One of the key points to Boellstorff’s argument is that we are virtually human: “our ‘real’ lives have been ‘virtual’ all along. It is in being virtual that we are human: since it is human ‘nature’ to experience life through the prism of culture, human being has always been virtual being” (Boellstorff 2010:5).
“virtual” connotes approaching the actual without arriving there. This gap between virtual and actual is critical: were it to be filled in, there would be no virtual worlds, and in a sense no actual world either. This is ultimately a reconfiguration of the binarism between nature and culture, and its boundary-marker is the distinction between “online” and “offline.” (Boellstorff 2010:19)
Ethnography is an analytical approach that features the representation of people. Boellstorff highlights how anthropology has been about ‘avatarizing the self’ – in fieldwork, we try to put ourselves in another culture to see how life works in a different culture.
There are different ways to understand virtual worlds. One approach, as we read two weeks ago in Malaby, is to situate Second Life in the context of the real world company (Linden Labs). Boellstorff’s approach is to embed himself in Second Life, and do fieldwork as an avatar.
What does he see in everyday second life?
“A man spends his days as a tiny chipmunk, elf, or voluptuous woman. Another lives as a child and two other persons agree to be his virtual parents. Two “real”-life sisters living hundreds of miles apart meet every day to play games together or shop for new shoes for their avatars. The person making the shoes has quit his “real”-life job because he is making over five thousand U.S. dollars a month from the sale of virtual clothing. A group of Christians pray together at a church; nearby another group of persons engages in a virtual orgy, complete with ejaculating genitalia” (Boellstorff 2010:8)
“virtual world” is “any computer-generated physical space … that can be experienced by many people at once” (Castronova 2005:22, in Boellstorff 2010:17)
Things to think about:
- The role of IM in SL.
- Avatars as self?
- What, nowadays, is not digital in some way? (Boellstorff 2010:18)
- virtual is to actual as culture is to nature? (Boellstorff says no)
- Age of Techne or the Gamification of Life?