Category Archives: Virtual Space

Dibbell – A Rape in Cyberspace

A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society

by Julian Dibbell

[ Dibbell, Julian. 1993. “A Rape in Cyberspace: How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database Into a Society” in The Village Voice, December 23, 1993]

Points & Quotes:

The Incident

“They say he raped them that night. They say he did it with a cunning little doll, fashioned in their image and imbued with the power to make them do whatever he desired. They say that by manipulating the doll he forced them to have sex with him, and with each other, and to do horrible, brutal things to their own bodies. And though I wasn’t there that night, I think I can assure you that what they say is true, because it all happened right in the living room — right there amid the well-stocked bookcases and the sofas and the fireplace — of a house I came for a time to think of as my second home.”

“LambdaMOO, a very large and very busy rustic mansion built entirely of words”

“This is … the story of a man named Mr. Bungle, and of the ghostly sexual violence he committed in the halls of LambdaMOO, and most importantly of the ways his violence and his victims challenged the 1000 and more residents of that surreal, magic-infested mansion to become, finally, the community so many of them already believed they were”

“here on the brink of a future in which human life may find itself as tightly enveloped in digital environments as it is today in the architectural kind […]
It asks us to shut our ears momentarily to the techno-utopian ecstasies of West Coast cyberhippies and look without illusion upon the present possibilities for building, in the on-line spaces of this world, societies more decent and free than those mapped onto dirt and concrete and capital. It asks us to behold the new bodies awaiting us in virtual space undazzled by their phantom powers, and to get to the crucial work of sorting out the socially meaningful differences between those bodies and our physical ones. And most forthrightly it asks us to wrap our late-modern ontologies, epistemologies, sexual ethics, and common sense around the curious notion of rape by voodoo doll—and to try not to warp them beyond recognition in the process.

“every set of facts in virtual reality (or VR, as the locals abbreviate it) is shadowed by a second, complicating set: the “real-life” facts. … No hideous clowns or trickster spirits appear in the RL version of the incident, no voodoo dolls or wizard guns, indeed no rape at all as any RL court of law has yet defined it … no bodies touched

“to the extent that Mr. Bungle’s assault happened in real life at all, it happened as a sort of Punch-and-Judy show, in which the puppets and the scenery were made of nothing more substantial than digital code and snippets of creative writing.”

it wasn’t until the evening of the second day after the incident that legba, finally and rather solemnly, gave it voice:

“I am requesting that Mr. Bungle be toaded for raping Starsinger and I. I have never done this before, and have thought about it for days. He hurt us both.”

“Toad the fukr.”

[to “toad” is basically an MUD death sentence:
“not only are the description and attributes of the toaded player erased, but the account itself goes too. The annihilation of the character, thus, is total.”

To Toad?

“Four months before the Bungle incident, the archwizard Haakon … announced that the wizards from that day forth were pure technicians. From then on, they would make no decisions affecting the social life of the MOO, but only implement whatever decisions the community as a whole directed them to. […]
the question of what to do about Mr. Bungle began to shape itself into a sort of referendum on the political future of the MOO.”

  • “Parliamentarian legalist types argued that unfortunately Bungle could not legitimately be toaded at all, since there were no explicit MOO rules against rape, or against just about anything else …
  • Others, with a royalist streak in them, seemed to feel that Bungle’s as-yet-unpunished outrage only proved this New Direction silliness had gone on long enough, and that it was high time the wizardocracy returned to the position of swift and decisive leadership their player class was born to …
  • [for the ]technolibertarians … MUD rapists were of course assholes, but the presence of assholes on the system was a technical inevitability …
  • the anarchists didn’t care much for punishments or policies or power elites. … they hoped the MOO could be a place where people interacted fulfillingly without the need for such things [and] were now at great pains to sever the conceptual ties between toading and capital punishment”

“So that when the time came, at 7 p.m. PST on the evening of the third day after the occurrence in the living room, to gather in evangeline’s room for her proposed real-time open conclave, …
Peaking in number at around 30, this was one of the largest crowds that ever gathered in a single LambdaMOO chamber, …
You could almost feel the claustrophobic air of the place, dank and overheated by virtual bodies, pressing against your skin.”

“There were the central questions, of course: thumbs up or down on Bungle’s virtual existence? And if down, how then to insure that his toading was not just some isolated lynching but a first step toward shaping LambdaMOO into a legitimate community?

