University of Ljubljana Faculty of Social Sciences/ Biotechnical Faculty Master study of Anthropology

Perspectives on "Virtual Culture"

Celje, May 2007 Lenart Kodre

"SILICON METACULTURE " Introduction First of all I would like to say that I perfectly understand the meaning of this assignment and the methodological principles of operationalisating the concept indicators into questions. In dealing with very concrete, down-to-earth problems, a (social) scientist is at first confronted with, what appears to be, an impenetrable forest of ideas, theories, symbols, inconsistent data and concepts about the nature of social phenomena. In order to get a clearer picture, to eradicate all the unnecessary "noise", a structured approach must take place. To achieve this, a sort of a deconstruction of a general research question to a less and less complex level is essential. The path to structure therefore leads trough the process of deconstruction.





Diagram 1: Operationalisation of indicators into questions. What follows is, the more broad and general the overall research question, the more steps (and time) are required to obtain the solution, which is the case in my particular research question. I could easily choose another topic for this assignment, an easier and less time-consuming one. Since I work full-time, time is a factor. But I choose not to. At first I wrote a short text, which then became longer and longer. But as I got tangled in abstract concepts and with deadline

approaching, I realized the difficulty and the scale of my enterprise. This said, I realize I am the one who got lost in the forest of concepts and meanings. The topic that has intrigued me for the past couple of months is the rise, the increasing complexity and the broad implications of the online virtual social environments or virtual social worlds. I will explain the concept of virtual worlds later. If I refer back to my notion about the complexity of the research question, and mine is, I admit that my paper does not fulfill all the necessary requested criteria. I am not sure, if I will be able to come up with the good operationalisation of indicators into questions. The paper is more like an attempt; a general overview of what can be done and why I think this is such an interesting issue. Hopefully, a more detailed and insightful work follows in the near future. On methodology The next thing I would like to share with you is my reflection and opinion on the whole methodological approach of learning, gathering information, theories, and concepts in advance, prior to the actual field research. I see this as a possible threat, since every paradigm, a theory is in a way an ideology, as demonstrated by Foucault (Foucault, 1984), something that can be termed “neutral knowledge” does not exist. Theories come and theories go. If I accept a specific scientific theory that will help me explain a phenomenon, am I not narrowing my perception and in a way ""infecting" my possible understanding of the nature of things with predetermined assumptions? I have doubts in a general social theory, since dealing with human affairs is always about opinions on the subject. It is not about facts; it is about judgments on facts. Paradigms and theories can never be 100 % accurate, but I do understand that they can be very useful, nevertheless it is the only tool we have, though I think in some cases not knowing all the facts might actually be a good thing. This is what Malinowski (Malinowski, 1922) did and his conclusions did shed some light from the rather new perspective on the understanding of culture. This brings us back to my point about the scale of my task. As I intend to write about the virtual culture, I can not loose the feeling that, if I were to write a good research paper, it would be a lot better to actually do a "virtual ethnographic" research in one of the interactive online virtual social worlds, that is to actually participate online. I have done so briefly and I do have a general idea about the topic, but the there is, in my opinion, a lot of potential in doing anthropological research in this kind of environments. Even more so, if I realistically assume, that it will be quite difficult for me to do a "real", extensive fieldwork in a non-European society. The problem of evaluating the hypothesis arises not so much in the theoretical field, but in the methodology of studying something that “can not be seen”, that is culture as an invisible entity, a complex configuration of interrelated meanings. This concept was formulated by Edward Sapir, who

