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Princeton University Press
Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method

Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method

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Ethnography and Virtual Worlds is the only book of its kind—a concise, comprehensive, and practical guide for students, teachers, designers, and scholars interested in using ethnographic methods to study online virtual worlds, including both game and nongame environments. Written by leading ethnographers of virtual worlds, and focusing on the key method of participant observation, the book provides invaluable advice, tips, guidelines, and principles to aid researchers through every stage of a project, from choosing an online fieldsite to writing and publishing the results.

  • Provides practical and detailed techniques for ethnographic research customized to reflect the specific issues of online virtual worlds, both game and nongame
  • Draws on research in a range of virtual worlds, including Everquest, Second Life,, and World of Warcraft
  • Provides suggestions for dealing with institutional review boards, human subjects protocols, and ethical issues
  • Guides the reader through the full trajectory of ethnographic research, from research design to data collection, data analysis, and writing up and publishing research results
  • Addresses myths and misunderstandings about ethnographic research, and argues for the scientific value of ethnography

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691149516
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/16/2012
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 766,337
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Tom Boellstorff is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. His books include Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Bonnie Nardi is professor of informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Her books include My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Celia Pearce is associate professor of digital media at Georgia Institute of Technology. Her books include Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds. T. L. Taylor is associate professor of comparative media studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Her books include Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Foreword, by George Marcus xiii

Chapter 1. Why This Handbook? 1

1.1 Beginnings 1

1.2 Why ethnographic methods and why virtual worlds? 6

1.3 Why a handbook? 8

1.4 An orientation to the virtual worlds we studied 9

Chapter 2. Three Brief Histories 13

2.1 A brief history of ethnographic methods 13

2.2 A brief history of virtual worlds 22

2.3 A brief history of research on virtual world cultures 25

2.4 The uses of history 27

Chapter 3. Ten Myths about Ethnography 29

3.1 Ethnography is unscientific 30

3.2 Ethnography is less valid than quantitative research 36

3.3 Ethnography is simply anecdotal 40

3.4 Ethnography is undermined by subjectivity 41

3.5 Ethnography is merely intuitive 42

3.6 Ethnography is writing about your personal experience 43

3.7 Ethnographers contaminate fieldsites by their very presence 44

3.8 Ethnography is the same as grounded theory 45

3.9 Ethnography is the same as ethnomethodology 46

3.10 Ethnography will become obsolete 48

Chapter 4. Research Design and Preparation 52

4.1 Research questions: emergence, relevance, and personal interest 52

4.2 Selecting a group or activity to study 57

4.3 Scope of the fieldsite 59

4.4 Attending to offline contexts 61

Chapter 5. Participant Observation in Virtual Worlds 65

5.1 Participant observation in context 65

5.2 Participant observation in practice 69

5.3 Preparing the researching self 72

5.4 Taking care in initiating relationships with informants 76

5.5 Making mistakes 79

5.6 Taking extensive fieldnotes 82

5.7 Keeping data organized 85

5.8 Participant observation and ethnographic knowledge 87

5.9 The timing and duration of participant observation 88

5.10 The experimenting attitude 90

Chapter 6. Interviews and Virtual Worlds Research 92

6.1 The value of interviews in ethnographic research 92

6.2 Effective interviewing 94

6.3 The value of group interviews in ethnographic research 104

6.4 Size, structure, and location for group interviews 106

6.5 Transcription 110

Chapter 7. Other Data Collection Methods for Virtual Worlds Research 113

7.1 Capturing chatlogs 113

7.2 Capturing screenshots 114

7.3 Capturing video 116

7.4 Capturing audio 117

7.5 Data collection in other online contexts 118

7.6 Historical and archival research 120

7.7 Virtual artifacts 121

7.8 Offline interviews and participant observation 124

7.9 Using quantitative data 126

Chapter 8. Ethics 129

8.1 The principle of care 129

8.2 Informed consent 131

8.3 Mitigating institutional and legal risk 135

8.4 Anonymity 136

8.5 Deception 142

8.6 Sex and intimacy 144

8.7 Doing good and compensation 146

8.8 Taking leave 148

8.9 Accurate portrayal 149

Chapter 9. Human Subjects Clearance and Institutional Review Boards 151

9.1 Institutional Review Boards (IRBs) 151

9.2 Preparing a protocol for IRB review 153

9.3 Working with IRBs 155

9.4 Informed consent and anonymity 156

Chapter 10. Data Analysis 159

10.1 Ethnographic data analysis: flexibility and emergence 159

10.2 Preliminary reflections while in the field 160

10.3 The role of theory in data analysis 162

10.4 Beginning data analysis: systematize and thematize 164

10.5 Working with participant observation data 168

10.6 Working with individual and group interview data 170

10.7 Working with images, video, and textual data 172

10.8 The end of the data analysis phase: from themes to narratives

and arguments 174

10.9 Generalization and comparison 176

Chapter 11. Writing Up, Presenting, and Publishing Ethnographic Research 182

11.1 The early stages of writing up: conferences, drafts, blogs 182

11.2 Written genres 185

11.3 Dissemination 186

11.4 The writing process 190

11.5 A quick trip back to the field? 192

11.6 Tone, style, and audience 193

Chapter 12. Conclusion: Arrivals and New Departures 196

References 201

Index 223

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