Postmodernin pelimiehen todellisuus

Kiinnostaako mediaetnografinen pohdinta pokerikulttuurista? Siinä tapauksessa lue allekirjoittaneen kirjoittama Postmodernin pelimiehen todellisuus - Mediaetnografisia huomioita pokerista kulttuurisena ilmiönä. Artikkeli on juuri julkaistu Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirjassa 2010. Alla myös em. artikkelin tiivistelmä ja lista vuosikirjan artikkeleista. 

Artikkelin tiivistelmä
Artikkeli perustuu pokerikulttuuria käsittelevän tutkimusprojektin synnyttämiin näkökulmiin ja ilmiön mediaetnografi seen havainnointiin. Artikkelin kohteena on pokerin fenomenologia ja siihen liittyvä kulttuurinen merkitysjärjestelmä netissä ja offline-maailmassa. Postmodernin kulttuurintutkimuksen keskustelun tukemana kirjoituksessa esitellään myös huomioita pokeriin liittyvästä mainonnasta, maskuliinisuudesta ja rahan merkityksestä. Pokerikulttuurin representaatioiden olemassaolon tapaa kommentoidaan viittaamalla muun muassa hyperreaalin käsitteeseen.

Asiasanat:  nettipokeri, postmoderni, mediaetnografia, hyperreaali, kulttuurinen merkitysjärjestelmä, mieskuva

Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2010: artikkelit

  1. Saara Toivonen ja Olli Sotamaa: Pelaajien näkökulmia pelien digitaaliseen jakeluun. 1-10.
  2. Vili Lehdonvirta ja Juho Hamari: Pelimekaniikat osana ansaintalogiikkaa – Miten pelisuunnittelulla luodaan kysyntää. 11-21.
  3. Katriina Heljakka: Hiljaisen tiedon pelikentällä – Lautapelisuunnittelu vuorovaikutusprosessina. 22-32.
  4. Eetu Paloheimo: Verkkorahapelien vetovoimatekijät. 33-41.
  5. Jani Kinnunen: Leikkisä raha peleissä. 42-57.
  6. Jukka Jouhki: Postmodernin pelimiehen todellisuus – Mediaetnografisia huomioita pokerista kulttuurisena ilmiönä. 58-68.
  7. Arttu Perttula ja Pauliina Tuomi: “Tää oli oikeesti aika jännä!” – Mobiilia moninpeliä julkisella näytöllä. 69-82.
  8. Jaakko Suominen: ”Pieni askel ihmiskunnalle, mutta jättiharppaus tietokoneistetuille roolipeleille” – MikroBitti-lehden peliarvostelut pelaamisen historiatietoisuuden rakentajina 1984–2008. 83-98.
Lue myös julkaisun katsaukset ja kirja-arviot.

Abstract of my article in Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2010.
The article is based on views generated by a research project focusing on poker culture as well as on observations made by implementing media ethnographical approach in examining the phenomenon. The article concentrates on the phenomenology and cultural system of meaning of poker in online and offl  ine worlds.  Supported by discussion within postmodern cultural studies, the article further presents observations of the advertising, masculinity and meaning of money related to poker. Moreover, the mode of existence of the representations of poker culture is commented by referring to the concept of hyperreal, among others. Keywords: online poker, postmodern, media ethnography, hyperreal, cultural system of meaning, male image.


How can anthropology contribute to an understanding of the impact of new digital technologies?