argued that culture is a phenomenon of the same order as the early psychoanalytical concept of the Unconscious. It is trough the observation of concrete individual behavior the realms of the invisible could be penetrated. The logic of a particular culture could then be extracted, derivated from the individual acts of behavior. In that sense I agree with the Sapiric notion of what culture is, but why and how it has come in existence is another question. There is a cheap and relatively unexplored realm of virtual worlds, where people interact in an array of ways, waiting to be explored. The problem of methodology of internet research, the new problems ethnography (and anthropology) faces in the computer age, where borders between virtual and real are getting blurry, is well argumented in, now almost classical work on virtual ethnography, Virtual ethnography (Hine, 2000). Culture: concepts and indicators My overall research question is therefore: is there such a thing as an emerging, distinctive culture of virtual social worlds, a "virtual culture"? The most important concept of my research question is, without doubt, culture. What is the definition of “culture”? There are numerous definitions, but no full theory of culture. Many important (British social) anthropologists (Radcliff-Brown, 1952) did not put much emphasis on the issue of culture, but some other did: Sapir (Sapir, 1994), drawing upon linguistics, Benedict (Benedict, 1934) demonstrated the dependence of concrete and manifest cultural forms upon deeper-lying, pervasive principles, Kroeber attempted to trace the ”behavior” of cultural configurations in time. Most anthropologists agree on several assumptions about culture. In my paper I chose a rather general definition offered by Kroeber and Kluckhohn, after giving more than 160 definitions of culture in their work Culture: A critical review of concepts and definitions. The central idea is now formulated by most social scientists approximately as follows (Kroeber, Kluckhohn, 1952:181): "Culture consists of patterns, explicit and implicit, of and for behavior acquired and transmitted by symbols, constituting the distinctive achievement of human groups, including their embodiments in artifacts; the essential (i.e., historically derived and selected) ideas and especially their attached values; culture systems may, on the one hand, be considered of products of action, on the other as conditioning elements of further action."

Although sociobiologists might object the non-hereditary criteria, the rest of the definition is broad enough to include all major anthropological concepts of culture. The culture is transmitted, passed on consciously and unconsciously from those individuals, who have already acquired the consensual concepts of a common symbolic reality, based on a specific value system. It defines what is “normal” behavior and interaction within the specific society. The moral and intellectual conformity about what is “right-wrong”, “normal-abnormal” is hence vital for the coherence of any society. Therefore the culture could be understood as a programme, a mechanism that enables a specific human society to function as a whole and survive. Kroeber (Kroeber, 1948) compared culture to an (super)organism, where every composing part, cell, is essential in constituting the full-functioning organic system. While browsing trough the Internet in search of references for this assignment, I came across an illustrative definition, which reminded me of Kroeber’s vision of culture. I find this description interesting, since even a basic personal computer system in a way mimics the functioning of a society: hardware components are like institutions, materializations in function of software, which could be seen as culture, as an instruction of how to operate, to live: “Integrated circuits are composed of many ovelapping layers, each defined by photolithography, and normally shown in different colors. Some layers mark where various dopants are diffused into the substrate (called diffusion layers), some define where additional ions are implanted (implant layers), some define the conductors (polysilicon or metal layers), and some define the connections between the conducting layers (via or contact layers). All components are constructed from a specific combination of these layers ( ).” The culture is not a static entity. It changes trough time (Radcliffe-Brown, 1952). It is an abstract, invisible system of meanings and symbols, but its effects are real. The specific cultural environment thus models, shapes every member of the specific culture. This does not mean there is no room for free choice, but stepping out of culturally defined limits of what is “right and wrong”, might have more or less negative consequences. If we simplify our definition of culture even more, we can define it as a configuration of non-hereditary transmitted expressions of all aspects of life of a self-conscious human community. We have agreed on basic concepts of what culture is: 1. Culture is an “invisible” highly complex system. It is immaterial in it’s essence 2. Culture produces material forms, observable in learned behavioral patterns and artifacts 3. Culture is learned 4. Culture is associated with value systems Indicators of these concepts would then be: 1. " Culture is an “invisible” highly complex system. It is immaterial in it’s essence"- this is still an abstract level of description. I do not see how this could be relevantly

