I’m glad that Boellstorff, et al mention the importance of observing the websites, offline meetings, and other important events that contribute to the cultural context of gameplay within virtual spaces (11). As retailers surely know by now, regular online gamers share a number of traits and experiences that provide a rich contextual landscape for subtle cultural references during game play, such as inside jokes, analogies, and slang. Plus, online gamers necessarily have access to the digital means to communicate and be aware of events and information far beyond their geographic location. How could anyone possibly track all those bidirectional channels of influence?
I think the solution has to be structural- that is, embedded in the same digital networks that gamers are using both to log in to their games as well as access unrelated content online. With the Xbox One, there is a huge economic incentive to track individuals’ digital activity across on/offline games, TV & streaming video viewing patterns, and the Internet itself, and I would expect that the potential for exhaustive cross-channel behavior observation is a huge opportunity for modern ethnographers. Especially with the Kinect, ethnographers could partner with Microsoft to solicit, screen, enlist, and observe research subjects in the natural comfort of their own homes, and even compensate them directly through the same network, with Xbox Rewards Credits, free games, or other digital incentives! Katherine points out below that businesses today need ethnographic research data in weeks rather than years, and so, while it does still seem a bit creepy, I think Microsoft’s new comprehensive entertainment paradigm might offer an economic model that’s too good for any party to pass up.