[iDC] Introduction (yet another)

Thomas Malaby malaby at uwm.edu
Tue Sep 22 18:12:07 UTC 2009

Hi everyone,

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

web: http://thomasmalaby.com

"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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