My dissertation is currently being examined, so I have been holding out on posting it. But there has been a whole new round of 'the Internet is bad for you' talk that makes me get my knickers in a twist, so I will give you all a sneak preview.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said MySpace and Facebook led young people to seek "transient" friendships, with quantity becoming more important than quality. He said a key factor in suicide among young people was the trauma caused when such loose relationships collapsed.
"Friendship is not a commodity," he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper.
He added: "Friendship is something that is hard work and enduring when it's right".
The fact is he has this ENTIRELY wrong and I have data to prove it. My research project involved, among other things, a 50-question survey that asked participants to describe the online gaming experiences (City of Heroes/Villains), with a focus on grouping, social dynamics, skills development, and yes, friendship and belonging. The results were staggering, even to a gamer veteran like me. For one thing, I got almost 10,000 responses in 3 weeks (this was in 2006). For another thing, there were several open ended questions in the survey. I got responses like this:
The long time it takes to progress during the later levels has greatly improved my patience as of late, allowing me to stay calmer under stress as a side-effect. Separately, forming and organizing pick-up groups has given me a venue to practice my leadership skills, and to a lesser extent my organizational skills. I've had co-workers and friends notice the improvements in patience and organization repeatedly, and the few that have been around during a situation leadership was called for noticed my improvements in that area as well.
The fact that I am in charge of an super group in both City of Heroes and City of Villains has encouraged me to take a leap in my job: I've applied for a management position. I doubt I'd have ever even made the attempt had I not been in a position of leadership within the game.
Being in a super group comprised of people from all over the world has taught me to be patient when dealing with others and compromise my position on things. I often hold high positions in super groups/guilds and need to be patient with its members. This has transferred over to real life where I've learnt to be more patient with others in a work environment & a social one.
Needing to plan and prioritize has been a big thing for me, as has communication (though I've always found text-based communication much easier than face to face, which is easier than voice with no face a la Teamspeak). I've also found that I can deal with real life social situations better by being able to analyze them as if they were in game situations. (But I'm autistic, so my RL social skills have always been a bit lacking. Having a simplified model to compare them to has been a
boon to me.)
My chief reason for playing City of Villains was because I could not, physically, do much else. I was recovering from a traumatic brain injury and was going stir-crazy with the few hours a day I was actually conscious. This gave me a way to interact with RL friends because I was unable to get together with them. From there, it stemmed off into a way to communicate with them, and form other friendships. I have met several people from my super group at various locations, and that alone
is worth the playtime.
I have 10,000 of these comments, some even more poignant than those I just quickly grabbed.
Here is my proclamation: digital game/social spaces have the power to be the most transformative social experiences some humans have ever had, indeed sanctuaries from our physical lives, as Ted Castronova has suggested. This is sad, but it is true. What Mr. Archbishop has wrong is the notion that because it's not physical it's somehow not real. Wrong! This falls in the category of 'don't talk about things you know nothing about!'
I'm also gonna write Obama too and tell him to lay off the videogame criticism. Wonder if he will read my diss?
Comments on Me vs. The Archbishop:
Okay Lisa. We all did dissertations.
And we shouldn't take what an ArchBishop says at any value because the only reason he is being listened to is that he believes in a man in the sky.
I'm more annoyed with the Neurologists who appeared on the BBC News agreeing with him with BaronessLieHeadSusanGreenfield like "evidence".
Posted Aug 3, 2009 10:17:00 AM | link
Mmm, Cunzy, did you seriously just dismiss my efforts of the last five years?
Posted Aug 3, 2009 10:41:27 AM | link
No. And I can imagine you must feel relieved and proud but I think people will read what you have to say without you prefacing and epiloguing it with the fact that you did one.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 11:04:08 AM | link
Except when I am citing specific data from it, right? And I was...
Posted Aug 3, 2009 11:14:07 AM | link
Forum farming is data?
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:09:22 PM | link
I briefly skimmed your diss and it looks to be a fascinating piece of work. I was especially interested in the description of the methodology, since I am in the early stages of writing my diss on VWs. It is from a legal/poli sci perspective, rather than an ethnographic one, but I am considering including some empirical studies and your practical insights about creating in-world surveys are great. (In fact, the methodological part could be a PhD diss on its own!)I wish I had time to do the 8 country tour that you did, but alas I have to limit myself to 2 or 3 trips per year. I will probably email you when I have finished reading your entire diss, because I am sure I will have some questions and a desire to pick your brain a bit if you don't mind.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:23:20 PM | link
A knight in shining armour appeared!
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:33:46 PM | link
Cunzy: I didn't forum farm. I built a 50-question survey and coordinated with NCSoft who promoted it on their website and on launch screen of the game for 3 weeks. Very different sample than normally contributes to this kind of data collection.
Are you always this cranky?
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:35:39 PM | link
One of the more interesting aspects of the online social space is the opportunities for disabled people to operate on a much more even footing that they can in their normal lives.
