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Mar 04, 2009




Can't wait to read it.


Proved to be very interesting indeed.

It seems to me that the guidelines the researchers ended up with are very similar to the ones used in anthropology before the post-modernists.


I thought it was a very good paper.

I agree that what you do in the data collection phase, not just what you disclose in the final write-up, poses ethical issues.

This is most obvious when you're intentionally carrying out an experiment to see if some factor you introduce changes people's behaviour. But even if you've reassured your IRB by saying you're only doing a study, not an experiment, just by being there, interacting with people and asking questions, you inevitably affect what people do. (e.g. your questions can put ideas into people's heads). The concern is that you might be having a damaging effect.

On the sensitivity of the topic: In Second Life, particularly, interviews can reveal sensitive data even if the sensitive topic isn't the primary focus of your research. For example, you might be interested in whether people prefer voice or text chat, and why. This seems harmless enough, but then your interviewees might turn out to include sex industry workers, Furries, etc.

On the public/private distinction. Part of the ethical problem for researchers is that it isn't always clear what is "public" and what is "private" in these spaces. As well as being a problem for VW research of all kinds, it's also a research topic in itself (See, for example: Adams, Andrew. Privacy online and culture: evidence from Japan. Ethicomp 2008).


It's a great paper, really fun to read.

The only thing missing is a direct address of the work of getting game data from the systems themselves, rather than being an embodied game presence.

The echo-chamber of the minority surrounding Dmitri's excellent work (which SOE had to release that statement on) means that this work might be touching a raw nerve with the community, even though the work is anonymized. It seems that the players involved with that backlash didn't care what was in the data or what was published, just that someone who wasn't an SOE employee could look at it, regardless of whatever NDA Dmitri's people are under.

I'd love to hear TN's thoughts on it, as I have very minimal experience in the field of scientific ethics!

The only thing missing is a direct address of the work of getting game data from the systems themselves, rather than being an embodied game presence.

Agreed. Many MMO's have GM interfaces with very powerful surveillance abilities. These could provide very useful data for research, but the player may well have an expectation of privacy that they won't be used in this way.

The ethical issues of covert monitoring of non-consenting subjects comes up in other (non MMO) research contexts, so there's some precedent to draw on.


The Metaplace terms of service (for example), say this:

Rights of world creators


To be secure in their created worlds so that communications, designated private spaces, and effects, are protected against unreasonable snooping, eavesdropping, searching and seizures. Any such activity will only be undertaken with good reason, such as investigating the violation of the EULA, these Terms of Service, or applicable laws.

Note that there is no exemption for research.


...which is pretty interesting, given that Raph Koster said he green-lighted the work on the SOE dumps way back when he was there.

I wonder if he's had a change of heart on the matter. I hope not, I think there's very valuable work to be done at the game server end... providing its anonymized enough.

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