The fact that the last update here was in June should, perhaps, tip you off to what the last several months have been like for me. I never intended this space to be a daily or even weekly blog-y thing, but five months lag says something. As many of you know my summer was spent picking up and moving back to the U.S. after nine years of working and living abroad in Denmark and Sweden. It’s been an amazing few months just getting ramped back up into U.S. life and I’ve really enjoyed this semester as a Visiting Researcher with the Social Media gang at Microsoft Research. And I’m really excited about picking up my MIT professorial life in earnest starting in January.
All that to say, amidst everything I had a new book come out in September! It’s called Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method and I’m really excited about it as it focuses on two subjects close to my heart. It’s co-authored with the fantastic trio of Tom Boellstorff, Bonnie Nardi, and Celia Pearce. This is not an edited book, it is truly co-authored with a single voice (we got to know Google Docs reeeeeeally well). As a handbook it’s meant to be manageable and very practical, tackling how to do ethnography in online multi-user virtual worlds.
Working on this book was particularly cool for me because VW’s have long been a central part of my work. Indeed the first article I ever published, back in 1999, was on doing research in virtual worlds. These spaces have always resonated for me as powerful places to inhabit, both personally and in terms of my intellectual interests. Going back to research I did on text-based MUDs (heh some of you remember them I’m sure) and early social graphical worlds in the 1990s (yes, there was important stuff pre-Second Life!) up through now mainstream graphical game worlds like World of Warcraft (and dear old EverQuest), I’ve long been drawn to virtual worlds as terrific places to explore core critical issues around technology, culture, and everyday life. Whether it was thinking about forms of embodiment or collection practices and action, I’ve never ceased to be drawn to what is happening in these spaces. Though most of my research time now is spent on things like e-sports and live-streaming, multi-user virtual worlds will always be home for me in some sense.
The book covers a range of topics but is really meant to serve as a practical guide from start to finish for an ethnographic research project in these spaces. One commitment we all shared in writing the book was not only trying to look at the specificity of the spaces (for example, I’ve long been interested in thinking about code and artifacts in these environments) but also grounding in core principles of ethnography. In that regard I think the book even works in providing some basics of ethno writ large. If you are interested you can get a free pdf of the first chapter from Princeton’s website and the book is available in all the usual spots. Hope some of you find it of interest!