030209 Av Culturation Metanomics Transcript


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030209 Av Culturation Metanomics Transcript

  1. 1. METANOMICS: AV-CULTURATION MARCH 2, 2009 ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Hello, everyone. I’m your host, Robert Bloomfield, and on behalf of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management and Remedy Communications, welcome to Metanomics. Today we turn our sites to academic research, and I’m delighted to welcome cultural anthropologists Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce, to talk to us about gaming culture, the culture of gaming and the gaming of culture. And, if all of those sound the same to you, just be patient. Remember, we’re dealing with academic researchers today so we’ll be making very fine distinctions. As usual, Metanomics is filmed from the virtual Sage Hall, right here in Second Life’s Metanomics Region, home of Cornell University’s Johnson Graduate School of Management. Hello out there to our live audiences at our event partner locations: Muse Isle, Confederation of Democratic Sims, Rockliffe University, New Media Consortium and Orange Island. Hello as well to our growing web audience. If you have trouble getting into Second Life, due to a firewall or lack of bandwidth, you can go to metanomics.net/watchnow and not only see the show live, but participate in backchat through InterSection Unlimited’s ChatBridge system. Before we jump into our show, I’d like to let everyone know that this week we’re having another Remedy Communications forum, to get feedback on the new Metanomics build. So right next door to this Metanomics Sim, there’s now a new Sim, Metanomics Two. And way up high in the air, Keystone Bouchard has been trying out different architectural models for
  2. 2. us. Bjorlyn Loon, executive producer and Remedy Communications staff member, invites the community of people with disabilities, their friends and colleagues also, to come join our forum to begin the process of making the Metanomics broadcast and the region as accessible as possible. So for all of you who are interested in the future and the future builds of Metanomics, please join us noon, Second Life time, Thursday, March 5th, and give us your feedback. Today, for On The Spot, we take a look at one of the many new grids that are using Open Source simulator technology. For our viewers who are still trying to sort out what OpenSim is all about, keep in mind that Second Life is a Virtual World based on a technology platform. OpenSim is a specific platform that is similar to the one that powers Second Life, but because it’s Open Source, groups other than Linden Lab can modify. So while there are other Open Source platforms out there, there are a number of organizations creating their own grids and their own Worlds on the OpenSim platform. Today we are delighted to have Robin Gomboy on the spot, to tell us about Reaction Grid, which she co-owns with her husband, Kyle. Robin, welcome to Metanomics. ROBIN GOMBOY: Thank you for inviting me here today. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re delighted to have you, and I am looking forward to learning more about a fascinating topic, all these Second Life-like Worlds that are using Open Source software. How does Reaction Grid fit into the expanding Metaverse?
  3. 3. ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, Reaction Grid is a grid that runs on the OpenSim platform. We currently only use the stable core of OpenSim, which is an Open Source software under the Berkeley software license. Our team has also contributed back to that core on several occasions, and currently we have over 100 Sims on our public grid. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: What’s your target market, and what are the use cases, the uses that you’re trying to support? ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, primarily we have education and K through 12, but when you think of education, you can always think about in terms of business as well because businesses use education to train. That’s our biggest target market is education, but we also do a lot of work with enterprise, under the umbrella of education as well as collaboration and data visualization, bringing in live data to show processes or live data in-world. And we have a large developer community also for developing new tools for the platform, and we’re helping to further the tools that are already available. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I think if that’s your target market, I think you’re speaking to the right audience since I know we have a lot of Metanomics viewers who are looking for exactly that type of solution. There are so many educational enterprises and training exercises, and so on, in Second Life. What’s the pitch for someone to go to Reaction Grid instead? ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, we have a very open networking and relationship interaction with our members, and when you do have a Sim on our grid, we try to put you into a like-minded area. Our developers have a certain section of the map so each person within those groups
  4. 4. can kind of mingle amongst each other and the same with education. We have very, very great pricing for our Sims currently. A single Sim on our grid is $25 a month, and for a six-Sim grid, a private grid of your own, it’s only $75 a month. These all offer security and self-governance. So if you have your own grid, you can lock that down completely, you own your own database, and you can even host a full server as well. But, while secure, they’re still accessible. And now we’re adding hyper-gridding to that, which allows owners to keep membership data private while they still allow members to visit their Sims. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You know what? I think I’m going to have to ask you to elaborate on that last one. What exactly is hyper-gridding? ROBIN GOMBOY: Oh, that’s where I can bring my avatar, inventory, appearance and everything I have to another grid, without re-logging, changing my user name or sharing my private data with the Sim owner. It’s kind of like a Stargate, and you can turn it on and off. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. So that would be a situation where I’d have to make sure I fully trusted the owners of both grids then. ROBIN GOMBOY: Correct. Correct. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: You’re building a World essentially from scratch, and you have so many choices to make, which actually the latter part of our show, the main segment, when