indicated. We just have to be careful not judge observed cultural phenomenon too quickly. We are dealing with highly abstract meanings of things, structured in a interrelated system. Further indicators are needed. 2. "Culture produces material forms, observable in behavioral patterns and artifacts "Sapir stated that understanding of culture is possible by isolating and concentrating on behavior of individuals. But not all behavior. We should put the emphasis on typical, repeated and shared conducts of action: • language (what, how and when to say something) • typical behavior Artifacts are a man-made object which gives information about the culture of its creator and users 3. "Culture is learned" - This is still a very abstract level of understanding the concept. We could indicate learning as the acquisition and development of memories and behaviors, including skills, knowledge, understanding, values, and wisdom. It is the goal of education, and the product of experience. Learning is closely associated with concepts of enculturation and socialization. Both concepts are related, since both "teach" the individual how to be a "normal" member of a human group. Enculturation is a conscious or an unconscious process, whereby an established culture teaches an individual by repetition its accepted norms and values, so that the individual can become an accepted member of the society and find their suitable role. Most importantly, it establishes a context of boundaries and correctness that dictates what is and is not permissible within that society's framework (Kottak, 2004). Socialization is the inculcation of formal and informal social rules and expectations for an inexperienced member of an existing social order. While this learning typically refers to human children in their native social group, it is applicable to persons whose prospective social group ( e.g. nation, organization, etc.) is sufficiently different from their current environment as to warrant the development of new sociocultural interaction styles and patterns of conduct. This learning includes exposure and internalization of rules and expectations that are considered normative to the social order. Socialization is the process whereby people acquire a social identity and learn the way of life within their society. Agents of socialization are people and/or groups that influence self concepts, emotions, attitudes and behavior of a person. (Henslin, 1999, pp.76-81) Enculturation and socialization are therefore closely associated with norms, values, social identity and social roles.

In sociology, a norm, or social norm, is a rule that is socially enforced. Violations of norms are punished with sanctions, possibly enforced by law. Violators of norms are stigmatized. Alternative behaviors are not acknowledged. The norm is presumed, often to an extreme, in an attempt to avoid any challenge that might provoke stigma or sanction or even lead to redefinition of normative behavior (Haralambos, 2005). Each individual or culture has certain underlying values, of which the norms are explicit expressions. Definitions of "right and wrong" are subjective and vary greatly across people and cultures. Personal values evolve from experiences with the external world and change over time. Personal values are not universal. More important for understanding culture are values that are largely shared by its members, the so called cultural values. A role or a social role is a set of connected behaviors, rights and obligations as conceptualized by actors in a social situation. It is mostly defined as an expected behavior in a given individual social status and social position. A role, in this conception, is not fixed or prescribed but something that is constantly negotiated between individuals in a tentative, creative way. Social status is the honor or prestige attached to one's position in society (one's social position). In modern societies, occupation is usually thought of as the main determinant of status, but other memberships or affiliations (such as ethnic group, religion, gender, voluntary associations, specific personal relationships, fandom, and hobby) can have an influence. In cognitive psychology, the term identity refers to the capacity for self-reflection and the awareness of self (Leary & Tangney, 2003). The psychological idea of identity in humans is related to self image, namely a person's view or mental model of him or herself. Meanwhile, sociologists often use the term to describe social identity to describe group membership Sociology places some explanatory weight on the concept of role-behavior. So the concept of identity is related to the concept of social role. Everything written above should be true of any human community that has a perception of itself as being different from others, that is, it has its “own” culture. But what about so called “virtual communities”? Do they share a feeling of "us against them"? Cultures are changing all the time, some faster, some slower. Virtual, computer-based-reality cultures should therefore change rapidly, since there is a constant influx of new members. So I imagine it should be quite difficult to create a common awareness of “us”.

