[Air-L] PhD Thesis - Virtually Real:Being in Cyberspace

Morgan Leigh morgan at wirejunkie.com
Thu Mar 3 18:09:21 PST 2016

Greetings Sharon,
Thank you for your question. The main difference is in method. Nardi's
book is an ethnography while mine is an autoethnography. This may seem a
subtle distinction, but in fact there is a world of difference. I
proceed from the understanding that it is not possible to know the other
as one knows one's self, and that thus any attempt to study others is
necessarily limited by the filters of each person's reality tunnel -
that we don't even know what we don't know about others. Relationships
in cyberspace are perhaps the example par excellence of this, in
cyberspace no one knows you are a dog. This theme of unknowing that
becomes knowing is central to my work while Nardi proceeds on the usual
anthropological understanding that it is possible to know others by
studying them.

Nardi also proceeds on the basis that it is possible to remain in some
way outside a culture while studying it. She holds the traditional
anthropological position that the anthropologist must remain objective
and must not influence the culture one is studying, as she says, "As far
as I can tell, I have caused virtually no perturbations in World of
Warcraft...". My position is that objectivity is impossible in the human
condition as objectivity requires omniscience, and that in order to know
a thing one must become the thing. As I say in the thesis "criticisms of
subjective research often argue that 'cultural realities and
interpretations of events among individuals in the same group are often
highly variable, changing or contradictory' and that, as such, this kind
of research only presents a single interpretation of events rather than
a single, objective truth. I shall argue that this is in fact the value
of this method. Taking a subjective approach forces one to admit that
there are many truths and that we must know them all in order to truly
know reality".

As for platform affordance differences they are legion, and this is
revealed by the fact that Nardi is studying a game while I am studying a
world. As I say in the thesis, the main difference between a game and a
world is that, "games have defining features that Second Life lacks.
Most notable is the lack of victory conditions: there is no way to win,
or lose, Second Life. The definition of what constitutes success is
entirely up to the resident. Games have rules while Second Life has
Terms of Service and community standards. The free form nature of Second
Life and the ability of users to create whatever they wish are important
characteristics that set it apart from online games."


Dr. Morgan Leigh

On 4/03/2016 11:41 AM, human factor wrote:
> Congrats, Morgan.
> Curiously, how would you see Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest comparative to your work? 
> What were the platform affordance differences? 
>> On Mar 2, 2016, at 7:12 PM, Morgan Leigh <morgan at wirejunkie.com> wrote:
>> Greetings,
>> I have just uploaded my PhD Thesis to Academia and thought I would let
>> all the members of this list know about it. As far as I know no one has
>> published a monograph that is an autoethnography in Second Life.
>> The full thesis is available at
>> https://www.academia.edu/22669120/Virtually_Real_Being_In_Cyberspace
>> A book will be available shortly. I'd appreciate expressions of interest
>> for copies of the book as I am self publishing and need to gauge how
>> many copies to print.
>> Abstract
>> This work is an autoethnographic account of my search for the sacred in
>> cyberspace. The research was conducted in the virtual world Second Life,
>> and in particular in two role play communities set in Ancient Egypt.
>> Virtual worlds are often criticised as unreal, as just games. Here I
>> explore the ontological status of virtual worlds, recognising the
>> priority for their inhabitants of lived experience over purely rational
>> assessments. This research is unique and important as no monograph of
>> role play communities in Second Life has yet been published, and yet
>> tens of millions of people spend an increasing amount of time in virtual
>> and game worlds, often preferring them to the meatspace world. I recount
>> my experiences with ritual in cyberspace, describing sacred virtual
>> space, and its relationship to sacred meatspace from a Pagan
>> perspective. I compare two initiation rituals, and describe how one
>> produced the perception of sacred space, in both meatspace and the
>> virtual world, while the other remained only a role play. Finally I
>> analyse an opening of the mouth ritual to reveal the way we make sense
>> of our own realities by building on and remixing what came before us,
>> and to argue that there are many truths and that objectivity is
>> impossible in the human condition. This is the story of how I became one
>> with my avatar, despite my best efforts not to do so.
>> Themes of the fun economy, remix culture, and copyright inform the
>> analysis in the work. I explore Castronova's concept of the fun economy,
>> the amalgam of work, play and education which characterises twenty first
>> century life in the developed world. Freedom and fun are the motivators
>> for the inhabitants of virtual worlds and the bounds of these are
>> defined by copyright. This issue is examined through the lens of the
>> Second Life permissions system and the work of Lessig and his concept of
>> remix culture. I argue that remix culture has permeated the entirety of
>> human history, giving examples from ancient Egypt through to the present
>> day, and consider the implications for human culture if restrictive
>> copyright laws continue to dominate legal frameworks, despite their
>> failure to achieve their desired ends. Exploring our future in
>> cyberspace though Kurzweil's concept of the singularity, I consider the
>> possibilities of his predicted combination of the worlds of meatspace
>> and the virtual.
>> Regards,
>> Dr. Morgan Leigh
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