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The Games Playing With Us Barış EKDİ
Abstract: Virtual worlds are emerging phenomenon in our societies. They are not games, but interfaces for social networking, emerging economies that affect our real lives, and new laboratories for social researches. Thus, this technology has the potential to transform our societies, as machines, telecommunication methods, and computers did. So, everything goes „virtual‟ and we are leaving our flesh beyond in front of the computer screens; and whatever virtual goes smoothly. However, it seems that although started with fantasies, the adventures in virtual worlds ended up with the reflection of dominant production style and relationships that prevail in real world.
Ankara - June 24, 2008
The Games Playing With Us 1. Introduction
It was just one sentence at the preface of the book by Wood and Smith (2004:xiv) that struck and challenged me to write this paper: “When someone says, „I am going online‟, where they are going?”. That was the beginning of my journey -quite outside of all the theories and studies, such as economics, law and business management that I have been familiar with as a student. So, I „traced‟ people that are going online through books and journals, in order to find out „who are going online‟, „why and how they are going online‟, “what they do when they are online‟, „what happens to them after they return‟, „what they gain or loose‟; and I came across several studies on the effects of the Internet on the societies, on the organizations, and on the individuals. At a certain point, I found myself standing in front of a gate to a virtual world, which is called Second Life, where I got the idea that “even the theories on post-industrial societies may be out-dated because of the rise of virtual societies”. So, I decided to focus on virtual worlds -as state of the art technologies- , and their potential impacts on the society. Thus, my argument is that, “ the concepts like „post-industrial society‟, „information society‟ or „network society‟ may not be enough to define the future of our societies, since „virtual societies‟ -with their own set of rules- may be the dominant feature of next decades. However, given their development trends, it would be so optimistic to expect to find utopias „there‟. Rather, we could find ourselves living in panopticons1, since those worlds may be modern „mouse traps‟ for our avatars2, and if so, this would mean another phase in the transformation of capitalism.” Therefore, I will develop this argument in three consecutive parts: First, departing from industrial societies to the virtual societies, through the theories of post-industrialism and network society, the theoretical ground will be explored. Secondly, some features of the
The Panopticon is a type of prison building designed by English philosopher Jeremy Bentham in 1785. The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the "sentiment of an invisible omniscience." Bentham himself described the Panopticon as "a new mode of obtaining power of mind over mind, in a quantity hitherto without example" See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Panopticon 2 The avatar is the representation of the self in a given virtual environment. They can range in different categories, from text based definitions of the user to the 2 or 3 dimensional virtual graphics.
emerging virtual societies, in terms of their economies, their effects on real life and potentials will be studied, and thirdly I will try to asses the future of our societies. 2. From Industrial Society to Virtual Society
A brief look at developments regarding industrial society would show us that the concept of industrialism is equated with the quest for progress and ration. Saint-Simon and Comte, the founders of the theory of industrial society, described the industrial society as a breakthrough from theological-military societies (which are based on “stealing”) and an ultimate model, which would end chaos and disorder in eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. On the other hand, Durkheim and Weber asserted that the progress of the division of labor and the rationalization of social life created a number of problems. (Badham, 1984:11). However, where Weber, Durkheim, and Comte ended the history with capitalism, to them the perfect society, Marx ended the history with communism, preceded by socialism and capitalism (Agger, 2004:52) . In that line, it is important to emphasize that industrialism does not only refer to the heavily employment of machines, and mass-production (symbolized in Fordism), but also involves the organization of workforce (symbolized in Taylorism) and rationalization of the state affairs (which is bureaucratization). All those developments resulted in the application of the technology in almost every aspect of life, and as we tried to free ourselves from the necessities of nature, we have surrendered for the domination of the technique; and as the technique evolved, it gained autonomy and became monolithic (Ellul, 1964). Likewise, Marcuse (1964) accused the industrial society for dictating “false needs” to boost mass consumption fuelled by mass media. Also, all those developments resulted in “onedimensional” universe of thought and behavior which foreclosed the critical thought and opposition. And according to Marcuse, the critical questions are why people keep working beyond their needs, or why they do not revolt, or how this system is sustained. While waiting to see whether the capitalism would fail, Daniel Bell (1973) introduced us the concept of “post-industrial society”, which was remarkably different from industrial society in terms of social structure, political structure and cultural structure. Main characteristics of the post-industrial society were the emergence of the white-collar class (the post-industrial society is service providing society rather than good manufacturing society), prominence of theoretical knowledge and applied sciences, increasing role of the planning, statistics and calculation, and mostly vertical integration of the firms. 2