Conference poster (source)
European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA) held its 11th conference in Maynooth, Ireland 24-27th August 2010. One of the sessions was titled Digital Anthropology and described how...
"[...] People's imagination of the digital seems to bifurcate as something that, on the one hand, lies at the keyboard at the tip of their fingers but at the same time appears as an abstraction from traditional analogue modes of representation. This bifurcation is often what makes the digital appear to be either the cause or the solution of impending crises. Often this imagination is fed from science fiction and images of humans losing control of the planet to the new technologies themselves.
This is perhaps the moment when anthropology has to choose how to respond to digital technologies. Whether to demonise them as a form of alienation, to romanticise them as open-source utopias or get to grips with the way they speedily become part of everyday life. [...]"
Here's a list of all the presentations (and author names).
  • A brief theory of digital anthropology (Miller and Horst)
  • Digital sound technologies: the renegotiation of music production, consumption and collecting practices (Bowsher)
  • Phreaker/hacker/troller as trickster (Coleman)
  • Spimes as material culture: anthropological approaches to (and through) location-aware objects (DeNicola)
  • Emerging futurities in Muslim southeast Asia: science fantasy, digital development and the urge for moral technology (Barendregt)
  • Digital dramas, online liminality and the state of creolization in Tanzania (Uimonen)
  • Phones, foreigners, and the fluctuating digital divide in Southern Mozambique (Archambault)
  • Culture, conflict and translocal communication: mobile technology and politics in rural West Bengal, India (Tenhunen)
  • Migration and virtual community 2.0 (Komito)
  • Hope infrastructure: enacting expectations in bloggers' material practices (Estatella)
  • Indigenizing digital technologies, imagining cultural futures: Ara Irititja reshapes new media in contemporary Australia (Thorner)
Read all the abstracts here.
On the same site you can find the email address of each presenter.


An anthropologist examining online poker

Talking to Science Journalists
Perhaps because of the strange combination of being a cultural anthropologist studying online poker, I was invited to give a talk to a group of journalists from The Finnish Association of Science Journalists and Editors on an excursion in University of Jyväskylä. I talked about how cultural anthropology can approach online poker as a cultural phenomenon. Below is an edited summary of my talk.

Life is a Gamble
First things first. Every day we invest our resources, money, time or effort in objects, processes, happenings etc. the outcome of which is not sure to us. We might pay 8 € for a movie ticket and regret it afterwards because the film wasn't worth it. We might take time to go for a walk in a park and end up soaking wet because of a downpour and wish we had stayed home watching TV. Then again, we might take a chance and go to a restaurant, pay only a few euros for a meal and think the atmosphere, company and taste of the food were ten times worth the money and the time we paid.

Dice is life (source Psychology Today).
On a larger scale, we might take a leap of faith and get another job, sell the house and go abroad for a year, or meet a girl, get married and have five kids and think it was all worth the trouble - or not. It is all a gamble. And you can get hooked too. You might go overboard with your jogging, eating, painting or work and be satisfied by the return, end up spending all your money and/or time on it and neglet your friends and family. If you are skillful and level-headed enough, you might cope very well with all the elements of chance in your life, estimate the risks, control your time-use and take action accordingly - and end up living an exciting and fulfilling life. If sometimes you end up losing your bet, you might still think it was worth the shot.

In a way life is like poker. Or, poker is a crystallization of the elements of chance and skill and investment and turnout, in life.

New Anthropology
When people think anthropologists are like Indiana Jones I hate to correct them. Dr. Jones is actually an archeologist but archeology and anthropology do have some things in common. Although archeology concentrates on past cultures and societies it usually examines them in some excotic location like anthropology has traditionally done. The object of research of both disciplines also connotes otherness, non-Westernity and certain strangeness - something that is not "Us".

Dr. Indiana Jones (source
However, contemporary anthropology is open virtually to all phenomena, new or old, ours or theirs, and fieldwork is increasingly done in one's own native society. The themes that anthropology has always studied, the everyday stuff like marriage, religion, working, pastime, rituals etc., are still studied but extended to include the whole world, not just the remote tribes. I would even dare to say there is no possible thing in the world that couldn't somehow be approached as an object of anthropological research.

"Anthropology can study anything?" my father once asked (perpetuously wondering what an earth I'm doing for work). "Yes, anything," I answered. Then he provokingly asked if going to the toilet, or defecation, could be an object of study in anthropology. I said, actually, it would be a great object of anthropological research. The function is universal but the tradtions vary in different cultures. There are strict rules about when, where or with whom to do it and how to speak about it and what to do with the results. Anthropology is about shared significances, worldviews, actions and norms, or in a word, cultures.

Cultures like online poker.