  5. 5. we look at the cultural anthropology of Virtual Worlds, we’ll be talking about just how important even relatively small choices can be about the way Worlds are designed. One of the choices that you made is, you chose not to build economic tools into Reaction Grid. They’re such a central part of the Second Life experience and the Second Life culture. Why did you make that call? ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, we had a few reasons, but Reaction Grid does have an economy; it’s just not an in-world economy. A user can sell items from their website shopping cart and removing Reaction Grid from the equation as a currency exchange service, alleviating additional fees. But the main reason we did this was because we belong to Immersive Education, and one of Immersive Education’s prerequisites is that there is not an in-world economy to work with them. And they are trying to standardize formats for training materials and educational materials for teachers and businesses. So once we started working with them, we realized that educators typically don’t want an in-world economy. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. Interesting. I guess I’m not a hundred percent sure that I agree, but then I’m a special case. I teach in a business school, and I teach accounting. ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, you are a different case. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I just have an idiosyncratic take on that. Now I see in the backchat Zen Arado is saying, “Wait. I thought that this was going to be a conversation about methods and theories about human relationships in Virtual Worlds.” And we certainly will be jumping into that with both feet with our guests in the main segment. But really for you, I’m wondering what tools are you using to shape behavior and create the culture you’d
  6. 6. like to see in Reaction Grid? Terms of Service, anything special there? ROBIN GOMBOY: Our terms of service for Reaction Grid are that it’s PG rated only so anything that comes onto our grid or any Sims that connect to our grid have to have PG content. Some other tools that we’re using to shape behaviors are our software tools, which some are inherent to the platform, but then others that we’re building in ourselves, as well as members of the community are building in also. And then, of course, there’s experience and leadership. They’re perhaps the most important part of this, all as a whole, not only on Reaction Grid itself but also for the teachers, the businesses and the developers that come to our grid. It allows the people with the most experience and leadership within their realm to shape the culture for and create trust amongst the other members. So we highly look toward our members to become leadership in the community. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I have to say I’m looking at the backchat, and I want to follow up on what you said, in a moment, but I would point out, first of all, I’m glad to see lots of people seem to support me in thinking that teachers actually would like to see an in-world economy, so maybe that’s a topic to take up with what was that organization? Immersive Education. ROBIN GOMBOY: Immersive Education. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So after the show, you’ll have to let me know whom to call. But then, Chimera Cosmos asks the very important question: How do we buy shoes? So I mean you actually have a lot of content in Reaction Grid so how do you arrange that, without an
  7. 7. in-world economy? ROBIN GOMBOY: Actually, any person on our grid that sets up a shop and link items to their own website shopping cart, and they can sell those items that way. Then they just pass the items to the person that purchased, and voila! you have new shoes. So it’s just that we’ve removed it from the browser itself. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. I got it. So there’s an economy; it’s just not in your face. ROBIN GOMBOY: Correct. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: My guess is it’s very difficult to stamp out economies you don’t want. Just ask Mexico these days, in stamping out the drug economy there. ROBIN GOMBOY: It’s true. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So I’d like to follow up, you were talking about what you’re teaching some of the young people in Reaction Grid, and I understand, first, that you call your users GridiZens. ROBIN GOMBOY: Correct. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And educator Vicky Davis has taught a course on gridizenship to the kids there. So I’m curious, what have you learned about the keys to being a good
  8. 8. GridiZen? ROBIN GOMBOY: Oh, some things that I have learned along the way on good gridizenship is that always remember back to the day that you came into Second Life or Reaction Grid or any other OpenSim grid and how hard it was for you to learn to fly and walk, and when you see someone new, to help them out. We’ve always done that, but each and every one of these gridizenship classes cultivates more and more of these kids out there that are taking over and helping out with teaching and perpetuating the technology. And they also learn to respect others’ meeting spaces and others’ privacy, just like in the physical world. So they’re really teaching some great concepts, and they are our future, so I think it’s really nice to know that they’re going to have good gridizenship when they come along. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah. Well, everything we needed to know we learned in kindergarten. ROBIN GOMBOY: Almost, yes. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now moving up the age ladder, Erica Driver’s ThinkBalm Innovation Community has also been active in Reaction Grid. So what have they been doing, and how have their efforts shaped your thinking about your role as a World grid developer? ROBIN GOMBOY: Well, when ThinkBalm Innovation Community came over to Reaction Grid, they started to think about how to set up their community. And, when they were
  9. 9. thinking about that, they wanted to have their members use their real names because this gave not only transparency, but it engendered a trust and gave credibility to a Virtual World by carrying that perpetual Real World identity into the virtual space. They also, instead of doing meetings where they just sit in a chair, ThinkBalm Innovation Community wanted to use 3D tools, get their message across without words. Their experiment started to influence groups on other Sims, and now you can use the 3D environment to teach best practices in a Virtual World without resorting to any kind of a traditional lecture. So they’ve really brought a lot to our grid, as far as teaching best practices for businesses in a Virtual World. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fascinating. Now I understand, going back to hyper-gridding and all that, you had your first major cross-grid event over the weekend. What did that entail? ROBIN GOMBOY: That entailed a little bit of work on our part. I happened to be the speaker for the TechNet group in Second Life and over on Reaction Grid. So I got to test this new method. I just had an instance of Second Life open and an instance of Hippo Viewer open, and I had an avatar in both locations. I happened to be teaching Hyper-V basics, so I needed to do lots of live demos. So I used live meeting to share my desktop and actually show Real World use of the servers in Hyper-V, and it was funny because the folks over on Reaction Grid, I was actually showing one of the servers, and they just kept yelling, “Please don’t turn this off.” Because I did have that power. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, well. Get used to it. I hope this is successful for you, and you can flex your god muscles in a growing Metaverse.