Many of the community managers for games companies discuss it, for example
I also found an interview with Valerie Massey genuinely moving where she talks about Eve's effect on a disabled player:
I think if we are going to convince people like the archbishop that online relationships have value then pointing out that some people have real difficulty in forming face-to-face relationships through no fault of their own and those people may find salvation in online communities may help our case.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:37:43 PM | link
No, I'm just ribbing you. I posted about the same thing this morning albeit in my own subtle way.
I was just playing around with the idea that would use mainstream hack coverage of a person who has no qualification to be making the kinds of comments he made to expose your own research.
Your research stands up for itself without this kind of spring-boarding and in no way needs to be a response to the Arch Bishop who frankly could be Joe Bloggs on the street.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 12:42:36 PM | link
This kind of generalisation is sadly typical. Given a user base the size of Facebook, of course there will be lots of examples to "prove" whatever point someone wants to make.
To provide a counter-example, my Facebook friends are all people I know in real life.
Far from having a detrimental effect, sites like Facebook make it easier to stay in touch with people, which is so important when your friends are spread geographically.
As for the contest to have as many friends as possible, I'll go for quality over quantity any day!
Posted Aug 3, 2009 2:39:37 PM | link
PS: For fear like sounding like a total nerd:
On page 191 of your thesis, figure 21: that's a page from the official World of Warcraft forums, not those of Allakhazam.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 2:49:48 PM | link
Good catch, Steve! I changed that screenshot, and didn't change the caption!
Posted Aug 3, 2009 3:39:55 PM | link
Did any of you ever see TOMMY?
For once I agree with an archbishop.
Posted Aug 3, 2009 8:47:15 PM | link
Archbishop Vincent Nichols>MySpace and Facebook lead young people to seek "transient" friendships, with quantity becoming more important than quality.
Lisa>The fact is he has this ENTIRELY wrong and I have data to prove it.
You have data about MySpace and Facebook?
Posted Aug 4, 2009 4:19:12 AM | link
@Richard Don't you think the online gaming findings extend to MySpace and Facebook? Am I'm making too much of a leap? I think of them as virtual worlds...
Posted Aug 4, 2009 1:52:00 PM | link
The problem is that the Archbishop doesn't understand social media in the context of today's culture. I understand his perspective and his background, but the issue lies within his own expertise and experience with social media. He probably has his own researchers giving him this information rather than exploring the virtual space himself.
I think that MySpace and Facebook represent something very different from online gaming. The experience and purpose is completely different. The representation is not necessarily that of one's real self.
Posted Aug 4, 2009 3:13:53 PM | link
I'm not sure that your data prove the archbishop entirely wrong unless it involves the nature of friendships formed within sites such as Myspace and Facebook.
I would have trouble believing that social network site friendships have identical characteristics to that of real-world friendships, in fact. No doubt there are many positive examples to be found, but does that prove much if you don't also set out the negative examples objectively, as well as the relative frequency of both?
For example, the abandonment of a virtual identity is often far easier than the abandonment of a real-world identity, and there is usually much more nuanced content transmitted through real-world interactions.
Posted Aug 4, 2009 9:11:01 PM | link
Lisa>Don't you think the online gaming findings extend to MySpace and Facebook?
Are MySpace and Facebook online games?
If you want your findings to extend to MySpace and Facebook, you have to demonstrate that they do. You can't use "don't you think" as justification. If you could, then all those people who research Facebook - or who make sweeping statements about it like the Archbishop did - could apply their results/opinions seamlessly to online games, because "don't you think" they're the same.
>Am I'm making too much of a leap? I think of them as virtual worlds...
Oh great. Now we need another term to refer to the set that includes WoW, LotRO, SL, LambdaMOO and their ilk, but excludes things that are not real-time, shared, persistent environments with a physics that you act on and interact with through a character (or avatar, in today's parlance).
If you think Facebook is a virtual world, describe the whereabouts of your character in it.
Posted Aug 5, 2009 4:26:06 AM | link
Didn't Sherry Turkle say that MUDs were used "sanctuaries"? Although she gave their ability to work as therapy a nod in her book, I believe she later concluded that the overall effect wasn't all that positive (over time). If you want to know the overall effect of usage you'll have to track users over time.
E.g. the benefits of using drugs can be great when you start taking them...
@Richard: I think it is a mistake to correlate a technical system with particular social/psychological outcomes. Different users use the same spaces differently. Like, IRC and social spaces can be used as a role-playing virtual world, or not.
Posted Aug 5, 2009 7:16:43 AM | link
Ola>I think it is a mistake to correlate a technical system with particular social/psychological outcomes.
Well, not if the outcomes are dependent on the technology. You could write about the social effects of the bicycle, for example, even though in theory it can be played as a musical instrument.
Posted Aug 6, 2009 5:52:30 AM | link
Posted Aug 6, 2009 6:28:43 AM | link
I think that it is problematic to equate the social experiences and drivers that exist in a social network to that of an online gaming community. Yes, they share elements, but they are very different.