Again, I state, I can not imagine writing about the concept culture, operationalisating questions from indicators of concepts, without participating and observing. One can not ask about "learned behavior patterns", they should be observed. The term virtual is a concept applied in many fields with somewhat differing connotations, and also, differing denotations. Colloquially, 'virtual' has a similar meaning to "quasi-" or "pseudo-" (prefixes which themselves have quite different meanings), meaning something that is almost something else, particularly when used in the adverbial form e.g. The term "virtual" is used in physics, philosophy, networks and internet and computing ( Concepts like virtual reality and virtual worlds are associated with the latter. The origin of the term virtual reality is uncertain. The concept of virtual reality is only one representative of the "computer mediated communication" (Jones, 1994), generally known as cyberspace. The other versions include Barlowian cyberspace (named after John Barlow) and Gibsonian cyberspace (named after William Gibson). In Barlowian cyberspace there is no face to face interaction; it is the crudest of the three. When we talk on the phone we are "in" the Barlowian cyberspace. Gibsonian cyberspace allows highly realistic interactions of image representations, called avatars. It is meant to be combination of Internet and virtual reality, as depicted in the movie The Matrix. The VR developer Jaron Lanier claims that he coined the term virtual reality (Featherstone, Burrows, 2001). A related term coined by Myron Krueger, "artificial reality", has been in use since the 1970s. The concept of virtual reality was popularized in mass media and the VR research boom of the 1990s was motivated in part by the non-fiction book Virtual Reality by Howard Rheingold ( Virtual reality (VR) is a technology which allows a user to interact with a computer-simulated environment, be it a real or imagined one. Or as Heim (1993, pp.108) puts it: "Virtual reality is an event or entity that is real in effect but not in fact." A virtual world is a computer-based simulated environment intended for its users to inhabit and interact via avatars. This habitation usually is represented in the form of two or three-dimensional graphical representations of humanoids (or other graphical or text-based avatars). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users. The world being computer-simulated typically appears similar to the real world, with real world rules such as gravity, topography, locomotion, real-time actions, and communication. The earliest virtual worlds were not games. The concept of a virtual world has become a popular fictional motif and setting in recent years, although science-fiction writers have been portraying similar ideas (for example, cyberspace) for decades. Among the most prominent virtual worlds in

the literature is the ones written about by William Gibson. Virtual worlds were prominent in "cyberpunk" subculture, in movies and books as TRON, Neuromancer, The Lawnmower Man, Snow Crash, and Ghost in the Shell. There are many other examples of the virtual world; for example Lyoko in the French animated television series Code Lyoko (Bell, 2001). A popular example of a virtual world in fiction is The Matrix, a virtual reality so realistic that the great majority of those humans plugged in think they are living in the real world and do not know that they are living in a virtual world. The first virtual worlds presented on the Internet were communities and chat rooms, some of which evolved into "MUDs (multi-player computer game)" and "MUSHes (Multi-User Shared Hack, Habitat, Holodeck, or Hallucination-text-based online social medium to which multiple users are connected at the same time.)". They attempted to create sets of avatars for virtual interaction. Community virtual worlds allowed access to the environment and encouraged creating buildings, art, and structures (and many did not include avatars). Perhaps the most frequently used term associated vith virtual worlds is 'MMORPG,' which means 'massively multi-player on-line role-playing game,' (Castronova, 2001). Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are highly graphical 3-D videogames played online, allowing individuals, through their self-created digital characters or “avatars,” to interact not only with the gaming software (the designed environment of the game and the computer-controlled characters within it) but with other players’ avatars as well (Squire & Steinkuehler, 2003).

Similarities between virtual and the "real" world The new concept of online computer games that take place in complex virtual realities has seen exponential rise in number of users and forms. Virtual worlds like Second life, Active Worlds, There, and newcomers such as Entropia Universe, Dotsoul Cyberpark and Red Light Center ( ), should not be seen just as computer games, they are more that. They enable interaction of thousands of online users with each other through motional avatars, providing an advanced level of a social network service. Residents can explore, meet other “Residents”, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, and buy items (virtual property) and services from one another. A term virtual social world was proposed (Book, 2004). All virtual worlds, whether gaming or social, have several features in common (Book, 2004): 1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.

