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Indie rants, reflexive research & blogging: A deadly mix

Posted by Jen Whitson

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve blogged. I’ve been working out how to balance blogging about my research with actually being an ethical ethnographer.

A couple weeks ago, I spent a day writing an epic blog post on the romanticization of indie narratives in things like Indie Movie: The Game, and how this can create false impressions about what the industry is like. For example, every developer in the movie experiences considerable hardship and sacrifice. But they all have a happy ending that includes critical and commercial success. I really wish that the movie told the story of a developer who hadn’t reached the ‘afterlife’ of indie fame and glory, but was still plugging away, as this is representative of most developers I know.  Anywho…rant aside.

In writing the blog, I wanted to incdangersignlude the very rich and varied definitions of what it means to be indie that the Execution Lab developers sent me the week before. (Do other ethnographers send their research partners “homework assignments”? I dunno. But the responses I got were worth it.)  Some of these were article-length, with deep thought and careful references. Yet in the space of a blog post, I had to de-contextualize them into short snippets. I don’t post things about my research partners without showing them first. I’m extremely grateful that I did, as the ensuing discussion pointed out a few big issues:

  1. Stay away from “indie” rants unless you want to ignite a firestorm.  If you do, for the love of all you hold dear, don’t drag the innocent developers that you happen to quote down with you.
  2. Careful ethnographic work and fleshed out arguments are really difficult to distill into short blog posts – If not outright impossible.
  3. Blogs are vehicles for personal reflections and arguments.  You really can’t do justice to other people’s points of view in them (especially twenty-one other people).

Of course, there’s another glaring issue here: The preposition that good ethnographers prioritize the anonymity of their subjects. This is emphasized in the Virtual Ethnography book we’re reading for Mia’s book club. I’m still working this out. I’m thinking about this a lot because I’m very open about my research and where my field site is. This is because I think being a visible academic and an advocate for those working in the software industry is pivotal to who I am as a researcher. Plus, anonymity doesn’t really fit with tight-knit Montreal games communities. Maybe I’m just not a ‘real’ ethnographer and more of some sorta mutant hybrid beast? Actually, that sounds kinda cool.

What I do know is that I don’t want to expose my research partners to harm, especially if they may be tied to something I’ve said. So I trashed that post and started fresh, working off of some of the things I now know that I didn’t know before.  You can read it here on Gamasutra: Self-censorship: Figuring out what to share and when to shut up