“On these and other matters the anarchists, the libertarians, the legalists, the wizardists—and the wizards—all had their thoughtful say …
midway through the evening Mr. Bungle himself, the living, breathing cause of all this talk, teleported into the room. … And then he said this:

“I engaged in a bit of a psychological device that is called thought-polarization, the fact that this is not RL simply added to heighten the affect of the device. It was purely a sequence of events with no consequence on my RL existence.”

“he’d been around long enough to leave his newbie status behind, and his delusional statement therefore placed him among the second type: the sociopath. … at this point what seemed clear was that evangeline’s meeting had died, at last, and without any practical results to mark its passing.

Action

“JoeFeedback was a wizard, … he took the crime committed against legba and Starsinger very seriously, and that he felt no particular compassion toward the character who had committed it. But on the other hand he had made it equally plain that he took the elimination of a fellow player just as seriously, and moreover that he had no desire to return to the days of wizardly fiat. … as much as he would have liked to make himself an instrument of LambdaMOO’s collective will, he surely realized that under the present order of things he must in the final analysis either act alone or not act at all.”

“So JoeFeedback acted alone. …

He told the lingering few players in the room that he had to go, and then he went. He did it quietly and he did it privately. …
Mr. Bungle was truly dead and truly gone.”

Coda

“Certainly whatever civil society now informs LambdaMOO owes its existence to the Bungle Affair. The archwizard Haakon .. . would build into the database a system of petitions and ballots whereby anyone could put to popular vote any social scheme requiring wizardly powers for its implementation,”

“as I pored over the *social debate and got to know legba and some of the other victims and witnesses, I could feel my newbie consciousness falling away from me. Where before I’d found it hard to take virtual rape seriously, I now was finding it difficult to remember how I could ever not have taken it seriously.”

the more seriously I took the notion of virtual rape, the less seriously I was able to take the notion of freedom of speech, with its tidy division of the world into the symbolic and the real.”

“whatever else these thoughts tell me, I have come to believe that they announce the final stages of our decades-long passage into the Information Age, a paradigm shift that the classic liberal firewall between word and deed (itself a product of an earlier paradigm shift commonly known as the Enlightenment) is not likely to survive intact. After all, anyone the least bit familiar with the workings of the new era’s definitive technology, the computer, knows that it operates on a principle impracticably difficult to distinguish from the pre-Enlightenment principle of the magic word: the commands you type into a computer are a kind of speech that doesn’t so much communicate as make things happen, directly and ineluctably, the same way pulling a trigger does. They are incantations.”

Continue reading Dibbell – A Rape in Cyberspace

Nardi – My Life as a Night Elf Priest

My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft [Prologue & Chapter 2]

by Bonnie A. Nardi

[ Nardi, Bonnie. 2010. My Life a a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. University of Michigan Press ]

Points & Quotes:

“I believe World of Warcraft is an exemplar of a new means of forming and sustaining human relationships and collaborations through digital technology.” (5)

Aims:

My Life As a Night Elf Priest

  1. “The first aim of the book is to develop an argument about World of Warcraft that examines play as active aesthetic experience, drawing on activity theory (Leontiev 1974) and the work of philosopher John Dewey. […]
  2. “Understanding play in its contemporary digital manifestations is a second aim of the book. I argue that video games such as WoW are a new visual-performative medium enabled, and strongly shaped, by the capacities of digital technology, in particular the execution of digital rules powerful enough to call forth complex worlds of activity. […]
  3. “A third aim of the book is ethnographic reportage—interpreting experiences of playing World of Warcraft for those who will never play but wish to understand something of the role of video games in our culture.” (6-7)

Cool Thoughts about Ethnography

“Unlike research in most academic disciplines, where investigation proceeds according to a scientific procedure involving hypothesis generation and testing, ethnography moves in a “go with the flow” pattern that attempts to follow the interesting and the unexpected as they are encountered in the field.” (27)

Quote from Marylin Strathern:

“Ethnography is . . . the deliberate attempt to generate more data than the researcher is aware of at the time of collection . . . Rather than devising research protocols that will purify the data in advance of analysis, the anthropologist embarks on a participatory exercise which yields materials for which analytical protocols are often devised after the fact. (2004)” (28)

Marilyn Strathern, Partial Connections, 2004

Specifically Digital Ethnography:

“Most anthropological fieldwork requires a budget for foreign travel and the necessity to leave home. It often requires living under difficult circumstances. The cost of entering a virtual world is very low—in the case of World of Warcraft 50 dollars for the game CDs and 14 dollars a month for the subscription. No research grants or struggles with a foreign language were necessary to initiate the research. Nor was there a need to cope with disturbing food, large insects, filth, dangerous diseases, or homesickness. My entry point to the field site was a computer on my dining room table where I sat in a comfortable chair and played for many hours. And yet this fieldwork was nearly as immersive as the fieldwork I conducted for my postdoctoral research in Western Samoa or Papua New Guinea, where I accompanied my husband for his doctoral research. I typically played about 20 hours a week. I read fewer novels and slept a bit less. In addition to game play, I read my guild’s website nearly every day and spent considerable time reading about World of Warcraft on the Internet.” (29)

