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Virtual Environments and Cultures

A Collection of Social Anthropological Research in Virtual Cultures and Landscapes

Edited By Undine Frömming

Virtual reality is no longer an issue that we can avoid or ignore. It is an essential part of our experience, influencing cultures and individuals all over the world. This book presents a collection of ethnographic research in the virtual world of Second Life, and can be seen as an attempt to discover the challenges and limits of social anthropological research with an avatar in virtual cultures and environments. The contributions in this book demonstrate that the development of «digital codes» has meanwhile gone so far that anthropologists have started to conduct fieldwork inside digital user-generated worlds. This volume investigates the challenges facing a reality that is strongly and maybe irrevocably entangled with virtual reality. This development holds disadvantages and dangers but advantages as well - such as freedom of expressions for minority groups, social online activists, religious communities or artists. All research is based on qualitative methods, with group and single interview situations and participant observation over a period of between three and ten months.

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Entangled Realities in Virtuality. Urte Undine Frömming

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23 Entangled Realities in Virtuality1 Urte Undine Frömming Second Life had its economic boom and strongest media presence during the years 2006-2008. From this point on, Second Life slowly developed into a shrink- ing world, leading many scholars, such as analyst Anthony Mullen (2012), to de- scribe Second Life as a “sleeping giant” and prophesize that three dimensional worlds such as Second Life will definitely have a future because they continuous- ly improve in harmony with processor performance and Internet speed. However, since 2008, many shops closed in Second Life and whole islands are up for sale. The economy sector in particular was influenced by these shrinking tendencies. But against great odds, art, culture and educational projects (Wang 2012) still found its niche in Second life, thereby demonstrating a strong resistance against this recession. 10 years after Second Life went online in June 2003, this book pro- vides an insight into the diversity of virtual environments and cultures in Second Life during the years 2010-2013. Back in 1991, Vilém Flusser presciently described our current sl-reality in his concept of “alternative worlds”: “These worlds are colorful and they can make sounds and they can probably in the near future, also be touched, tasted and smelled. But this is not all. The soon-realizable technical bodies, as they dive up from the computations, will be equipped with artificial intelligence (…) so that we will be able to step into a dialogical relationship with them” (Flusser 1991: 147, my translation). At the same...

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