The Anthropology of Online Poker: A Research Plan

Last week I posted about my future project concerning the culture of online poker, and promised to tell more about my plans. So, here is a summary of my research plan.

I'm interested in four themes of online poker culture, and the hegemonic discourses within it. The themes are 1. the players, 2. the advertising, 3. the counterforces and, finally (not really a theme) 4. a holistic ethnography.

1. The players of online poker
In studying the players I am interested in to what extent the players feel unity with other members of the online poker community and how they uphold this unity. Moreover, I am interested on how the players negotiate their playing to fit their personal historical narrative. I assume the players form a subculture that has to be adapted to each one's personal microculture. On the other hand, the players have to negotiate the status and the position of the game in the wider system of cultural meaning. How exactly this happens is something I'm going to find out.

To study the players I will interview 10 to 20 Finnish poker players, pros and amateurs. In addition to interviews about the meaning of online poker, I will practice participant observation which, in this limited sense, will mean observing players at their gaming interface and asking them to explain the flow of the game and the significances they see in the process.

2. Online poker advertising
The online poker ads seem to appeal to masculinity, sexuality, excitement and the promise of luxury. My purpose is to analyze the hegemonic discourse in advertising and reconstruct the image of an authentic poker-player in that discourse. For this I will go through various poker sites and magazines.

3. Counterforces of online poker
Online poker has evoked a lot of resistance in the media. Especially the well-being of young players is often worried after. It seems like it is characteristic to the resistance to represent players as in jeopardy and constantly on the verge of personal devastation. Thus, I want to analyze the discussion about online poker and find out about the rhetoric and the discursive means the opponents of online poker use to strengthen their arguments.

4. Holistic ethnography of online poker.
Finally, I will attempt a holistic ethnography which means a descriptive account of different infra- and superstructural elements of online poker culture/society. For this I will draw on the results of the previous three themes as well as the popular and academic literature and websites on the subject. Briefly put, I will try to write a straight and informative general description of online poker culture.

If you have anything to comment or suggest
feel absolutely free to post a comment or email me!

Pic sources: Bronislaw Malinowski here, poker table here.


The Anthropology of Online Poker: A Polemical Prelude

Nothing can substitute the experience of the game, the psychological eye for the game and the ability to manipulate the opponents. Instead of hesitating and contemplating whether or not to dare, it is extremely important to just jump straight into the game.

"This is how you start playing online poker", From,
(transl. from Finnish by JJ)

Online poker is a game for the young men living in the world dedicated to experience. As a cultural phenomenon it is an interesting mix of cyberspace, hard work, economics and nomadic culture. It is against and for protestant ethics. It is a Darwinist trip. It is about the Baudrillardian hyperreal and the everyday personal Realpolitik. It is a game that is work and pleasure, where men battle over glory.
The folklore of online poker has its geniuses, foxes and plain losers. Big players move big money for a living and luxury. Small players play to smuggle a little excitement in to the Everyday. The advertisement draws on and renews the heroics and the discourse of Man of the Game, not ignoring sex appeal. To play bravely in a dynamic and exciting environment keeps one's masculinity alive.

On the borderline of poker culture there is the counter-discourse using moral panic to limit the reckless of the cyberspace, to tame the characters shifting around the liminal spaces of welfare state, going against traditional values of work, responsibility and family.

From these polemical grounds I will start my next research project next fall, studying online poker culture with the tools of anthropology and funded by the Finnish Foundation for Gaming Research. I will write more about my research plan a bit later.

Pic above is an ad of Full Tilt Poker at Poker Magazines news site, the pic below is from Full Tilt Poker site.


Notes on ICTD2009 conference

The 3-day conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2009) at Carnegie Mellon University, Doha, Qatar was an intensive package full of, well, information and communication.

As I've written before, ICTD is a new and vast field in the making and it seems like the only thing its scholars, practitioners and observers agree on is that it is a field that focuses on the relationship between technology and the communities of developing countries.

In Doha, scholars of economics, sociology, anthropology as well as engineers, NGO representatives and civil servants all defined their work as ICTD. Not surprisingly, the definition, purpose, visions and rules of ICTD became a common topic in Doha. "What is ICTD?" was a hard question to answer, particularly when someone else asked you "What is development?"

The lovely organized chaos within the field just makes the whole constellation more interesting. The fact is that whatever the definition of ICTD is, it doesn't stop people from doing important research, grass root work and policy planning. The dangerous thing for many, it seems, is businesses using ICTD as a label to improve their sales. For many, that's just fine too. If people benefit, there's no beef.

But what does "benefit" mean? That's actually a question that was asked many times. How to evaluate ICTD's impact? What is good ICTD? The basic challenge of ICTD seems to be to come up with a good ICTD innovation. And, further, to measure the success of an innovation. Finally, if there is a successful innovation, how to make it work somewhere else.

For a Finnish-language conference report (8 p.) of ICTD2009, click here.


Yasukuni, Japan and Korea: A Paper

Tomorrow I will join the Asian Political Thought seminar organized by Prof. Pekka Korhonen of Political Science at University of Jyväskylä. I will present a short paper about an exceedingly interesting phenomenon loaded with symbolism and nationalism. It's the Yasukuni Shrine issue and I will discuss how it is presented in Korean online media. Here's an excerpt for a prelude:
Korea was occupied for 35 years by the Japanese Empire, from1910-45. It is a history that still defines what it means to be Korean. On August 15th of 2006, the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visited Yasukuni Jinja, a shrine in Tokyo dedicated to the souls of soldiers who had given their lives for the Emperor. The year marked the 61st anniversary of Japan’s surrender and Korea’s liberation in World War II, and Koizumi was the first prime minister in twenty years to visit Yasukuni on that particular day. The visit sparked strong reactions in Korean media and, created a related stir Korea’s political sphere. Indeed, Koizumi’s move prompted the South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun to postpone his visits to Japan for a year.

In the Korean media sphere, Koizumi’s Yasukuni visit re-animated the figure of Japan as it existed during World War II. For Koreans, what may have been a small step for the Japanese Prime Minister, was seen as a trampling over of the Korean nation, and signified Japanese disregard to Korea’s past suffering. In this paper I briefly present and discuss some of the Korean reactions to the Yasukuni Shrine issue in 2006. I consider how Korean online media represented the case to its foreign, English-speaking audiences and through that process, constructed and renewed a Korean national identity.

Read the whole paper here. For a longer version in Finnish, see this link. All comments are welcome!