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Methodology in Non-Avatar Environments

Presented at the CCI Winter School Paper Jam -- Brisbane, Australia -- June 2012

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Methodology in Non-Avatar Environments

  1. 1. Hanging out is hard to doMethodology in Non-Avatar Environments
  2. 2. The ContextIntroductionLiteratureMethodologyAre Virtual Worlds GamblingIssues in Contemporary Online EnvironmentsThe Gambling IndustryEve Online, Governance & NormsRecommendations for Online EnvironmentsConclusion
  3. 3. The ContextIntroductionLiteratureMethodologyAre Virtual Worlds GamblingIssues in Contemporary Online EnvironmentsThe Gambling IndustryEve Online, Governance & NormsRecommendations for Online EnvironmentsConclusion
  4. 4. The ContextSecond half of the methodology - but aninteresting half!Also happy to discuss the wider projectfor those interestedExplores how we can learn from theoffshore gambling industry as we seekto regulate other online environments.
  5. 5. A brief aside
  6. 6. 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’.
  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. Eve Marketplace
  12. 12. From here
  13. 13. WOW Auction House
  14. 14. Or maybe:It feels different...
  15. 15. 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?Kind of..
  16. 16. 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...
  17. 17. 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 Eve follows a differentmodel than traditional MUD-origingames. Less in-game communication,thus more use of external channels.
  18. 18. 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).
  19. 19. 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.
  20. 20. 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.
  21. 21. 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...
  22. 22. Meta-gameMeta-game analysis is largely textualanalysis.BUT the participant observation is stillnecessary.Without that, there’s no way to interpretthe textual analysis. You need tounderstand the environment.
  23. 23. Reviewers say:The paper argues that "the prominence of these meta-game considerations should shift, from being asupplement to an ethnographic lived experience to a corepart of the study. " but it mostly makes the case throughthe example of Eve Online. It would help if the authorarticulated the theoretical basis for the shift earlier on.A large part of the discussion seems to be about the role ofspace in the game, and the author is using the meta-game ethnography to explore it. This needs to be explainedearlier on.
  24. 24. Reviewers say:• The biggest problem is that the conclusion is a rather obvious observation. By far most other researchers (see Taylor, for example) have looked beyond pure in-game research when it comes to the analysis of the social components of these communities. It then argues that the lack of an avatar and embodiment puts Eve Online into a particular position for any ethnographic research. This point is made through the absence of the avatar body (up to latest addition to the game). The importance of such a body for any ethnographic study might be extremely relevant but would need more argumentation. For example, other online communities like MUDs lived always without visible body representations and still managed to foster strong social ties and interaction design. (NB/DW: But they still had avatars – emphasise this – Bartle Quote?)• How players use the aforementioned forums and extra channels shines through occasionally (e.g. in the quote by Mittani "I almost never log on to Eve Online itself because I run a spy network. For me, Eve Online is talking to people in a Jabber client.") but is not discussed in the paper. What role does the author assign to these sources? Is there anything particular about the use of these technologies (e.g. no Teamspeak) in Eve? To lay out an ethnographic methodology to investigate Eve Online questions like these would be important. They are pointed at but no answers are provided.• Again, where the text works is in the description of the particular game design decisions at work in Eve and how they affect social interaction - but the arguments here are based on the design observations of the author. For example, even in Eve Online we find online protests in the form of WoW or SL when masses of players overload servers - as seen in the Jita 4-4 attacks against the memorial. These were demonstrations against the new microtransaction system in the summer of 2011 and one could argue they instantiated this area as a kind of "social hub". The author does not discuss play events like these, which seem to be good moments for an ethnographic approach (how did players organize the protest? why? what were the consequences? how did players re-enter gameplay after the event and how did the talk about it?)• It might be useful to concentrate on the design issues identified in the Eve game design and try to solidify the points made about them through analysis of the forums/ personal narratives/ video documentations/ online chat and VoIP clients. In short, it would be interesting to step beyond a critique of Eve onlines design and toward a more developed methodology to still allow for research in this particular environment.