Working in virtual worlds as a researcher? Check out this new article by Jaime Banks (Communication Studies, West Virginia U) and Rosa Mikeal Martey (Journalism and Media Communication, Colorado State U):
Researchers’ appearance and behavior may influence study participants’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during in-person data collection. However, investigators in online settings can manage this influence by leveraging platform affordances to craft purposeful, scripted presences. We argue for a revisioning of approaches to researcher presence in immersive digital environments. In particular, we draw on the metaphor of a video game non-player character (NPC) to position researchers as characters embedded in study narratives. The researcher-as-NPC is designed by purposefully selecting visual, verbal, and behavioral features in relation to the norms and requirements of both the research and the immersive digital environment. This balance allows an avatar to function as a more transparent research tool and as a character within both the research and world narratives, rather than as a mere extension of researcher agency. We offer two case studies – one in an open digital world of Second Life and one in a structured online game World of Warcraft – to illustrate how this framework can contribute to effective parameters for participant interaction that minimize potential threats to validity and advance specific research objectives.