However, just three years after welcoming the post-industrial society, Bell (1976) tries to define the „cultural contradictions of capitalism‟: He states that capitalist culture evolved from Protestant ethics to market values; and the culture which supposed to hold the individuals of the society, now appraises “the new”, “the absurd”; the bourgeois world-view, which was rational and pragmatic is dead, and anti-intuitionalism won out, sex, pervasiveness and hedonism are equated with freedom, mass-media thought people how to dress, or even behave, and social values are eroded and social authority is lost. Thus, unlike pre-industrial ages in which the game was against nature, and unlike industrial societies in which the game was against fabricated nature, the post-industrial society is characterized with the game between persons. Since technological changes demolished what was sacred once (i.e. nature), the society fails in establishing a culture and value system which could meet the needs of increasing urbanism and interaction among people. The developments that were confusing for Bell, put into a framework later by Castells in his trilogy on The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture. In summary, Castells (2004:3-43) claims that the accidental coincidence of three independent processes in 1970s resulted in a new technological paradigm, which is „informationalism‟, and a social structure, which is the „network society‟ corresponding that: First, the limits of the current industrial development were reached, and its structure was not suitable for the transition to a knowledge-based productivity growth. Secondly, social and cultural movements of 1960s and 1970s provided a cultural background, which questioned the existing organizations, and a desire for freedom was manifested. Thirdly, the revolution in information and communication technologies made horizontal (non-hierarchical) communication possible. We had to wait for a long time for the network societies to emerge; although networks are superior to vertical-hierarchical organizations since they are flexible, adaptable, selfreconfigurable; but too complex to be efficient under the conditions of pre-electronic communication technology. Once networks became manageable, it was inevitable that their performance would affect entire realm of human activity (Castells, 2004:3-43). Unlike the mass media of industrial society, media in the network society present a large variety of channels of communication, with increasing interactivity. So, they do not constitute a global village of a unified, Hollywood-centered culture, but include a wide range of cultures and social groups, and send targeted messages to selected audiences or to specific moods of an audience (Castells, 2004:3-43). The form of communication emerged in the network society can be defined as mass-self communication (Castells, 2007:246), since “looking at the
proliferation of personal web pages on the Net, it looks like very soon everyone on earth will have 15 Megabytes of fame”3. When it comes to the dominant paradigm of this era, we see the hacker ethic, which refers to the culture of innovation for the sake of innovation, and joy of creating and immediate use of the creation, unlike the Protestant (capitalist) ethic that focus on the accumulation of capital as a mean of salvation (Himmanen, 2004:420-428). In that line, Castells (2004:29-42) argues that the culture of the network society based on the power of networking and on the synergy of giving to and receiving from the others; but „it is not the diffusion of the capitalist mind through the power exercised in the global networks by the dominant elites inherited from the industrial society. Neither is the idealistic proposals of philosophers dreaming of a world of abstract, cosmopolitan citizens. However, this does not mean the end of capitalism, but a manifestation that there may be other sources of value in the global town. All those developments will lead to the emergence of new institutions that will develop, creating a new form of public space, still unknown to us, but they are not there yet (Castells, 2007:258). However, some of the points that Castell raised in his Triology are criticized severely by Slevin (2000:50-53) on those grounds: The notion of network logic of Castells seems to simplistic to suggest that networks create unitary conditions; making a distinction between „self-programmable labor‟ and „generic labor‟ implies an hierarchy that is contrary to the network logic; designation of people as „human terminals‟ means the people who are not accustomed to the „network logic‟ would be „switched off‟ based on the overestimation of the skills of people; the notion of „Fourth World‟ distracts us from accelerating connectedness; it is useless to define the social groups in late modern age as „tribes‟. However, Slevin (2000:62-90) comes up with a social theory of the Internet, that deals with the effects of the Internet on media, communication, public sphere, organizations and states that the Internet transforms the way we create and communicate. This new culture mainly based on the networks and the Internet was already a very lucrative realm for the scholars: Some of them, including Bell (2001) and Trend (2001) focused on the „cybercultures‟ or „digital culture‟, while the others, such as Howard and Jones (2004), Slevin (2000), Katz and Rice (2002), Amichai-Hamburger (2005) focused on the social and psychological consequences of the Internet; and the worlds like „virtual‟,‟cyber‟,„online‟, and
M.G. Siriam, QuoteLand.com (12.6.2008).
