Friday, January 17, 2014

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Virtual World/Gaming Academics: What Are the Best Academic Studies on Race & Avatars in Second Life?

Second Life academic studies on race

I was just chatting with a graduate student whose thesis revolves around Second Life, and she brought up an interesting point: There seems to be few academic studies on race and avatars in Second Life. "I think it is fair to say that in general there is a huge gap in the literature," as Karley Aiken, an MA candidate at San Francisco State University, put it to me. "[M]y initial search found very few results, leading me to assess that there is a huge gap in the literature. One would expect that, given the amount of literature dedicated to sex and gender within Second Life, there would be a comparative amount of research on race and the dynamics of race and ethnicity. But it's missing."

While searching, she often instead found New World Notes posts on race, like this classic about a white woman who experienced Second Life as a black avatar. And to be honest, after writing anecdotal posts like that, I expected (and hoped) academics would run with the topic in a more rigorous way. And maybe we're just not looking in the right places, but evidently, studies like that are scarce.

So help us out, virtual world/gaming academics: Have you come across papers like this?

And yes, I already pointed Karley at the Standford studies by Nick Yee, which explore avatar race to some degree, though I believe most of Nick's studies are on classic MMOs of the Everquest/WoW variety. If you know of any which deal more directly on race in Second Life, please post in Comments!

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Iggy

The research is beginning to emerge in peer-reviewed venues. You might want to have a look at this piece. Link is to the abstract but full-text PDF is there too.

http://journals.tdl.org/jvwr/index.php/jvwr/article/viewArticle/6176

It is a preliminary look with perhaps too much overview for your audience, but she does conduct ethnographic work in keeping with the trail blazed by Tom Boellstroff.

The question does hang there: why not more work on this topic? My hunch is that journals that might publish about racial research are not run by editors with much of an interest in or experience with virtual worlds, and the folks who might wish to publish need to place work in top-tier journals to "count" in tenure portfolios.

Let's not forget: many senior folk in academe are not as tech-savvy as you'd think. They are largely a generation in their 50s who have not needed to use new media much in their teaching. This was why Boellstroff's book is so important, and I've been it cited in articles about other topics that mention SL briefly.

That's a start.

I keep waiting for articles about SL in the journals I read about writing or technology in the classroom. So far, not so much has appeared.

Pussycat Catnap

"One would expect that, given the amount of literature dedicated to sex and gender within Second Life, there would be a comparative amount of research on race and the dynamics of race and ethnicity. But it's missing."

That's because white people tend to ignore the rest of us unless they're looking for something to exploit.

And when they do come looking for a quote, they don't like what they hear - because it reflects badly on them. So they block it from their minds, move on, and look to each other for an answer.

Note how this blog is right around MLK's birthday - out of site and out of mind issue on other days.

Pussycat Catnap

"And maybe we're just not looking in the right places"

And yes to that as well. You're looking in studies from white journals written by white about us.

None of you come around and just asks us or looks what we're writing on our blogs or in our communities though.

Instead SL gets white people who try on colored for a day - and then write about that.

GoSpeed Racer

Thanks Pussycat, you must know every white person on the planet to come up with that conclusion . It's Martin Luther King Day and I'd hope for something more constructive in the comments when it comes to understanding one another. You do have a point about researchers and writers seemingly ignoring those of us who actually spend time in SL and share our views in social media.

Hamlet Au

"None of you come around and just asks us or looks what we're writing on our blogs or in our communities though."

Search this blog deeper, I've done several interviews around this topic - "White Like Me", "Bebop Identity of Eboni Khan" come to mind, but there's more.

Iggy

Pussycat, not all academics are white folks. I'm ethnically an Arab, but I guess that doesn't count as a person of color. Let's just say that not all academics are of Northern European origin.

Does a Kyrgyzstan native count as white? She is the author of the piece I cited. And one of my VWER colleagues is an African-American academic at Hunter College, CUNY, but like so many folks in SL, she has a heavy teaching load and little time to publish.

ostensiblysilly

I find the term 'white folks' and 'white people' offensive. Refer to us as Persons of Pallor, thank you.

Iggy

@ostensiblysilly will do! My old man, a dark-skinned Lebanese dude (folks called them "swarthy A-rabs" back then), called white people "honkies" and it cracked me up.

His advice "don't very say that around them, boy!"

On a serious note, when trying to find Iggy an ethnic skin in 2007 (the one he still wears), the choices were lousy for Mediterraneans and Middle Easterners. Think "Guido" or "Osama."

Skin choices have improved, but Iggy is occasionally taken for a black man, something his driver wouldn't be (I'm a lighter skinned A-rab than dear old dad).

Pussycat Catnap

@ostensiblysilly: Would you prefer Redneck or Cracker? "White" is a neutral term. The others aren't.

MLK was about ending the terrorism of arbitrary violence committed by whites against everybody else. Jim Crowe, lynching, and so on. Historical revisionism focuses on his Dream speach - which is still a dream as long as 'Stand Your Ground' and other lynching laws exist.

I'm no African, I'm Asian and Native American. What we really have to say makes you angry, as noted above.

Nothing unexpected.

Had not seen the Eboni Khan piece - though I question the sanity of any non-white who aligns with the modern GOP. Every since Nixon pulled the Dixiecrats over to the GOP, the GOP today is who the Democrats where before the 60s.

The other pieces I'd read here were people trying "colored for a day".

I do go in SL as a race other than my own. My own RL is still that of a 'minority disempowered ethnicity' - and I am more political than most people. Because I know history, and know that the 'story' part ain't over yet, and they're still trying to make it his and not mine or anyone else's from my end of the world.

To the point: Where are the studies? They don't get done - they don't want to hear our voice. None of you wanted to hear it - that much is clear from the replies.

This whole thing isn't some hippie group hug... you want to hear the actual voice of what its like to be a minority - its going to be a very unpleasant tale for the ears of whites.
- And that's why it remains untold in your circles.

So if we want it pleasant, or civil, we can just keep on talking about prims and VR and rift goggles and what not.

Hamlet Au

"And that's why it remains untold in your circles."

Who are you referring to by "your circles"? What do you mean by "untold"? In any case, it would be nice if you read this blog more thoroughly, so here's yet another post:

http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2009/02/strange-fruit.html

And another: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2007/01/stronger_than_h.html

And why not another: http://nwn.blogs.com/nwn/2007/01/stronger_than_h.html

I think it's actually possible to talk civilly about race, myself -- but doing that requires fairly and honestly representing what one's interlocutors have said and written. It's also a good idea not to presume to speak for all minorities -- especially when one is doing so on the blog of a mixed race writer.

Tsuki Rae

I'm tired of this, we can be whatever race we want in sl. I'm of German,Norwegian, Native American (greats great g-ma), and whatever else is in my genetics. I do not like to be a 'white' avatars. I thought sl was a place to live and create to be whatever you wanted.

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