Ethnography in Virtual Worlds

Ethnography in Virtual Worlds

Interpretive perspective in social sciences does not concern itself with predictions or testing theories regarding human behavior. Rather, there is an attempt of developing a kind of understanding as to how people experience the world around them and what underlying motivations they have in the activities they are engaged in. When we think of activities on the Internet and in virtual worlds, perspectives and approaches reveal some revisiting and reconsideration although classic methodology can be opted to be employed. Take, for example, the book of Boellstorff on Second Life, in which he adopted a fieldwork completely inside Second Life using usual ethnographic methods like participant observation and interviews. He explains his motivation as the exploration of how anthropology can provide input to understand culture in virtual worlds (here virtual world being Second Life). He describes his book as a methodological experiment targeting different groups of people from designers in game studies to participants of virtual worlds and online games. The writer underscores the fact that Second Life is not a game, but a virtual world with its social constructions. Some game rules like being goal-oriented, having a beginning and end, including elements of winning or losing, getting scores are not applicable in this virtual world examined even if participants can create some games on their own. Instead of the word user or player, Second Life participants are called residents by the writer. One more point emphasized in Part 1 is that virtual is not opposed to real but actual, which can lead to more discussion and thinking around this line of thinking. Besides this, in Second Life techne is said to obviate episteme; and techne, in the Age of Techne which becomes discursive (a concept we discussed earlier in Kelty’s recursive publics) generates a gap between actual and virtual in the realm of the virtual.

As stated in the book, virtual worlds lend many opportunities to the researcher, revealing various forms of social interaction, which means they can be taken under the scope of anthropological research. It is an interesting work since classic methods are employed in a new platform. The writer, being a participant in the virtual world, draws certain parallel aspects with an actual fieldwork he undertook in Indonesia. This shows how some established methods, especially interpretative ones, can be applied to different realms. The writer is of the opinion that the appropriate way of studying virtual worlds should be in their own terms since they exist purely online. It seems from the first part of the book (including Subject and Scope, History and Method) that itwould be interesting to read the rest of the book which will reveal more subtleties to the instances the researcher has encountered. Reading actual research anecdotes is, without any doubt, complementary to reading theoretical descriptions in the books regarding social research methods. Specific cases and examples with excerpts from dialogues and interactions are far more elucidating than the theoretical definitions and explanations.

writtenby A. Dereli as Response Paper VIII(for COMM 720 Week 9–2016–2017 Academic Year)


Boellstorff, T. (2015). Coming of age in Second Life: an anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UniversityPress. (Part I)