abbreviations such as „MOO‟, ‟MUDs‟ etc. became widely used. In addition, Agger (2004) suggested a „virtual society‟ that studies virtuality. Thus, those scholars brought us to the doorsteps of virtual worlds. 3. From Virtual Worlds to the Real World
3.1. Computer Mediated Communication and a Taxonomy of Online Communities Although the history of computer mediated communication (CMC) dates back to ARPANET of 1969, in today‟s world the communication through computers are not limited to transferring text messages to whom we know. Apart from e-mails, there are other forms of communication, such as internet relay chat (IRC), instant messaging (IM), multiuser domains (MUD)4, bulletin board systems (BBS) -including newsgroups and “listserv”s -, web blogs, and the World Wide Web (WWW), which is increasingly becoming a portal for all other types of CMCs. All of those platforms or tools have different characteristics: For example, IRC, IM and MUDs provides synchronous communication, which means two or more participants are interacting in real time, while e-mails, bulletin board systems, blogs and WWW are provides asynchronous communication -i.e. participants interact with significant spans of time between their exchanges (Wood and Smith, 2005:42). Secondly, users can interact on those platforms, albeit with different degrees: While there is high interactivity among the users of IM, IRC, MUDs and BBS, other methods allow less interactivity. In any case, this feature is quite different from the mass media platforms like radio television broadcasting, which do not allow interaction. Thirdly, depending on the target audience, IM and e-mail can be classified as one-to-one communication tools, whereas WWW, BBS and blogs are one-to-many, IRC and MUDs are many-to-many. Forth, the ties among the users of those tools differ: For example, users of e-mails and IM services are usually regarded to have prior acquaintance. On the other hand, some BBS that share common interests, IRC groups and MUDs are characterized as “communities”. Fifth, as the technology develops those tools evolves:
The abbrevation “MUD” orginally used to refer multi-user dungeons, since they were inspired by the fantasy role-playing game “Dungeons and Dragons”.
Emoticons5 becomes smiles‟, and apart from text messaging, online communication through audio or video stream becomes an industry standard. The CMC channels that are featured by their “community” characteristics are IRC, BBS and MUDs. Like the existence of several IRC tools (in terms of application) and channels (in terms of subject), and BBS groups, there are a wide range of MUDs, both in terms of programming technology and genre6: The MUDs in which the players can create and interact with users are called MOO (MUDs object-oriented). There are also, multiuser shared hallucination (MUSH) and multiuser character kingdom (MUCK), massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs), and so on. As the technology develops, users “move” in the 2-D graphical “worlds” -like those in EverQuest and World of Warcraft rather than exchange text messages. Also, state of the art technology presents 3-D worlds, solely designed for interaction of the „avatars‟. Therefore they do not fit into the description of “game” since they do not have points, scores, winners or losers, levels, an end-strategy, or most of the other characteristics of games. (However there may be games created in those virtual environments). Examples of those virtual words are Second Life, IMVU, There, Active Worlds, Kaneva, and the erotic-oriented Red Light Center. According to the taxonomy of Cachia et al.(2007) each online social network (OSN) can provide a different level of interaction and socialization, so the OSNs can be assessed in four categories as shown in the figure: Networks in the third strand (e.g., MySpace, Orkut, LinkedIn, Flickr) are the core group of OSNs. Though networks in the second strand (e.g., Wikipedia, YouTube, del.icio.us, dig) have a lot in common with OSNs, e.g., they offer the sharing of digital objects and collaboration towards a common goal, they do not offer socialization between members as one of their main objectives. Online services in the first strand (Google Trends, Zeitgeist, Yahoo! Answers) give access to massive amounts of information and knowledge but contribute less to the “socializing aspect”. In the future, we consider that through the use of technologies that make three dimensional representations or avatars possible, virtual environments will be created. These will allow deeper socialization and immersion than current OSNs (e.g., virtual worlds, such as Second Life) which they believe will be the emerging fourth strand of OSNs.