Approaching Online Poker
The first thing I noticed about online poker research was that it is essentially a problem. At least this is the feeling one gets while browsing through published literature: online poker = addiction = problem. That is what scholars get money for and that is what the media write about and people read about - poker-players as addicts, home-breakers and money-squandering losers. To me it is as strange as it would be to study jogging and focus only on strains or stumbling, or to do research on food and concentrate only on choking accidents, or to approach sex only through venereal diseases. To be fair, not all media does this though. There are all the specialized poker media that endorse poker culture and celebrate its heroes.

Thus it seems like these images are the only ones about poker in media and academia.
Poker champ/addict (sources Miscellaneouspics and Makefive).
I think it is time to get to know the Everyday of online poker and see what happens among the usual, normal people, the over 95 % who are not champions or addicts. I want to know the boring side of poker. For example, a case study of mine about a poker-player and his family certainly revealed refreshingly undramatic things about the game. The main informant, a civil servant with wife and kids, earned a considerable amount of money a month. It helped the family a great deal with rent and other monthly expenditures, and even left some money for a holiday trip - things that weren’t possible without the father's poker hobby. And the father still had time for work, kids and the wife. This is how it usually goes. What a discovery!

I had another very obvious but forbidden observation. My main informant's qualities as a succeful poker player were desirable qualities in other sectors of life as well. Logic, contemplation and self-restrain, just to name a few, didn’t do him harm in work or family life either. All in all, poker was present in the family but in a positive way. Even the wife applauded her husband for doing something fruitful in his pastime. The wife said she only watched television, which never brought the family a penny.
These observations from the case study were welcomed by the media as "exceptional results" and often denigrated by the poker community because the results were too obvious -  most people played poker without problems. Obvious or not, poker is a culturally loaded subject and traditional anthropological themes are easily and fruitfully transferred to study it. For example in my research I have distinguished four interrelated M’s — morality, marginality, masculinity and money — that are particularly interesting to an anthropologist.
  • What is the cultural configuration in which the morality of poker manifests?
  • What are the sociocultural elements that marginalize poker as a hobby or profession?
  • What makes online poker representations a hyper masculine venture?
  • What is the social and symbolic value of money in poker?

Serious pokermen (source PokerBonus).

Everything so far implies that poker research and gambling studies in general need more information about the everyday practices. Is mainstream anthropology up to the challenge? Maybe not for a long time. First the discipline should get to know things like television, then perhaps the Internet and mobile phones. Then, if it is still up to it, online gambling could be studied in anthropology.
Or, one can take a chance and go for a short cut.


From my students: a few taboos and future visions of ethnology

I had my students for the course Critical Readings of Current Ethnological Research (in Finnish) take a group test where they had to reflect on their views about the discipline*. For example, they had to think of a subject that is too much a taboo to be a topic of ethnological research. The four groups came up with these titles:

The Other Kind of Sex Business: A Case Study about International Zoophilia on an American Farm

Yum-yum without Consent: Interacting with the Dead

The Couriers of Human Trafficking: Their Motives and Moral Views

"Hey, We are Tripping!": The Recreational Use of Acid

Obviously, sex derives all sorts of taboo around the world, especially when we are talking about the "proper" persons/objects/things to have sex with. To have sex with animals or the dead is a parade example of a sexual taboo - which is rarely taken up by researchers. Also, to study the motives and moral views of persons that are seen as morally corrupt is surely a risky business as the researcher might become labeled as "too understanding" of the people he/she studies. Lastly, the use of drugs surely attracts only problem-based research. This is very understandable as we know what kind of problem drug-use can be to a person and the society but surely many people manage with drugs without having a problem with it. But researchers rarely want to talk about it.

Finally, as a special (tongue-in-cheek) question my students had to vision what kind of topics of research the discipline might derive in the future or in the year 2060 to be exact. The students let loose and came up with these titles (one group making up two):

Granny Gangs: Violence as a Means of Participation

Feet on the Ground: People Born in a Space Colony Conceptualizing the Life on Earth through the Nostalgy Discourse of the Immigrant Generation

The Rise and Fall of Ethnology: The Uselesness of Hermeneutics in an Innovation Society

Experiencing Culture in a Mind Transferred into a Machine: Humanism and the Dawn of Transhumanism

My Father is a Robot: The Human Rights of Computers

Now everybody, it's your turn to let your imagination fly!

* In our university ethnology is strongly influenced by cultural anthropology and folklore studies. 


