New blog name and plan of attack

My first year as a PhD student is quickly wrapping up…a little too quickly considering the workload I have left. But I thought I’d write a brief post to let people know (1) I’m still alive after somehow surviving my first Michigan winter, and (2) I plan to revive this blog to early 2008 levels over the summer.

First, you may notice the blog rename. I had grown tired of the “welcome to oblivion” name, as it had no relevance to my writings and was merely an obscure reference to a sci-fi book I was reading when I first started this blog. Thanks to @whatknows for suggesting I go with something more simple and “academic-y.” Next time I see you, I will be bearing cookies. The reason for the new name is rather obvious: (1) I study social phenomena, albeit only in relation to technology; and (2) I am obsessed with my name.  🙂 As many media outlets are now so kindly pointing out, I must be a narcissist since I have Facebook and Twitter accounts.

So what will I be writing about in the upcoming months? Most likely my primary focus will be on social gaming, specifically MMORPGs. At some point I want to put up some background research I did last summer for the Pew report on teens and gaming that did not make it into the final version. I’m also working on two projects currently that focus on identity and interaction in World of Warcraft. Otherwise, I hope to stay on top of current tech news related to social network sites, with maybe a post or two related to social capital (another summer project) thrown in here and there.

But since I’m already procrastinating by writing this post, I should probably hold off on writing any more until the second week of May. That is assuming, of course, I survive the next three weeks. Sigh.


Strangled creativity?

I haven’t blogged much since starting my PhD studies. In large part, this has been due to my busy schedule and, in general, adjusting to a new and very different lifestyle. But I don’t think that’s the only reason. I’ve been feeling less creative lately. Maybe my head is overcrowded with everything else I’m trying to retain, maybe I’m just too tired all the time to think creatively, but either way, it’s not a good thing. I think it’s about time for me to sit down and re-evaluate some things. After all, thinking creativity should in turn benefit my critical thinking and writing, right? Grr…

Regardless, I should probably try to blog more, if for no other reason than to try and respark my creativity.

Meaningful Play @ MSU

Just a quick note for anyone in the East Lansing area who’s interested in video games: MSU is hosting a conference through Saturday titled Meaningful Play. I’ll be speaking today (Friday) at 2:30pm, offering a synopsis of Pew Internet’s recent report on teens’ gaming habits.

So come out and let’s talk about who has the bigger collection of original Nintendo games (I’ll bet it’s me!).

Learning the rules (the hard way) in WoW

When I moved to Michigan last month, I decided that one way I could bide my time while waiting for school to start would be by checking out World of Warcraft. Not only am I an avid RPG fan going back 20 years to the days of the original Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy, but online gaming research is a hot topic within my PhD program. So not only would I be having fun, but I’d be advancing my academic knowledge, I told myself. (Fabulous excuse, I know.)

At first, I started a character on a random server, not really understanding the whole concept of servers and how your character is locked to that server (unless you’re willing to pay the relocation fee). In fact, I didn’t really ask anyone for advice or look up anything online at first, choosing instead to just dive in. The game is rather self-explanatory on a basic level. As you get into the nuances, however, it can become very complicated. Especially when you are interacting with other players.

So I’ve been playing for almost a month now and have several characters on different servers so I can play with various friends. When playing alone in the last week though, I’ve had a couple rude awakenings that have shone me a very fascinating aspect of WoW community that surprises me, even with my research focus on online communities.

One would think that with so many players (10 million +), people would not be very organized. At the very least, one would expect there to be a high degree of things like flaming and lack of courtesy. This, however, is far from the truth. Instead, it is I, someone who thinks of herself as a generally courteous and polite person in the real world, who is repeatedly committing offenses and being reprimanded for not being “nice enough.” This amazes me. And people have no sympathy for my ignorance either.

Take tonight, for example. Two other players asked me to join a group. I didn’t need to join, as I was finishing a low level quest, but I accepted because I thought that it might speed up the process. For a reason I am not aware of, they set the looting option to free-for-all. I didn’t notice, because the only other times I’ve ever joined a group, it’s been set so that it is spread out among the group members. Yes, I should have realized this was not the case when I could loot all the enemies, but I just assumed since one of the two players was a high level player (level 65) and the other wasn’t jumping to loot the enemies, that they had gotten what they needed. When I got the item I was looking for, I asked if they still needed my help, they said no, and I left. Five minutes later, I am assaulted textually by one of the group members about how rude it was that I ninja looted everything when he needed an item (the same one I was trying to get coincidentally). I apologized and said that I had asked if they needed help. He proceeded to get very angry about it and how horrible what I did was. I said I was new to the game, not aware of all the rules, and asked why no one said anything as I “ninja looted” away. He decided to ignore this question and continued harassing me for a good 7-10 minutes, mainly just to drive the point home that I was horrible. I kept saying that if anyone had said anything, I would have stopped. Finally, I told him that now I know better and basically thanked him for reprimanding me. That seemed to placate him, and he wished me well. Very weird.

