Virtual World Studies

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for about a year now, but for some reason I never got around to it. The idea resurrected after a conversation with a dear friend, where I was reminded of my frustrations when writing my thesis. I was dangling my feet in so many waters that it was no wonder I had a hard time keeping my head above water, and looking back I’m kinda annoyed that nobody bothered telling me that I didn’t have to learn to swim in each water, I just needed to focus on being a good swimmer in one water. Urgh – me and analogies – not a good combo, huh? Either way, I wish I could have just been reminded that it was JUST a Media Studies Masters thesis – I didn’t have to completely understand the law, psychology, sociology, anthropology, narratology and ALL the theoretical approaches to analysing virtual worlds. I remember sometimes thinking – “why didn’t I just focus on a film of some sort?!” – but I didn’t, because this is the world that fascinates me, this is the world that intrigues me. And I still think it is of the utmost relevance to study the evolution of these worlds.

The trouble at this point, seems to be that so many are focusing on virtual worlds from so many different academic disciplines. I’m not saying that that’s a bad thing – on the contrary – but I do feel that there needs to me some form of connection somehow. So I’ve often thought that it would be so cool if the university started its own virtual world studies program. The way I think it should work is by welcoming all students of all academic disciplines to take a course within the virtual world studies program.

Some thoughts on what it should include:

Virtual World Law.
Game theory.
Studying Virtual Worlds – Methodology.
Technological Determinism – Medium Theory – Culture of Techniques.
Economy – social and monetary.
Psychology – extension of selfism.
Language – speech, chat and avatar body language.
The Aesthetics of Geography.

This is of course way too wide and completely biased from my part. For example, should game theory really be included? For after all a lot of virtual worlds are not games – but keep in mind that game mechanics are evident in most of web 2.0 and I feel this is important to recognize.

A problem I kept facing when contemplating virtual world law, was the whole intellectual property thing. This is also where the ludology vs narratology question arises. What is your intellectual property within a virtual world? Or at least what is it we can discuss as being intellectual property? Is it the fiction you create, your avatar, your virtual currency, your labour – reputation was my favorite. The way I see it, is that the feeling of ownership is extremely real and trying to define what virtual world citizens feel ownership of is a fundamental part of any virtual world study.

Ooooh! I’ve got so much more to say on this subject. I suppose the idea, if you can call it that came from my loneliness when writing my thesis. I suppose all master students suffer from the same symptom – but I kept meeting (and still do) other students struggling with the same issues I was and from a wide array of academic disciplines. In the end, I found it hard discussing with my peers, I remember having waves of panic like “Holy Crap!!! I don’t think I’ve even contemplated folksonomy!” and running off to wikipedia for the rest of the day slowly dying from information overload and producing nothing but utter frustration.

Anyways! I’ll be coming back to this, I have too much to say. The sun is shining in Bergen and I need my dose of fun for the week! It seems my theory of having mundane jobs while figuring out where my career path leads is taking its toll.

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