This project, which we are currently analyzing for a monograph, examines how amateurs and semi-professionals have used virtual worlds to create television programming. We are interested in virtual world television to understand the nature and potential of these productions, as well as how they relate to traditional practices and relationships in television production, distribution, and exhibition. We believe what we learn from these case studies will provide insight into the wider Web 2.0 phenomenon of “build it, and let them create” as the Web 2.0 paradigm continues to shape life, online and off.
From a common definition, virtual worlds are the reproduction of the physical world, either real or fiction,in a digital environment into which people, via digital representations or avatars, can gather and engage in a variety of social and personal activities. The more common versions of virtual worlds are structured for gaming, such as World of Warcraft or EverQuest. Such worlds are designed by a production team and are offered to users to play in and through. Others are primarily designed to facilitate social interaction amongst people, such as Blue Mars or HabboHotel, which are largely produced through user-generated content creation. For the purposes of our study, we are considering both types under the nomenclature “virtual worlds” if they are three-dimensional graphic spaces persistently inhabited by multiple people via avatars.
Across virtual worlds, people have been creating various types of television programming. To be considered television programming, these productions have to be multi-part fictional or non-fictional productions that are not intended to be a feature film. The production can be either serial or episodic, and such productions represent a range of genres, including but not limited to: talk show, live performance show, design show, sports show, game show, news show, drama, and comedy. There are productions that are recorded as avatars interact with one another and then are edited in post-production for streaming. Then there are those productions that live stream the avatars’ interactions as they occur, while also recording them for later streaming. Thus far, we have identified 68 productions across numerous virtual worlds that met these criteria.
However, in the end, only programming created within Second Life was included, for several reasons. First, the user-generated nature of Second Life includes the ability for the producers to retain intellectual property rights for the series they produce. Second, such retentionmay be the reason that 79% of the located programming occurred within Second Life. Third, there exist in Second Life a series of broadcast and streaming networks that are analogs to the television networks: Treet TV, Metaverse TV, and Metamix TV. Fourth, as a co-author of this project, Pooky operated as a gatekeeper, facilitating entry to this particular community of producers. The producers were interviewed over the phone or Skype. Listed in this table are those productions from Second Life that have had their producers interviewed: the sample consists of 39 different series. Each series has also been labeled for its traditional television analogue, as the drawn out examples indicate. From these interviews, three themes emerged that concerned how the producers discussed what was involved in producing their shows. These themes are discussed for how they compare to what typically occurs in traditional television production.
One theme discussed by producers was how they connected with other Second Life users. Some of these connections occurred as the producers connected with other users, either directly or via some media, which lead to the start of their in-world experience. To get into the world, the producers discussed three primary methods of introduction: a personal relationship, a professional relationship, and a relationship to the public or popular discourse, such as via news reports or online discussion. Other connections occurred within the virtual world and were part of what helped the producers create their series: the producers discussed how being connected to professional people within the world helped them become producers. Still other connections occurred because of Second Life afforded connections with geographically separated or socially isolated people. Here, the producers discussed how Second Life, being a global free platform, helped them to connect with people around the world, and with people who might wish to create television but otherwise could not, due to their geographical location or some other personal issues.
The issue of connecting to others is not completely unique to the experience of producing television in virtual worlds. Being able to have connections to those already in the profession has been important to physical world producers for decades, with networking seen as an important step in securing work in some stage of television production. The fact that such connections were useful to VWTV producers to both get into the medium and to use the medium to produce their programs is to be expected. However, a difference does arise in the professed ability and even desire for VWTV producers to connect with people who might otherwise be left out. While there are undoubtedly people in traditional television who want to connect with those around the world through their productions, the importance of this possibility to VWTV producers indicates a conception of inclusion as part of the discourse of the social medium they have appropriated for their television productions.
Another theme considered the means by which Second Life promoted the producers’ creativity. Here producers discussed the technological, economic, and subcultural structures that constitute Second Life. The first subtheme focused on how these structures directly contributed to the producers’ creative expression. Not being beholden to physics means users can generate content not possible in the physical world: thus, content is only limited to the user’s imagination. Likewise, the freedom from political and economic considerations also frees up the television producer in ways that are not possible in traditional television. The second subtheme focused on the direct opposite of the first: how these structures appeared at first to limit this expression, forcing the producers to become even more creative to express themselves. While some producers may see the limitations of Second Life as a challenge they welcome, others may feel it as more of a frustration, one that has to be beaten back in order for their creative expression to be born. But across their responses are stories and considerations of how they have found ways to deal with these limitations, which often led to creative solutions.
In comparing VWTV to traditional television, we can see the same discussions of creativity occurring. As with VWTV, producers in the real world, whether they are producing live action or animation, need to negotiate the conditions in which they can express their creativity. Any person seeking to express themselves creatively has to deal with the limitations of the medium through which they express themselves. The difference is that with the virtual world, there is a greater possibility to create a television show as envisioned due to the freedom from the physical constraints dictated by the laws of nature and the need to add-on computer generated effects.
A final theme came from the producers reflecting on the larger issues of how the virtual world was involved in or supported by the creation and maintenance of virtual communities. Within Second Life, from the vantage of these producers, there were different types of communities operating to produce, distribute and propagate these series. Some producers argued that if it wasn’t for this community of producers, they might not have been able to achieve their creative vision: the positive feedback and cooperation experienced in these communities appears to help propel people to feel capable and comfortable exerting their creative visions into and through the virtual world. They also recognized that producing their television series is not a solitary activity: for many of their shows, each episode required a careful choreography of people doing different activities. The communities within the series helped to ensure that the producers’ visions were expressed. As with the ability to connect and to create, the virtual world’s nature promotes and permits a type of community of the audience not common to traditional television. A community where the audience directly knows those who produce the series, and who are able to attend and participate with a live series in a way the majority of the traditional television audience currently cannot. This community of audience allows for more interactive activities and audience empowerment.
