Try this experiment. Read the following passage, once only. Then, click through and read the rest of this post.
With hocked gems financing him, our hero bravely defied all scornful laughter that tried to prevent his scheme. “Your eyes deceive,” he had said. “An egg, not a table, correctly typifies this unexplored planet.” Now three sturdy sisters sought proof. Forging along, sometimes through calm vastness, yet more often very turbulent peaks and valleys, days became weeks as many doubters spread fearful rumours about the edge. At last from nowhere welcome winged creatures appeared, signifying momentous success.
For the last two weeks I’ve been working on a research survey and report on virtual worlds – things such as Second Life, OpenSim, OpenCroquet and the like. I’ve just now finished tidying it up, and sent it off, with much relief; it’s 50 pages long, and the longest writing project I’ve engaged in since completing my Masters thesis two years ago.
It marks a bit of a milestone for me – it’s the first fully independent, paid research contract I’ve done. Though stressful, it was actually quite a lot of fun and taught me a lot about rapidly gathering together notes from lots of sources and cobbling them together in a report. I learned quite a bit more about virtual worlds, in the process, too.
It was also the first time I’ve had to hire and manage my own subcontractors – in this case, I hired Morbid Curiousity to help out by writing research notes and helping a little with reviewing. This also was quite illuminating – in hindsight, the small amount of extra work was certainly worthwhile; getting someone else involved me with a second perspective on the topic and helped me formulate my own ideas for the document’s structure and content.
I’m going to keep the report embargoed for a week or two; I’ve been assured that despite the contract, I maintain copyright over the work, but I want to wait until my client has had a chance to review it first. After that, I’ll be making the whole thing available as well as posting and expanding on certain parts of it that I think people might find interesting..
One thing that’s really fascinating about virtual worlds and MMOGs is the avatars that people choose and the relationship between their choice and their physical selves. It’s pretty easy to find statistics showing that gender bending is a pretty common practice (for example), but there’s not been a lot of research looking at people choices of character race and shape.
A while back, Nick Yee, a research at PARC, published some statistics he’d gathered during his PhD on the relationships between age and gender on player choices of race, alignment, and type of character class. Graphs and notes on those results are available here.
More recently, he’s published another set of results concerning player choices of character shape; that is, whether their character is relatively taller or shorter, how attractive they are, and so forth. These are pretty interesting results, though there’s nothing really surprising. What’s really interesting, though, is the graphs he’s produced looking at the relationship between preferences for different avatar archetypes and for different styles of play.
Anyway, if you’re at all interested in self representation or online games, go take a look. He publishes these results via a blog he keeps called ‘The Daedalus Project’ – it’s not particularly high traffic, but what he does post is well worth reading..