Mostly academic

I’m indebted to a friend – sadly no longer an SL regular – for bringing today’s morsel to my attention; I doubt I’d have otherwise come across it without them passing the information my way, so the credit for my inspiration is due to them; which is really what this post is all about – credit.

This is what my friend sent me. It’s from the Open University’s guide to the Harvard Referencing System for academic papers:


Yes, it seems that communications and messages in SL are referred to within academic circles frequently enough to merit their own convention for citation, which points me in the direction of two possible conclusions – either all of those surveys that pop up with annoying regularity from university students wishing to write dissertations about living in a virtual environment are actually real; or, there’s an awful lot of academic writers quoting avatars in their theses. Both possibilities give rise to some interesting speculation.

If there are indeed a large number of published academic works that reference SL, it opens a whole can of worms about the role, impact and implications of virtual worlds – SL in particular – and what can be learned from them about the real world. A simple Google Scholar search for ‘”second life” virtual’ produces around 49,400 results, and a quick skim of the first 10 pages of results confirms that pretty much every one is relevant to what we were hoping to find – this is a not insubstantial canon of text and must cause us at least a moment’s reflection of the value of SL for providing insight and evidence into a vast range of experience: Medicine, learning, socio-economics, advertising, problem-solving, business acumen, information systems, literacy, museum curation, non-verbal communication, cyber-archaeology and heritage, hallucination… just a few topics from the many that academic enquiry is pursuing through the medium of SL. It says a great deal about the diversity and flexibility of SL that so much insight can be derived into real world applications. It would seem that our virtual world is fertile ground for exploring a whole range of subjects  that many of us would never have even remotely considered. Oddly, I found relatively few papers that dealt with SL in terms of gaming – the spectrum seems to be far broader than that limited arena.

Let’s return to my second possible conclusion: Are academic writers citing the words of SL avatars in support, or otherwise, of their arguments? Logic says there must be an element of this because the literature I’ve already discussed is so copious, but I can’t help wondering about the veracity of such quotations.

grad_001Unless our specific aim is to highlight the disparity between the character of an SL participant and their inworld persona, just how much reliance can we place upon information based upon inworld interactions and conversation? Given that a great many avatars in SL are – at best – an approximation of the person behind them and that there may be little need for honesty, integrity or even rationality in many inworld situations, what weight can reporting such an interaction be given? Let’s be honest, given the freedom we have to be whom and what we choose, there is no reason not to assume we’re going to exercise the same freedom in our verbal, and even non-verbal communications.

If, for example, I am a woman in RL with a male persona inworld – am I likely to compromise the illusion I’m perpetuating by reverting to feminine attributes, whether or not I know I’m the subject of study? I’m pretty sure the answer to that is in the negative, and therefore whatever conclusion is drawn, based upon observation or interpretation will be fundamentally flawed. At best, any researcher must present their findings with a caveat that they may be based on entirely false information and assumptions!

I won’t pretend that this blog is anything more than a random collection of musings – particularly when you consider that all of the last couple of paragraphs can apply equally as much to anything you see written here! There are some bloggers who do conduct highly scientific and rigorous examination of our virtual world and the strange bunch who inhabit it, and they do so extremely well. However, I’m just here for fun, so anything I say here should really be taken with an unhealthily large pinch of salt… So, if anyone out there ever does feel the need to quote me, you have been warned – and, if you’re foolish enough to do it anyway, get the citation right! (It’s spelled with a ‘D’!)

s. x

Oh academia you can’t pick me up
Soothe me with your words when I need your love
Sia – Academia

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