  10. 10. ROBIN GOMBOY: Absolutely. In fact, tomorrow we have a case study with Microsoft. They’re doing a case study on our uses of Hyper-V and Windows Server 2008 with OpenSim and being able to immigrate all that to a Virtual World. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fascinating. So those of you who are interested in hearing more, Robin and Kyle have actually invited Metanomics audience members, who are interested, to visit Reaction Grid after the show today. So at the very end of the show, I will be mentioning details on that. Thanks for that kind offer, Robin, and thanks for coming onto Metanomics. ROBIN GOMBOY: Thank you for having me. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay. We turn now to our main event featuring Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce. Tom Boellstorff is associate profession in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California Irvine and is editor-in-chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. He received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 2000, and his research has focused on questions of sexuality, globalization, nationalism, HIV and AIDS and cyber sociality. Celia Pearce is assistant professor at the School of Literature, Communication and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Since 1983, Celia has worked also as an interactive media and game designer and artist, as well as a researcher and a teacher. Her clients have included Walt Disney Imagineering, Universal Parks, Lego Toys and recently Turner Broadcasting. She directs the Emergent Game Group (EGG) in the experimental game lab and teaches now visual design, interactive art and game design. And she has also
  11. 11. co-founded a game design art collective Ludica, in 2005, to help develop games and interactive experiences that appeal to girls and women. Both Tom and Celia are cultural anthropologists so, as an accounting professor, this gave me some challenges in preparing for this show. The first one is figuring out just what is culture. Well, it turns out Edward B. Tyler, in 1871, gave a definition of culture, “[t]hat complex hole which include knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” So that is a pretty general definition. I also learned what cultural anthropologists do with their time, and that’s a lot of field work and observation of people in their native habitat, whether that habitat is Indonesia or Second Life. It turns out another minor point of confusion for me that social anthropologists are really just cultural anthropologists, only British. So it’s kind of like saying “lift” instead of “elevator.” And ethnography is not a research method; it’s actually the result of anthropological research. It basically means writing about people. Now I’m going to structure our conversation according to three futures of game studies, a paper written by one of our guests today, Tom Boellstorff. The paper’s titled A Ludicrous Discipline in the Journal of Ethnography and Game Studies. Ludic, by the way, means pertaining to play or games, so to call it ludicrous isn’t quite the slam on game studies it might sound like. Anyway, what are the three futures of game studies? I actually mentioned them at the very
  12. 12. top of the show. We’ve got game cultures, the cultures of gaming and the gaming of cultures. By game cultures, Tom’s referring to understanding the culture within the game environment. Cultures of gaming refers to research on the real life cultures that arise among people who play games so we’re looking outside the World at the people who are controlling avatars. And Celia has done a fair bit of research on that topic. And then finally, the gaming of cultures refers to the impact that games and game platforms can have on our own Real World culture. So we’ll get through those. First of all, Tom, Celia, both of you, welcome to Metanomics. CELIA PEARCE: Thank you for having us. TOM BOELLSTORFF: Thank you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So, Tom, let’s start with your transition from studying Real World cultures to studying a game culture. Before you started in on Virtual World research, you won awards for your research on gay culture in Indonesia, and then you turned to an ethnographic study of Second Life. So my question for you, Tom, is: How different is it really in the gay archipelago? You went to Indonesia. You integrated yourself into the gay society there. Conducted interviews. Observed and wrote about what you saw in Coming of Age. You went into Second Life and did exactly the same thing. So what, if anything, is different about the practice of cultural anthropology in a Virtual World? TOM BOELLSTORFF: Well, that’s a great question, and let me also thank everyone for making this possible. And also, I’m sure this is happening, but I hope someone is jotting
  13. 13. down notes because I actually am trying to not even look at the backchat right now because there are so many interesting questions that I’ll just want to stop and answer all of them. So someone, just write those down. They’re wonderful questions, but I’m trying not to look at them. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, I’ll tell you first, you’re right, great questions. I see Botgirl Questi’s already asked, “Is Second Life a game?” But you don’t have to answer that now. Just rest assured that we capture all of the backchat in our archives, along with the audio and the text and, naturally, the video. Is there a difference between what you did in Indonesia and what you did in Second Life? TOM BOELLSTORFF: Yeah, that’s a great question. In my own personal history, I started off as a normal whatever that means more or less anthropologist, in a sense, doing research in Indonesia. And I’m from the United States so that was going to a very different place for me, and I’ve learned a lot from interacting with my Indonesian friends, and I still do research there. I actually have a new article coming out in May about some research that I’ve been doing there. But then, about five years ago, I decided to do the research in Second Life, and one of the things that I was interested in from the beginning is: What would have to change, and what doesn’t have to change? Because, obviously, there’s a lot about Virtual Worlds that is different from what happens in the physical world. And, just as obviously, there’s some things that don’t seem to change. I’ve been doing this research now for however many years, a little over five years, I think, just on this island and on the repeater islands there’s so many friends and colleagues. It’s
  14. 14. great to see all of them saying hello. This feels like a reunion. It’s very nice. The thing that really surprised me in my research was, in a way, I set it up to fail. What I decided I would do is, I’m going to try and use the sort of standard classic methods that I used in Indonesia, take them to Second Life and watch it crash and burn, see where it doesn’t work. Because learning from failure is a wonderful thing that anthropologists like to do. We go to different places, and we mess up. We do things wrong, and then we try and learn from that. And I think what surprised me so much, in terms of doing the research in Second Life was how little I had to change. I did have to change some things. I did have to make some kinds of choices that I did not have to make in Indonesia, like would I use ALTS, multiple avatars or not, and I decided not to. But what really surprised me was how many of the issues that come up in Virtual Worlds, even the questions about money that were just getting asked, the questions about anonymity that were asked, based on Robin’s wonderful presentation about Reaction Grid. Those kinds of questions actually have parallels in the physical world, and many of the issues that show up in Virtual Worlds show up in the physical world as well. Not all of them, but more than people sometimes realize, especially if they’ve never spent time inside a Virtual World. That was a wonderful thing for me to learn. It was one of the many wonderful things that I experienced from doing this research. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: A couple quick points from the backchat. One is, Ze Moo is giving you kudos for saying “physical world” instead of “Real World.” I will have to learn that one myself. And Devon Alderton asked a question, “How do you get this through an internal review board?” Did you have to go through a board at UC Irvine to have them approve this
