Critical Annotation of Boellstorff


Boellstorff, Tom. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015: 114.


Dealing with presence and immersion through communication stuck out to me as one of the key debates in Boellstorff that hadn’t occurred to me. In other conversations around VR/AR, immersion has so often been the goal of these projects – to the point where users no longer recognize/acknowledge the medium in which it takes place. Second Life is neither VR nor AR, but it challenged me to think about the definition of immersion being formed by sensory experiences as one that hinders this larger debate. Why do we consider that the “goal” of many virtual worlds, and is that a fair way to review the cultures/worlds that are produced inside?

Building on our conversations from last week around anonymity, authenticity, and boundary-making, I thought it fascinating to consider residents’ language around the use of voice in Second Life. For many, the immersion comes from establishing those boundaries, not erasing them. (See circling of extension, reminder, blur, break.) The words I didn’t circle were the emotionally-charged reactions: destroy, doom, ruin. I sympathize with these sorts of reactions, though I was particularly struck by Kimmy’s notion of “the whole tone of his voice” being recognizable after using the microphone. As someone who’s often told I’m difficult to read through text, there was something really sweet (or sweeeeeeeeeeeeeet) about being able to recognize those kinds of nuances in another person’s language. In a world where text is the primary (and only) mode of communication, how much more nuanced is the language of Second Life in ways that Boellstorff doesn’t discuss here for world-building?

I also wondered what boundaries would be further highlighted by using voice in Second Life:

What other boundaries or the virtual/actual would come forth in using voice in these spaces?

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