At the heart of the following lists are the generalizability and applicability of any research findings based on data collected from these worlds. In order to make general statements any researcher must consider the situated environment of the research sample and population. Although it may be easier to access cowboys in Texas, one does not go to a rodeo in order to study the fine art hanging on the wall. That is to say, researchers who take the reality of these worlds out of context and attempt to place them in the grounded reality of “the real world” might find data which is easy to collect but which comes with so many stipulations that it becomes unusable in any other environment. That is where studying games for games sake or virtual worlds “sui generis” comes into effect without attempting to draw any parallels to grounded reality environments.

Pitfalls of using virtual worlds for research

  • Identity is ever changing and fragmented. Identity online may not necessarily correlate to identity off-line. “Some contemporary cognitive scientists are skeptical of scholarly conceptions of self, finding them to be ore like literary metaphors distilled form the surrounding folk culture than like rigorously measurable scientific concepts.” (Bainbridge, pg. 475)
  • Individuals may not be their “real selves” when online (But how do you know your “real self”? Is that even possible? Isn’t our sense of self defined by our perceived social reality in relation to others?)
  • The indigenous culture may be influenced by the rules of the world (“game laws”) and may influence the observations which can be made of the group
  • Game variables may have an impact on user behaviors
  • Williams (2008) “mapping principle” which questions whether the way an individual behaves and thinks in a virtual environment can truly be mapped and validated in grounded reality.
  •  Where does grounded reality stop and the virtual world start? How do you tease (or can you tease) out the effect of the virtual world from the general personality traits and behaviors an individual may have regardless of the environment.
  • Data may be skewed due to the demographics of the members in the virtual worlds.

Praise for using virtual worlds for research

  • Experiments can be “scaled up” from a few to hundreds of subjects and data points
  • Research in virtual worlds can cross sociocultural boundaries and provide data for underrepresented groups.
  • Virtual worlds can offer opportunities for longitudinal research investigating processes over weeks or months that may naturally take weeks or months to develop
  • The abundance of potential research subjects at a low cost
  • Experimental methods are best suited in virtual worlds which allow the researcher to create virtual laboratories.
  • Noninstrusive methods such as content analysis and analysis of information collected by the players, game developers and/or publishers offers a treasure trove of data
  • One might be able to compare the results from virtual worlds like you would compare different nations in grounded reality.
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