  15. 15. research? TOM BOELLSTORFF: Yes. Those were two great questions or two great issues. In my book and whenever I talk, I try and always say “actual world” or “physical world” because, as some other people have written about this as well, if we say Real World versus Virtual World, number one, we assume a real world that’s computer-free or doesn’t have technology in it, and it does. And number two, we’re being a bit sloppy about identifying what counts as real because, by most any definition you can come up with, what can happen in a place like Second Life is very, very real. And when people talk about Second Life sometimes as a game--and I don’t think it’s a game actually--what they often mean is that it’s a space of play. And what they mean by that is that it doesn’t have consequences to them, that what they do here doesn’t have consequences to them in terms of their physical-world life. That for lots of people, it can have lots of consequences, if you’re in a business or an educator or just if you have a good friend in Second Life or sell clothes in Second Life. So by most definitions, any definition we could come up with, things in Virtual Worlds or online more generally, whether that be email or the telegraph, are real. Now, in terms of the IRB question, IRB stands for Institutional Review Board, or it’s sometimes also called Human Subjects. And when a social scientist or a medical researcher or anyone does research that involves doing things to people, you have to go through what’s called IRB approval or Human Subjects approval. Those protocols were originally designed for medical research where, if you didn’t have good safeguards, you could actually
  16. 16. harm people physically. In the social sciences, we use those things, and it’s about protecting people’s privacy and confidentiality and being sure that researchers are being respectful in terms of the work that they do. Now, in terms of my own research, I actually had a very easy time getting IRB approval, and I’ll share those documents with anyone who emails me, if they’re curious about how I did that. What made it easy in my case was the particular research design that I used, where I am doing the research entirely inside of Second Life and was not trying to get physical world information about people. So if I met you doing my research, you would be Beyers Sellers to me. I would not care if you were at Cornell or anywhere else in the physical world, for the purposes of my book; I just am interested about your Second Life life. And, if I write about you in my book, I wouldn’t even call you Beyers Sellers. I wouldn’t even use your screen name because those are really important to people. And that’s an interesting issue, when earlier, around Robin’s comments on Reaction Grid, some people were talking about having a screen name can make you anonymous. But that’s not the case necessarily because many people become famous in terms of their screen names. What IRB approval means is, from a researcher, getting approval from their university to do research somewhere. So what that meant is that when I do research in Second Life, I have a consent form that I would give to people before I would interview them, just like the consent forms that I would use in my research in Indonesia. So that’s another case where there were more parallels than I originally expected. Now people who are doing research that ever involves children, people who are doing
  17. 17. research that involves getting physical world information about people, or certain kinds of other topics, can have a harder time getting IRB approval. It can be done. There’s just sometimes more hoops that you would have to jump through. So in my particular case, it was very easy. And, for other folks, it can be harder, but there’s ways to get it to happen. CELIA PEARCE: Can I just jump in here for a minute? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, sure. Sure, Celia. CELIA PEARCE: This is an interesting challenge that I’ve had to deal with in my research group as well. What’s interesting is that it’s taken us about pretty much this entire semester [AUDIO GLITCH] get the people that are running the IRB program kind of up to speed in what we’re doing. They didn’t know what MMO [AUDIO GLITCH] Virtual Worlds were. They thought we were looking at websites. We explained to them that we were interviewing [AUDIO GLITCH]. They didn’t quite understand that initially. Over the last couple of [AUDIO GLITCH] what happened is we’ve sort of educated them [AUDIO GLITCH] what this type of research tells them. Like Tom, my position is to privilege the [AUDIO GLITCH] life [AUDIO GLITCH] what we do is, if people volunteer information [AUDIO GLITCH], include that in our data, but we don’t seek [AUDIO GLITCH] some cases I’m doing [AUDIO GLITCH] real life interviews, but that’s typically not [AUDIO GLITCH]. And one of the big surprises that came to us was a couple of weeks ago [AUDIO GLITCH]. IRB had specifically said we were not going to include minor [AUDIO GLITCH]. They actually responded to us and said that we should.
  18. 18. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: I’m sorry to interrupt, Celia, but your voice is breaking up for me, and it looks in backchat like other people are having the same thing. So I guess I’m going to turn back to Tom for a bit, and I’m hoping that someone can work with you on your sound for a minute, and just send me an instant message telling me where we stand. So thanks a lot to SLCN. Sorry about that, Celia. We’ll try to get that cleaned up as soon as possible. Tom, coming back to you, I’d actually like to follow up on a couple things. First of all, I should just point out that mentioning IRB in a room of researchers is pretty much like talking about No Child Left Behind in front of educators. It really fires them up, and everyone has a complaint about what a pain it is, even if they agree overall with the ultimate goals of the regulation. You mentioned that you made this easier for the IRB because, really, you were taking avatars as the so-called people that you were studying, rather than looking at the people at the keyboards behind the avatars. So I’m wondering, didn’t that have a dramatic effect on the conclusions that you could draw from your research? And is that mostly, in your view, a positive or a negative? TOM BOELLSTORFF: Absolutely. And just to close out the IRB discussion, my partner sits on the IRB at UC Irvine, and the IRB people, when you have to get this kind of institutional approval, it usually takes one or two cycles. They’re usually being very careful because there have, unfortunately, been some very bad incidents in the past years at some universities. But they are human beings. In my experience, even though I do know people who’ve had very difficult times with them, if you’re patient, it will eventually work out, so just work with them and get advice from other people, and it will eventually work out.
  19. 19. Now as to your other question, which is an extremely important question about what are the positive or negative aspects of the fact that I didn’t try and meet people in the physical world or interview them in the physical world. I think that talking about that as positive or negative sort of misses the point. The point is, when you do different kinds of research, you need to have different kinds of research questions. So if I was interested, let’s say, in how people’s physical world disabilities affect the ways that they use Second Life, then it would be helpful for me to meet people in the physical world, who, let’s say, have trouble moving their hands or typing and then looking at how that affects the way that they do things inside of Second Life. However, if I’m interested in studying the culture inside of Second Life itself, meeting people in the physical world there’s not necessarily any harm in it, but to assume that any research project must always include meeting people in the physical world, it really misses the point of what happens in Virtual Worlds. It does a kind of violence to it. There is, however, maybe 25 or 30 people right now sitting around here in Metanomics. Some of us could be in Europe. Some of us could be on the East coast or the West coast or Midwest of the United States, but where we are right now is in this place, this Metanomics virtual place. And, if we’re interacting in this place and saying things and doing things, there’s culture happening, and that culture is happening here on the Metanomics Sim. It’s not happening in Long Beach, California, where I’m sitting right now, in California, talking to you. If I were to fly to California, I wouldn’t be able to learn about what’s happening right now where I’m looking over at RobinG2, who looks like a robot, and looking at all these things that are happening inside of Second Life. And so as we move forward in this wonderfully growing
  20. 20. field of research on Virtual Worlds, online games and all these kinds of things, I think we need to have multiple methods. I think that there will be some cases where we’ll want to be talking to people in the physical world as well, that there will definitely be cases where not only is that impractical, like I can’t fly to 30 different countries and talk to everyone, but it would actually be denigrating or missing the point of what’s happening to the social interaction, the culture that’s happening inside of the Virtual World itself. So to me, it’s not positive or negative. It’s about different research techniques. They all cast different light on some common problems and issues. CELIA PEARCE: Okay. Is that any better? TOM BOELLSTORFF: No method is perfect, but they all have their use. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you for that answer. It sounds like we have Celia back. Celia, are you here with us again? CELIA PEARCE: I don’t know what to do because he’s asking me if I’m here, and I’m not. So I’m sorry about that. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, actually I can hear you just fine. CELIA PEARCE: Okay.