2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D “cartoon” imagery to more immersive 3D environments. 3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time. 4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content. 5. Persistence: the world’s existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in. 6. Socialization/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in-world social groups like guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc. The most striking thing about the so called virtual social worlds is their complexity in form and organization on one hand and the impression that we are never the less dealing with a sort of a computer game and therefore not take them seriously. But if we look closer at some of the processes taking place there, one can not loose the feeling that we are dealing with something more profound. The first feature of human interaction that has clearly shifted from the physical domain to the virtual is the economy, which may be seen as an important building block of every society. Edward Castronova (2005) has written major works on business of these synthetic worlds. Unlike many internet ventures, virtual worlds are making money -- with annual revenues expected to top USD 1.5 billion by 2004 -- and if network effects are as powerful here as they have been with other internet innovations, virtual worlds may soon become the primary venue for all online activity. At least 10 million people pay $15 and up a month to play these games, and maybe 20 million more log in once in a while. In January inside Second Life alone, people spent nearly $5 million in some 4.2 million transactions buying or selling clothes, buildings, etc. ( ). In March 1999, a small number of Californians discovered a new virtual world called "Norrath", populated by an exotic but industrious people. About 12,000 people call this place their "permanent home", although some 60,000 are present there at any given time. The nominal hourly wage is about USD 3.42 per hour, and the labors of the people produce a GNP per capita somewhere between that of Russia and Bulgaria (Castronova, 2001). Second Life hurls all this to the extreme end of the playing field. In fact, it's a stretch to call it a game because the "residents", as players prefer to be called, create everything. Unlike in other virtual worlds, Second Life's technology lets people create objects; artifacts like clothes or storefronts from scratch, LEGO-style, rather than simply pluck avatar outfits or ready-made buildings from a menu. That means residents can build anything they can imagine, from houses

to candles that burn down to pools of wax. I refer to this regarding the indicator of cultural Artifacts; man-made object which gives information about the culture of its creator and users. Virtual artifacts have certain similarities to real-life artifacts even though they do not have physical properties in the traditional sense. Virtual artifacts can have a virtual and/or "real" exchange value, and thus can be considered as products. A person or other juristically defined actor can claim ownership and invest money in virtual artifacts. Virtual artifacts can also be valuable in an economical sense outside the environment they are created in. For example game items and characters are valued in terms of real currencies (Lehdonvirta, 2005). The "game" EverQuest has lived through its share of controversy, much of it shared by the entire MMORPG genre. One example involves the sale of in-game objects for real currency, often through eBay. The border between real and virtual has clearly become dim. Within many virtual worlds, there exists a virtual economy that often mimics real-life commercial features and models such as trading with in-game virtual artifacts, virtual currencies, supply and demand, etc. For example, Second Life's virtual currency is the Linden Dollar (Linden, or L$) and is exchangeable for US Dollars in a marketplace consisting of residents, Linden Lab, the creator of Second Life, and real life companies. Virtual social world, Second life, had thousands of registered users in February 2007, its growing importance and influence has since drawn corporations from the outside “physical” world to open their virtual offices. A general hype about the mentioned is constantly being generalized by the media. Although the the numbers of participants is not as big as it is being reported ( lindens_second_life_numbers_and_the_presss_desire_to_believe.php), plus the graphic visualization is still a little raw, major companies such as IBM Corp., Dell Inc., CNet Networks Inc. and Adidas are recognizing the importance of the new media and have established a presence in Second Life. Thousands of dollars are being spent for constructing virtual offices and advertisements and even more will be in the future. Recently Sweden opened an embassy in this metaverse and some Second life communities are thinking of doing the same in the “real” world. Different MMPORGs or virtual worlds that are not purpose-oriented have their own symbols, rituals and language. At fan meetings, one sees how symbols have been woven into the lives of the players by being applied to their clothing and equipment. A number of terms used in-game have been coined by players from a wide variety of MMORPGs and players of EverQuest especifically. EverQuest carries an internal language and culture of its own, including a plethora of arcane abbreviations aiding communication between players. For example, SoW (which stands for Spirit of Wolf, a popular spell which accelerates players' movement), and vernacular

