Actors and Their Use of Avatars as Personal Mediators: An empirical study of avatar-based sense-makings and communication practices in the virtual worlds of EverQuest and Second Life
AbstractOver the past five years, millions of actors have found it meaningful to move in and settle down in the Metaverse, for example, as an adventurous shaman in an advanced role-playing game such as EverQuest or as a businesswoman in the social world of Second Life. In this article, the main question therefore is: how do the actors and gamers of the two types of virtual worlds make sense of their avatars and the worlds when they act and communicate using their avatars as personal mediators? Participatory observations inspired by virtual ethnography and in-depth video-interviews were conducted to answer this question. The analysis of the substantial amount of empirical data draws on the concepts of intermediaries and mediators from actor-network theory (Latour, 1991, 1998, 2005), Sense-Making methodology (Dervin et al., 2003), social psychology (Yee, 2006), and experimental economics (Bloomfield & Rennekamp, 2008). It is shown how the actors create a personal story and history of their avatar that transforms them into the mediators of being in the virtual world, and also how the avatars act as the mediators that transform the actors themselves. To identify, understand, and keep track of the many transformations of meaning, Nick Yee’s motivation factors (relationships, immersion, achievement, escapism and manipulation) have proven helpful also to the analysis of a social world like Second Life. In future studies, it is recommended that we study further the sense-makings of motivation factors such as creativity and experimentation.
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