multiplayer Online Realities).
Supporting its own ‘virtual capitalist’ economy, with virtual-currency, real-estate and intellectual property rights of in-world creations.
To provide a social environment allowing its residents to design, build, sell, or give away their own property, as we do in the real-world – or simply, just to socialise.
Provides a social ethos to MMOR, rather than traditional MMORPG’s (Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games) like Dungeons & Dragons & World of War Craft.
“… a masterpiece that represents the world in a microcosm”
(Philip Rosedale, CEO, Linden Labs)
Research Process: Methodology
Virtual Ethnography (Hine, 2000)
Facilitates the researcher in retrieving rich data through field observation and interaction
Focus-Groups & Seminars with likeminded Researchers, from in-world ‘Research Societies’
Research Process: Social-Shaping & Construction of Technology
Looking at this from two well established, but conflicting, approaches;
SST (Social Shaping of Technology): “…is the concept that there are `choices' (though not necessarily conscious choices) inherent in both the design of individual artefacts and systems, and in the direction or trajectory of innovation programs […] concerned to explore the material consequences of different technical choices” (William & Edge, 1996)
SCOT (Social Construction of Technology): argue that technology does not determine human action, but that rather, human action shapes technology (Bijker, 1994 )
Interpretive & Design Flexibility
Ethnographic Study within: Second Life
What made SL ideal for ethnography?
Ethically & geographically diverse user-group
Socially-Shaped & Constructed
Highly political with both real-world & in-world issues
Ethnographic Study: Ethical Considerations
What types of information can you use?
for instance, if data contained within a public profile is openly displayed, is it ethically sound to use that data? – Or, is that data only intended for (open) use within that specific community?
To mitigate against most of these , I’ve created
a personal website – www.ryanellis.eu/research/ , accessible from within Second Life for residents to volunteer information, or request that data pertaining to them (or their avatar) be omitted.
a HUD above my avatar notifying users that I’m affiliated with the ‘ SL Researchers Group ’.
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Thank you. Any Questions? Further reading available at: www.ryanellis.eu/research/ Or to download these slides, visit: www.ryanellis.eu/research/progress/ Please feel free to post any comments via my site; or email me at: [email_address]