A Game of Money, Skill or Threat?

The annual conference of The Finnish Anthropological Society was held last week (May 11-12). This year's theme was Ideas of Value: Inquiries in Anthropology. The immensely active Finnish Foundation for Gaming Research sponsored one session named The Value of Gambling (Research), including my presentation about moral views about online poker. Professor Pauliina Raento concluded the session by talking about the significance of gambling/gaming research.

The other three presentations were exceedingly interesting. Riitta Matilainen's (Univ. of Helsinki) presentation The Introduction of the Roulette and the Changing Culture in Finland in the 1960s and 1970s described how roulette for Finns was not just a game but a prestigious symbol representing Finland's pursuit of western values. Perpetual Crentsil's (Univ. of Helsinki) The Good, the Bad and the Money explored the gambling cultures of African and Asian immigrants in Finland. Jani Kinnunen's (Univ. of Tampere) The Social Value of Gambling Online could be described a more hardcore sociological or philosophical investigation of online gambling.

All abstracts of the conference can be read here (go to p. 6 for the gambling session abstracts). Below is my abstract for the paper A Game of Money, Skill or Threat? Reflections on the Ethical Discussion Concerning Online Poker in Finland. Check out the presentation slides here.

Finland’s Slot Machine Association (RAY) is a state-run gambling organization that will launch an online poker service for Finns in 2010. This paper describes and analyzes the ethical discussion provoked by an article in Helsingin Sanomat (the leading national newspaper) on the issue, and considers the various moral viewpoints taken of RAY as an online poker service provider, as well as discussing online poker as a wider contemporary phenomenon.

Image sources: Conference logo grabbed from the home page of The Finnish Anthropology Society and the other pic from Daily Mail online version.


VIRTUAL VS. REAL: And never the twain shall meet?

Virtual is as real as it gets
After reading the texts in the inaugural Virtual Worlds Research (2008) where Mark W. Bell and Ralph Schroeder embarked on defining the concept of a virtual world, I started to think about the connotations of the concept. The first images that came to my mind were things like The Matrix with Neo bending the reality of a virtual world, a flight simulator game I had played once, and Second Life avatars flying through the vast 3D cyberspace. Perhaps the following words visited the tip of my tong: artificial, digital and even fake. They seemed to be followed by perhaps more refined connotations like computer system, community, information technology. Then I looked up the word "virtual".

According to a definition recorded over six hundred years ago, virtual means influencing by physical virtues or capabilities. The Latin word virtus means excellence, potency and efficacy, or literally manliness and manhood. Indeed, our world is often virtual but not only in being excellent or manly. In 1959 the first definition linking virtual to computers was made as it was defined to mean also something that was “not physically existing but made to appear by software.” (See Online Etymology Dictionary.) According to most sources, virtual also “exists in essence or effect though not in actual fact (e.g. WordNet).” In common language virtual is something opposite to real. My view is that everything real is virtual and virtual is as real as it gets.

A Virtual World
Imagine a virtual world where Mary82 is walking across an urban 3D cityscape. She sees the avatar of her old friend Nora84 walking a dog in the distance. The dog has a collar with its name “Burtsie” on it. Mary82 approaches Nora84 and pokes her as a greeting. They chat for a while. Mary82 tells Nora84 about a movie trailer she just saw behind the corner of the DVD shop. She had also just seen the coolest jeans on the window of another shop but didn’t have the credit to buy them. Then they notice John84 joining their chat. He had just come from a real-time community meeting of anthropology students but as he had to go to work, he just petted Nora84’s dog and quit the conversation.

John84, Mary82 and Nora84 are heavy-users of this particular virtual world. A virtual world, following Bell (2008) and Schroeder (2008), is "a spatially based depiction of a persistent virtual environment" and can be "experienced by numerous participants at once". The world they inhabit also offers "an awareness of space, distance and co-existence". According to Bell and Schroeder, the participants communicate and interact with each other and the environment, and form short tem and long term social groups. The world of the aforementioned chatters, however, differs from Second Life, for example, in that its 3D avatars are far more complex. They look almost like the persons behind them and much of the interpersonal communication is auditory, not textual. Moreover, such is the addictiveness of this virtual world that most participants live in it, in some way, all the time. And it happens outside a computer network.