To me his comments were valid, the social networks highlight the number of your friends as a key factor in your social standing, and given that in real life we rarely have networks of hundreds of people we would genuinely consider close, personal friends there is a developmental danger that when teens and children place a high degree of emotional investment into these networks then when things go badly for them they may be adversely affected.
Mainstream MMO games rarely place any real social standing on the number of people on your friends list. If anything MMOs to me actually tend to support the guys comments, as much closer and real co-operative bonds are build up by the type of social play found in an MMO. I 'know' the people in my guild, or at least the personalities they choose to reveal, but they have character and there is a functional, defined relationship there...on Facebook you can often find practically everyone you have ever said hello to in passing in your 'social group'...that to me is a defining difference and does make his comments very valid.
So for me, I could actually say that his comments support the differences between social networks and true co-operative games, and if anything makes what he said even more relevant.
Posted Aug 6, 2009 6:57:54 AM | link
Sorry, I should be a bit more clear. In Asia, the social network prefaces the online gaming experience (just like Facebook), which contributes to my point of view that the social space is the virtual world.
Posted Aug 6, 2009 10:38:29 AM | link
GRR, Typepad ate my post.
Okay, so, the standard definition (based on @Bartle's work initially) for VWs is that they are:
-Rely on networked computers
-Rely on the use of avatars
There is a de facto assumption that a virtual world is a representation of a physical space, but I don't think that is a necessary criterion. If we use dreams as an example, there are a variety of worlds that can emerge without this assumption of physical space.
@Bartle. I'm an anthropologist. We frequently internalize data and provide a synthesis based on an assortment of experiences, data and perspectives.
Posted Aug 6, 2009 10:48:39 AM | link
@Ola, good point. The manner in which a user uses the space might support whether we'd consider it a virtual world or not. I posit that Facebook (and to some degree, My Space), with its games and applications in addition to the social tools, becomes a persistent virtual world for the hard-core user. Don't know if I would say the same of the random Grandma user's experience.
Posted Aug 6, 2009 10:51:56 AM | link
G (since you keep calling me Bartle)>Okay, so, the standard definition
The standard definition? You cite a paper entitled Towards a Definition of Virtual Worlds! This isn't a) a definition, nor b) a standard. It isn't even the only paper about definitions in that particular issue of that journal - this is one, too. Plus, it's a think piece, it's not even peer-reviewed.
"The standard definition" - yeah, right...
>There is a de facto assumption that a virtual world is a representation of a physical space, but I don't think that is a necessary criterion.
Well you wouldn't, given that this would completely undermine the basis of your entire post. However, given the importance of immersion to virtual worlds, this is simply a non-starter.
>If we use dreams as an example, there are a variety of worlds that can emerge without this assumption of physical space.
Well if we use potatoes as an example there are a variety of worlds that can be changed into tasty snacks.
We're not talking about dreams here, we're talking about virtual worlds. If you have dreams about being a page in Facebook, well that's very imaginative of you but it doesn't mean that Facebook is a virtual world.
>I'm an anthropologist. We frequently internalize data and provide a synthesis based on an assortment of experiences, data and perspectives.
Yes, well I'm sure that the Archbishop could argue that he does the same thing. It doesn't mean that either of you are right, though. Every single person in the world internalises data and provides a synthesis of it - it's called "learning".
Posted Aug 7, 2009 5:28:40 AM | link
@Richard Sorry about the last name thing... not sure how that happened.
Agree with you on many levels. What I am trying to articulate is that I think some of our definitions of virtual worlds might be a bit limited by this assumption that they must replicate physical spaces. I was really struck by this difference in attitude in Asia. Social spaces sometimes replicate physical spaces, but they need not do so. Using Neopets as an example... for a long time there were no physical venues, but I don't think anyone would argue that it's not a virtual world. It meets all the other criteria.
Regarding the Facebook/MySpace distinction, perhaps it is going to take a retrospective evaluation at some point in the future to sort out this ontological debate. I am partly sharing how the various spaces feel to me: I simply wonder if the character of the user/player experience (ie, does it feel like a world?) will be more of a determiner than some objective definitions based on previously formulated notions of cyberculture, etc.
Finally, I was making the point about internalization and synthesis because I will sometimes generate a finding without supporting it directly with data. However, what it is based on is a long, long time playing games, and several years of data collection. What separates anthropologists from other scientists is that our opinions constitute data. That is a strength and a weakness. Just trying to point that out.
Oh, and I think Mark Bell, as a graduate student, did a nice piece of work summarizing the conventional wisdom regarding definitions of virtual worlds. When I say standard definition, I mean what we game scholars have typically agreed upon as defining criteria, starting with your own rather seminal piece of work. Is peer review really necessary for us to have a conversation about it on a blog? Isn't, in fact, this conversation peer review?
Posted Aug 7, 2009 10:43:31 AM | link
@Richard And thinking about avatars/characters, etc. as defining criteria, I would argue that my Facebook profile page is my residence in that particular space, and my avatar occupies both that space and more public spaces on the site.
