Posted by: B. Scott Anderson | May 8, 2014

Adding mean-spiritedness in virtual worlds

One area Boellstorff et al (2012) covered was the idea that these virtual worlds have to be persistent in that all of these things are happening even when the person behind the avatar is not online. I don’t completely agree with that because it’s possible to have a group of friends who play online games together where things are still happening even if one of the group members is not online. Take Grand Theft Auto V for example.

I played this game a few weeks ago with one of my nephews at Easter and it seemed to have each base covered — place, persistence, multi-user and embodiment (Boellstorff et all, 2012). However, I’m not totally sure this game would be categorized as a virtual world because I’ve never heard/seen it grouped in with games like Dungeons and Dragons or Second Life.

Maybe for differentiation between games like Second Life and GTAV (and a more defined handbook), there has to be some sort of mean-spiritedness displayed. For instance, in this SourceFed video, hosts Steve and Trisha play GTAV (FYI – there’s swearing in the video) and there are interesting things going with not only what they say about the police, but what they do and how others join in on the interactions with the police. Do they hate police in real life and taking out their aggression in the game? Or are they simply shooting them because it’s what they need to do to stay alive in the game?


  1. Scott, I think the point about “persistence” as a criterion for calling something virtual ethnography is that virtual worlds as places of ethnographic study should have as much in common with the physical world, one of these commonalities being the persistence of reality outside of our immediate perception. My guess is that video games like Grand Theft Auto will be categorized as subject for “netnography” which is the kind of ethnography that applies to other new media forms such as social media networks and online fora.

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