Most of you probably guessed it already. When you replace the nicknames such as Mary82 with real names such as Mary, and use the word “person” or “identity” instead of “avatar” you notice more clearly that I am, of course, talking about the real world. Or, should I say the physical world as a virtual world surely is as real as one gets. Then again, a virtual world must be physical too as, after all, it is made of silicon, wires, copper, fiber, plastic and so forth, all of which are materials of the physical world. So, perhaps I should say I’m talking about the world we live in and interact in person, in our physical bodies without a technological medium, at least some of the time. I mean the world that has the ground I step on when I walk on my real, meat-and-bones feet, a world that is not experienced through computers. To be clear, let’s just say I mean real is the world outside computers.

It seems like “real world” is at least as hard to define as “virtual world.”

We all live in a virtual world
We are, in fact, all living in a virtual world. That is something I as a cultural anthropologist have been more or less studying for the whole of my career. In a way we have always used avatars to communicate and move around in our real world. We have different avatars for different situations, and every day our avatar is dressed, fed, groomed, viewed, shaved and made up a bit differently to represent our personalities or us as individuals.

When, for example, my students see a tall skinny guy with glasses that looks like Jukka the anthropologist, he or she immediately interprets the symbol, that is, my appearance, in a way that connects it to all the qualities he or she has experienced me having. Perhaps I even inform others of my qualities, or call myself as "Dr. Jouhki" (instead of Jukka74), a nick that is supposed to reveal the essence of my personality.

If a virtual world means a world that is artificial, constructed, illusion, imitation and made-up, we don’t need computers. Ee never experience the world per se and we most definitely do not know individuals directly without the representations of their identity (avatars) interfering in the middle.

In addition to the virtuality of our individual identities, we have an image of “our people,” say the nation comprised of people of Finland, having certain qualities, a country that has clear borders and citizens with a certain affinity with each other. Moreover, to apply Stuart Hall (2008), we form temporary or lasting groups, join them and leave them. We use an avatar/identity when meeting our boss and another one for a wedding, and perhaps yet another one when we go out on a date.

But the most important element that makes our real world virtual is that although we imagine the world to be real and authentic it actually is something the myths, traditions and culture have taught us to believe in and something our biochemical and sociocultural configuration leads us to interpret. For most of us, our old technological interface, literacy, connects us with a world we know. Like Benedict Anderson (2006) has so aptly noted, when we read the newspaper we take part in an everyday ritual that reinforces the virtual structures of our world. We take a look at our world through television and reinforce the construction of our imagined world. We think “This is what happens in our world.” And the world exists as we have created it, as we know it to be.

I’m not saying an imagined world is a recent phenomenon or that the world is simply imaginary. Surely there is a world that has geological formations, a biosphere, temperatures, an orbit around the sun, and us people going about our businesses. What I am saying is that the world we experience is a sort of virtual world, a copy or an interpretation of a more real world. And how this virtual world appears to us depends on all kinds of collective and individual bio-cultural-psychological configurations behind it, in our heads.

The world is virtual - so what?
But what does this all have to do with the real virtual worlds, the ones we access through applications of information technology? So what if we don’t live in a world per se but in a virtual system experienced, shared and interpreted by people? Sure you can nitpick and call it virtual too.

Jean Baudrillard (1994) wrote that it is unfortunate that there are places like Disneyland because they make people believe the world outside them is not a fantasy. A concept pair like virtual-real that is used to describe places like Second Life and the physical world connote an unnecessary dichotomy as if the environment created inside computers would be a fake one, or a place like Second Life was somehow unreal. Surely it is as real as and perhaps even more real than the conventional world we are so used to experience. At least we are often more aware of the virtuality of it while we perhaps too often take our world view for granted in the “real” world.

I am not encouraging to omit the word virtual altogether but I do suggest caution in renewing the dichotomy of the real and virtual. In a way, physical reality is only a simulation albeit among all kinds of simulations it is the most significant to us. However, calling a virtual world virtual might lead us to believe the world outside of computer worlds is real as we experience it and a community based on a computer network was somehow less real or even fake.