Emoticons are the text based cues designed to reveal the emotional intent of a message. For the use and perception of differen emoticons in CMC see. Wood and Smıth (2004:83-84)
Accoring to MUD statistics at http://www.mudstats.com/MainPage.aspx (on 21.06.2008) there are at least 597 MUDs in different types (such as MOO, MUCK, MUSE, MUSH) and the number of genres is 105 including adult, fantasy, social, cristian, drama, science fiction, western.
Figure 1 - A Taxanomy of Online Social Networks (Cachia et al., 2007)
In short, the virtual worlds like Second Life, There etc. are quite different from the classical text based MUDs and MOOs since they are built on 3D graphical technology that enrich the experience of the users. Also they are not “games” -although avatars may create and play games inside of those worlds- because main purpose is to socialize. 3.2. Economics of Virtual Worlds It is not surprising that even the online platforms to which access and membership is free can be a lucrative business, given the success stories of Facebook and YouToube, since members are buying free service as well as the ads. The second step involves charging membership fees, such as done in EverQuest, World of Warcraft etc.; or licensing virtual lands for premium, and claim monthly maintenance fee -as done in Second Life. So far, there is nothing new compared to the service providing function of any market, and what is paid is real money and all the effect are in real world. (For example, according to the Second Life Price List as of May 14, 2008, although membership is free, Linden Lab charges $9.95 USD/month if you want to buy virtual land, and applies land maintenance fees about $5-$295, depending on the size of the region). The second dimension at the economics of online games and virtual worlds is that, the line between consumers and producers are blurred, since players help the producers develop the game with their interactions, or objects or codes they create. So they put consumers to work
(Nieborg and Graaf, 2008; Zwick, et al: 2008). That is one of the aspects that make this business lucrative, but the story has not ended yet: Is it possible to have „virtual economies‟ and if so, does it differ from the real world economics? This issue is debated in brief in the seminal work of Castronova (2003) which is called „The Theory of Avatar‟. There he explains the dynamics of the interaction of the avatars, and their utility functions. In addition, Malaby (2006) identifies key concepts regarding the forms of capital in synthetic worlds in his extensive work: Regarding the market capital, he states that synthetic worlds surprised many people with their abilities to generate tradable (both in virtual worlds and real world) goods. The costs of exchanging materials are important here, and the design (rules) of the world, either facilitates or distorts the exchange of those virtual materials. For example, in Second Life, avatars retain intellectual property rights on the object they create, and sell them in both virtual and real life. Providing services in virtual economies can be another point, and there is no obstacle for avatars to lecture in exchange for virtual or real money! So, these worlds let us produce and trade, and also accumulate our capital in the form of either virtual goods or virtual money. Moreover, the establishment of Stagecoach Island, by Wells Fargo bank, on a private island within Second Life in late 2005, helped the residents participate in private economy -either in form of depositing their Clipping 1 - Virtual Economic Crisis savings in return for interest or taking credit to establish their virtual premises. Also, virtual worlds are suitable for the accumulation and use of cultural capital. In addition, Malaby gives the example of the avatar Kermitt Quirk, the inventor of the card game Trinko in Second Life, whose First Life occupation is systems analyst/programmer, and that his Second Life occupation is game developer, and concludes that “this juxtaposition places an occupation in Second Life ontologically on a par with one‟s occupation in the conventional sense”. Yet, a virtual monetary crisis triggered when Second Life‟s parent company, Linden Lab, eliminated gambling activities, erasing about 5 percent of the virtual world‟s economy. Later, that led to the collapse of a bank, Ginko Financial, that offered high interest rates on virtual dollars convertible to real ones. Then, Second Life residents, partly because they‟d like to
forestall such monitoring, started forming their own virtual exchange commission to establish standards (Naone, 2007). However, even there are some risks in virtual economies (Trop et.al. 2007), quarterly user to user transactions realized about 28 million (real) USD$ in the first quarter of 20087. In another study Coleman ve Dyer-Witheford (2006:945) states that, imaginary continent of Norrath the 77th strongest national economy in the world (in 2001); and citing from Thomson (2005) emphasizes that virtual trading began with individual sales but soon became industrial in scale, with commercial enterprises located in Mexico, Hong Kong and Eastern Europe either directly selling the loot of low-wage employees hired to play MMOGs, or facilitating player trades on a commission basis. Thus it is claimed that in 2005 the value of the „ancillary market‟ for in-game items is variously valued at between $200 million and $1 billion annually (Eyewitness, 2005). Another paper suggests that in the era of social networking, collective intelligence, participation, collaborative creation, and borderless distribution, although we are bombarded with news feeds, blogs, wikis, podcasting, webcasting etc.; but a social software is more than a game, since Web 2.0 technologies are going to have a real business impact (Warr, 2008). So, all those developments led corporate firms, such as IBM, Intel, Sun and Google entering this virtual world through buying their islands. It may be easy to understand the high-tech firms opening virtual offices in this virtual world, but this is also followed by some real-life finance institutions (only the finance corporations that are licensed in real-life can operate in Second Life after 2007), and automotive producers (such as Mercedes, to test their latest designs ad get feedback) and garment stores, such as Adidas, that have virtual outlets. Likewise, the food industry got on the train, and a Nesquik Bunny avatar was created and attended parties on a regular basis, handing out free bottles of Nesquik! In order to sum up, we can say that in virtual worlds, a new type of production model, and virtual economies -quite like our real capitalist economies- have emerged. This could be regarded another step in the process of the symbols. Likewise, corporations and well-known brands are started filling this gap. Besides there is a huge amount of virtual money in circulation in those virtual economies, and also cash flows from virtual world to the real and vice versa.
