Methods and Observations of Research In Second Life: An Analysis of Social Norms and the Presence of Property Types


How the Method of Research Became Research Within Itself

As mentioned in the abstract to this group work, our group’s survey depended on the use of 3 dependent variables—whether the user has successfully copied a non-copy object, whether or not the user would copy a non-copy object, and whether or not a user would report another user whom they knew was copying non-copy objects. Additionally, the dependent variables were tested against the 6 independent variables—age, gender, how long the user had been using Second Life, whether or not the user was from the United States, whether or not the user was a student, and whether or not the user had used peer-to-peer software.

Upon entering the Grid and attempting to establish a large enough sample population to adequately measure the impact that copyright has on social norms within Second Life, the group felt it necessary to diversify the respondents in an attempt to remain objective and lessen the chance for error. This was accomplished by varying the types of locations where the surveys were performed and the time of day when the surveys were performed. Having learned from conversations with people on the Grid during the initial phases of getting acquainted with Second Life that people of similar backgrounds, nationalities, ages, and social habits were be likely to congregate in similar locations at similar times of day, this variance in surveying technique proved useful.

While there were certainly people less inclined to participate in the survey than others, those willing to answer our nine-question survey were generally open for conversation afterwards. This chance to further converse with those who use Second Life with greater regularity gave the group valuable insight into the social practices and norms of the Second Life society. In this manner, our research was able to accomplish both the survey for analytical purposes while also advancing our knowledge of the disparity between the social norms of real life and Second Life.

After gathering enough data and evidence to draw conclusions, Louie Pausch was able to aid to the project in the form a statistical analysis of the data as a means of supporting the theoretical conclusions drawn from in world-observations and the literature of Lessig, Berry, and Dewey by all members of the group.

Team America: Disaster Capitalists hard at work

Discovering the Social Norms Within Second Life

When Team America decided to work with how copyright is perceived and impacts social norms in Second Life versus their application in real life, the goal was initially to only focus within the framework of the afore mentioned topic and not on broader forms of social norms. However, as we discovered that studying social norms of any variety in Second Life would require a realignment of tactics in order to produce usable results, it became impossible to ignore the influence that broader social norms had on our attempts to study the sub-unit regarding copyright. This prospect of additional research having spawned from an attempt at doing research in Second Life, it became clear that our empirical research pertaining to copyright would be well complemented by a theoretical analysis of the different levels of variety and uniformity of social norms in Second Life.

This expression of social variety has spawned a subculture of greater society that has been largely untouched by those who deem Second Life as a divorce from social norms. As individuality and a divergence from social trends of reality prevail on the Grid, the simple task of approaching people to attempt to survey their views of copyright became a task that had to be approached in a different manner than in real life. We found that we could not approach another person in the same casual manner as if on the street in real life, but that we had to dance in sync with them in a club, sit with them at the bottom of a lake, or often engage in crude or absurd dialog to gain their attention. Even at this point, turning the topic of discussion away from the realm of fantasy and back to real world issues required an often stoic dedication to other topics of conversation.
Interviewing avatars underwater (Credit: Louie Pausch)

Having initially composed a lengthy survey comprised of topic-specific questions regarding copyright, we immediately encountered problems with being able to gather data. The first problem was that the length of the survey exceeded the amount of time that we were able to hold most people's attention to the topic. An example of this occurred when after having finally made it through the majority of the survey with one female avatar, she told me that I seemed less like a student doing research and more like an "annoying telemarketer that had found a new way to harass people and waste their time." While such responses were not generally the case, and attempts at data collection were not always resulting in failure, the ratio of surveys attempted to surveys completed showed that it was in our best interest to condense the survey into broader questions that would still fit within analyzing social norms as a part of Lessig's model of the Four Modalities of Constraint.

American Blackburn's first interview victim...

After revising our survey and returning to the Grid, we still experienced the same challenges of having to interact with the population for somewhat extended periods of time, but the condensed survey allowed the group to work more efficiently time wise and was quick enough that we were still able to keep the participants engaged in conversation regarding topics of interest pertaining to Second Life culture. The majority of our respondents who were willing to talk freely were quick to point out the novice level of our Second Life jargon, dress, and general knowledge concerning the Grid, but were generally accepting of the fact. Initially, the topics that people were eager to divulge information regarding were somewhat shocking (being that, again, it appears that the notion of acceptable practices in Second Life versus real life has seemingly switched), but mildly interesting nonetheless. Many respondents such as these that were found in high traffic areas almost always brought up the pervasive sex industry and appeal of not having their actions confined by real life rules/consequences. (See section Creativity and Control: Permission Culture in Second Life for more reasons why people join Second Life).