However…

“Most of the interviews were conducted face-to-face; I find I learn more when I sit down with someone for an unhurried conversation.” (30)

“Many guild members were parents with small children. It was not unusual for game play to stop as a player settled an infant who had awakened or took time out to bandage a skinned knee. Part of the guild ethos was that members had real lives, so such actions were to be tolerated politely and patiently.” (33)

“One difference in studying WoW was that the research inclined toward the participant end of participant-observation. I learned to play the game well enough to participate in a raiding guild. I looked just like any other player. For many practical purposes, I was just another player. I could not have studied raiding guilds without playing as well as at least an average player and fully participating in raids. By contrast, when I was walking around villages in Papua New Guinea or Western Samoa, I was obviously an outsider whose identity required explanation.” (34)

“Blending in, however, is not necessarily characteristic of research in virtual worlds; it does not distinctly identify “digital ethnography.” In research I conducted in Second Life with IBM, my participation as a researcher was made clear to others to the point of having a halo over my character’s head to identify my special status. Boellstorff (2008) and Pearce (2009) were identified as researchers in the virtual worlds they studied. It may be more natural to set up shop as an anthropologist in non-game worlds; in a game world, the overwhelming need to play dominates interaction much of the time.” (35)

Continue reading Nardi – My Life as a Night Elf Priest

Gee – Learning and Identity

Learning and Identity: What does it Mean to Be a Half-Elf?

by James Paul Gee

[ Gee, James Paul. 2003. “Learning and Identity: What does it Mean to Be a Half-Elf?” Chapter 3 of What Video Games have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. Palgrave Macmillan, NYC]

THREE IDENTITIES: VIRTUAL, REAL, AND PROJECTIVE

Points & Quotes:

Virtual Identity

“First, there is a virtual identity: one’s identity as a virtual character in the virtual world … “James Paul Gee as BeadBead” … given the sort of creature Bead Bead is (a female Half-Elf) and how I have developed her thus far, there are, at any point, things she can do and things she cannot do.” (54)

“The successes and failures of the virtual being Bead Bead (me in my virtual identity) are a delicious blend of my doing and not my doing. After all, I made Bead Bead and developed her, so I deserve—partly, at least—praise for her successes and blame for her failures. Yet Bead Bead is who she is—a female Half-Elf—and must move through the world of Arcanum and be formed, in part, by it, a world I did not create.” (54-55)

Real Identity

“A second identity that is at stake in playing a game like Arcanum is a real- world identity: namely, my own identity as “James Paul Gee,” a nonvirtual person playing a computer game. I will represent this identity as “James Paul Gee as Bead Bead,” where James Paul Gee is italicized to indicate that, in this identity, the stress is on the real-world character James Paul Gee playing Arcanum as a game in real time (though Bead Bead is the tool through which I operate the game).” (55)

“In the real world I have a good many different nonvirtual identities . I am a professor, a linguist , an Anglo American, a middle-age male baby boomer, a parent, an avid reader, a middle-class person initially raised outside the middle class, a former devout Catholic, a lover of movies, and so on through a great many other identities … Which of these identities, for instance, was at play—positively or negatively—when I got such joy at having Bead Bead pick rich people’s pockets? When I chose to be a female Half-Elf in the first place? When I chose to use my points to make her as strong and good as a male at melee fighting with a sword?” (55)

Projective Identity

“A third identity that is at stake in playing a game like Arcanum is what I will call a projective identity, playing on two senses of the word “project,” meaning both “to project one’s values and desires onto the virtual character” (Bead Bead, in this case) and “seeing the virtual character as one’s own project in the making, a creature whom I imbue with a certain trajectory through time defined by my aspirations for what I want that character to be and become (within the limitation s of her capacities, of course)” … “James Paul Gee as Bead Bead … the stress is on the interface between—the interactions between—the real- world person and the virtual character.” (55-56)

“The kind of person I want Bead Bead to be, the kind of history I want her to have, the kind of person and history I am trying to build in and through her is what I mean by a projective identity. Since these aspirations are my desires for Bead Bead, the projective identity is both mine and hers, and it is a space in which I can transcend both her limitations and my own.” (56)