  21. 21. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: So even if you can’t see, the hearing is the important part. I’m hoping that you can answer a question. We had and I think people who watch this show regularly know that I always make a point of talking with guests a bit before so we can structure the conversation and I have some idea of what’s going on. One of the really interesting discussions that the three of us had was on the notion of theory. And you both emphasized how you take in-world culture very serious, and one of the two of you said that it’s really important when you’re doing this sort of anthropological research and going into a different world and culture, that you avoid a mindset in which you say, [“I” is the researcher, and the “wondering” the theory,?] and the people that I’m looking at are just the data.” That you emphasize that you take the theory from the people you’re watching. Celia, I’m wondering, would you talk a little bit about what that means, to take the theory from the people you’re observing? CELIA PEARCE: Well, yes. Actually the article that you cited earlier, of Tom’s--is this okay sound-wise, by the way? I really have no way of knowing. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, sounds great. CELIA PEARCE: Anyway, there’s a really wonderful quote in that article, which, by the way, is from Games and Culture so if people are interested in reading that paper of his that you cited, it’s actually Games and Culture is the journal that it’s in. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thank you.
  22. 22. CELIA PEARCE: Where they talk about anthropologists are people who don’t know quite what they’re studying until they study it. Part of what’s exciting about what we do is, we don’t know what we’re going to find until we find it. And so we have to keep an open mind, and we have to be able to improvise. What I’ve found in my work--and I sort of come at this from an almost completely opposite direction to Tom. I’m actually not an anthropologist in the traditional sense. I originally was a game designer and did some sociological type work as part of a game-testing discipline and then got interested in developing this kind of anthropological style research. But what you find is, because you’re in a play space and because people are interacting around various kinds of fantasies and play activities and so on, whether it’s a game or a Virtual World, there is a lot of spontaneousness. There’s a lot of unpredictable things that happen, and so you have to be really, really flexible, and you have to be willing to kind of go with the flow. There’s a wonderful essay that I’ve used a lot in my research by one of Tom’s colleagues, George Marcus, at UCI, talks about following and how the way we can do anthropology is by following things. We can follow artifacts. We can follow culture, cultural means. We can follow people. And there’s different ways of following. And I also use the term “following up.” So a lot of times it’s almost like being a detective. You get information from somebody that opens up another area that you didn’t really know about. And one great example I can give you of this is, I’m doing some research now in a virtual university in There.com called the University of There. And one of the things I’ve discovered is that a significant percentage of both the instructors and the students are disabled. And I wasn’t really setting out to do a study about disability, but it turns out that a significant
  23. 23. proportion of my research participants are disabled, and so this is opening up some interesting new research questions that I hadn’t really anticipated when I started. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Fascinating. Well, I would direct you to our show last week when we covered Virtual Ability and the community of people with disabilities in Second Life. You bring in the Real World characteristics of people in Virtual Worlds, and so I guess that takes us into the culture of gaming, the culture of people who are playing games. And you did some work, Celia, on the demographics of baby-boomer computer gamers. What were the big surprises in that paper? CELIA PEARCE: That was an interesting study. And also, again, that came out of some other research. I had been studying players of the game Uru and following them around after they left Uru, which closed in 2004. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Now you can’t talk too much about that now because I’m going to ask that soon. CELIA PEARCE: Okay. No, but what I was going to say was that, again, as I was doing this study, it came out that the majority of these players were, in fact, baby boomers. And I thought this was very interesting, so I actually did a follow-up study that actually combined-- it wasn’t a lot of participant observation, but it combined inter views with a survey and some other observational research and studying things, like there’s a number forums that cater to baby-boomer gamers. Surprisingly, there’s an entire forum called Game Boomers. There’s another one called The Older Gamers. And I found some really interesting things.
  24. 24. One of them was that I found there’s this kind of marketing myth, I’ll call it, that baby boomers are just mainly interested in playing casual games. But it turns out that baby boomers, at least the ones that I studied, are actually pretty hardcore. They spent a fair amount of their time playing games. One of the findings that was really interesting was that they would more frequently supplant television watching with gaming than any other activity. The other thing I found was that their play styles were quite a bit different. So for instance, adventure games are very popular with this demographic, probably because they started playing games in the ’80s and ’90s when adventure games were popular. They tend to not like to hang around with certain types of groups in online games. So for instance, in a game like Battlefield 1942, which is extremely popular with this demographic, or in something like World of Warcraft where there’s a lot of sort of trash talking. They try to play with people their own age because they want a kind of more refined social ethos, let’s say. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Not willing to use the word “culture”? CELIA PEARCE: I guess we could call it culture, but I think, in that case, it’s more just a discourse style. I think calling it a culture is probably giving it more weight than it really deserves. And also, they all were really active in communities, even if they were primarily playing single-player games. Their favorite activity was exploring. Their second favorite activity was helping new players, which I thought was really interesting. And one of the most interesting finds was the leapfrog effect, in which we found that younger baby boomers, who had children at home, were typically not playing games with their kids.
