Education in Virtual Worlds, Identity and Expression, Second Life, Virtual World Platforms

Sociologists Get a Second Life

Intimacy in Warcraft, BDSM in Second Life, and Internet gaming cafes in China are the frontiers of sociology research, as outlined in an article on Ars Technica which highlights most of the major articles and studies that have gained attention over the past few years.

For anyone starting out in a study of virtual worlds, or for a teacher starting a class on the topic, I can’t think of a much better reading list, with pointers to the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research and Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life.

Highlighting A World of Wacraft Reader, I was reminded why I couldn’t get through the book (which might also explain why I found College intolerable):

“The contributors examine the ways that gameworlds reflect the real world—exploring such topics as World of Warcraft as a ‘capitalist fairytale’ and the game’s construction of gender; the cohesiveness of the gameworld in terms of geography, mythology, narrative, and the treatment of death as a temporary state; [and] aspects of play, including ‘deviant strategies’ perhaps not in line with the intentions of the designers.”

Contributors come from fields like “game studies, textual analysis, gender studies, and postcolonial studies.”

Words like ‘construction’ and ‘postcolonial studies’ leave me feeling like I’m about to be graded or attacked by a swarm of grizzled professors with patches on their elbows. (I’m fine being pretentious on my own and holding my own discourse thanks).

Of the articles it summarizes from the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, one on BDSM in Second Life concludes that, um, sub-cultures are a source of innovative user-generated content.

That last piece, by Professor Shaowen Bardzell of Indiana University, relied on “two years of ethnographic observation, interviews, and artifact analysis” to suggest that “BDSM fantasy in Second Life is far more than a sexual pastime… I am more than ever convinced that all subcultures have the capacity to incubate innovation in a user-created content, and BDSM is successful particularly because of its combination of a potent visual language and the intense personal desires it stirs.”

Bardzell spent many hours analyzing “hundreds of virtual photos taken from the public profiles of Second Life’s BDSM practitioners” to learn more about how people presented themselves publicly.

According to T Linden, BDSM isn’t a SUB-culture, it’s a culture, up there with art and architecture. And I’ll leave the parsing of the word SUB to those who study deviant strategies and death as a temporary state.

Regardless, it’s nice to see such a thorough review from Ars Technica, which generally has a good track record when it comes to chronicling the place of virtual environments in our, well, cultural landscape.


Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.