What I perceive from this interaction is that it is very important to the community of players (and perhaps critical to the world’s stability) that these unwritten rules of interaction be followed. Deviation from these rules needs to be punished quickly to ensure that no further infractions occur. This other player, who didn’t know me, had no reason to pursue the matter so far. I can’t imagine I affronted him to such a degree that he wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight, yet he still carried on a long conversation with me. And I actually felt bad afterward! Mission accomplished, I guess.

I also think it’s pretty safe to assume that the vast majority of players have been playing the game for a long time and thus know the “rules” inside and out. So maybe it made sense for this other player to assume that I was a veteran player who was simply taking advantage of the situation. This makes play even more difficult for new players like myself who may be venturing through the game without someone to guide them. While I certainly don’t forsee this instance of WoW “hazing” (for lack of a better term) to deter me from playing the game, it certainly does not make me feel like I am being welcomed with open arms. I guess in the realm of WoW, respect must be earned in hours of play. And I’m thinking I probably need a few thousand more hours of playing before I have half of it figured out.

I’m baacckkkkk!

Okay, so I took a two-month break. Sue me. I was enjoying every precious second I had left in the glorious city of DC. Now I am living in the less-than-exciting state of Michigan (although it has yet to become the icy wasteland I previously predicted).

On the bright side, school has begun and I’m enjoying it so far. I’m studying social networks and online communities Michigan State’s Media & Information Studies PhD program. I cannot begin to express how amazing it is to work with experts in your field, where you no longer have to second-guess yourself because you have no one more knowledgeable about the subject matter than yourself. Now I am not only being taught by experts, but in some cases, by the people I cited most heavily during my thesis research (i.e., Joe Walther, Nicole Ellison, Cliff Lampe, Chip Steinfield, among others).

So keep your fingers crossed that Lansing grows on me like a dirty fungus and that I don’t crack under the pressures of “PhD paralysis.”
I’ll be trying to update this blog regularly with interesting posts related to my research.

Picture of the Day: Oh my, I think I have an admirer!

Thanks to for posting this love letter that is obviously being sent to me.

To answer my new boyfriend’s questions:

1) It is never too early to start holding hands, as long as you keep your eyes on my face. And as long as you don’t have a sweat problem. I can’t stand it when people sweat on my hands. That is unforgivable.

2) If by the “honey point” you are referring to the point where I can cover you in honey and leave you hanging from a tree outside on a hot summer day to see what kinds of fun insects you collect, then yes, we’ve reached that point. Otherwise, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

3) Oh no, you’re not rushing me at all. In fact, I think you’re going a little slow. To make up for that though, you can shower me in gifts such as new cars, diamond jewelry for me to sell on eBay, a new computer and anything else that has a high resell value.

And in reference to your final statement my dear, dear Jonathan, I’d like to ease your concerns about not having a lot of girlfriends. I’ll be the best teacher you ever had, especially if you remember that the safety word is “banana.”

Giving in and getting even more social

I have already admitted my “problem” (aka obsession) with social media, especially via the Internet, and how I how decided to embrace the social aspect of the current trend in interaction. In the last 24 hours, I have taken two (one small, one big) steps to make myself even *more* social than I already am.

Yesterday, I finally caved to the combined strength of the many tech blogs I read and signed up for Plurk, the supposed “Twitter killer”/slightly different take on Twitter. It’s quite obvious that the site is still in the “we need more users!” phase, as you accumulate “karma” by posting more and especially by inviting your friends to join the site, and open up more page design options as your karma increases. So far, the jury is still out, but my immediate impression is, why do I need this when I have Twitter? Then again, I saw no use for Twitter eight months ago and now keep it open at all times in the coveted fourth tab of my browser (following two mail accounts and Facebook, in case you were wondering). As per usual, I am the first of my good friends to join the site, which dramatically decreases its use to me as a beneficial service. And, most likely, as with Twitter, it will become more useful as more friends join (if that happens — which, as Twitter has shown me, will most likely not happen, since I have less than 10 actual “friends” who use Twitter).