usages such as 'crack' or 'mind candy' which within the context of EQ refer to mana regeneration spells such as Clarity or KEI (an acronym for Koadic's Endless Intellect). While mostly consistent, there are also some differences in jargon between servers, and between the Asian, European and American gaming communities. For example, KEI is known on some servers as C3 (it is the third version of Clarity). In-game chatting can practically be a foreign language to anyone who has not played it extensively ( Everquest#Gameplay_jargon). It should also be noted that language conventions from the virtual worlds have entered real-world dictionaries, for example see L0234150.html . Though language in such settings exhibits all of the very same functions as in every day talk, novel linguistic forms emerge because online gameplay asks ASCII language to serve the same range of functions but under very particular constraints (Steinkuehler, 2003). Players need to communicate quickly during battle within the tight constraints of small text windows. They express emotions, intent, and identity in the absence of other communicative channels while slaying monsters, battling other players, harvesting resources, or crafting items. Not only economy, politics is also entering the virtual arena. French presidential candidates Nicolas Sarkozy, Segolene Royal and Jean-Marie Le Pen, the American John Kerry all “opened” their election offices; Reuters has its own permanent journalist based in Second Life. In January 2007 a "virtual riot" erupted between members of the French National Front who had established a virtual HQ on Second Life, and opponents, including Second Life Left Unity, a socialist and anti-capitalist user-group. Since then, several small Internet based organizations have claimed some responsibility for instigating the riots. Recently, long time gamers decided to "nuke "two corporate-owned stores (American Apparel and Reebok). On the matter of enculturation and socialization. When first logging to Second Life, a new member is given a tutor, who shows him around and explains him the basic rules of the virtual world. Mentors are available to Residents on "Help Island", the mainland "Welcome Areas", "sandboxes", "InfoHubs", and a variety of public places. Mentors answer questions, give advice, and provide guidance. They can also work as greeters, introducing brand new Residents to Second Life and encouraging them to explore it. The role of Mentors in the Volunteer Program is to primarily provide face-to-face (avatar-to-avatar) assistance to Residents. As it is stated on the official page of the virtual social world Second Life: "Within your first hour, you'll notice that several residents approach you and introduce themselves – Second Lifers are eager to welcome you and show you around (" All virtual worlds have defined "community standards", norms of proper conduct. In Second Life the Community Standards are as follows: "treat each other with respect and without harassment,

adhere to local standards as indicated by simulator ratings, and refrain from any hate activity which slurs a real-world individual or real-world community ( cs.php)." Behavioral guidelines are stated in the "Big six", the "Ten commandments" of particular virtual social world ( 1. Intolerance
Combating intolerance is a cornerstone of Second Life's Community Standards. Actions that marginalize, belittle, or defame individuals or groups inhibit the satisfying exchange of ideas and diminish the Second Life community as whole. The use of derogatory or demeaning language or images in reference to another Resident's race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or sexual orientation is never allowed in Second Life.

2. Harassment
Given the myriad capabilities of Second Life, harassment can take many forms. Communicating or behaving in a manner which is offensively coarse, intimidating or threatening, constitutes unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors, or is otherwise likely to cause annoyance or alarm is Harassment.

3. Assault
Most areas in Second Life are identified as Safe. Assault in Second Life means: shooting, pushing, or shoving another Resident in a Safe Area (see Global Standards below); creating or using scripted objects which singularly or persistently target another Resident in a manner which prevents their enjoyment of Second Life.

4. Disclosure
Residents are entitled to a reasonable level of privacy with regard to their Second Lives. Sharing personal information about a fellow Resident --including gender, religion, age, marital status, race, sexual preference, and real-world location beyond what is provided by the Resident in the First Life page of their Resident profile is a violation of that Resident's privacy. Remotely monitoring conversations, posting conversation logs, or sharing conversation logs without consent are all prohibited in Second Life and on the Second Life Forums.

5. Indecency
Second Life is an adult community, but Mature material is not necessarily appropriate in all areas (see Global Standards below). Content, communication, or behavior which involves intense language or expletives, nudity or sexual content, the depiction of sex or violence, or anything else broadly offensive must be contained within private land in areas rated Mature (M). Names of Residents, objects, places and groups are broadly viewable in Second Life directories and on the Second Life website, and must adhere to PG guidelines.

6. Disturbing the Peace
Every Resident has a right to live their Second Life. Disrupting scheduled events, repeated transmission of undesired advertising content, the use of repetitive sounds, following or self-spawning items, or other objects that intentionally slow server performance or inhibit another Resident's ability to enjoy Second Life are examples of Disturbing the Peace.

