Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method

Princeton University Press
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Ethnography and Virtual Worlds is the only book of its kind--a concise, comprehensive, and practical guide for students, teachers, designers, and scholars interested in using ethnographic methods to study online virtual worlds, including both game and nongame environments. Written by leading ethnographers of virtual worlds, and focusing on the key method of participant observation, the book provides invaluable advice, tips, guidelines, and principles to aid researchers through every stage of a project, from choosing an online fieldsite to writing and publishing the results.


  • Provides practical and detailed techniques for ethnographic research customized to reflect the specific issues of online virtual worlds, both game and nongame

  • Draws on research in a range of virtual worlds, including Everquest, Second Life, There.com, and World of Warcraft

  • Provides suggestions for dealing with institutional review boards, human subjects protocols, and ethical issues

  • Guides the reader through the full trajectory of ethnographic research, from research design to data collection, data analysis, and writing up and publishing research results

  • Addresses myths and misunderstandings about ethnographic research, and argues for the scientific value of ethnography

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About the author

Tom Boellstorff is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. His books include Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Bonnie Nardi is professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Her books include My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Celia Pearce is associate professor of digital media at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her books include Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds. T. L. Taylor is associate professor of comparative media studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her books include Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Sep 16, 2012
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Pages
264
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ISBN
9781400845286
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Language
English
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Genres
Social Science / Anthropology / Cultural & Social
Social Science / Anthropology / General
Social Science / Media Studies
Social Science / Research
Social Science / Sociology / General
Sports & Recreation / Sociology of Sports
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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Millions of people around the world today spend portions of their lives in online virtual worlds. Second Life is one of the largest of these virtual worlds. The residents of Second Life create communities, buy property and build homes, go to concerts, meet in bars, attend weddings and religious services, buy and sell virtual goods and services, find friendship, fall in love--the possibilities are endless, and all encountered through a computer screen. At the time of its initial publication in 2008, Coming of Age in Second Life was the first book of anthropology to examine this thriving alternate universe.

Tom Boellstorff conducted more than two years of fieldwork in Second Life, living among and observing its residents in exactly the same way anthropologists traditionally have done to learn about cultures and social groups in the so-called real world. He conducted his research as the avatar "Tom Bukowski," and applied the rigorous methods of anthropology to study many facets of this new frontier of human life, including issues of gender, race, sex, money, conflict and antisocial behavior, the construction of place and time, and the interplay of self and group.


Coming of Age in Second Life shows how virtual worlds can change ideas about identity and society. Bringing anthropology into territory never before studied, this book demonstrates that in some ways humans have always been virtual, and that virtual worlds in all their rich complexity build upon a human capacity for culture that is as old as humanity itself. Now with a new preface in which the author places his book in light of the most recent transformations in online culture, Coming of Age in Second Life remains the classic ethnography of virtual worlds.

What Doesn't Kill Us, a New York Times bestseller, traces our evolutionary journey back to a time when survival depended on how well we adapted to the environment around us.

Our ancestors crossed deserts, mountains, and oceans without even a whisper of what anyone today might consider modern technology. Those feats of endurance now seem impossible in an age where we take comfort for granted. But what if we could regain some of our lost evolutionary strength by simulating the environmental conditions of our ancestors?

Investigative journalist and anthropologist Scott Carney takes up the challenge to find out: Can we hack our bodies and use the environment to stimulate our inner biology? Helping him in his search for the answers is Dutch fitness guru Wim Hof, whose ability to control his body temperature in extreme cold has sparked a whirlwind of scientific study. Carney also enlists input from an Army scientist, a world-famous surfer, the founders of an obstacle course race movement, and ordinary people who have documented how they have cured autoimmune diseases, lost weight, and reversed diabetes. In the process, he chronicles his own transformational journey as he pushes his body and mind to the edge of endurance, a quest that culminates in a record-bending, 28-hour climb to the snowy peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro wearing nothing but a pair of running shorts and sneakers.

An ambitious blend of investigative reporting and participatory journalism, What Doesn’t Kill Us explores the true connection between the mind and the body and reveals the science that allows us to push past our perceived limitations.
A study of Everquest that provides a snapshot of multiplayer gaming culture, questions the truism that computer games are isolating and alienating, and offers insights into broader issues of work and play, gender identity, technology, and commercial culture.

In Play Between Worlds, T. L. Taylor examines multiplayer gaming life as it is lived on the borders, in the gaps—as players slip in and out of complex social networks that cross online and offline space. Taylor questions the common assumption that playing computer games is an isolating and alienating activity indulged in by solitary teenage boys. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), in which thousands of players participate in a virtual game world in real time, are in fact actively designed for sociability. Games like the popular Everquest, she argues, are fundamentally social spaces.

Taylor's detailed look at Everquest offers a snapshot of multiplayer culture. Drawing on her own experience as an Everquest player (as a female Gnome Necromancer)—including her attendance at an Everquest Fan Faire, with its blurring of online—and offline life—and extensive research, Taylor not only shows us something about games but raises broader cultural issues. She considers "power gamers," who play in ways that seem closer to work, and examines our underlying notions of what constitutes play—and why play sometimes feels like work and may even be painful, repetitive, and boring. She looks at the women who play Everquest and finds they don't fit the narrow stereotype of women gamers, which may cast into doubt our standardized and preconceived ideas of femininity. And she explores the questions of who owns game space—what happens when emergent player culture confronts the major corporation behind the game.

From Jackie Robinson to Muhammad Ali and Arthur Ashe, African American athletes have been at the center of modern culture, their on-the-field heroics admired and stratospheric earnings envied. But for all their money, fame, and achievement, says New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden, black athletes still find themselves on the periphery of true power in the multibillion-dollar industry their talent built.

Provocative and controversial, Rhoden’s $40 Million Slaves weaves a compelling narrative of black athletes in the United States, from the plantation to their beginnings in nineteenth-century boxing rings to the history-making accomplishments of notable figures such as Jesse Owens, Althea Gibson, and Willie Mays. Rhoden reveals that black athletes’ “evolution” has merely been a journey from literal plantations—where sports were introduced as diversions to quell revolutionary stirrings—to today’s figurative ones, in the form of collegiate and professional sports programs. He details the “conveyor belt” that brings kids from inner cities and small towns to big-time programs, where they’re cut off from their roots and exploited by team owners, sports agents, and the media. He also sets his sights on athletes like Michael Jordan, who he says have abdicated their responsibility to the community with an apathy that borders on treason.

The power black athletes have today is as limited as when masters forced their slaves to race and fight. The primary difference is, today’s shackles are often the athletes’ own making.
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