The much bigger step for me was finally purchasing a phone with all the fun internet goodies. As of this morning, I was officially able to upgrade to a new phone without paying retail prices. Being a very happy Verizon customer, I chose to stay with the company rather than switch to AT&T so I can get my hands on the new 3G iPhone. Instead, I chose to go with the current cream of the crop, the not-so-much “iPhone killer,” the LG Voyager. Now, I am well aware that this phone can still not compete with the iPhone and I will not try to convince myself otherwise, but the phone is a huge improvement over my two-year-old, toilet-soaked (gross, I know) Razr. The Voyager has a touch screen on front with a large clam shell screen (not touch) when you open it up. It also has a full QWERTY keyboard and navigates pretty easily. I tested it out last week in a Verizon store and found it rather intuitive, although many complain about Verizon’s wacky UI. After the discounts/rebates, I managed to snag the phone for just $100 — which is, surprisingly, the same price as the inferior Glyde — so I was very happy. My phone plan obviously had to be upgraded to support the mobile email/VZ Navigator/VCast, etc., but it’s not too big of an increase ($20).

Of course, the implications of me owning this type of phone are a little scary. If I’m the type of girl who loves being connected at all times, and is suddenly given the opportunity to do so, will my communication patterns change even further? Will I be a texting whore like some of my friends? Will I be checking my email at 3am, since I will now be able to do so without getting out of bed (yes, I sleep with my phone, and no, I see nothing wrong with that)? It will be interesting to see how much I get sucked into the phone, but I really think it will be more of a benefit than a detriment, especially with school beginning in the fall, and me being chained to desks and subject to the whims of my professors.

“World of Wifecraft” puts men in their place

In the spirit of such spoof videos as Facebook in Reality, here is a hilarious video about using World of Warcraft to help men better communicate with their wives.

My favorite quote: “Do you know what it’s like to be killed by a level 70 and then spend the next 20 minutes scrambling around looking for your dead body? No you don’t, because you are a level 70 and you’re powerful because you have tits and whatnot.”

Dear blog, sorry I’ve been neglecting you. Be back soon. Love, Vitak

Between the break I (more than) earned after completing my thesis and the subsequent arrival of my Wii (along with four new games to beat!), I have had little time or motivation to feed my blog beast. So I apologize to my *massive* viewing audience (cough cough), who hangs on my every word. I hope you haven’t been on a hunger strike since my last post.

Efforts are being renewed to make this a happier and busier blog soon. I promise! At least until I leave for Michigan in August. Who knows what’ll happen when I enter that desolate ice field. Do they even have Internet access that far north?

Take that, master’s thesis, I totally kicked your ass

I have received the official Grad School signoff on my master’s thesis, which can mean only one thing: I am done! Done done DONE! Well, at least I’m done until August, when I begin my PhD studies at Michigan State.

Six long months of research; checking and rechecking out books from the library; creating, disseminating, collecting and coding 600+ surveys; and writing up a 140-page document all by my lonesome are OVER. Yay!

As soon as the Grad School posts a link to my thesis online, I will post it to the blog. However, if you are curious about my topic, here is the title and abstract:

Facebook “Friends”: How Online Identities Impact Offline Relationships

Abstract: We live in an increasingly networked world. We are connected to each other through numerous types of ties, with social networking sites offering one of the most popular methods people currently employ to link themselves together. But do “old-fashioned” ways of developing and maintaining relationships suffer from the evolution of computer-mediated communication? Have we become too reliant on the instantaneous, answer-producing quality of the internet that can reveal others’ most intimate personal details before we even introduce ourselves?

This thesis examines social relationships online to see how they differ from traditional offline relationships, focusing on how people create an online identity and how that identity affects the formation and maintenance of “friendships” in the digital world. The thesis will then consider how the social networking site Facebook impacts relationships in the real world. This analysis will be based on a survey of 644 Georgetown University undergraduates regarding their uses of various technologies to interact with different members of their social networks, and especially their use of Facebook to form and maintain relationships.

This summer, I’ll be repackaging the thesis to submit to journals, and hopefully getting some mileage out of my research on the tech blogs.