After a busy couple of months, two of our articles have found a home! They’re both available in open access, from Advances in Anthropology and PLOS ONE. Between the two of them, they represent quite a good sample of the variety of our current research interests. “The Steampunk Doctor” mostly focuses on literary works, and gives a comprehensive description of the figure of the medical doctor in steampunk works, insisting on how it might be tied to contemporary concerns about medical progress and bioethics. “Surviving at any cost“, on the other hand, focuses on the massively multiplayer online game DayZ, and investigates the reactions of players to situations they encountered while embodying their avatar in the game.
This may seem, at first glance, like a rather broad range of research interests. But contemporary literature and virtual spaces have more in common than it may seem. The keyword here is “community”. Indeed, steampunk is not solely a literary genre: there is an entire steampunk community, engaging in a variety of activities such as cosplaying, DIY, get-togethers, and yes, producing literature or other art forms. Communities of fans tend to use the Internet as a privileged way to not only make communication easier, but to conduct other types of activities, such as gaming, role-playing or fan fiction writing. Some artistic genre which are highly associated with a given community (such as steampunk, science fiction, or comic books) and the workings of an online community thus represent two facets of the same coin. Moreover, the same mechanisms tend to underlie the production and consumption of fiction and the constitution and enjoyment of an online community in a virtual world. Both require a degree of identification and immersion: identification with an avatar or a fictional character, and in many cases, identification with a community, which is achieved through the recognition of its specific common cultural baggage (tropes, for instance, or local knowledge); immersion in a fictional world, or in an even more marked way, through the embodiment of an avatar that will take an active part in the fictional action. There is also a degree of creativity involved, either through interactive agency in a game world, or through the many ways fans can recreate a fictional world: cosplaying, fan fiction, modding, etc. And let’s not forget the reliance on recognisable aesthetics, which make individual and collective identification easier.
This is precisely why I am grateful for my literary background when studying virtual worlds. Interdisciplinary research may be challenging, but it holds promise for a variety of fields.