Do you guys remember Microsoft Bob? It's interesting that there was this whole period in the 90s when the physical metaphors for data (desk, etc) were the way in which newbies were acclimated to a data environment. Now we need these constructs less and less. I just wonder if the virtual world of 20 years from now eschews the physical space metaphor more and more.
But I also understand your points.
Posted Aug 7, 2009 10:50:57 AM | link
> Do you guys remember Microsoft Bob?
> It's interesting that there was
> this whole period in the 90s ...
I don't believe that there was a historical pattern like you think - very few users adopted systems like Bob that employed overly-literal metaphors. It its true that there was a number of attempts of that sort, but other software designers created other metaphors and idioms that most people found more appealing because they were easier to use and more productive.
But I think you are right that for virtual places there will be a greater variety of metaphors in the future, if only because designers will try a variety of things and some will stick.
Posted Aug 7, 2009 11:56:38 AM | link
Lisa>What I am trying to articulate is that I think some of our definitions of virtual worlds might be a bit limited by this assumption that they must replicate physical spaces.
What I am trying to articulate is that if you want to talk about "social spaces" then talk about social spaces. Don't talk about virtual worlds as virtual worlds and then try to extend your work to social spaces in general. You are over-extrapolating.
If what you are saying about City of Heroes comes from a perspective in which the physical representation of space and avatars in real-time is invisible or irrelevant, then you would have a case for considering it alongside other concepts with which it shares a dimension. If, however, those defining features of virtual worlds are not invisible or not irrelevant, then you have to demonstrate why they can nevertheless be ignored.
Example: suppose you do a study on breakfasts. You find out a lot of detail about the nutritional content of breakfasts. Can you then extrapolate your research to cover meals in general? Well no, you can't: the defining quality of breakfasts is that they are the first meal of the day. You would expect this to have an impact on the nature of their nutritional value. However, if you were to analyse breakfasts in terms of whether they were healthy or junk, then you could, perhaps, tentatively offer the possibility that this may be something that also applied to other meals: in other words, you could propose an hypothesis that people who eat unhealthy breakfasts eat unhealthily for other meals. You or someone else could then undertake research to support of falsify this hypothesis.
What would not be OK would be for you to breeze through some kind of "don't you think?" argument to "prove" that some archbishop who said kids were getting fat from eating junk food for lunches was wrong because they all had healthy breakfasts.
>Social spaces sometimes replicate physical spaces, but they need not do so.
Then those are not virtual worlds. Think up some other term for them, or just use "social spaces". Or you can think up some other term for what we're currently still clinging to as "virtual worlds", which may actually be more useful (life was SO much easier when they were all called MUDs...).
>It meets all the other criteria.
Well if you think that dropping one criterion is fine, the following all become virtual worlds:
- Dungeons and Dragons (not automated)
- Counter Strike (not persistent)
- Disneyland (not virtual)
- Age of Empires (no avatar)
- Oblivion (not shared)
- Kingdom of Loathing (not real-time)
Are you happy for your research to be applied to all of these? And for research done on any of these to be applied carte blanche to your field? If they're all "virtual worlds"...
>perhaps it is going to take a retrospective evaluation at some point in the future to sort out this ontological debate.
But wouldn't you want to sort it out now? After all, if you don't then a retrospective debate could invalidate all your research because you were making category errors.
>I simply wonder if the character of the user/player experience (ie, does it feel like a world?) will be more of a determiner than some objective definitions based on previously formulated notions of cyberculture, etc.
This is fine. It's almost a given these days that virtual worlds will have associated out-of-world social spaces as adjuncts; it won't be long before social spaces have virtual worlds as adjuncts, too (eg. via Metaplace). It could be that players regard them as part of the same service, and this is likely to be a fruitful area for research. However, it is very unlikely that players are going to think that virtual worlds are the same thing as other social spaces, any more than they think that listening to music is the same as attending a concert. They may be part of the same general experience, but they are different in fundamental ways.
I would also point out that although an attitude of "I simply wonder" is perfectly laudable and defensible (academics need a sense of curiosity), it seems to be somewhat at odds with your initial post. You weren't "simply wondering" whether the character of the spaces were similar - you were asserting a direct correspondence between the two in order to show that the archbishop didn't know what he was talking about.
>I was making the point about internalization and synthesis because I will sometimes generate a finding without supporting it directly with data.
How can you call that a "finding"? What you have is an hypothesis. It's only a finding if it is supported by the data.
>However, what it is based on is a long, long time playing games, and several years of data collection.
Be very careful with this line of argument. Other people have spent longer playing games and have spent more time collecting data; if you equate time and effort with quality of insight, then you make it possible for any one of these people to blow you out of the water even if their interpretations are utterly bonkers. You can't disagree with them without discrediting the basis you established for the authority of your own research.
>What separates anthropologists from other scientists is that our opinions constitute data.
This puts you in the same bin as theologists, then. That being the case, your argument with the Archbishop is purely a religious war which is of little relevance to the rest of us.
>Oh, and I think Mark Bell, as a graduate student, did a nice piece of work summarizing the conventional wisdom regarding definitions of virtual worlds.
