Enchanted Artifacts: Social Productivity and Identity in Virtual Material Ecologies

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Shaowen Bardzell


Virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft offer some of the most immersive, interactive possibilities for learning, simulation, and digital design in use today. While it is clear that they support complex collaborations and productivity, often in highly engaging ways, less well understood are the mechanisms that create conditions favorable to these outcomes. Theories of material ecology offer one approach to improving our understanding of the ways that virtual worlds support these forms of collaboration and productivity. This paper presents two case studies, which consider two particular Second Life ecologies: its public sandboxes (used for developing content with its authoring tools) and the most private spaces of a private role-playing community. This paper offers an application of and a contribution to material ecology theory. The application is to use material ecology theory to understand non- casual productivity and advanced social behavior specifically in Second Life. The theoretical contribution is twofold: to clarify the relationship between a given material ecology and its type or kind; and to propose that technologists extend material ecology theory by incorporating material culture theory.

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