[iDC] Introduction (yet another)
malaby at uwm.edu
Tue Sep 22 18:12:07 UTC 2009
Trebor asked me to introduce myself. I confess that I've been lurking
on the list for some time and enjoying many of the discussions
immensely, especially those concerning play and the nature of labor in
a digital age.
I am a cultural anthropologist and my research is on the relationships
between games, institutions, and indeterminacy. My most recent work
was on Linden Lab, makers of Second Life, where I spent 2005 doing
ethnographic research, online and offline. In my book about it which
came out this June (Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life,
Cornell U Press - http://is.gd/3zovG) I explored how the Lindens
(employees of Linden Lab) inscribed certain assumptions about the
human into their software, assumptions which shaped the nature of
labor and value in Second Life (though not in any way wholly
determining them). The forms of capital which accumulate in Second
Life (the material, the cultural, the social) rely not only on that
world's persistence but also upon its contrived open-endedness (owing
much to computer game design), which allows for performative failure
and therefore meaningfully distinct outcomes of social processes. This
architecture reflected Linden Lab's picture of the human as driven
essentially by a desire to express creatively through technology and
to reject vertical authority, or, indeed, constraint in any form.
What is more, Linden Lab sought to govern themselves according to the
same, as I call them, "technoliberal" ideals, and again reached for
techniques from game design in order to shape their own organizational
labor and generate legitimate decisions about what to do next. Games,
I argue, are the latest cultural form to become an object of
institutional desire, in part because of how digital technology makes
such applications of game-like forms over a wide domain of action
Looking forward to more great iDC discussions, and to meeting folks at
the Digital Labor conference in November.
Thomas M. Malaby, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
P.O. Box 413, Milwaukee, WI 53201
"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with
else when we're uncool." - Lester Bangs in "Almost Famous"
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