Digital Ethnography is something I’m very familiar with. When I was in middle and high school, I was a professional level Call of Duty player for the computer and there was a community. This was a community as real as those you experience in college or otherwise and many of the people actually met up with each other in real life. This community was also a significant buying market for computer hardware companies as they tended to both spend quite a bit of money and be vocal about their support for certain products. As a result of my past experiences, I can relate somewhat to Second Life.
Tom Boellstorff: Coming of Age in Second Life
As Boellstorff explains Second Life as a combination of The Sims mixed with World of Warcraft, it’s very easy to relate to anyone who has been a part of the online community. As he grapples with trying to make distinctions between virtual and game or how many who are not within the community tend to denigrate it, I can’t help but wonder if he’s forgetting much simpler comparisons. Unfortunately these communities are not the positive life-like experiences that he shows them to be, but from personal experience, they aren’t much different than the documentaries done on groups of friends with bad addictions. Many of those in Second Life or similar communities see their lives drastically impacted by the virtual world and generally not for the better. Some can handle it, but many become hopelessly addicted and their “real-life” relationships suffer significantly. While I understand he does not want to pass judgement on those he’s studying, but by ignoring that judgement, he is ignoring the greatest ethnographic comparisons that could be made. Also, while he investigates the real money that can be made in Second Life, he ignores the real money that can be lost. Many people spend far more than they earn, which also impacts real-world relationships. This is almost a parallel to those on an addictive drug. I may sound like an alarmist, but I know of many in the World of Warcraft community and of those, very few were able to actually balance out their virtual activities with the real world.
Digital ethnography: The next wave in understanding the consumer experience
Masten and Plowman’s study was completed in 2003 and they were definitely onto something. With the evolution of social media from Myspace to Facebook and now with the increased popularity of Tumblr, it’s clear that entire buying behaviors and emotions are shaped by digital ethnology. The study’s Valentine’s Day example can be played out today with any holiday and the creativity seen by some would be on Pinterest today.
1. Do you have a similar experience to the one I had with Call of Duty? If so, do you agree with my general evaluation of people in virtual “game-like” communities?
2. What do you see as the next evolution in digital ethnology?
3. Why do you think games like Second Life or World of Warcraft are so popular and do you see that popularity diminishing soon?