Yes, he did. I wasn't expressing an opinion on his proposed definition, though; I was expressing an opinion on your reference to his proposed definition as "the standard definition".
>Is peer review really necessary for us to have a conversation about it on a blog?
If you start waving "standard definitions" in my face then yes, for those they are.
>Isn't, in fact, this conversation peer review?
If it were, it would be the kind that returned the paper saying, "good work but slack scholarship".
>I would argue that my Facebook profile page is my residence in that particular space, and my avatar occupies both that space and more public spaces on the site.
Go on, then: argue this. Let's see you explain how you feel that you are "in" your Facebook page, such that if someone else "in" your page asked you where you were, you would reply "I'm here, but I'm just heading over to there" and it would seem quite natural.
Human beings have experienced millions of years of evolution living in a 3D world. They can process the information they see without thinking about it - it's all done automatically by the visual cortex. They use this to build an internal model in their head of the world they are in, which they can then treat as an object separate from reality (ie. it can be altered by their imagination). Close your eyes and imagine throwing a ball at a wall: you know what's going to happen because you can see it in your imagination in a 3D model of the world you constructed right there on the fly.
We can bypass the visual cortex and access our internal world model using other sensory data if we like: blind people still have a 3D model of where they are in the world. We can also inject elements into this model via our imagination: this is how novels work (and textual worlds, too). We can internally visualise the space in which we are, or other spaces in which we are not but into which we can temporarily project ourselves.
Now the thing is, these internal imaginary spaces are modelled based on the real world. The more they differ from the real world, the less the hardware of the brain is geared to handle it. It can handle different spaces - mathematicians can "see" abstract entities, composers can "see" music - but on the whole it takes a lot of training or some strange accident of birth to be able to do this with any degree of competence. Imagining you are in some place you are not, however, is so easy that pretty well anyone can do it.
Virtual worlds use a model based on real space because the human mind is excellent at visualising it - indeed, people can't really help doing it, it's so ingrained. This is how people can become immersed in virtual worlds - they can feel that they really are there, in that world they have built in their heads. It's why virtual worlds are so powerful.
This isn't a spatial metaphor: this is a spatial model.
So: explain why a Facebook page is just the same kind of thing as this, and perhaps you'll go some way towards persuading us why Facebook is just the same kind of thing as WoW.
Posted Aug 8, 2009 7:46:16 AM | link
@Richard, who said: Are you happy for your research to be applied to all of these? And for research done on any of these to be applied carte blanche to your field? If they're all "virtual worlds"...
I am, actually, and I do think it applies, though certainly there are nuances across the various venues. My research questions had to do with the nature of connection and communication in these spaces, and whether there might be possibilities for skills development and personal transformation. What I found, unequivocally, is that yes, City of Heroes/Villains are perceived to be particularly intense venues for this type of exploration. But what about the breast cancer survivors who huddle about Hearts games on MSN.com? They have avatars. There is a replication of physical space. There is persistence and synchrony. I would argue that is a virtual world. Social space doesn't cut it in my mind, as there is clearly a community of practice at work.
Now, this is the first time I have heard you say that the spatial aspect is critical to the definition (did you say that in your book? can't remember). What I am saying, is that as a digital native more or less, my experience of these spaces is a bit more fluid, and as I said before, I think the future is likely to be littered with all sorts of experiments with various types of virtual worlds that don't rely heavily or completely on the physical/spatial component: augmented reality overlays, alternate and whimsical depictions of physical reality, something that looks like a collective game of Go with avatars and a social sphere wrapped around it.
Likewise, I don't think immersion is reliant at all on the physical dimension. I have a 6-year old that I get to observe on a daily basis and I can see how fully she is internalizing digital metaphors and possibilities, and how the world she understands has been colored by those interactions and subsequent expectations. It's quite startling. My point is that the experience of the 'connected-to-the-grid-from-birth' results in a very different type of brain, one which from an evolutionary perspective is more or at least affected, arguably, by forays into digital spaces, as well as physical ones.
And yes, I do feel like I am in my Facebook page when I choose to visit there. It's a very immersive experience replete with avatars, persistence, games, etc. There is also a Facebook stream that I attend to occasionally, but choosing to visit the site is a much different and more immersive experience.
Standard definition is perhaps my misnomer for what our collective intelligence has seemed to produce. You and I come from different schools in this regard, I know!
Finally, re: findings. My findings are supported by data and experience; the point I was making is that sometimes my perspectives are so deeply internalized and based on synthesized experience that I don't remember where they came from. And I rely rather heavily on intuition.
What is interesting about our disagreement/discussion here is my complete and total assumption that these spaces are fundamentally similar and therefore one set of findings applies to another digital space, at least when we are talking about such constructs as communication/friendship, etc., which we were. I have arrived at this point of view having spent the last couple of decades jumping from space to space, starting with BBS's and bulletin boards back in the day. The technology changes, graphics change, rules change, but the nature of belonging and friendship don't. It sucks as much to get unfriended on Facebook as it does to get booted from your guild in an MMO.
