Due to the rather fluid nature of the net, as well as its lack of
extensive scholarly research, I find myself with an extensive list
of terms and concepts that need definition - almost a glossary, in
fact. Unfortunately some of these concepts appear to lack any scholarly
definition whatsoever in any paper that I've been able to find, and thus
I appear to be embarking into completely unknown territory. However, it
is also vital that each of these concepts is clearly defined; in order to
discuss my question cogently I need to have an appropriate language. It
is a given that as I learn more this list of terms will receive more
revisions and additions over the time this study progresses.
Term definitions and operationalizations
The net, and computer-mediated communication in general, is a
relatively new field of inquiry. Thus my study is both deductive
and exploratory in nature. I am exploring the nature of nonverbal
communication on the net - does it exist, and if so how is it used? In
specific my respondent population comes together and communicates on a
particular MU* named RealityFault. My respondents consist of one female
and 5 male participants. While this may seem heavily gender-slanted, I
do not consider this to necessarily invalidate my study, for the simple
reason that the on-line community is similarly weighted to a preponderance
of males over females. The current 'best guess' (since it is impossible to
actually verify the genders of those on-line) is that between a quarter
and a third of the on-line community is female. I would have preferred
more closely matching that 'guesstimate,' but these were the individuals
on the MU* who agreed to interview with me. I will use interviews to
hopefully validate my belief that my respondent population views their
poses as conscious body language, and if this proves to be the case, I
will examine MU* logs of the interviews to discover what the most common
usages of on-line body language are. Perhaps this paper will also serve
as a starting point for further, more thorough investigations.
||An acronym for 'by the way'
||The 'persona' or alternate point of view taken on by
the Player. Also known as player character or PC.
||Indicates idle communication and socializing while OOC.
||'computer-mediated communication.' I have not been able
to discover who originated the phrase.
||The ASCII characters used to form symbolic 'faces'
to denote mood. The most common one is the smiley: :-) There are
innumerable individually created variants, i.e. the winking smiley: ;-)
and sticking out one's tongue: :-p
||'Face to face,' especially when referring to off-line
||'In Character.' The player is logged on as the character
and is portraying to the best of their ability the reactions and thought
processes of the character they have chosen to play.
||'Inter-Relay Chat.' It is a means for many computer
users to communicate synchronously, in a variety of self-selected and/or
-created 'chat channels' or 'rooms.' These rooms are named so as to
attract those of like interests, i.e. #gayLA for homosexual individuals
living in the Los Angeles area. The pound sign is a command structure
needed to create the semi-private area for discussion.
||'in real life.' Generally signifies quotidian life away
from the computer gaming community. See RL.
||One of the oldest and best known user-created and
-mediated 'chat' or 'role-playing worlds.'
||Saved files of on-line communication. It is generally
considered courteous to notify others when you are logging.
||When the player is connected under the character's name
and is responding as themselves. They may do so using the body language
of the character.
||"The abbreviation 'MU*' is often used to refer to the
union of all the different kinds of multi-user games, since the names
of most begin with the letters 'M' and 'U,' and '*' is commonly used
to represent a wild card. Strictly speaking, a MUD is a specific type
of MU*. Which abbreviation one chooses to use for the generic case can
be seen as a political question, since it raises issues of inclusion
and exclusion in the community." Bruckman (1992). For my research I
interviewed several participants of the MUCK 'RealityFault.'
||The name (and occasionally associated persona) chosen
by a player for on-line play or chat. Nick choice is often carefully
thought out, as it is the first on-line clue as to who the player is
and what they are like.
||'Out Of Character.' The player is reacting as themselves,
rather than as the character, as can often be clearly noted by the body
language of the 'mask' on-screen changing somewhat.
||The physical person sitting at the computer screen and typing.
||A way of formatting text on a MU* to signify action. In
its simplest form you type in text, prefaced by the word 'pose' or a
colon. Once you hit enter the text you have written appears on-screen
with only your name prefacing it. For example, if Santiago's player types
the screen would show
||'Real Life,' as in not occurring on-line. See iRL.
||'Role Playing.' A hobby consisting of mentally taking on a
character in order to experimentally, vicariously, and without permanent
physical consequence, experience another point of view. Note this is a
hotly contested term within the hobby, and many would disagree with my
definition, as the reasons for their role-playing affect their personal
definitions of the term. Nevertheless, for clarity I am defining it so
for this paper.
||A way of formatting text on a MU* to signify speech. In
its simplest form you type in text, prefaced by the word 'say' or a
quotation mark. Once you hit enter the text you have written appears
on-screen with ' says,' prefacing it. For example, if
Santiago's player types in
the screen would show
Santiago says, "Hello!"
||Player-chosen verbs used to denote how the character
speaks. For example, if Santiago's player chose 'yips' as his say verb,
then his 'say' on-line would appear as: Santiago yips, "Hello!"
||Uniform Resource Locator: the 'address' of a page on
the World Wide Web
||'Virtual Reality,' a shorthand means to refer to being
Please see the Appendix for the questions asked in the interviews. It
should be noted that while the appendix layout is somewhat visually
unappealing on paper, it was designed with an eye towards clarity in
the on-line chat format. Thus I ended up with clear, compact paragraphs
in an informal and somewhat chatty, 'between-friends' style; and many
pauses, both to ask my respondents if they understood the concepts we
were discussing, and to give them plenty of time to reply. Also, the use
of the quotation mark before each paragraph is an artifact of the MU* on
which I was holding the interviews. I typed up my questions ahead of time,
then simply cut and pasted them into the MU*, in order to maintain some
consistency between interviews. Therefore, assuming my on-line alias or
'nick' was Santiago, if I pasted the following into the MU*:
"How are you?
what would appear on the screen on-MU* to both myself and my
correspondent was the following:
Santiago says, "How are you?"
Thus, to make sure I had no corrections to make each time (with the
attendant possibility of missing something and confusing my respondent),
I put the quotation marks into my original document. However, it should
be noted that despite this preparation on my part I ended up making quite
a few corrections, improvements, and personalizations on the questions
in each interview - including, amusingly enough, some personal use of
Let me attempt to clarify, please. I did have a short list of
questions. However, the interviews never precisely followed them. In fact,
the actual face-to-face interviews were a bit surprising to me. I'd
originally intended to keep pretty much silent, and let the person I
was interviewing do most of the talking as they answered the questions
I would ask them one by one. However, I quickly realized that this was
not going to work. Indeed, the very first person I spoke to frequently
asked for more clarifications, wanted to find out what I thought as well
as give their own opinions, and had some extremely salient suggestions
to make regarding the nature of on-line body language. Furthermore,
I discovered that as I became less distant and formal, my respondents
tended to open up more, giving examples, asking questions of their own,
and making interested comments on the research itself. It was using this
more friendly and approachable mode of communication that gained me some
of my most interesting responses, in fact.
Ultimately, most of the interviews became long, rambling, mutual
discussions, where the intended questions became more suggestions than
guidelines. The queries themselves were cheerfully dissected on occasion,
with one correspondent curiously wanting to know what had inspired me
to ask some of these questions, and several others making suggestions on
other possible avenues of inquiry. Finally, I was personally touched to
have about half my respondents actually thank me for talking with them,
since they'd very much enjoyed both having the chance to consider the
issue, and to participate in the research.
After the interviews were concluded, I went to the on-line logs of the
interviews that I had and re-read them for every use of body language
I could find. I examined the body language itself, and the context
within which it was acted out, and attempted to interpret the intended
coded meaning of each example. Once I'd done that I counted up how many
examples of each interpreted type there was, and tried to generalize
the interpretations into broad categories of meaning and intention.