Sex Culture in SL: This woman stripped for me (without my asking) while I interviewed her. Awkward! (Credit: Louie Pausch)

As the research progressed and social norms within Second Life became more obvious at some levels, I took it upon myself to increase my number of surveys and attempt to dive deeper into the realm of avatar appearances to determine what force was acting on the need to have one's avatar be depicted in a certain way. Initial assumptions were mainly focused around the issue of vanity, as the idea of fantasy had been such a large topic for analysis. I assumed that Berry's theory pertaining to a detachment from culture would engender the necessity for such falsity, and the assumption was partially correct. In interviewing the vast majority of additional respondents that I chose to add to the study, I tried to make the conversation take a turn towards physical appearance. I found that if I spoke too soon, the assumption was generally that I was making an physical advance towards that avatar. However, if I was patient (more patient by at this point than when the research project started), that the person I was talking to would generally be willing to discuss why they made their avatar look a specific way, and sometimes even discuss how their avatar looked in comparison to them personally. It turned out that more than

More Sex Culture in SL: This woman was just getting started as a stripper in SL, she was putting together her outfit a new features for her avatar because she had to go to her first day of work in a few hours. (Credit: Louie Pausch)

a slight majority of female avatars rendered what they felt was a skinnier, bigger breasted, and generally more attractive version of themselves, so vanity was a factor in this regard. However, among those just mentioned, was a population that made their avatar look a certain way for the purpose of a Second Life job (generally part of the sex culture). While I knew that there was a large market for sex in Second Life, the thought had never occurred that those who participated in selling sex would actually be found roaming around the streets of Second Life as if they were really living a day-to-day existence. This fact in and of itself seemed to affirm Berry's point regarding a general disconnect from culture, but at the same time seemed to evidence a literal connection to this new culture.

The second question that was posed regarding avatar appearance was whether or not the manner of attire (gothic, hippie, furry, or otherwise) said anything about the person's personality as an individual in real life. This question was a natural progression from the previous one in that those who said that their avatar's appearance were not a result of vanity or sexual fantasy, but, as one avatar put it "made her identifiable". As she continued to elaborate, she stated that the specific color fur that her avatar wore was the same color as that of her friends' in Second Life. Recalling a journal entry from my avatar page where I encountered a Second Life gang whose members dressed alike, this was the second time that I had heard of socially exclusive groups of avatars within Second Life. She continued to explain that these "friends" were made in Second Life, that they had never met in real life, and that she had developed a close friendship with them.

Interviewing one of the SL Gangs. They were actually at war over "copybotting". The term is defined as being a hacked version of a non-copy object used to obtain full-permission.

These facts, in and of themselves, seem to, on one hand, support Berry's idea of a severe cultural disconnect that has continued to progress through different mediums over the years. However, this disconnect seems so great and ingrained in the personalities of whoever the people were behind these avatars that it almost appears as if their cultural disconnect has progressed to something of a cultural shift. People like this seem to no longer be detached from culture, but instead are attached to a another culture that dictates new social norms by which they operate.

In taking all of these observations and attempting to dictate a theoretical approach to their analysis, examining the "how" in relation to discovering these social norms clearly shows a spectrum of diversity on a micro level that actually reveals striking similarities at macro level. This discovered uniformity at the macro level came about as a result of Louie Pausch recommending the use of the map as a means of choosing random sims to explore. By teleporting from random point to random point, our research was able to encompass a vast array of points on the grid that allowed us to interview people in multiple settings that ranged from beaches to mountains, fortified structures, houses, boats, malls, art galleries, clubs, and other environments that seemed to describe the local "avatar demographic". Aside from the survey results, the conversations alone evidenced a spectrum of differences between individuals in terms of religion, nationality, age, sexual orientation, and race, but showed the presence of many larger norms that were commonly held between the members of different populations. These points of commonality were as follows:
1.)Liberal or Independent political orientation (politically minded in general)*
2.)Pro Gay Rights and Pro-Choice
3.)Credited Second Life for having formed close relationships with other people on the Grid
4.)Prefer the higher level of tolerance and social acceptance that Second Life provides over real life
Where real life is all too often viewed as the day-to-day happenings within a world defined by laws of science and controlled by externalities that influence societal perspective, legal parameters, market fluctuations, and obstacles that determine the course of existence (Lessig 132), Second Life seems to serve as an escape from reality for many of the Grid's users. Due to the overwhelming presence of common points of discussion regarding the above larger norms, it seems evident that the majority of participants in Second Life, aside from those who seek only monetary gain, often use Linden Lab's creation as a tool of expression, defiance, and retreat from the lives that they lead away from the computer screen. Within the confines of Second Life these users are able to identify with others who share similar interests on a multitude of topics, and many have come to see it as a community.

