Reconsidering Site and Self: Methodological Frameworks for Virtual-World Research

Rosa Mikeal Martey, Kevin Shiflett


In virtual worlds, the information communicated by environments and avatars is considered a powerful contributor to the development of social norms, group processes, and identities, and is fundamental to how individuals perceive themselves, the space, and others. Conducting research in virtual worlds must incorporate considerations of the spaces and actors that are necessary parts of those worlds. Although prior research provides solid guidelines for conducting ethnographies in virtual worlds, the implications of selecting site and self for non-ethnographic projects in such spaces have been largely overlooked. This paper examines the influence of research sites and presentations of self in virtual worlds in order to discuss how choices about these elements can influence study outcomes. To do so, we discuss how ethnographic paradigms informed the development and implementation of a mixed-method study conducted in Second Life. We conclude with suggestions for performing research in virtual worlds.

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