3.3. Do the things that happened in virtual life affect our real life? Imagine there is no heaven above us, but a place where you can live all your fantasies, and fulfill your dreams is just a „click away‟. Would it make a difference in your real life or in our society in general? Lots of scholars carried out several researches on the effects of the use of the Internet: Katz and Rice (2002:6-14) assert several dystopian and utopian views related to the consequences of the Internet: From the dystopian perspective, the ethnic minorities, the poor, and the elderly have limited access to the Internet because of the costs and complexities, and thus they loose economic, social and political opportunities as the economy becomes more information oriented. Secondly, the use of Internet results in the decrease in social contact, organizational participation in social matters, and decline in interpersonal trust and inappropriate use of the Internet causes huge productivity cost. Thus, this could lead to a breakdown of civil society. Thirdly, at the social interaction and expression level, excessive use of the Internet isolates people from each other and results in a kind of anomie, communication on the Internet lacks the cues that we might see at face-to-face interaction, and there is a danger that young are subject to the exploitation. On the other hand, the utopian perspective claims that there are some governmental programs to overcome with problems of access. Secondly, the Internet is a cost-efficient way to link people with similar interests and organize volunteer activities, and thus enhances civic and community involvement. Thirdly, when it comes to social interaction, the Internet helps the existing friends and family members keep in touch, and also it facilitates socializing and allows new creative arts to be expressed. Likewise, after running the HomeNet Project in 1995 involving 169 individuals, 73 households, phone line, free acces, computer, software, Kraut et al. (1998) concluded that “until the technology evolves to be more beneficial, people should moderate how much they use the internet and monitor the uses to which they put it.” Slevin (2000:168-169) criticizes this project because of its faulty design, and the monolithic approach adopted in the project, since the researcher did not make any difference between the potential uses of the internet such as information seeking, keeping in touch with the family members and friend, or seeking for new friends. At another research Amichai-Hamburger and Furnham (2007) concludes that “the Internet provides a rich environment which includes significantly positive aspects as well as negative ones, and, when used appropriately, the Internet may greatly improve the quality
of life for its users.” Likewise Saunders and Chester (2008) states that shyness may predict internet addiction, however, paradoxically certain qualities of internet communication, such as greater anonymity and absence of gating features, may afford protection for shy individuals and allow them to expand their social network. Another body of criticism is the belief that people can use pseudonyms, swap their genders or race etc. and this can lead to an identity crisis (Turkle, 1995). In that sense, Turkle (1999:547) suggest that “windows have become a potent methaphore for thinking about the self as a multiple and distributed system… the life practice of windows is of a distributed self that exist in many worlds and plays many roles at the same time.” However, Selvin (2000: 113) charges Turkle with focusing on technical medium and ignoring social structures and states that online communication facilitates the deconstruction of social boundaries. The real story of a virtual rape titled “A Rape in Cyberspace, or How an Evil Clown, a Haitian Trickster Spirit, Two Wizards, and a Cast of Dozens Turned a Database into a Society” by Julian Dibbell (1993) is important to analyze both the effects of the behaviors in virtual places on real life, and the evolution of a kind of norm system in an anarchical world. After the virtual rape in LambdaMOO, the dwellers gather around in the „virtual living room‟ discussed the tragedy, and set up some rules and „executed‟ the rapist. In addition, there are some studies suggest that online experiences may leave traces in our real life. The first example of this is the abovementioned virtual rape (Dibbel, 1993); and in this line the studies of Wolfendale (2007) suggest that “we cannot dismiss avatar attachment as morally insignificant without being forced to also dismiss other, more acceptable, forms of attachment such as attachment to possessions, people and cultural objects and communities. Participants are often greatly distressed when their avatars are harmed by other participants‟ malicious actions, since avatar attachment is expressive of identity and self-conception and should therefore be accorded the moral significance we give to real-life attachments that play a similar role”. Or, when it comes to betrayal or cyber theft, Craft (2007) comments that behind every virtual character there is an actual person, who sits down in front of a computer and logs on in order to derive enjoyment from adventuring and socializing in virtual worlds. And behind every virtual object is the time, money, and skill a user spent acquiring it, and the access to or manipulation of the virtual world that it allows. Users‟ interests are harmed when others steal their virtual investments or betray their trust online. 11