Dewey, Social Norms, and the Second Life Public

Having noted the observations of greater social norms and their effects on our research at its conclusion, we were able to develop some hypotheses to account for their presence. Pulling largely from Dewey's views of what constitutes a public, we felt that this presence of shared common interests within the sample population and the desire to escape from the real world (assuaging negative externalities) qualified this group as a public (Dewey 17). Additionally, the common use of Second Life as a means of communication, source of unity, and a way by which to share and express points of view evidences the role of technology in the revival/existence of this public. The sense of unity displayed by common interests and levels of diverse interaction seems to support this claim as well. It might suggest that the overwhelming percentage of respondents of the liberal/independent persuasion and their knowledge of political/socio-political issues supports Dewey's hopes that technology would eventually revive interests in politics*** (Dewey 184). However, due to the political nature of our survey and the large numbers unwilling to participate, we can not definitively say that there is a revival of political interest due to the chance that the distractions of modern society (e.g. Sex culture in Second Life) might have been deterred many from participating.

Sign from the now empty Ron Paul Campaign Center at Rothbard

Referencing real life, the social norms of the contemporary world in terms of a separate public(s) causing this public exodus to Second Life seems plausible as an effect of negative externalities on this Second Life public due to that fact that a public is able to influence a public. Reasons for the real life public(s) influence could vary in number and range, but we believe that it wouldn't be out of the question to assume that a clash of social norms could be a contributing factor.

To briefly touch on another issue concerning Second Life and the existence of a public, it can be seen that the Grid contains more than just a body of citizens. As mentioned earlier, Second Life does provide a means of earning capital for users, and the issue of a private(s) also existing within Second Life is plausible as well. In this regard, we feel that levels of earned capital are high enough for the private(s) to impose negative externalities on the Second Life public. This claim is supported by the events within Second Life that have transpired in real world courts, ending with settlements for compensation of lost assests. Therefore it should be understood that influences are large enough between private actors "A" and "B" that potential private(s) would be able to currently redefine or affect the social norms from their present status quo (Dewey 13).

Observation of Social Norms as Pertaining to Copyright and Lessig’s Four Types of Property Sharing

Finally having sorted through the unexpected influence of broader social norms on Second Life culture and the influences they had on our group's original work plan, there were still analytical observations to be made about the nature of copyright in Second Life. The larger notion of norms as one of Lessig's Four Modalities of Constraint within Second Life will be discussed in depth in Smiley Clawtooth's work Creativity and Control: Premission Culture in Second Life, but the issue of Lessig's model for Types of Property Sharing became particularly interesting while conducting interviews, speaking generally with respondents, and exploring the grid in as a whole. In this respect, there were clear instances by which all four types of property sharing, ranging from less free to more free, were visible. The best example of Type A property sharing (downloading instead of buying) would be all objects designated non-copy, non-transfer that are considered to be the least free of the four types. People that designate their creative property as Type A are targeting those people who would be likely to copy instead of purchasing it (Lessig 68), and from experience of talking with such people, they have rather strong feelings towards the protection of copyright.

An example of Type B property sharing (sample before buying) would be a similar to test driving a car in Second Life that is still designated non-copy, but is considered slightly more free. Those who designate their property as Type B are generally hoping to increase sales by allowing potential buyers to sample (Lessig 68). From talking to people whose property is Type B, they still have rather strong feelings about the issue of copyright, but are sometimes forced to make the item slightly more free due to higher costs.
American Blackburn car shopping because teleporting is overrated.

Type C property sharing was slightly tougher to find, but Louie Pausch was able to provide a great example of second life culture, or out of print material, while exploring the Grid in discovering a library where copies of out of print material were available for download and readable through the memo window. Such items as these are non-copy, yet are considered transferable because transferring the material is not violating copyright since no duplicate of the original is made (Lessig 68). Finally, Type D property sharing was best viewed through full permission objects or items that can be both copied and transferred. Generally, creators of this type of property want it to be given away and distributed, generally for advertising (Lessig 69).