Virtual consumption, real meanings: an ethnographic research about consumption in Second Life
Communication Scieces University of Urbino Urbino, Italy
The paper focuses on the results of a research on consumption in one of the most popular online virtual world: Second Life (SL). The consumption play a central role in SL, a virtual world completely imagined and created by its Residents (its users or consumers).
The ethnographic research was conducted trough participant observation and in-world interviews with SL Italian residents and focuses on differences and similarities with consumption in the material real life.
I discovered that trough consumption SL Residents construct their identities, relationships and their in-world status in a very similar way to what happen in the real life (Douglas, Miller): the role of digital consumption objects in constructing meanings is metaphorically very similar to the role of material culture in the real life.
Secondly, consumption in a virtual world copes with augmented possibilities and new constraints, that are generated both by the rules of the virtual world (in the case of SL, rules of a digital capitalist market economy) and by the uses of its Residents (patterns of interaction, rituals, ecc.). In Sl, for example, the priority given to the protection of the property right (each Resident is owner of its creations in-world) reduce the possibilities of a gift economy. At the same time, in SL there are more possibilities for consumption than in the real life thanks to the diffused availability of free stuffs in the in-world market. I finally observed practices that can be classified as sustainable consumption.