In their continued quest to plumb the mysterious depths of human interactions, some sociologists have stopped watching people—and started watching their avatars. And the U.S. government is paying them to do it.
While playing World of Warcraft and traipsing through Second Life might not sound like traditional academic disciplines, they are increasingly important for research into virtual communities. This burgeoning subdiscipline even has its own publication, the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research.
What gets studied? Gold farming, "goon culture," griefing, entrepreneurial activity, intimacy, even "The Visual Language of Virtual BDSM Photographs in Second Life," which appeared in the most recent issue of the journal.
That last piece, by Professor Shaowen Bardzell of Indiana University, relied on "two years of ethnographic observation, interviews, and artifact analysis" to suggest that "BDSM fantasy in Second Life is far more than a sexual pastime... I am more than ever convinced that all subcultures have the capacity to incubate innovation in a user-created content, and BDSM is successful particularly because of its combination of a potent visual language and the intense personal desires it stirs."
From Ars Technica
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