Literature referred to
Anderson, Benedict 2006 [1983]. Imagined Communities, London: Verso.
Baudrillard, Jean 1994 [1985]. Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan press.
Bell, Mark W. 2008. ’Toward a Definition of Virtual Worlds”.’ Virtual Worlds Research, 1 (1).
Hall, Stuart 2008: Identiteetti, Tampere: Vastapaino.
Online Etymology Dictionary,
Schroeder, Ralp 2008: ‘Defining Virtual Worlds and Virtual Environments.’ Virtual Worlds Research, 1 (1).

Pic sources
1st pic portraying Second Life avatars from ZDNET, the avatar dog from Newsweek, PhD bear from Monash University merchandise, many faces from Esquire, Disneyland from


Top 100 anthropology blogs

No matter if you are studying an ancient race of people buried under years' worth of dirt or if you are analyzing the modern culture of New York City or Japan, these anthropology blogs have something to offer you. Enhance your education with these great blogs, or read about sub-topics in related areas within anthropology to see what type of research is occurring there.
That's how describe the top 100 anthropology blogs they have listed in their blog. Check them out and be amazed by the variety within the discipline!


A Player's Web of Significance

Below you can read the abstract of my paper to be presented at the 8th International Crossroads in Cultural Studies Conference in Hong Kong, June 17-21, 2010 


This paper is about a narrative of an agent in a complex web of significance or, in other words, a person in a culture. The culture in question is online poker and the agent, or the person, is my key informant who is a civil servant, a family man and a semi-professional poker player with whom I will practice participant observation and whose in-depth interviews will bring precious detail in the cultural context. I will attempt to provide a refined (or high in semantic resolution) presentation of how the player negotiates his role in the online and offline cultures, how he relates himself to the stereotypes and hegemonic discourses of poker culture and how he negotiates his virtual space in the physical world. The study is microethnographical in the sense that although it adds to a holistic description of a culture by concentrating on one person's involvement in the culture.


Update May 18, 2010: I had to cancel Hong Kong, so I will propose the final manuscript to be published in Next Generation edition of Fast Capitalism. This is how they describe their policy.

Fast Capitalism is an academic journal with a political intent. We publish reviewed scholarship and essays about the impact of rapid information and communication technologies on self, society and culture in the 21st century. We do not pretend an absolute objectivity; the work we publish is written from the vantages of viewpoint. Our authors examine how heretofore distinct social institutions, such as work and family, education and entertainment, have blurred to the point of near identity in an accelerated, post-Fordist stage of capitalism. [Read the rest.]


Current research: about a serious game

Here's some information on and links to two article mansucript I am proposing to be published. One is titled "A serious game: The imagery of advertisements in Poker Magazine Finland reflecting gender in online poker culture" and it is for International Journal of E-Politics 1 (2). Here's the abstract:
This article analyzes the ways in which gender is represented through an examination of online poker advertisements, specifically the 2009 volume of Poker Magazine Finland. In a typical advertisement, a male poker champion endorses the game in a carefully staged, dark and serious atmosphere connoting a battle-like quality to the game. In advertisements where women or non-professional poker players are portrayed, the mood is less serious. Male poker champions smile in carefully staged advertisements only when they are shown to be winning or when the context is explicitly comical. In analyzing these advertisements, Katharine Frith’s tripartite approach is applied. Inspired by the findings of the analysis, the engendered subculture of online poker and gender in media in general are discussed.
The other one is written in Finnish and is proposed for Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja 2010 (the yearbook of gaming research) in Finland.  Its title translates "On the reality of a postmodern gaming man: media-ethnographical notes on poker culture", or in Finnish "Postmodernin pelimiehen todellisuudesta: Mediaetnografisia huomioita pokerikulttuurista". Here's the English summary.
The article is based on the preliminary results of an anthropological research project focusing on poker culture as well as the media ethnographical observations within the project. The project concentrates on the phenomenology of poker in online and offline worlds. Supported by the theories of postmodern cultural studies, the article presents some observations of the advetising, masculinity and meaning of money related to poker. Moreover, the mode of existence of the representations of poker culture are commented by referring to the concept of hyperreal, among others.

Again, all comments are welcomed!