This is a mini ethnographic study of the virtual Dublin community in Second Life. I will be examining the everyday life of this community which will offer an insight into the culture which underlies this community. Second Life is becoming a popular place for ethnographic studies; Tom Boellstorff’s ethnography, Coming of Age in Second Life is a comprehensive study of this environment in which he immersed himself as a resident called, Tom Bukowski for three years. It was intention to apply ‘traditional’ ethnographic methods to study this virtual world. This micro-study has also been informed by the principles of virtual Ethnography which Hine, 2000, highlights. Like Boellstorff, Hine views this type of virtual ethnography as adaptive in that it is modified by the circumstances and limitationss that such an environment allows. I would have liked to have carried out a study where I was able to get the members of this community to relate their experiences of a virtual community to their real lives and how their behaviours in either world had been influenced or changed by the ‘virtual’ or the ‘real world, with the notion of identity playing a big part. The timeframe was not realistic though, therefore this is a simple study which looks at how this community interacts and the perceptions of a couple of its members.
Second Life is an online 3D virtual world imagined and designed by the residents who dwell there. Technically it is a multiuser virtual environment (MUVE).The virtual Dublin community in Second Life is a very large community with over 10,000 members. It is an open community and as long as you are a resident of Second Life you can join. I decided to focus on this community as I have some friends who belong to this community and who kindly agreed to be interviewed. I am also a member but have been an infrequent visitor. However, I feel that I have become sufficiently culturally immersed in this community to make some observations of my time here.
This mini study consists of my observations of the virtual community as I carry out a virtual bicycle ride through the city. The purpose of this is to contextualize the 3-D world spatially as somewhere which exists and is perceived as existing by the members of this community. I have also made some observation of the community as I see it in terms of how it interacts together. I have also interviewed two members of the community; they agreed to be interviewed and have their interviews used in this study, however, they were not too keen to divulge much of their ‘real’ lives. In terms of using technology in this micro-study I have used Camatasia to film the bicycle ride around virtual Dublin as well as some footage of the Blarney Stone and O’Caseys bars. I also used an audio of myself as commentary for these videos. I uploaded these to YouTube. The interviews were carried out in IM chat and copied into word.
Virtual Bicycle Ride
In this video I try I explore the 3-D world of the virtual community and the places which are inhabited by its members. The one thing that struck me on my bike ride was the emptiness. The city is beautifully recreated, but lacks people in the streets. This made me ask where the ten thousand members of this community were. I found out that the city remains mostly empty and that all activities are carried out in a limited number of spaces within the city. The one big exception is St Patricks Day when there is a big parade with floats that go around the city.
The two interviews with community members, Grace Arabello and Beorn Inglewood were carried out in Second Life in local chat, which is Second Life terminology for a synchronous text chat. The two members did not want to divulge two much about their real lives , but they were happy for me to say that they are both 40ish, with Beorn being from Norway and Grace from the USA . I constructed my interviews around five basic questions:
- How long have you been a resident of Second Life?
- When did you join the Dublin Community?
- What do you like about being part of this community?
- Is there anything you do not like about this community?
- How do you think this community differs from a real life community?
The responses to the questions obviously spawned other questions as I tried to build up a picture of the community.
Meeting the community:
In this video Xeon meets the residents in the Blarney Stone bar and then goes to meet Grace and Beorn to interview them.
Analysis of the Community:
The virtual Dublin community has over 10, 00 members, which is a lot in relation to the total number of Second Life residents. There is a big emphasis on music and culture with community motto being, ‘Ceol Agus Craic’ which translated mean, ’Music and Good Times’. My interview with community member, Beorn Inglewood helped me uncover the reason for such a large community:
Beorn: Also there are really two communities. When you join you get tag above your head called ‘Blarney Stoned’..yes? this tells you are part of group or community. But you notice those who have tag called ‘ Dubliner’…well these are people who are invited to join the group. They are mainly staff and are able to rezz and build things.
Interviewer: Yes I have noticed that. It is an interesting observation. Does this make you feel less of the community?
Beorn: it can be. Look, so many new people have this as their landing place when they join SL…they arrive at Trinity college and are straight away given group invitation and landmark to blarney stone. Many just hang out there for a few hours, leave and never come back.. this has changed the pub..many regulars left because they were being invaded by noobs. I like this place because I like the music. some people take it very serious though and get involved with lots of things.