Another thing about anthropology is that we look for universals, and that is also what I am doing here...
We should have this conversation in person sometime! :-)
Posted Aug 8, 2009 11:23:55 AM | link
let me be more clear:
- facebook and WoW are obviously not the same, but there are arguably some aspects of the user/player experience that are common across them. I tend to be more interested in the inside out user/player perspective than the ontological discussions that attempt to make concrete something I view as fluid. I used the term 'digital space', btw, throughout my thesis...
Posted Aug 8, 2009 12:09:48 PM | link
Not to be defensive, either, but I was born in 1969, the year Arpanet debuted, and the year we went to the moon and organized an amazing and muddy music festival. I played Pong at my cousin's when I was 12, fought my mom over our Nintendo, belonged to the TI99 user group, and spent endless weekends in the 90s eating cheetos and drinking Dr. Pepper while I played just about every acceptable RPG, strategy or adventure game on PCs and consoles. I was never particularly a MUD girl (I like pretty pictures), tho I did dig that game Adventure back in the 80s.
Anyway, my research of the last five years is informed by this perspective.
Posted Aug 8, 2009 9:40:01 PM | link
Lisa>I am, actually, and I do think it applies, though certainly there are nuances across the various venues.
But D&D is played, on the whole, by very small groups of people who already knew each other. Oblivion is played by people on their own, only a very small fraction of whom ever posted to a web site on the subject. Disneyland is visited in family groups or coachloads, with very little interaction with other parties except while standing in line and complaining about having to stand in line.
Your research on the nature of connection in CoH would seem to have very little to say about these, because the nature of connection in them is so different. The reason they are different is in no small measure because they aren't virtual worlds and CoH is.
>My research questions had to do with the nature of connection and communication in these spaces, and whether there might be possibilities for skills development and personal transformation.
Well there is, yes - in CoH and other virtual worlds. In my book, I describe how this personal development works and why it works. There's plenty of data that support it, too. However, my theory only applies to what I call virtual worlds, and only in the case when people play for fun.
Now if other people think it might well apply to related areas, OK, well they're welcome to try it out. If it works, then they need to figure out why it works; if it doesn't work, well, it won't bring my theory down because I never said it would work.
Your research concerns CoH. You could plausibly extend it to other (what I call) virtual worlds, so long as you guard it with caveats. See how Dmitri Williams works with the EQ2 data, for example: all he ever says is in terms of EQ2; it may well apply beyond EQ2 to other MMOs, and this may even be blindingly obvious; however unless the links are already established, that's for future research.
>But what about the breast cancer survivors who huddle about Hearts games on MSN.com? They have avatars. There is a replication of physical space.
They don't interact with the Hearts game through those avatars, they're just placeholders. In the days before players started conflating the word "avatar" with "character", this would have been much more apparent - you couldn't call a placeholder your character.
Also, the replication of physical space is too abstract to count for much. However, even if you fixed this (so you played using a 3D client and saw "your" hand picking up cards realistically) it still wouldn't be a virtual world because it doesn't have the persistence.
>I would argue that is a virtual world. Social space doesn't cut it in my mind, as there is clearly a community of practice at work.
Virtual worlds will develop communities of practice, yes, and you can say that if there is an established virtual world then it will have these. However, having a community of practice does not make something a virtual world; they're necessary, but not sufficient. People working on open source projects have communities of practice (and deeper, too), but they're not virtual worlds either.
>Now, this is the first time I have heard you say that the spatial aspect is critical to the definition
I was giving an argument that it was, in an effort to show you what I meant by an argument. I can't back it up with any scientific evidence (well, except in an anthropology "I say it so it's a fact" kind of way).
>(did you say that in your book? can't remember).
What I said was that the players represent individuals "in" the world.
>What I am saying, is that as a digital native more or less, my experience of these spaces is a bit more fluid
There is a step change between what is a virtual world and what isn't. "A bit more fluid" doesn't cover it.
If you were to consider ONLY those aspects of a virtual world which are shared with other social spaces, and be SURE that none of the variables particular to virtual worlds were going to be applicable THEN you could extend your work in virtual worlds to other social spaces. However, you would NOT be able to call those other social spaces "virtual worlds".
>as I said before, I think the future is likely to be littered with all sorts of experiments with various types of virtual worlds that don't rely heavily or completely on the physical/spatial component
There will indeed be new and exciting developments, yes. The ways in which they overlap with virtual worlds and bounce off each other will be very fruitful areas for research. I doubt very much that researchers will be content to use data collected on virtual worlds as a basis for understanding these new hybrids: if they use the earlier research at all, they'll want to know what they can carry over and why. Claims by a "digital native" that "fluidity" enables them to do so will not be regarded uncritically.
>Likewise, I don't think immersion is reliant at all on the physical dimension.
It's not, but it makes it great deal easier.
