I don’t usually discuss books or reports without contextualizing the discussion. However, I’ve just begun reading a book that merits mention before digesting how it fits either strategically or tactically with experience design issues.
Skilful Minds first discussed virtual anthropology several years ago noting the following.
The term points to the ability of customer researchers to now tap into the stories about personal experience that increasing numbers of people are providing online…But, keep in mind that the people offering their stories and experiences for your edification are not doing it for you.
Tom Boellstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human is definitely worth spending your time reading to gain valuable insights into the cultural dimensions of Second Life. Boellstorff studied Second Life, using it for what traditional anthropologists employing ethnographic methods refer to as a fieldwork site. The research was done between June 2004 and January 2007. He notes that,
I argue that ethnography holds great promise for illuminating culture online, but not because it is traditional or old-fashioned. Ethnography has a special role to play in studying virtual worlds because it has anticipated them. Virtual before the Internet existed, ethnography has always produced a kind of virtual knowledge (p. 6).
Boellstorff’s writing style comes out of academic anthropology, so some experience design practitioners may find it a bit cumbersome. However, his approach is a disciplined attempt to describe the cultural dimensions of virtual worlds such as Second Life, rather than arguing about the implications of Second Life for general social relationships in the actual world. The book provides a useful way to gain insights about Second Life without spending your life there.
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