Ars Technica takes a look at the world of games scholarship, including the latest issue of The Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, which focuses on "Virtual Economies, Virtual Goods and Service Delivery in Virtual Worlds." There's some really meaty, sociological and economic cross-disciplinary stuff being done about games these days.
What gets studied? Gold farming, "goon culture," griefing, entrepreneurial activity, intimacy, even "The Visual Language of Virtual BDSM Photographs in Second Life," which appeared in the most recent issue of the journal.
That last piece, by Professor Shaowen Bardzell of Indiana University, relied on "two years of ethnographic observation, interviews, and artifact analysis" to suggest that "BDSM fantasy in Second Life is far more than a sexual pastime… I am more than ever convinced that all subcultures have the capacity to incubate innovation in a user-created content, and BDSM is successful particularly because of its combination of a potent visual language and the intense personal desires it stirs."
Bardzell spent many hours analyzing "hundreds of virtual photos taken from the public profiles of Second Life's BDSM practitioners" to learn more about how people presented themselves publicly.
In a paper presented last month at an Association of Computing Machinery conference, a team from Indiana University that included Bardzell conducted in-game World of Warcraft interviews to learn more about how real intimacy develops in virtual worlds–and how that world blends with the physical world. The result was "The Rogue in the Lovely Black Dress: Intimacy in World of Warcraft."