  25. 25. The common scenario that we encountered was that there would be a console machine in the house. Ninety-eight percent of the players, the baby boomers, said that they used primarily a PC for their game-playing, but many of them had a console in the house. And when I delved into this further, what I discovered was that they considered the console for the kids. What I found though was that older baby boomers were often playing PC games, network games, with their grandchildren, which was really, really interesting. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Yeah, that is. CELIA PEARCE: And right as I was finishing up the study, I just wanted to add that the Wii came out, and the Wii was very, very heavily marketed to the baby-boomer demographic. And, I don’t know if people know this, but Nintendo actually was the first video game company to have a booth at the AARP, so I think that’s going to be changing a little bit in the future. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Interesting. I’d like to go back to Uru. So as I understand it, Uru was a world based on the game Myst, which I admit I hadn’t thought about Myst for years. It really brought back memories. And while I have an audience right now, I guess I do want to say, if anyone out there has a version of Scarab of Ra that works on a PC, please let me know. I would love to play that game again. But anyway, Uru was based on the game Myst, and it was shut down, and so we had a group of refugees from Uru in There.com, and so you did some studies. CELIA PEARCE: And also here.
  26. 26. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And also Second Life. I mean you are taking the cultures of these worlds seriously. And one of the points that you made in the pre-interview is that you emphasized the details of a World can influence the culture. And, in particular, you pointed out that Second Life allows people to buy land, and There.com did not at all early on and then does as a group. You can buy land as a group. I guess, first, can you just tell us what you learned about studying these cultures and then maybe a little bit about the land issue? CELIA PEARCE: Yeah. So it’s interesting because players from Uru--Uru was a game in the Myst series. A lot of people don’t know that there were many other games after Myst. Riven and a number of other games came out. I believe there were five or six total. Uru was the first and only multiplayer game in the series. I think that’s one of the reasons that we find it attracted baby boomers, that many of those players had been Myst fans since the early ’90s, and so they were following the franchise, if you will. When the game closed, the players were really actually quite traumatized by this, and they moved into other game worlds. The largest group, the one which I did my thesis work on, went into There.com. But the second largest group actually came here to Second Life. What I did was I basically lived with them online in There.com for a period of about 18 months. One difference I think that between Virtual Worlds anthropology and Real World anthropology is, you sort of do it from the comfort of your own home, so I didn’t have to go to a foreign country and perhaps learn new latrine technologies and so forth. I could have all the comforts of home and yet be doing field research at the same time. And also, you can do it when you’re [troubling?], which is interesting.
  27. 27. But anyway, what was interesting was that these players came into There.com, and they adopted that environment to the culture that they brought with them from Uru. Initially they began calling themselves refugees, pretty much from the moment that they arrived. I later also referred to them as the Uru Diaspora, which is a term that describes groups that are distributed in a lot of different geographical areas. So what they did was they used the user creation [of forces?] of There.com, to begin to create artifacts that were derivative of Uru, initially more or less trying to copy, to the best of their ability, with very different aesthetic constraints, and later developing their own unique style, which I describe as a process of transculturation, which is a term from Ortiz about how immigrants eventually sort of exchange culture with the place that they’ve moved to, rather than this old idea of how you--what’s the term, Tom, when people immigrate and they sort of are subsumed into the culture that they immigrated to? TOM BOELLSTORFF: It can be called enculturation. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Enculturation. CELIA PEARCE: Enculturation. So in this case, it was more this transculturation process, where these players adopted certain cultural aspects of There.com integrated into the Uru culture. But the reverse also occurred. And so one of the things that’s very interesting is if you fly around in There.com in a hover boat, you can’t get very far without seeing some kind of Uru or Myst artifacts because these items that these players made originally for their own communities have also become very popular with other communities.
  28. 28. To get to your initial question, this would not really be something you would see as much here, for instance, because There.com has an option system which is independent of physical space. Whereas, here you have to go somewhere typically to buy things. So there tends to be a lot more individual items circulating in the marketplace that get appropriated for different uses than they might have originally been intended. The ownership issue is an interesting on because this group, in There.com, actually was kind of nomadic in the beginning. They actually had to move seven times because each place that they settled they were causing a lot of lag. Now we often say, “Oh, there are no limited resources in cyberspace so it’s a different situation with economies.” But, in fact, processing is a huge limited resource, and so what would happen is they would, because they were in such a large group, create all this lag and get resentments from the neighboring players. Also, the players were worried about this large population coming in, etcetera, etcetera. All the things you would expect to see with a large refugee population suddenly appearing happened. They got harassed. They got chased around. They kept moving and then finally settled on an island, which is now the oldest community, although there are now probably about a half a dozen Uru communities in There.com. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Sounds like my own culture, the Jews. CELIA PEARCE: Very much, actually. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: We’re closing in on the end of our time. Actually, you have a book coming out that has an engaging title Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games in Virtual Worlds. Is it safe to say that it covers the types of issues we’re
  29. 29. discussing today? CELIA PEARCE: Yeah, and in much more detail, of course. The heart of the book is really ironical, a monograph almost modeled after traditional anthropological monographs of what I learned about the Uru culture and my experience of following these players around. And also, there’s quite a bit of kind of theoretical thinking and methodology in it. One of the things that was interesting in the book was that there was a question whether or not I should keep the methodology section in because that was sort of an artifact of the thesis. But what ended up happening in the reviews was that since there--other than Tom’s book, have not been many books about the methodologies of studying Virtual Worlds in this way, a lot of the people who reviewed the book gave the feedback that they thought it would be valuable for this methodology section to be left in. So one of the things I’m really interested in, and actually Tom and I have been working together on, is trying to put more information out there because there are many, many people who are trying to do this type of research and are sort of going out there without a lot of tools or a lot of background in anthropology and participant observation, etcetera. So we’re trying to remedy that a little bit with some of these writings about research methods. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: And, Tom, just following up on this notion of traditional cultural anthropology, I mean here you are editor of the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association. I’m wondering if you can just tell us how cultural anthropologists are taking to this new [area of research?]. Are they dismissing it? Are they following up?