As norms are defined as rules that are socially enforced, violations of norms are punished with sanctions, possibly enforced by law. In Second Life violations of the Community Standards first result in a Warning, followed by Suspension and eventual Banishment from Second Life. In-World Representatives, called Liaisons, may occasionally address disciplinary problems with a temporary removal from Second Life. Social roles are defined through communication with other avatars-users. The communication is in the form of a clipped written English ("chat"). An avatar may approach another avatar, type a message out on the keyboard, and send that message to the other avatar. Depending on the nature of the laws of sound in the VW, an avatar may also be able to overhear the conversations of others, as well as hold conversations with avatars hundreds of virtual miles away. These communications allow social interactions that are not a simulation of human interactions; they are human interactions, merely extended into a new forum. As with any human society, it is through communication that the VW society confers status and standing. As it turns out, the social standing of the avatar has a powerful effect on the entertainment value of the VW. Given that people are trying to speak by writing in real time, chatspeak is infused with extensive abbreviations and there is little punctuation. "omwb – brt" means ( Castronova, 2001). The discourse communities these practices serve likewise expand from collections of in-character playmates to real-world affinity groups, and the social structures so generated are complex and overlapping – comparable, as Jakobsson and Taylor (2003) point out, to traditional “mafia” structures. Like the mafia or other organized communal systems, MMOG social structures appear to be powerful means for mobilizing players’ identities. In such communities, fluency in the discourse determines whether one is located on the periphery (as a “newbie”) or at the center (as a “beta vet”) (cf. Lave & Wenger, 1991). Understanding the forms of (voluntary) participation in complex communities and environments such as MMOGs is crucial: Such virtual communities function as a major mechanism of enculturation for those engaged with them: “Playing one's character(s) and living in [these virtual worlds] becomes an important part of daily life. Since much of the excitement of the game depends on having personal relationships

and being part of [the] community's developing politics and projects, it is hard to participate just a little" (Turkle, 1995: 184). One of the most interesting concepts related to culture is identity. The new "synthetic worlds (Castronova, 2005)" have offered a medium which for the first time allows thousands of ordinary people, though only briefly, to choose any identity they want. They can experiment with physical shape, gender, race, age, class and feel how it is like to be someone or something else. The implications of cyberspace for the ways we think about identity are immense. There has been an explosion of work on questions of identity. The virtual is redefining the concepts like gender, race and class, some scholars speak of "crisis of part of a wider process of change, which is dislocating the central structures and processes of modern societies and undermining the frameworks which gave individuals stable anchorage in the social world (Hall, 1995: 596)."

Conslusion It is evident that virtual worlds, like Second Life in some way or another mimic the sociocultural patterns of the “real” world. We could argue that we are witnessing an emergence of a true “virtual society”, with its own sets of rules and laws. The question that I tried to put in perspective is: Do they poses a unique, virtual, culture, which in its utopian escapist fundaments differs from the outside, real culture of their society, or is the this culture, if there is such, merely a reflection, a mirror of the outside conditions? It is true that participants in the virtual social network originate from different “outside” cultures. So how do they function as a whole, if at all? If yes, they must share, or create a common symbolic reality of rules and values in order to communicate and function as coherent community. There is something almost perverse in attaching attributes of the observable material world to the "virtual". Comparing, for example Inuit culture to "virtual" culture of Second Life seems absurd. But I think the very absurdity in and of this endeavor is the "catch". Culture is a construct; it exists only in our minds. It is not real. It is "virtual" in its essence; a man-made web of rules and guidelines how to deal with chaotic realm of the material world. I assume that the virtual world “games”, the communities like Second Life have a unique culture of its own, or will develop one, in time influencing even the “outside” culture. I think cyberworlds, synthetic worlds, virtual (social) worlds or whatever we want to name them are a legitimate object of anthropological, sociological and psychological research. And they are.

