The Drax Files Radio Hour: the reality of the virtual

radio-hourThe latest Drax Files Radio Hour podcast is packed with a lot to take in.

There’s the usual general chit-chat at the start, with references to news that Oculus components are in short supply segueing into ideas for packaging SL with the Oculus – and I’ll be a damp squib here and say even if that were to happen, it likely wouldn’t result in a major uptick in SL sign-ups; not because I feel Oculus doesn’t have a place in SL, but rather because a lot more needs to be done elsewhere in order for this to happen.

The new user experience gets mentioned, and here I agree with Jo: hand-holding isn’t always necessary (or required); it’s getting people connected to the things they are interested in (or that attract them) and people they can interact with, that counts first and foremost.

Bitcoins examined (images via Robert X. Cringely’s “I have my doubts about Bitcoin“)

With the news that the Bitcoin world has (again) been caught in controversy, Karl Stiefvater provides explanation and insight into things – and after the confusion evident within some BBC coverage on the subject, he should be loaning his skills to Auntie Beeb. Then there are the usual links and bits in the blog post itself.

However, the two things that make this episode are the interviews. The first of these is with Pamela from a local sheet music store visited by Drax, and the second with researcher Nick Yee.

In the first interview, Drax attempts to interest Pamela in Second Life, and the ensuing conversation demonstrates just how hard a task it can be when trying to move people away from preconceptions – regardless as to how exposed (or not, as in these case) they’ve been to SL. In this, it’s interesting to hear that while Pamela has heard of Second Life, she admits to not having tried it. Nevertheless, her mind is completely closed to it and its potential; so much so that even when Drax puts valid reasons as to how SL can be both fun and beneficial, her response is to marginalise the positive in what he’s saying.

There’s a huge amount of depth to this interview which may not be immediately apparent from what is said. For example, the idea of the avatar as a mask and how we respond to it being so are strongly contrasted. While those of us engaged in platforms such as SL see the avatar as a mask and the anonymity it gives us as being largely positive, going so far as to quote Oscar Wilde (“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth”); it is equally clear that those outside of SL see that same anonymity as largely negative, something which is used to hide intent.

There’s clearly a complex series of interactions going on here, some of which appear to have been hardwired into us at some point. That this is the case  – something which is very much examined in the follow-on interview with researcher Nick Yee. He refers to this imposed divide between the real and the virtual and how our views from one shape our opinion towards the latter, as “cognitive hardwiring”. He draws a fascinating picture as to how he believes it came about, one which does have merit.

Nick Yee
Nick Yee

Nick is in good position when it comes to commenting on our relationships with virtual mediums, having been studying it for around a decade, using the likes of SL, World of Warcraft and other platforms – six years of which were spent running The Daedalus Project.

More recently, his work formed the basis of an article in Slate magazine, which also links to his recently published The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t, an examination of our increasingly complex relationships with our digital Doppelgängers and virtual environments. I actually reported upon both the Slate article and the book back in January.

He also touches upon another aspect of our involvement with virtual environments: how they can often perpetuate stereotypical views and attitudes, and his description around use of gender within World of Warcraft is fascinating to hear. In relating this  particular study, he tends to also underline the fact that many of our attitudes to virtual worlds, whether actively engaged in them or not, may well be two sides of the same cognitive hardwiring coin. That is, the same hardwiring which encourages those not involved in virtual worlds to look upon them somewhat suspiciously and / or negatively, also encourages those active within such environments to reinforce artificial stereotypes and attitudes, thus adding another layer of complexity to the discussion.

Beyond this, his reference to the “Malibu Model” and how that may in turn have contributed to the backlash against SL after its 2007/08 expose to the media hype cycle makes for interesting listening.  I’m almost tempted to say when it comes to promoting SL and the Malibu Model (were things to move in that direction – and that shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement on my part that I think it in any way should!),  Nick certainly offers a new potential strap line for SL: “Where The Decadence Comes So Cheap”. OK, maybe not… However, it again tends to point towards external influences shaping perceptions and responses, again underlining the complex series of interactions which exist between the real and the virtual.


Another fascinating podcast with two outstanding interviews – I could easily have written a book on both, and have actually only scratched at the surface of the Nick Yee interview. I’m equally aware that I’ve presented Pamela’s conversation from a certain perspective, because I do feel it underlines an issue SL and virtual worlds do face when attempting to reach a broader audience. Therefore, I do encourage you to go listen to both interviews yourself.

I’ll likely be returning to Nick Yee’s work in the future, as The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us– and How They Don’t is currently sitting in my “to read” pile of books (actually occupying the number 4 slot right now!).

2 thoughts on “The Drax Files Radio Hour: the reality of the virtual

    1. Yup. Both were rich in content; i’m sure much of what was said / touched upon will be surfacing in future blog posts. As it is, I had to wrestle this one down to a digestible length!


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