C y b e r s p a c e
 is  the  "place"  [...]
 between the phones.
 Bruce  Sterling  (1992)
"New information technologies are integrating the world in global networks. Computer-mediated communication begets a vast array of virtual communities." Manuel Castells (2000a:21-22) was not the first to make this statement, but he brought it to the point. It opens up a vast new field for the social sciences and the humanities. Indeed a lot of discussions already have been triggered. Particularly interesting is the question, if groups of individuals who communicate exclusively online can be called communities. (Watson 1997) But Castells already went some steps further: "Finally, perhaps the most important feature of multimedia is that they capture within their domain most cultural expresssions, in all their diversity. [...] Cultures are made up of communication processes." (2000a:403)

On the other hand, concerning most online-groups which appear in studies so far, it is quite difficult for me to speak of communities or even a distinct culture. In my opinion the difficulty lies in the choice. More often than not the condensation-core of the chosen groups, the vital interest shared by the members, is far apart from the issues of the mediating technology. Research was done on musicians' or soap-operas' fan-groups, on religious communities, and on all kinds of self-helping groups dealing with life's hardships. The majority of the members of groups like that are not used to CMC and ICTs in general. This has two main consequences:

1) The communication between the individuals is limited on one or few channels: very common are e-mail and IRC - seldomly both together and usually not simultaneously.

2) Not being used to the medium makes it difficult to communicate content deviating from the group's central shared interest.

Because of all that I 'chose' a group whose members not only are highly used to CMC and ICTs, but deal with them virtuously and creatively. The single individuals are online for long spans of time on a daily basis and during that time are in contact with the other group-members via multiple channels. Put to use are:

1) Many linked, but independent websites of which every single one features a news-page, up- and download-features and multimedia-forums suitable for heavy data-traffic.

2) Websites and servers of individual members designed, written, and maintained by themselves, customized to specific needs. Sometimes sites or servers are hidden in order to be accessed by the group or a sub-group only. This includes ftp-servers and specific web-applications like weblogs and wikis.

3) One-to-one and one-to-many e-mail.

4) Real-time chat services like IRC, ICQ, MSN, etc. including their possibilities of quick and direct exchange of large amounts of data which is virtually indetectable by third parties.

Because of intense cooperation and the resulting trust between the members of the group, and the casual and effortless usage and management of the aforementioned channels the threshold of exchanging all kind of information is very low. Besides information concerning the group's core-interest, a plethora of off-topic issues, seamingly meaningless talk ("gossip"), and private issues are exchanged and discussed - social interaction becomes apparent. Even effects like social stratification of the group are reflected and discussed by the group itself. In short, dynamic sociocultural processes shine up. Anthropological methods are very well suited to grasp those and anthropological models and theories seem useful to understand them.

The core interest of "my group" is the modification of computergames. Gamemodding means the alteration of professionally produced and commercially marketed computergame-software by private individuals or groups. The degree of modification reaches from gameplay-tweaks via new and original maps up to so-called total conversions (TCs). The latter constitute completely new games; the original game is not recognizable anymore, as it only delivers the base of the new game, the game-engine. The quality of the mods spans from crude technical exercises to artistic comments on, and interpretations of contemporary history and pop-/culture.



The central method, or bundle of methods, of this project is 'thick participation' (Spittler 2001), the radicalized form of 'participant observation' as brought to anthropology by Rivers (????) and Malinowski (1922, 1926).
According to Gerd Spittler 'thick participation' " implies apprenticeship and practice, natural conversation and observation, lived experience and sensuous research. Because this powerful method is time consuming it is less threatened by its critics than by bureaucratic grant restriction." (2001:1)

The project is 'open research' in several dimensions. My website and weblog simultaneously serve multiple purposes: they are my notebook, writing desk and multimedia online filing system, they maintain world/webwide communication about the ongoing project with fellow scientists, they present my project to a wider public, and -- above all -- both constitute a part of the communication and interaction with the members of "my cyberian tribe". Website and weblog accompanying the project constitute a fusion between spheres, which normally are well seperated in anthropological research: field-data, informal scientific discussion, public-relations work, and a part of the field itself. This diverse groups have access to the same dynamic and interactive material, which contains some risks: What appears perfectly sound to e.g. a game-modder may seem awkward to a scientist and vice versa. My reputation in the modding-community as well as in the scientific community may be at stake -- a fellow-modder jokingly already named me "teh intellectuale" (int. missp. for "THE Intellectual").

-- WORK IN PROGRESS, to be continued --

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online since: 01 December 2004
last update: 04 March 2005