And they will be even more so in the future. They are suitable testing ground for the evaluation of all sorts hypothesis in human relations. For example: what are the origins of crime? “Second Life has been attacked several times by groups of “residents” abusing the creation tools to create objects that harass other users or damage the system. This includes “grey goo” objects which infinitely reproduce, eventually overwhelming the servers; orbiters which throw an avatar so far upwards they cannot get back down in a reasonable timeframe without teleporting; cages which surround avatars, preventing them from moving, and similar. Although combat between users is sanctioned in certain areas of the world, these objects have been used to cause disruption in all areas; attacks on the grid itself, such as Grey Goo, are of course strictly forbidden anywhere on the grid. Recently Linden Lab announced that new plans to combat grey goo attacks are under consideration, including changes to the back end code to minimize damage from attacks, and possible restriction of scripting privileges to trusted or verified accounts”.

How to study virtual culture and is there such thing in the first place? Maybe we should study it as if it were and then acknowledge if we are dealing with something new. In praxis the most appropriate method to observe the individual behavior is participation by observation, which means an anthropologist should “sign in” and become a member of the specific virtual community. The indicator of culture as learned, transmitted, non-hereditary, “invisible” highly complex system, implies to formal and informal training for and by the individuals and institutions about behavior and norms based on the value system, enabling the orderly functioning of the system. This heavily implies to the problem of constant change. How to ensure that the system stays a coherent unit? In reality this is seen in several “rebellions” of the senior Second Life members, who were not pleased with behavior of the newcomers. This means there are strictly defined rules which participants need to follow in order to normally interact. Who makes and enforces the rules and laws? How do people resolve conflicts? How do participants get familiar with rules and laws that govern the virtual community? Are there any particular ways in which people communicate? Do they use in a way a separate language, words that have no meanings in the real world? How do people know which action is tolerable and which is not? Are there any “unwritten” rules how to do things? Who can do what? Is there any social hierarchy among the participants? If yes, based on what? Are there any specific rituals, “rites of passage”? Do they share a common belief system? Are there any interest groups, sort of "virtual kinship systems"? Based on what do these groups associate?

We could easily answer the above questions in a positive way. There are signs of emerging patterns and structures that could indicate the emergence of a virtual culture, or at least a "metaculture" as meaning "after", "beyond". A concept which is an abstraction from another concept, used to complete or add to the latter.

I know the determining and proving a concept like culture, even much so “virtual culture” is a difficult task. I have failed to fully operationalise indicators of culture into questions. But I have learned some important lessons; the impossibility of studying abstract with social methods and their usefulness in studying observable phenomena. It also made me think about the whole relationship between real and unreal. Are the things we see and even measure "really" real? I also hope my poor attempt sparked some interest on the topic in you, if you already have not taken a closer look at these things.

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Henslin, James M. 1999 Sociology: A Down-To-Earth Approach, (4th Ed) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Heim, Michael. 1993. The Metaphysics of Virtual Reality. New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kottak, Conrad. 2004. Window on Humanity: A Concise Introduction to Anthropology. McGraw-Hill Kroeber, A. L. and C. Kluckhohn, 1952. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions. Cambridge, MA: Peabody Museum. Kroeber, Alfred. 1948. The nature of culture. Cultural Patterns and Processes. New York:Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., pp. 60-64. Leary, M. R., & Tangney, J. P. 2003. Handbook of self and identity. New York: Guilford Press Lehdonvirta, Vili.2005. Real-Money Trade of Virtual Assets: New Strategies for Virtual World Operators. Proceedings of Future Play 2005, Michigan State University, 13-15 October 2005. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific. London: Routledge. Radcliffe-Brown, Alfred.1952 (1940). "On Social Structure." Structure and Function in Primitive Society, New York: The Free Press. Sapir, Edward. 1994. The Psychology of Culture: A Course of Lectures. Reconstructed and Edited by Judith T. Irvine. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. Sherry, Turkle. 1995. Life on the Screen. New York: Touchstone. Squire, K. D. & Steinkuehler, C. A. 2003. Generating CyberCulture/s: The case of Star Wars Galaxies. In D. Gibbs & K. L. Krause (Eds.), Cyberlines: Languages and cultures of the Internet (2nd ed.). Albert Park, Australia: James Nicholas Publishers. Taylor, T.L.2004.The Social design of virtual worlds: Constructing the user and community through code. Internet Research Annual Volume 1: Selected Papers from the Association of Internet Researchers Conferences 2000-2002. New York: Peter Lang.

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