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Hanging out is Hard to do: Ethnographic Methodology in Non-Avatar Environments

Presented at the CCI Symposium -- Coogee Bay, November 2011

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Hanging out is Hard to do: Ethnographic Methodology in Non-Avatar Environments

  1. 1. Hanging out is hard to doEthnographic Methodology in Non-Avatar Environments: Eve Online
  2. 2. What about you?Going to start here...Writing style: Current draft is toneddown a little from the version you have.Comments on results: How does itcompare to other environments - VW’s,Social networks, Forums?Other methodologies -- bricolage.
  3. 3. Eve Marketplace
  4. 4. From here
  5. 5. WOW Auction House
  6. 6. Or maybe:It feels different...
  7. 7. Why Virtual WorldsRen Reynolds says “we study VWsbecause the legal norms beingestablished there will come to dominateour lives”But what are Virtual Worlds?
  8. 8. Greg LastowkaI chopped this video a little to fit timeconstraints. Full version at panel)Greg’s book is “Virtual Justice”, availablein free PDF from his website.
  9. 9. Greg Lastowka
  10. 10. Greg LastowkaHow many times did he just say‘Avatar’?Virtual Worlds go beyond theclassically studied environments.Eve is setting many precedents forplayer politics, hybrid economies, and‘legal’ purchasing of in-game currency.
  11. 11. So what methodology?Much Virtual World research (Taylor,Dibbell, Humphreys, Banks etc) is‘Participant Observation’ Ethnography.Can we apply that methodology to non-avatar environments?(My) answer is “kind of...”
  12. 12. Eve 101Paranoid community. Fraud/scamsactively encouraged.Community split. Newbies/established.High-security / Low-Security. Publicspace / wormholes.As you may have guessed, no Avatar(until recently). Instead, ‘pod goo’.
  13. 13. ChatNot going to repeat everything in thepaper, but some highlights...Chat is largely text based - whetherWOW or Eve. But do conversations feeldifferent when you ‘see’ each other?And more importantly, whatopportunities are there to chat?
  14. 14. SpaceSome games are designed for chat. StarWars Galaxies Cantinas are socialspaces, Trade hubs and the routes up tothem (in most MMO’s) encouragebottlenecks/crowding & chat. Auctionhouses encourage chat.Eve is often a vast nothing...
  15. 15. Establishing oneselfEthnographers normally fill a role.Whether that is community manager,healer etc, you take on a role.Most MMO’s allow you to chose a roleand advancing is a question of skillsEVE roles are limited by total timeplayed.
  16. 16. GroupingBartle, discussing the design of MUD’s,notes that group missions (as in WOW)force players to communicate. Evefollows a far more ‘solo’ path.Essentially then, Eve follows a differentmodel than traditional MUD-origingames. Less in-game communication,thus more use of external channels.
  17. 17. ImplicationsAlmost impossible to get a clear pictureof the Eve community from theenvironment itself: Limited in access to end-game spaces (by virtue of skills / time). Limited in access to sub-cultures (by practicalities / Ethics disclosures).
  18. 18. ImplicationsThose access mechanisms there are,would likely fall foul of IRB/Ethics Pay to access (cheating?) Non-disclosure of role and/or use of pre-existing character.
  19. 19. OptionsIgnore end-game spaces. I liken this toclaiming to do a comprehensiveethnography of New York, withoutleaving Manhattan.Combine results of multipleethnographers. Elements of other studiesmay apply to Eve.
  20. 20. OptionsUse meta-game: blogs, IRC, forums(leaked and public) to completenarrative.Ultimately, I am arguing for acombination of (2) and (3). And, Icontend, these approaches haveimplications for social networks &avatar-based environments too...