How to approach a many splendoured thing: Proxy Technology Assessment as a methodological praxis to study virtual experience

Lizzy Bleumers, Kris Naessens, An Jacobs

Abstract


This article introduces Proxy Technology Assessment (PTA) as a methodological approach that can widen the scope of virtual world and game research. Studies of how people experience virtual worlds and games often focus on individual in-world or in-game experiences. However, people do not perceive these worlds and games in isolation. They are embedded within a social context that has strongly intertwined online and offline components. Studying virtual experiences while accounting for these interconnections calls for new methodological approaches. PTA answers this call.

Combining several methods, PTA can be used to investigate how new technology may impact and settle within people's everyday life (Pierson et al., 2006). It involves introducing related devices or applications, available today, to users in their natural setting and studying the context-embedded practices they alter or evoke. This allows researchers to detect social and functional requirements to improve the design of new technologies. These requirements, like the practices under investigation, do not stop at the outlines of a magic circle (cf. Huizinga, 1955).

We will start this article by contextualizing and defining PTA. Next, we will describe the practical implementation of PTA. Each step of the procedure will be illustrated with examples and supplemented with lessons learned from two interdisciplinary scientific projects, Hi-Masquerade and Teleon, concerned with how people perceive and use virtual worlds and games respectively.

Keywords


Proxy Technology Assessment; virtual worlds; games; methodology; ethnography

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The full website for the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research can be found at: http://jvwresearch.org