Contrary to Guimaraes’ ideas about social environments, Ducheneaut, Moore & Nickell outline ethnographic research within the MMOG Star Wars Galaxy that is extremely locale specific. Their research focuses on social life within two defined cantina locations within this game.
newer MMOGs distinguish themselves by their rich 3D worlds. Most games have cities modeled after real-world cities and have large public spaces, as well as buildings with clearly identifiable functions (e.g. bars, banks, marketplaces). (p 131).
This provides an alternate model to Guimaraes’ ideas about social environments being not bounded by physical (or virtual) locale. The focus of this research is perhaps best understood in that the researchers were particularly interested in SWG’s “attempt to create a strong sense of social life embedded in specific game locations” (p135)
Some of the types of data collected here included number of gestures, number of utterances, number of unique utterances and the social network metrics of prestige and centrality.
Most interesting to me is the suggestion that better design of virtual space could enhance sociability of these sites. As Ducheneaut aptly notes,
urban planning, virtual or physical, is difficult to do right… . [D]espite the incredible flexibility offered by digital worlds, game designers have nevertheless reproduced features of the physical environment that have a direct, negative bearing on the quality of social life in their game (p 157, 163)
This begs the question — in a world where literally anything is possible, are we doomed to repeat real-world mistakes? Does this observation apply to SL citizen designers as well as the MMOG designers Ducheneaut mentions? Can libraries examine the ramifications of setting up SL library functions that mimic RL services and physical locations?
Some repercussions that decrease sociability include over-utilization of private chat and lack of awareness of what avatars are available for social activities. These insights are important to the information seeking behavior (ISB) focus of my research. Socialization and interpersonal communication are expected to be major points of ISB activity within SL. But what about the IM interactions that are hidden from my view as a researcher? How does the “frozen avatar” factor affect ISB?
By “frozen avatar,” I mean the experience of approaching someone in SL and receiving zero social response. I’m guessing common reasons include being AFK, engaged in IM or linguistic differences.
All of this adds up to my continued consideration of how to best select an informant population for virtual ethnography and some interesting communication factors to keep in mind when considering my ISB-related research questions.