Therefore it seems that the ‘real’ community is a more closed community; from my own observations of the community there does seem to be a lot of people who just pass through once they have been able to become familiar with Second Life and, like any bar, there is the passing trade. It seems to be the inner community, which you have to be invited to join, which is the driving force here. However, in my interview with community member, Grace Arabello, not being a member of the inner community does not necessarily mean you are excluded or made to feel excluded:
Interviewer: What do you like about being part of this community?
Grace: Well, I like meeting people from around the world. There are also lots of things to see and do. I like the musical events and enjoy dancing. the music is great.
Interviewer: Is this community all about music?
Grace: no not all all. There are lots of things to do.i go to coffee mornings and also poetry readings and there are also charity events.
Grace also talks about her friendships and shared interests:
Grace: well I have 4 really good friends who know all about me..lol…we e-mail each other as well and have shared photos and things. We have lots in common. I have some great friends in here and we love doing things together
This reminded me of an observation Bell 2008 made when quoting Rheingold 1995:
‘ In Virtual Community, he adds longevity, critical mass
and ’sufficient human feeling’ as the bonding material that turns association into community’
In my observations and informal discussions I found that there was a strong sense of community amongst some of the members and that some of this touched on the real world of these members. Grace made an interesting observation when I questioned her about relationships in second Life:
Grace: … there are a lot of couples here. Some have even met in real life and have got married.they met here.But that is more about friendship becoming something stronger. What I do not like is the rude guys who think that a female avatar is an object for sex. O you know what I mean? We are real people behind the avatars.
Activities of the Community:
The Dublin community has a vibrant and diverse range of activities. I have observed that the same members tend to attend the same activities. The Dublin staff seem to work in pairs at these events and everything is taken seriously with the same levels of social behaviour is expected here as would be in a ‘real world’ community. I remember one of my very first visits to the Blarney Stone bar as a newbie when I wandered behind the bar not aware of these rules. I was given a friendly warning not to wander behind the bar as it was for staff only. People are banned for a range of activities. Here is a list of community rules which each new member is given:
| Behavior Information Card - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -Bottom Line: “It’s Not OK To Be A Jerk”- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
The purpose of this note is to explain what we believe is acceptable behavior in Dublin and what is not. In other words, what will get a visitor booted (ejected) and banned (not allowed future access)?
Harassment means “intent to annoy”. If you persist in annoying behavior, after being asked to cease, you will be booted and banned and logged.
We are not trying to get rid of people. But we are trying to make it so everyone wants to stay and talk. We leave room for judgement calls.
Examples of behavior that have been found annoying when carried too far include…
. Abusive towards Staff
. harassment of Newbies by anyone.
. public arguing
. public cybersex
. parading around in your underpants
. wearing a giant penis
. sitting on stage or on the piano during a live music concert
. setting off bombs
. setting off tidal waves
. triggering sound gestures during live music concerts
. advertising in public chat
. making intolerant remarks
. using offensive slurs
. soliciting business in public chat
. cybering in public chat
. rezzing prims clogging up public areas
. role playing systems – i.e. combat, Police, Vampires, etc – No Biting or attacking.
. shooting guns off next to or at other avatars
. sending personal im’s on the group announcement channel
Examples of behavior that are OK…
. going “commando” (wearing no underwear under your outer clothes)
. double entendres (witty words with sensual innuendos)
. showing off your latest humongous particle poofer when lag is not an issue
. having a good natured rag or row with intent to entertain
. cybering as consenting avatars like sex-crazed weasels in private IM
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Rule of Thumb: If It’s Publicly Annoying And You’re Asked To Stop, Then Stop!
- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Here is short video which lists some of the community activities throughout the year:
The sense of a real community in a virtual world is very strong here. The virtual and real worlds seem to blend into one another as friendships are made and people feel secure. This is a theme which Boellstorff 2009 explores. ‘As one person in Second Life put it, “our virtual relationships are just as real as our rl [real life] ones.” The interviews with Grace and Beorn showed that this was not a perfect community, but a community all the same in the same way with the same issues of a community rooted in the real world.
I want to finish with an observation of my role as an ethnographer. I have noticed proof reading this that I seem unsure what identity I was using in creating this; was I the Dublin community member Xeon Scribe, or was I the MSC student Eneas McNulty? I am not totally sure myself. However, if this was a longer study with the opportunity to become fully immersed I have a strong feeling that the Xeon Scribe identity would have gradually taken over.