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Making Virtual Worlds
     

Making Virtual Worlds

 

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The past decade has seen phenomenal growth in the development and use of virtual worlds. In one of the most notable, Second Life, millions of people have created online avatars in order to play games, take classes, socialize, and conduct business transactions. Second Life offers a gathering point and the tools for people to create a new world online.

Too often

Overview

The past decade has seen phenomenal growth in the development and use of virtual worlds. In one of the most notable, Second Life, millions of people have created online avatars in order to play games, take classes, socialize, and conduct business transactions. Second Life offers a gathering point and the tools for people to create a new world online.

Too often neglected in popular and scholarly accounts of such groundbreaking new environments is the simple truth that, of necessity, such virtual worlds emerge from physical workplaces marked by negotiation, creation, and constant change. Thomas Malaby spent a year at Linden Lab, the real-world home of Second Life, observing those who develop and profit from the sprawling, self-generating system they have created.

Some of the challenges created by Second Life for its developers were of a very traditional nature, such as how to cope with a business that is growing more quickly than existing staff can handle. Others are seemingly new: How, for instance, does one regulate something that is supposed to run on its own? Is it possible simply to create a space for people to use and then not govern its use? Can one apply these same free-range/free-market principles to the office environment in which the game is produced? "Lindens"—as the Linden Lab employees call themselves—found that their efforts to prompt user behavior of one sort or another were fraught with complexities, as a number of ongoing processes collided with their own interventions.

In Making Virtual Worlds, Malaby thoughtfully describes the world of Linden Lab and the challenges faced while he was conducting his in-depth ethnographic research there. He shows how the workers of a very young but quickly growing company were themselves caught up in ideas about technology, games, and organizations, and struggled to manage not only their virtual world but also themselves in a nonhierarchical fashion. In exploring the practices the Lindens employed, he questions what was at stake in their virtual world, what a game really is (and how people participate), and the role of the unexpected in a product like Second Life and an organization like Linden Lab.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Malaby presents an ethnography of Linden Labs, the creators of the Second Life virtual world. Which is to say, he focuses not on how users of Second Life feel about their experience, but rather on how the Linden Lab people strategize and implemented the wider structure of that virtual world. Malaby looks at the clash at Linden Labs of the liberal ideology espousing a flat organization of creative peers with the reality of a hierarchy in which people are ranked according to their perceived level of creativity."—Choice, December 2009

"The recursive changes in building Second Life by Linden Lab founder Phillip Rosedale and colleagues illustrate some of the lessons of new business organizational ideas and the expansion of the creative logics of gaming into new areas of everyday life. In deceptively simple prose Thomas Malaby explores the ways patterned contingency elicits desires not just to 'play it again,' but to be creative both with strategies of play and strategies of constructing ground rules. Above all, Malaby explores unexpected social games that develop in and around games designed for libertarian, meritocratic, efficiency-calculating, or individual-centered players."—Michael M. J. Fischer, Andrew W. Mellon Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Anthropology and Science and Technology Studies, MIT, author of Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice and Anthropological Futures

"Making Virtual Worlds is a clear, thoughtful and often spectacularly illuminating study. It examines the social and cultural when shaped by the virtual; cocreation that combines responsive producers and unpredictable consumers; and enterprise that must follow emergent practice. It will appeal to people interested in branding, marketing, innovation, urban planning, software design, organization behavior, new media, and virtual worlds."—Grant McCracken, Research Associate, Convergence Culture Consortium at MIT, author of Transformations

"Fascinating as an ethnographic study of Linden Lab, Making Virtual Worlds has important implications for the effects of high technology generally. Most significant, perhaps, is the recursive loop that Thomas Malaby traces between tool-making, libertarian politics, and the transformative effects of digital technologies not only on users of Second Life but also on the company and people (the 'Lindens') that create and maintain it. This book is essential reading for many diverse conversations, among them new media theory, science studies, technology studies, and cultural studies."—Katherine Hayles, UCLA, author of My Mother Was a Computer and Writing Machines

Library Journal

Examining the challenges of developing and governing one of the most hyped virtual worlds today, this ethnographic study details Linden Lab's ongoing organizational evolution in response to its mercurial creation, Second Life. Because Linden Lab eschews vertical authority, Second Life, while based in part on game design principles, is primarily an open world where users self-govern and design their own social environments. Linden Lab sees its role chiefly as a provider of tools to aid user creativity and content construction. Malaby (anthropology, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee) focuses on how Linden Lab can guide and manage a world where users are not only allowed but encouraged to take unpredictable, idiosyncratic actions that will influence other users' experiences of Second Life. Overall, this is an illuminating study, but one caution: it's slim on details for translating these findings into applications for other organizations. Recommended for readers familiar with Second Life or seeking to learn more about it. [For more on Second Life, see Sue Martin Mahar & Jay Mahar's The Unofficial Guide to Building Your Business in the Second Life Virtual World, LJ5/1/09.-Ed.]
—David Ward

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801447464
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
06/11/2009
Pages:
176
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)

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