Thus, when it comes to the users‟ duties towards others within virtual worlds „„have nothing to do with the fact that moral agents are interacting through their characters in virtual reality; it has everything to do with the fact that they are moral agents, interacting (Castranova, 2003:17). Another example regarding the effects of Clipping 2 - Newpaper "The Lawyer " (August 2007) virtual life in real life can be obtained from the newspaper clip of Moshinsky (2007) which asserts that “Second Life Bar elects real life UK partner as president” (See the clipping on the right). Melby (2008) tells another story on how a virtual life seeps into real life after citing from Russell J. Stamhaugh, PhD, an AASECT-certified sex therapist who says: “A lot of people like fantasy role play. They enjoy the fantasy of building up a character and having the avatar become more and more powerful. In many games, this process requires repeated actions that can strongly resemhle or actually the compulsive behaviors." Yet his story is about a virtual marriage of two avatars (Tenaj and Dutch) that are living in a house overlooking the ocean in a virtual world, but never met in the real life. Moreover, one of them is married in real life. In short, there are numerous studies -not limited with those presented here- show us that, whatever we do in a virtual world, it is likely to effect us in the real world. 3.4. The potential and future the virtual worlds Virtual worlds present an enormous potential not for the profit-making companies, or individual (in terms of leisure and money), but for the non-profit organizations to raise their voices, and to the researches to study the human (avatar?) behavior. For example, apart from the business organizations opening virtual offices -to sell real or virtual goods to the avatars, or just to carry out advertising campaigns, or even recruit the avatars - academic institutions, civil society organizations, hospitals and even the states are buying virtual land in order to „catch‟ the attractions of the people who have gone online.
When the academia is taken into account, it is worth mentioning that several universities, including Harvard University, New York University, San Diego State University, Stanford University, Texas State University has already opened virtual campuses; and they have educators as avatars and online curriculums. Delwiche (2006) who requested his students to go online and lectured them in a virtual world is another example. In addition, real world librarians are collaborating to find new ways to bring the volumes to the Second Life citizens (Svanson, 2007). And sometimes, organizations use the show the planned appearance of their new buildings, or the architectures and engineers are exhibiting their designs to the client through Second Life before actually building them (Traum, 2007). Another example which can be regarded unique in creativity is that a health organization which wanted to draw the attentions to a certain skin disease, created a virtual skin that is affected by that disease for the avatars! Thus, the examples go on. And when it comes to the diplomacy, a real world state, Maldives opened an embassy in Diplomacy Island in Second Life. So, in that respect virtual worlds can be effective interfaces to reach the people who are online. Likewise, virtual words in which millions of avatars (Second Life has more than 14 million „inhabitants‟, and about 40.000 of them are online in a given moment) interact with each other become huge social laboratories; since every movement, gesture and effect is registered. In addition, as the development of an avatar depends on its seniority in the game, these are not usually one-time interactions but consist of series of consecutive events. In other words, virtual words are capable of registering every second of their dwellers since their birth. And, as it is said, even though there is some tricks, such as teleportation, flying, and avatars with non-human appearances, like those from the FurNation, it is claimed that social interaction is mostly carries the dynamics of our real world (Blanchard 2004, Ondrejka 2006, Simon 2006, Chacia et al. 2007). In that sense Cachia et al. (2007) list three potentials of online socializing networks: Firstly they can be regarded as tools that promote individual and collective creativity (creating objects, exchanging videos etc). Secondly, they can be used to detect emerging changes in social behavior since the exchange of thoughts and opinions among participants in forums offers a formidable source of information and knowledge (for instance, observation of how avatars behave in a fast growing economy with little control could, if measured rigorously, provide insights for foresight exercises). Thirdly, these virtual spaces could also act as testbeds to observe potential consequences of contemplated policies. Prospective modes of foresight practice could be developed and combined based on data derived from 3D real-time