>I have a 6-year old that I get to observe on a daily basis
Hmm. Remember earlier when I pointed out that "I've been doing this for years" is a dangerous line of argument to take? So is "I've been watching my children". Other people have more children than you and have been watching them for longer. The digital age did not begin 6 years ago: your child is not in the first wave of "connected" youngsters and you are not gaining insights unavailable to people whose children were born 10 years earlier. If you were, then 10 years from now you would have to bow to the views of researchers who had younger children than you purely on the basis that they had younger children than you - whether they were talking nonsense or not.
>My point is that the experience of the 'connected-to-the-grid-from-birth' results in a very different type of brain
The hardware is the same; the best that you can argue is that the software has a different emphasis.
>And yes, I do feel like I am in my Facebook page when I choose to visit there.
Is this in the same sense that you feel you are "in" the real world, or in the same sense that you feel you are "in" a word processor document? In other words, is it presence or projection or both?
If you are sitting at your computer "in" your Facebook page and you start to daydream, when you snap out of it are you at your computer or in your Facebook page?
>It's a very immersive experience replete with avatars
No, immersion is replete with people, not avatars.
The immersion felt by people in virtual worlds isn't the same kind of "immersion" you get in books or a culture or music: it's deeper than that. It's a tying of your identity to the identity of an imaginary individual (your character) such that over time these two different identities become the same: you ARE your character. In Facebook, there doesn't seem to be much scope for this kind of immersion. You're in Facebook as yourself - a slightly idealised version, perhaps, but not a wildly different one. You could, I guess, say your Facebook character is different to your real self, but it would be in the same way that you might say your work self was different from your home self. There's no conceit that you're representing another individual in Facebook, you're representing yourself.
>My findings are supported by data and experience; the point I was making is that sometimes my perspectives are so deeply internalized and based on synthesized experience that I don't remember where they came from. And I rely rather heavily on intuition.
Well we can all make that claim.
>What is interesting about our disagreement/discussion here is my complete and total assumption that these spaces are fundamentally similar and therefore one set of findings applies to another digital space
Indeed. From my perspective, if you want to extend your work in one area to another area, you have to show the route you're following. If they're isomorphic, you need to explain why they're isomorphic - you can't just make an assertion that they are isomorphic and hope we'll all go along happily with it. That's an argument based in faith, not reason. You can say "I'm an expert and I just know this is true", but we're all experts here and that line isn't going to impress us. You have to persuade us, not appeal to your academic authority - we all have academic authority of our own, so it just becomes your word against ours.
>at least when we are talking about such constructs as communication/friendship, etc., which we were.
To say this, you need to account for why the parts of virtual worlds you weren't talking about would have no bearing on it.
Example: let's suppose that men and women typically form relationships of different extents. Furthermore, let's suppose that because of the nature of CoH, men outnumber women in it 4 to 1. In a different social space, which draws people for different reasons, you may find that women outnumber men 100 to 1. Now: how can you extend conclusions made regarding CoH to this other area? Even if this other area were a virtual world in my terms (which are more specific than yours), you still couldn't do it unless you could demonstrate that gender wasn't a factor, or that one of the axioms was wrong.
Why do people play an MMO like CoH? Does this make it a self-selecting group in some way? Is a consequence of such self-selection that they will form groups in ways that are atypical to those formed in society at large?
Why do people recovering from breast cancer play Hearts on MSN? The group is clearly self-selecting in some way. Is a consequence of such self-selection that they will form groups in ways that are atypical to those formed by society at large? Crucially, are they atypical in the same way that CoH groups are atypical? If not, then you can't use data from the former to draw conclusions about the latter.
>The technology changes, graphics change, rules change, but the nature of belonging and friendship don't.
Oh, but they do.
Here's a real-life analogy. Soldiers from conflicts will keep in regular contact with their army buddies for decades after the conflict ended. They don't keep contact with their schoolfriends or workmates, but they'll keep contact with people in their unit indefinitely. The reason they do this is because friendship under fire shows you just who your friends are. The friendship they gain is at an intuitive level.
In MMOs, if you've been (in today's paradigm) raiding with people every night for months on end, you get to know people at a deep, intuitive level. You understand them, and they understand you. The friendships you form are deep and strong - at least in comparison to the more casual acquaintances you have in the MMO.
If you have flitted around from one social space to another, you probably won't have seen this. You'd have had to have stayed with one for a long, long time with the same other people in order to experience it. Indeed, if you were looking at it through an academic's eyes you may never have experienced it, because you were too detached. Furthermore, it's very, very difficult for such "spiritual communities" to arise in the usual online social spaces, because there's no pressure for them to form. There is such pressure in virtual worlds, though, especially game worlds (MMOs).
>It sucks as much to get unfriended on Facebook as it does to get booted from your guild in an MMO.
Does it suck for me if you unfriend someone who is my friend?
>Another thing about anthropology is that we look for universals, and that is also what I am doing here...
Do you have rules to determine the point at which you decide you haven't found one?
>facebook and WoW are obviously not the same, but there are arguably some aspects of the user/player experience that are common across them.
I agree. However, if you are to use research from one to support an argument in the other, you have to be explicit about which aspects are and are not important.