  30. 30. TOM BOELLSTORFF: Sure. And also let me very quickly grab a couple tag things that have come up in the backchat while I’m also sitting next to you. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Oh, you’ve been looking after all, huh. TOM BOELLSTORFF: I’ve been trying not to, but very quickly, and this will link up to what you’re asking. A bunch of people are asking about what is the use of this kind of research, what good does it do. Now, in my research in Indonesia, I’m doing research on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, about how culturally can you get people to want to wear condoms more, to not treat people with AIDS in a horrible manner, to not share needles when they’re injecting drugs or doing whatever. I’m on the board of two different AIDS organizations in Indonesia. I’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations there. I speak fluent Indonesian, and I do street work with people there, in stopping the HIV/AIDS epidemic. But I firmly believe, based on my experience and knowledge, that the kind of research that I’m doing here in Second Life and that Celia is doing in There and Second Life and elsewhere is just as valuable as that AIDS work in Indonesia. Because, if you look at the problems in the world today, so many of them have to do with people rushing to answers, trying to find solutions and not spending time in the question space, not spending time sitting back and saying, “Hey, things are changing. Let’s try and get our heads around that.” And sometimes the best thing that you can do, as a researcher, is not to find an answer or solution, but just to find a really good question, a really good issue to think about that no one
  31. 31. has thought about before. Like looking at the backchat when people were saying, “What happens when you can have two different avatars, two different bodies?” How is that different from, let’s say, my research in Indonesia, where there’s gay men who talk about being in the gay world, but then they’re also married to women, and then at night they go homes to their lives, and they have almost two different avatars as well. What is similar or what’s different to that? So I think often, especially in sort of technologically minded spaces, there’s often a real interest in design or implementation questions, and that’s well and good. I care about that stuff as well, but I think it is crucial that we stay in a question space and that we allow this kind of basic research to happen that’s not immediately trying to have an immediate thing that it’s going to solve because it’s helping us figure out what are some good questions to ask, what is really going on before we rush to those solutions. And, in terms of also another reason why we do this kind of work, there are multiple audiences. If you look at my book Coming of Age in Second Life, in the introduction I talk about how I’m walking this tightrope, which I always do in anything I write, of one audience I’m trying to write to is people in Second Life, people I know who spend time in Second Life, and I don’t want to bore them to death with explaining what an avatar is and try and reach out to them. But then another big audience are people who are anthropologists or just the general public, who don’t know anything about Virtual Worlds and online games and often have very
  32. 32. negative opinions of them. And I’m trying to explain to them that people who use Virtual Worlds and online games aren’t just a bunch of geeks or losers or whatever; this is a really powerful, wonderful new mode of human interaction that can have its downsides and its problems that we need to talk about, but it’s not inevitably the case. We have to remember that, out there in the general public, still to this day in 2009, the number one best-known popular culture image of Virtual Worlds is the matrix movies, where a Virtual World is used literally to enslave the human race. That’s the idea that’s out there in popular culture. So there’s an incredibly negative image sometimes out there and that, when I do--like my book, or Celia’s book, it’s not just people who do Uru or do Second Life who will be reading it. Both of us wrote our books very carefully to try and reach out to a broad audience. And so that is another kind of impact that this research can have, that I think is very useful. And so any kind of research can be done well or badly, but I think it does have a very important role to play. CELIA PEARCE: Do I have time to add anything to that, or are we totally out of time? ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Only, if it’s really, really, really fast. CELIA PEARCE: Well, I want to just endorse what Tom is saying, but I think there’s another area also that, for me, as a designer, one of the things I’m really looking to learn about is, people design games, but they’re also designing cultures, and they don’t really know what the culture, that is going to emerge in the game they make, look like. So for designers, this is a very important question because what’s the difference between what Second Life looks like now and what it looked like in 2003 when it opened. I’m sure there’s quite a lot of things
  33. 33. here that the designers did not anticipate. And so, from my perspective, that’s also a big part of what I’m doing. And I also want to endorse what Tom said because I think the news media, in particular, has really grossly distorted what cultures of Virtual Worlds are all about, and I’m trying to sort of mitigate that a little bit with a more sane and balanced reportage. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Okay, great. And, Tom, I’m going to ask you just very quickly if you could give me a sense, as editor of American Anthropology, what you see as being the sort of hardcore academic future of this type of research. TOM BOELLSTORFF: I think it’s going to be very bright eventually. Anthropologists and other social researchers, you’d be amazed at how many of them are proud that they don’t even know how to use PowerPoint or that they barely can use email. They’re often very afraid of technology, but there’s a new generation coming, including many students Celia and I both have, for whom that’s just a non-issue. And also, anthropology and other social sciences have changed. It used to be that the image of anthropology is that you would go halfway around the world and study the strange natives. And someone in their chat put something about the guy with the helmet going away or doing whatever, and that’s great. But when Celia said that one thing about the research here is that you can do it without having to learn a language or travel to another place, well, for many years now, anthropologists have actually been studying the local, our own quote/unquote cultures as well. Hortense Powdermaker studied the Hollywood industry back in the 1940s. Catherine Lutz, who was in North Carolina, did a wonderful study of the Fort Bragg military base.
  34. 34. Anthropologists nowadays it’s become much more normal that you don’t have to study quote/unquote other people; you can study your own culture and learn a lot because cultures are so complicated. We often don’t know as much as we think, about our own culture. And so I think the study of science and technology more generally is moving into the mainstream of anthropology and that Virtual World research will be part of that. It will obviously never be everything that anthropologists do or that people doing educational research or sociology or psychology and so on do, but I do think it’s going to grow, just as in our everyday lives Virtual Worlds are here to stay, and they’re going to become bigger. It wasn’t that long ago that the amount of human life spent in Virtual Worlds was zero. Now it’s a lot more than zero percent. It’s never going to be a hundred percent. It’s never going to be the matrix, but it’s going to be more than zero, and we want to understand what’s going on. And so I do think it’s going to be an area that there’s a lot of exciting growth and wonderful new communities of researchers and participants that are growing and asking really interesting questions. I think it’s a very exciting time. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Well, thank you. And this has been a very interesting show for me, and I think for our audience as well, judging from the backchat. Thank you both, Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce, for coming on to Metanomics. And let me say, Celia, you look fetching in your eye-patch. You’ll see, since it’s academic day, I’m wearing a black turtleneck. I thought it seemed appropriate. TOM BOELLSTORFF: Thank you very much for this.
