Home » E-Learning » An ethnographic look at how people behave online in virtual worlds compare to who they are in the real world

An ethnographic look at how people behave online in virtual worlds compare to who they are in the real world

I went to Oxford to attend a lunchtime lecture hosted by the Oxford Internet Institute and the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology – anyone can attend.

I stumbled upon the talk, I asked, they said come along.

Everyone else was an OII doctoral research student.

My interest was in the explorative method, a reminder of how anthropologists study ‘in the field’ and as much as anything else its an opportunity to talk to and meet people with similar interests.

Three years online and if I continue it will be lectures and face to face – or blended.

I gave myself three hours to get there – just as well as there were accidents on both the M23 and M25. Coming back … more accidents, a 40 mile tailback. I pulled into a service station for 90 minutes sad

The M25 was designed as a river, it’s turned into a glacier.

Dr William Kelly is Research Associate at the School of Anthropology and Museum Studies and Professor at the School of Global Studies, Tama University (Tokyo). He gave a talk on what he is learning about Japanese Virtual Worlds by talking to the creators of specialist niche environments for Japanese people.


How to study expressions of culture in a virtual space.


Started to think about questions on:

  • expression of identity/self–hood –self–presentation,
  • fashion/adornment, body type.
  • concepts of utilization of space, as building things – how after work group socializing, what some of patterns do they replicate.
  • patterns of social interaction

Culturally specific venues and services – Japan for Japanese, Non–Japanese for Japan, and enthusiasts.


Identifying field sites

Handling offline and online – Japanese write nothing of their offline world.


Protection of privacy and permissions.


Company visits and interviews

Contacting producers, visit Tokyo

What is their business in Second Life.

How do they contact and interact with consumers


People who are very well socialised in the online world, and well socialised in the offline world, which is where my interest took me. (Anthropologist). i.e field study.

Are people being themselves or schizophrenic online … and where is the development of the person occurring? Between the two? WK thinks between the two. Many typing v fast, not speaking. Like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever? Are deceptions successfully played out in VW.

A given in Second Life that everyone is an avatar. Everything is a pseudonym. e.g. an architect in real life who is extremely active and fast in Second Life too. Some have a strong professional engagement, for others it is clearly escape from hard lives.

Two Virtual Worlds (VW) were studied and two specialist creators of content for these VWs. The worlds were the Japanese world within Second Life and a VW recreation of Tokyo called ‘MeeToo’.

It was a lesson in Japanese culture, mannerisms, personalities and behaviours.

Japanese did not like the orientation part of Second Life and were quickly put off. The first company built an alternative that would suit Japanese rather than US sensibilities.

The answer has been to mimic online the most detailed of Japanese habits, from how they greet and how they gesture, to recreate in.


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