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

Journalism in Virtual Worlds: University of Syndey Student, 4th Estate, 2nd Life

The Metaverse Journal highlights the work of Annabelle Boyd Jones at the University of Sydney, who is researching the role of journalism and governance in Second Life.

Blogging her progress, I was intrigued (or maybe bemused?) to note her comments on the issues of studying virtual world governance because of the seeming contradiction between, well, totalitarianism and participatory democracy. She notes:

“Firstly, the situation resembles (Note resembles, not is!) a totalitarian government, whereby all aspects of the ‘contituents’ lives are effectively controlled by the government, they hold absolute power over their society and can rule without any real mandate or permission from the people. Developers hold the power over access to the world and control over the code.

Secondly, worlds exist in a consumer-producer relationship whereby the developer relies upon the users for their continued profits and existence yet, in SL at least, the users are also intrinsically involved in the production of the good – which is indeed never finished. So perhaps it is a more a producer-producer relationship. And lastly many parties in this world appear to be applying values associated with democracy to their experiences in world, such as individual liberty, right to protest and expression and defence of avatar civil liberties. “

In my opinion the uneasy truce that exists between platform owners and users, as expressed in policy but performed in code, creates a third construct which are the sub-cultures and tribes (as I droned on about in my last post). It’s not a user/owner paradigm, but rather one of tribe/code, and it will be interesting to see if this is explored in more detail through her research (and through the follow-up to Tom Boellstorff’s book).

Annabelle’s research thesis is broad – perhaps overly, but who knows, depends if she wants deep insight or an overview, but it’s in the evaluating journalism’s role in the recent ban on banking in Second Life that seems to form the core of her work:

“So my plan of attack has been to look at what kind of journalism is happening in Second Life – what sort of theories and understanding we already have of journalism might explain it, or are people doing something radically new and different? Then I’m looking at governance in Second Life, trying to find out what kind of values and models represent the funny mix of consumerism and citizenship which appears to characterise life in a virtual world. Then I’m looking at how these two elements of virtual life interact, through a case study of the couple of events which led to the banning of unchartered banks in Second Life in January 2008. I don’t think anyone has done any research into this area before, but if I’m mistaken please point me in the direction of anything you’ve read before.”

Interesting research, and while new territory there are incredibly rich opportunities for thought in these subjects.

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