Posted by: Emily Priebe | May 8, 2014

Ethnography in Virtual Worlds: Observer or Active Participant?

“…participation entailed intense involvement and engagement, often to the point of mastery.”

Doing ethnographic research on virtual worlds inherently requires becoming a part of that world, as the authors of the virtual worlds ethnographic research handbook point out. While they argue that the field of ethnography seamlessly transitions into the virtual space, is there an extent to which the researcher themselves become a part of the research? By creating an avatar and immersing themselves in that world, they are becoming active participants in that culture. Does that engagement shift the  virtual world’s culture at all?

In the second week of class we brought up the issue of avoiding deception when doing virtual worlds research. Hidden behind a screen, it would be easy to collect research without identifying yourself as a researcher, but clearly this crosses a line that ethnographic research in person wouldn’t necessarily. I would be interested in reading further into what the authors of the handbook have to say on that issue.

The authors also talk about how ethnographic research in virtual worlds is shifting research from data that has traditionally been quantifiable to qualitative data. As a marketer, I’m trained to tune into analytics (page views, likes, number of referral links) and I don’t focus as much on the qualitative data aspect. Even though these researchers don’t consider the traditional social media sites to be virtual worlds, their guidelines offer an interesting perspective on how ethnographic research could be beneficial for online study as a whole.

 

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