>I used the term 'digital space', btw, throughout my thesis...
That's perfectly fine.
It's not where we came in, though. The archbishop was talking about Facebook and Myspace; you were talking about City of Heroes.
As an analogy, your research was on modes of transport and the Archbishop was complaining about horses. You attacked him using data about bicycles. Now you can do that if the bicycle data exclusively concerns modes of transport (because a horse is a mode of transport), but if there's anything there that is bicycle-particular (eg. range) that might discount its being applied to horses, you can't use it.
>Anyway, my research of the last five years is informed by this perspective.
Or, if you rely on it too much, distorted by it.
PS: Good news! I'm going to be offline for the next two weeks, so you won't have to endure any more of these rants. I'm sorry if I've come over as rather aggressive, but it seems like this is a debate worth having. As you say, we should probably have it face to face sometime..
Posted Aug 9, 2009 7:03:18 AM | link
Letting Richard have the last word(s). ;-)
Posted Aug 9, 2009 12:05:06 PM | link
I think that forming the debate around what is/isn't a virtual world is missing the point.
To me it seems that Lisa has conflated user experiences in an environment based upon achieving goals, to one that isn't. You could apply the same definitions for facebook users to users of social virtual worlds. Loose friendships with the accompanying drama and fallout are readily apparent in these spaces, without fighting over a red herring about defining VWs. It's not the nature of the space that's at issue, but the actions and motivations of the users.
Lisa posted data that shows people found themselves more able to deal with decision making and leadership issues through the necessities of negotiating and allying with previously unknown others- I fail to see what that has got to do with formulating loose friendships in a space where there is no common goal to strive for.
To me the post read like "Doofus claims that roadside cafes lead to poorer cooking skills, but I have masses of proof that he's wrong because all these people became better truck drivers thanks to them."
I have firsthand experience and close observation of exactly what I feel the archbishop was talking about, but I'm not so far away from it all that the actors look like ants in a jar. One ant looks more or less like another to the distant observer perhaps. I felt this post was a wild swing and miss, but not for the reason that seems to have dominated the argument.
Posted Aug 10, 2009 6:16:03 AM | link
I have to confess that I was reacting to a few years of reading such opinions in such laudable venues as the BBC, and I have been sitting on this pile of data and not really sharing it. And it was 6am when I wrote that.
I intended for my tone to be playfully arrogant as I was pretty riled up, but I can see now that it didn't come across so well... I was also reacting more to what I perceived as a criticism of online relationships and experiences generally, which is why I applied my broader set of findings to my rant. Lots of context missing, though, which I should have shared...
And Ace, I know what you mean, but I feel that these types of news articles present a view that those negative experiences are the norm, rather than the exception. My very general argument is that experiences online are largely positive, both transient and intensely transformative relationships are formed, important skills are developed, etc etc etc.
Sometimes I have a problem with being precise. I frequently overgeneralize. I often assume people can read my mind. Sigh.
Posted Aug 10, 2009 11:58:41 AM | link
What scares me about Facebook, and why I don't use it, is that all my "friends" would see the same thing.
I would communicate very differently with different people I know. I'd be far more reticent about voicing odd brain storms or playing devils advocate knowing that lots of acquaintances or potential clients or employers could see things that I might later reconsider. Do I want to share my politics or odd hobbies?
I think the word superficial is correct, and more and more of you identity would be forced into a straight jacket you become accustomed to wearing.
With largely anonymous relationships, MMOs allow more risk taking and stepping out. Anonymous comments on boards like these can too.
I do think he has a point about an ease of quickly dropping online relationships, but he seems to jump to some conclusion that there is a zero sum game where all online enabled relationships prevent real realationships. I do think there are dysfunctional situations on the internet where people do fulfill their social desires without the need make a deeper connection that would have happened with the same time commitment in other ways. However for lots of people those extra ties are ONTOP of not Instead of other ties. You don't meet people while reading a magazine or wathcing tv at home.
I think he's barking entirely up the wrong tree with Facebook . Most people I know use it most for existing friend and family and more communications and familiarity with each other's life's can only strengthen those ties.
Posted Aug 14, 2009 5:43:06 PM | link
A little late to the table here, but I'm not at all convinced that Facebook/MySpace have many similarities with MMOs like City of Heroes. The responses cited relate mainly to some very obviously transferrable social skills, which the co-operative nature of MMO gameplay may encourage and help develop.
Do Facebook and MySpace foster those skills? They do help develop other skills, such as those related to entrepreneurship and creativity, but even so, whether Facebook and MySpace are valuable in developing skills and self-confidence wasn't really what the Archbishop was questioning.
Wasn't he specifically referring to the social pressures created in some adolescent peer groups by the quantifiable number of "friends" these sites display? It's a new development in human society, surely, to have a widely-used public forum that enumerates the exact number of friends a person has.
When you meet someone in City of Heroes, you don't immediately see their Friends List displayed beside their name. You do if you look at someone's MySpace profile.
Posted Aug 30, 2009 11:22:54 AM | link