“For example, on my first try at the game, early on I had Bead Bead sell the ring the old man had given her. … It’s a move allowed by the internal design grammar of the game and one for which I would have suffered no bad consequences in the game world. … However, the act just seemed wrong for the creature I wanted Bead Bead to be (or to have become, however partially, by the end of the game). … I felt I had “let her down” and started the game all over again. Thus, in my projective identity—Bead Bead as my project—I am attributing feelings and motives to Bead Bead that go beyond the confines of the game world and enter the realm of a world of my own creation.” (57-58)

TL;DR

“This tripartite play of identities (a virtual identity, a real-world identity, and a projective identity) in the relationship “player as virtual character” is quite powerful. It transcends identification with characters in novels or movies, for instance, because it is both active (the player actively does things) and reflexive, in the sense that once the player has made some choices about the virtual character, the virtual character is now developed in a way that sets certain parameters about what the player can do. The virtual character redounds back on the player and affects his or her future actions.” (58)

Continue reading Gee – Learning and Identity

Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web

by John Postill and Sarah Pink

[Postill, John, and Sarah Pink. 2012. “Social Media Ethnography: The Digital Researcher in a Messy Web.” Media International Australia, Incorporating Culture and Policy, no. 145 (November).]

Points

  • great model for Internet ethnography
  • based on fieldwork both on and offline among political activists in Barcelona
  • Advances a new approach to Internet ethnography, moving away from a concept of online community, and toward concepts of routine, movement, and sociality.
    • routine (based on Postill’s fieldwork) five overlapping sub-practices
      1. catching-up— withresearch-related developments through Twitter, Facebook and face-to-face encounters and, to a lesser extent, via email, mailing lists, Google alerts, news feeds and mobile phone exchanges” (128).
      2. sharing—”The technical ease with which users habitually share news and other information conceals the fact that digital sharing is a skilled, embodied activity that the researcher must learn to perfect over time” (128).
      3. exploring—”often by following links provided in tweets. These explorations can end in a quick glance at a web page or in longer, more meandering explorations of a potential research site” (129).
      4. interacting—”a range of different forms and intensities, from an occasional ‘Like’ on Facebook to a long series of face-to-face, mobile and online encounters” (129).
      5. archiving— [tagging, bogs, public/private] raises questions about the changing nature of fieldnotes in the digital era. One intriguing question is how extensive tagging may shape the fieldwork process” (129).
    • movement—online social activity is not relegated to a single platform. Groups will interact on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tumblr simultaneously, so following the movement of the group from one platform to the next through hashtags and hyperlinks is an important aspect in studying how social systems really work on the Internet.
    • sociality—Internet activity can not be thought of as occurring within a bounded area. This need for open edges is why Postill and Pink reject the use of “community” as a descriptor: it brings with it implications of spatial boundedness and the creation of a single social unit. Instead, they look at the “sociality” of individual actors aggregated across boundaries (platform to platform; online to IRL) to form a picture of the movement discussed above. Unlike a community, the group has no clear edges and is in constant motion.
  • BIG take away quote: “In existing literatures, a messy web has been ordered through concepts such as community, culture and network. However, in the context of doing social media ethnography, a different approach is needed. A plural concept of sociality that allows us to focus on the qualities of relatedness in online and offline relationships offers a better way of understanding how social media practices are implicated in the constitution of social groups, and the practices in which they engage together. Understanding the work of the social media ethnographer as mobile is important for gaining a sense of the shifting intensities of the social media landscape as it emerges online, but also as it is interwoven with offline activities. It is important to be able to see how the researcher’s online movement is both routine and subject to her or him being ‘carried’ through social media environments (e.g. through Twitter hashtags or Facebook threads), and becoming part of both digital and offline crowds in real, experiential ways” (132).

ethnographic place—”drawing on the work of Massey (2005) and Ingold (2008), are constituted through the emergent relations between things and processes. They are not bounded territories or groups/communities. Rather, they are clusters or intensities of things of which both localities and socialities are elements” (124).

Abstract

Social media practices and technologies are often part of how ethnographic research participants navigate their wider social, material and technological worlds, and are equally part of ethnographic practice. This creates the need to consider how emergent forms of social media-driven ethnographic practice might be understood theoretically and methodologically. In this article, we respond critically to existing literatures concerning the nature of the internet as an ethnographic site by suggesting how concepts of routine, movement and sociality enable us to understand the making of social media ethnography knowledge and places.