Of course, communities and a sense of belonging to a community can be important to the production of traditional television. Communities occur at various levels within traditional television systems, such as among professional organizations of producers, directors, actors, and so forth. Indeed, it is most likely the case that, just as VWTV producers discussed the importance of having a good community working on their series, that traditional television producers would feel the same importance for producing a successful series. However, it has been the tradition in such television to have a different relationship with the audience of the series; across the spectrum of real world television, the history has not been one of beseeching the audience to interact with and participate in the production process, to the extent seen on VWTV where audience members can influence of the content of the show as it is being recorded. While there are examples of such engagement with the audience, it has not been applied to the same extent.
In the VWTV producers’ views, they are able to produce their series in this virtual world because of how they have connected with others, been able to be creative, and felt the sense of community at different levels of their second lives. Across these different thematic dimensions, we can find similarities and differences for how those same themes apply to traditional television production, distribution and exhibition. An explanation for the perceived similarities could be human nature: how we struggle to find ways to express ourselves with and against the elements, and how we reach out to connect to others and find a community of like-minded individuals who share our passions. Explaining the differences, then, could be seen in how the technological construction of the virtual world permits and promotes such human nature, allowing for more connections, more creativity, and more community. Additionally,anotherdifference is the lack of an institutionalized production industry within the virtual world which permits more participation from people who before might not have had access to the production process. But the lack of this political-economic structure in Second Life did not necessarily create the producers; instead, people with the agency and ambition to produce became aware of this lack inworld, and individually and collectively took advantage of the situation.
Overall,Second Life is but one example of the technologies that arose with the paradigmatic shift to Web 2.0. The themes of connectivity, creativity and community have become defining characteristics of such Web 2.0 technologies, from Facebook to YouTube. What makes the activities in Second Life unique is that the virtual world allows for user-generated production as well as distribution, exhibition and consumption of the users’ creative visions. For the most part, as the VWTV producers acknowledged, they are not transgressing the content and genres, styles and formats of traditional television. While Second Life affords the production of experimental, avant-garde content, no one interviewed has been producing such content, with the closest being the racing of giant snails. Additionally, the producers are not transgressing traditional power dynamics, since they still occupy and differentiate the identities and positions of producers, crew, and audience. What the VWTV producers are transgressing is the notion that, given their circumstances in the all-encompassing physical world, all they can be is audience. The producers’ relationship to Second Life is as the audience for and users of that particular media product; the same relationship they would have to the television shows produced in the physical world. However, upon entering the virtual world, these users find the ability to connect, to create and to commune helping them to produce their own television programs. They are no longer just “audience to television”; they are able to change their position to “producer of television”. The technology of this social medium permits this transgressing but it does not require it. What is required for the transgression is the human desire to connect, to create, and to commune.
Creativity, Connectivity and Community in Virtual World Television
Virtual World TelevisionProducers on the Importance ofCreativity, Connectivity, andCommunity in Second LifeCarrieLynn D. ReinhardDominican Universitycreinhard@dom.eduwww.playingwithresearch.comPooky AmsterdamPookyMediainfo@pookymedia.com
Defining Virtual WorldsGaming Worlds Social Worlds• User-generated content,world built through socialinteractions• Designer-createdcontent, world builtthrough gaminginteractions
Defining VirtualWorld Television• Produced by users ofvirtual worlds, amateurs& semi-professionals• Recorded before livestudio audience or in thefield• Influenced by format,content of traditionaltelevision genres• Example: Giant SnailRaces
The Case StudiesFour reasons focused onSecond Life for interviews1. User-generated controls andintellectual property rights2. Highest prevalence of televisionprogramming3. Streaming networks analogs4. Pooky operated as gatekeeper
ConnectivityProducer Second LifeProducerProducer ProducerProducerProducerTheRestof theWorld
Connectivity: ComparingVWTV to TVSimilarities Differences• Extent to whichVWTV producersindicated adesire to connectwith peopleotherwise left out• Importance ofconnection toprofessionals foremploymentpurposes
CreativitySecond Life FacilitatingDirectlySecond Life FacilitatingIndirectly, ForcingWorkarounds
Creativity: ComparingVWTV to TVSimilarities Differences• Due to nature ofvirtual world, greaterability produce asenvisioned withoutlaws of nature &separate CGIprograms• Whether live actionor animation,necessity ofnegotiating withconditions forexpressing creativity
CommunityProducers withinSecond LifeCrew for a Series Audiencefor a Series
Community: ComparingVWTV to TVSimilarities Differences• Interaction withaudience to point ofencouraging inputused to impactcontent during livestreaming, recording• Communities ofprofessionals occurat various levels inTV production (SAG,PGA. DGA, etc.)• Importance of goodworking relationswith crew
Discussion• Comparing to traditional television?• Similarities due to human nature• To connect• To create• To commune• Differences due to virtual world• Technological structures• Lack of institutionalized productionindustry• Producers-as-agents• Not just reacting to structures
Why Does ThisMatter?• One example of Web 2.0 technologies• Themes as defining characteristics of Web 2.0• Second Life unique• All-encompassing user-generated production,distribution, exhibition and consumption• Not transgressing content, genres, formats,styles, power dynamics• Transgressing position as audience withinphysical world that encompasses virtual world• Virtual world permits transgression• Human agency enables transgression
Thank You!For more information, and to follow the project’sprogress, please visit our blog:www.virtualworldtelevision.com