  35. 35. CELIA PEARCE: Yeah, thanks for having us. ROBERT BLOOMFIELD: Thanks for coming. So for those of you who are interested in the topics that we discussed today, I’d like to mention a couple previous shows. We have had two in There.com, which came up when we talked about the Uru Diaspora. So we have Here and There, and CosmoGIRL is there, both with There’s CEO Michael Wilson, and the second one also has CosmoGIRL’s Morgan Brooks and Market Truths researcher Mary Ellen Gordon. We also have a couple academic shows in our archives: Virtually Social, with Nick Yee, and Who Plays, with Dmitri Williams. And those are definitely worth a look. And for those of you who are particularly interested in our On The Spot segment on Reaction Grid, we did an entire show on Open Grid and the OpenSim technology with IBM’s David Levine, known as Zha Ewry, and Linden Lab’s Mark Lentczner, Zero Linden. So I think you’ll find that pretty interesting. So that’s where we have been, and now I always get to say a couple closing words. We call this Connecting The Dots. I’m a little challenged to connect the dots; I’m not a cultural anthropologist. I’m an accounting professor by trade, but by training I’m really an experimental economist. So today I connect the dots by putting on my experimental economist’s hat and giving anthropologists a piece of my mind. Well, actually just pointing out some opportunities. Whether it’s economics or anthropology, theory is what separates serious research from mere storytelling. Now theory in economics draws comprehensible conclusions like, “Errors of commission increase the impact of the next period’s disclosure on exit price reducing the
  36. 36. discount rate by reducing the precision with which each trader believes,” yeah, blahblahblah. Whereas, I read a paper preparing for this discussion and came across Theoretical Conclusion in Anthropology, which is, “The cultural and the acultural are thus mutually constituted and mutually constitutive, and both are implicated together in the workings of institutional power.” Now that is a theoretical conclusion that doesn’t really use my research language, focus on the topics I usually do or derived from the same methods. But let me expose my very pragmatic philosophy of science in both of these fields. Theories are going to be most useful if they provide testable predictions which researchers then go out and actually test. So what could anthropologists do to test their theories? I mean this is hard enough in economics, a field that has firmly embraced empirical methods. The first challenge lies in expressing theory in terms of variables that we can measure and observe. So for example, I think our guests today, Tom Boellstorff and Celia Pearce, would probably agree with the theory, a prediction like, “Cultures arising in Virtual Worlds are shaped by the Real World cultures of the players, by platform features governing in-world goals and interactions and by early experiences.” But that’s not really specific enough because, if we’re going to test assertions like this, we’re going to need to know how to measure cultural behaviors and cultural differences, features and experiences. And we’re going to have to posit much more specifically how which features and experiences will result in which cultural differences. But specifying a theory more precisely is only the first problem. The larger problem is figuring out a systematic way to test it.
  37. 37. My impression, as an outsider, is that detailed theory-testing in cultural anthropology is so difficult that empiricists often don’t even try. The problem is that anthropologists are walking into existing cultures and then working backwards, trying to figure out whether their theories might explain the culture that has already arisen. Virtual Worlds give anthropologists a fascinating new opportunity to actually create cultures. And so I see actually in the backchat Curious Sciurus has said anthropology is not a hard science. I think it can be because Virtual World developers have already been creating cultures, as our guests showed clearly over the last hour. So let’s bring research anthropologists into the mix right up front and use Virtual Worlds as a laboratory to test and refine the predictions of anthropological theory. So imagine going into Robin Gomboy’s Reaction Grid and working in concert with her to make a Virtual World developed to some casual social game. Let’s make it concrete. Castle Wars, which you can now play on Muse Isle East, where you race to destroy your opponent’s castles with catapults. So imagine the OpenSim developer creates two different versions of the World, entirely identical, except that one is advertised on blogs about cooking and housekeeping, and another is advertised on sports blogs. That would be a tidy way to test how cultural differences among the players affect the cultural differences in the Worlds. Or advertise for the World in the same locations, but change a key feature of different Worlds randomly as people sign in. So for example, one World has friending formalized like it is in Second Life, and another world you become friends gradually as a result of the time you spend interacting with people, and there’s a rating in the software. What better way to
  38. 38. try a new field, experimental anthropology. I’m sure anthropologists would have plenty of ideas on how these various differences would alter behavior. Will any of them actually step up and try it? Frankly, I think the Virtual World developers will be a lot less reluctant than the anthropologists. Despite a reputation for being free thinkers who challenge old ideas and orthodoxy, academics tend to be a pretty cautious lot and would rather just keeping doing what’s been traditional in their fields. But, for the developers, these tests would be systematic ways to learn how to make a successful World that has the type of culture the developer wants to build. So I see this as the win-win kind of relationship that can create a better World in the most literal sense, while helping a cultural anthropologist get tenure. I understand the risks. I understand the challenges. But, you developers, and, yes, I’m talking to you, Robin Gomboy of Reaction Grid, the pace of industry doesn’t allow you the privilege of patience. So get on the phone to your favorite cultural anthropologist and see if you can get them out of their armchair and into the laboratory: your World. Okay, so that’s it for today. Next week’s show promises to be pretty interesting. Our main guest will be Ian Hughes, who announced a couple of weeks ago that he was leaving his position as a Metaverse evangelist for IBM, starting a consulting company, Feeding Edge, which is focusing on Virtual Worlds and, among other things, 3D printing. But we’re going to kick off next week’s show by putting Eric Krangel On The Spot. Eric covered Second Life for Reuters and has been in the news lately for voicing some skeptical
  39. 39. opinions of the future of Second Life. As always, my goal is to go beyond the sound bites and get a thoughtful discussion on what people believe and why they believe it. So join us, and let’s hear what Eric has to say. Bye bye. Document: cor1052.doc Transcribed by: http://www.hiredhand.com Second Life Avatar: Transcriptionist Writer