Continue reading Postill & Pink—Social Media Ethnography

Boellstorff—Placing the Virtual Body

Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg

by Tom Boellstorff

[Boellstorff, Tom. 2011. “Placing the Virtual Body: Avatar, Chora, Cypherg.” In A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment, edited by Frances E. Mascia-Lees, 504–20. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.]

Points

“to develop a theory of the virtual body that links

  1. ethnographic insights from prior work by myself and other scholars with
  2. a theoretical architecture drawing from a range of philosophical perspectives and
  3. the introduction of three new concepts: virtual chora, being-inworld, and the cypherg” (515).
  • chora—ancient Greek philosophical term; in Plato’s view chora is the basis of being, such that “forms come to be in it without ever being of it” (Sallis 1999: 109)
  • virtual chora—Virtual worlds underscore how chora is not place per se, but place-making or worlding (Zhan 2009), the embodied “dance” of techne making possible “being-in-the-world.” As this last term suggests, this reframing of chora links it to a phenomenology of the virtual body
  • being inworld—Heidegger’s ‘being-in-the-world’ is not sufficient for the virtual, because ‘being’ is defined and experienced differently, depending on which virtual world one is ‘being’ in. So Boellstorff pluralizes and phenomenologizes the concept (through Merleau-Ponty). Being inworld is existenec (dwelling) according to the local virtual definitions.
  • cypherg—a mixture of Karl Jaspers’s cypher (an “objectivity which is permeated by subjectivity and in such a way that Being becomes present in the whole” (Jaspers 1959: 35) and Donna Haraway’s cyborg (part human, part machine, see Cyborg Manifesto). The cyherg itself is “virtual corporeality through which “a participation in Being takes place” (Jaspers 1959: 61), a participation through techne that makes possible the conditions for emplaced being itself. A recursive indexicality, made possible by the pluralization of being-inworld” (515).

“From virtual chora emerges the cypherg, a figure of online corporeality, a figure whose recursively indexical being-inworld stands to fundamentally reconfigure what it means to be human” (517).

Continue reading Boellstorff—Placing the Virtual Body

Fernback—Internet Ritual

Internet Ritual: A Case Study of the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning

by Jan Fernback

[Fernback, Jennifer. 2002. “Internet Ritual: A Case for the Construction of Computer-Mediated Neopagan Religious Meaning.” In Practicing Religion in the Age of Media. New York: Columbia University Publishing.]

Points

(good lit review on ritual)

asserts that “logging on to and participating in neopagan discussion groups is a form of ritual behavior (259)”

  • uses Grimes six modes of ritual action: ritualization, decorum, ceremony, liturgy, magic, & celebration
  • supported by VanGennep (separation, transition, & incorporation)
  • & Turner (liminality, communitas)

Online communication is “betwixt and between” (therefore liminal) the “structure of everyday societas and the antistructure of autocracy, boundless possibility and the communitas of the CMC environmant (260)”

“while cyberspace is a ritual site of religiosity, it can also serve as a site for the reconstruction of embodied rituals in a textual mode (266)”

non-participant observation (“lurking”) and interviews on neopagan online discussion groups

parachurch religiosity—religious experience outside of a church or other communal avenue of worship

Abstract

As computer-mediated communication (CMC) technologies attain widespread use throughout the world, media scholars are examining these technologies as new forms of media and as extended cultural environments. Although some scholars criticize the use of CMC as an atomizing force that promotes ersatz social bonding, others hail its use as the progenitor of new sites of community and social action. This chapter follows a tradition of interpretive approaches to communication phenomena by examining the realm of cyberspace as a site for the construction of cultural practice for a religious group. Specifically, I explore the ritual processes and meanings evident in the discursive communities formed around various neopagan-oriented computer bulletin boards. After giving some brief background on neopaganism and ritual theory, I take a case-study approach to investigate ritual within a computer-mediated communicative environment and its significance with regard to the relationship between religion and technology Continue reading Fernback—Internet Ritual

Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life

Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human.

by Tom Boellstorff

[Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.]

Points

  • The virtual is not new—we have always been virtual because we interact through the mediating lens of “culture.” SO being virtual is being human.
  • Virtual /actual binary rather than “real”
  • What makes SL so different (as opposed to social platforms) is the use of techne in a “third place.”
  • We are starting a new Age of Techne. Humans (homo faber) have always used craft to create, but virtual worlds create a new way to do this (homo cyber).
  • Techne – human practice that engages with the world and creates a new world as well as a new person: homo cyber

Great summary written by John Postill: http://johnpostill.com/2009/07/13/summary-of-boellstorff-2008-coming-of-age-in-second-life/ Continue reading Boellstorff—Coming of Age in Second Life