interactive environments, forums and events organized within the same futuristic environments When we look at the journals, we see that these kinds of studies have already begun: For example Blanchard (2004) studies the application of behavior setting theories to virtual communities, Yee et al. (2007) study the persistence of nonverbal social norms in online virtual environments, Friedman et al. (2007) examine the “Spatial Social Behavior in Second Life”, Antonijevic (2008) studies the gestures between the avatars in virtual environments as „a microethnographic analysis of nonverbal communication in the Second Life virtual environment‟. Lastly it should be mentioned that Jones (1997) seeks the establishment of the rules to study the virtual settlements from the perspective of cyber-archelogy. In summary, the virtual world is embracing the real world, not only by simulating what exist in real life, but going beyond this. But more importantly, virtual words are becoming like panopticons where researchers would examine the behavior of people through the reactions of the avatars. 4. Conclusion: Bridging the Gap Between the Virtual and Real
Clipping 3- A 'Social' Study From Yee et al. (2007)
As presented briefly the technology has dramatic effects on our social life. Through the stages from industrial society to the network society, the technology injected its „nature‟ into our daily life, in the form of institutions and organizations. First, the machines after the raise of mass production required long hours of work to produce, to buy and to consume and thus to satisfy our „false needs‟. Then the technology again helped the society to transform itself into the “post-industrial” stage, and then into the “network society”. In each transformation, the technique (in terms of Ellul) strengthened its domination. However, I am not claiming that they were the results of technological determinism. Rather, all those developments were evolutionary: No one invented the ARPANET to form the Internet, to facilitate our communication, to provide new ways to trade, or to build virtual societies for us to live in virtually. However, we found ourselves in a world that we are trying to understand the effects 14
of the technology that we create, and until we reveal one aspect of the technology we are using, we also notice that it has already became „ancient‟. Through those stages, first were the machines that changed our relationship with the nature. Then more sophisticated machines (like telegraphs, telephones, planes) changed our conception regarding time and space. Than the computers introduced us the concepts such as “instant messaging” “distributed production across countries”, “online transactions” etc. But each time there were people using computers to communicate and to produce. However, at the current stage, virtual worlds, in which people started communicating, producing, not only for leisure, but also for creating result in the real world, emerged. So, virtual worlds are becoming the interfaces through which we interact and produce, using our virtual bodies that are called avatars. Thus, everything goes „virtual‟ and we are leaving our flesh beyond in front of the computer screens. My argument is that this represents another step in the transformation of industrial society, in which the „rational man‟ is becoming „virtual man‟. Ironically enough, although everything is almost costless in a virtual world, the designer has managed to create „virtual scarcity‟ to lease „virtual lands‟, and people started trading their intellectual works (the symbols they produced) in order to satisfy the „false virtual needs of the avatars‟ that wanted to attract the others. So, although started with fantasies, the adventures in virtual worlds ended up with the reflection of dominant production style and relationships that prevail in real world. In other words, rational man, blue-collars, white-collars, hackers, producers and consumers are converging into one type man that is called the „avatar‟, and capitalism is re-transforming itself again. This argument can be challenged on the grounds that access to the Internet and to the virtual worlds is limited, so that we cannot draw a conclusion with this limited information. However, my aim is not to reach a conclusion, but to point out a direction that our society is going through, and some potential problems that are ahead of us: The number of people and organizations that are going virtual is increasing; and that will likely to effect our perception of society. Secondly, those virtual worlds are becoming like panopticons, or in other words, we voluntarily let the Big Brother watch our reflections (avatars) in those virtual worlds like we surrender the scanner data of the hypermarkets, and third, academia is going virtual, not only in terms of giving lectures in virtual worlds, but in terms of the subject of the study (for example there are a number of social studies focusing on the interaction among the avatars).
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