The purpose of this exercise is for you to begin to observe and take notes in your field setting and to help you to develop a number of key research skills:
• observation
• labelling
• note taking/recording
• organization of data
• fieldwork/deskwork
• research design
“LIVE AND UP CLOSE” OBSERVATION: Conduct short (10-30 minute) observations (2-4) on the topic that you are planning to research this term. Choose a place and time to observe that allows you to take continuous notes without interruption.
Create a Field note Label
• Record the date, day of week, time of day, weather, and other factors that you think may be relevant to understanding what is happening.
• Describe the setting.
• Make a “map” or take a picture of the activity noting features of the physical environment that seem to be significant.
Observation Record
• Write a brief general description of what is going on. This is mainly for background and context. Also record your reactions and thoughts about what is going on.
• Describe in detail the activity you are seeing. At this point, keep it concrete, specific and chronological: “The light changed from ‘walk’ to ‘wait.’ Three of the people at the intersection slowed and stopped, but the other four hastened across.” is better than “No one was paying attention to the traffic signal.” You may wish to alternate between the outline of collective picture and focus upon a particular aspect, perhaps an individual or dual cluster within the setting. Mark off sections in your notes where you speculate upon motives, perceptions, patterns, or other thoughts about the bigger picture of what you are seeing.

Wrap Up
• When you have completed a “round” of observation” (don’t stretch it out too long) go back and fill in important but missing details from memory. You can star, number or otherwise mark the first text to cross-reference this second run-through.
• List some possible research angles and how you would investigate this further. Include discussion of problems and obstacles that you anticipate in going further with a research problem or two that you have isolated. Consider the degree of human interference your project will entail, including how that might affect both your access and other people’s privacy, comfort level, or well-being. Compare your style in these notes with the other observations you have completed yourself, or with styles we have seen from each other and handouts, noting especially any anticipated shortcomings in your own method.
Write-Up (To be Turned In)
• Once you have done a few of these exercises (1-4), choose one promising sample and write it up (about 500 words)
• You may wish to revisit the site for a redraw of your map (but note how things change!). There will naturally be organizational and coherency changes in this version, and probably new ideas, perhaps you will have discussed the project with someone else in the meantime, and your new version reflects that added perspective.
What you will turn in will consist of a detailed report of your observation. You should have several sample options in your notes, from which you choose one to “write-up” for this exercise. Note that this exercise brings you face to face with the important question of access. Although you have not yet done the “negotiation” process, this will help you think about what range human activities are actually available to you.
Observation Write-up Due:
Example Pilot Observation ‘Write-Up’
Observation Label
The Neverwinter Nights online RPG server “the Lost Dale;” Sunday, January 25; 2:48 PM. Because the players live in an assortment of places across North America and Europe, the out-of-game atmosphere varies. In-game, five characters are gathered just inside the southern gate of a small town located on an island within the fantasy realm of Faerun, four of whom are female. They are participating in a role-play event led by a DM, or game master. I watch from nearby as another DM. The in-game time is twelve o’clock on the tenth day of January. The weather is sunny.

General Description:
A DM event is an occasion where several people come together on digital avatars to role-play, while a game master controls external factors like the environment or NPCs (characters that are not played by anyone except the DM). The role-play is text-based. On their individual computers, the players type out the things which their characters might do or say. The text boxes appear in a window near the bottom left of the screen. Just as I arrive, the DM informs me that this particular event is an “Exorcist tribute.” The DM explains to me that demonic influences are leading the characters toward insanity. A few of these characters have been on the server for several months; two of them were only created that day. The server itself proclaims a devotion to role-play, allowing the traditional game mechanics to occur only as they support the realistic and creative development of each character. DM events often only last up to a few hours in real time, and it occurs to me that this one has been going on for a while. As far as I can conclude, there is nothing abnormal about the event.
Observation Record
As I arrive, one of the four female characters appears to be decaying. The second female is using magick on the male, who lies dead on the ground. The third female is trying to remove a mask that has adhered to her skin, with the help of the fourth female. The magick brings the male back to life, who sits up and appears confused. As this is happening, the DM alternates between continuing the storyline of the event and speaking with me in private messages. From an out-of-game perspective, I observe that each of the five characters conveys actions by applying asterisks to either side of the action commentary, like this: she demonstrates. Spoken phrases are typed without any identifying punctuation. During this time, spelling mistakes go generally unnoted. The DM posts actions within brackets. The first woman recovers from her “illness” just as the third woman is able to free herself from the mask. At this point, the player who controls the third woman remarks out-of-character to any listening DMs: “panic will do strange things to a girl :D” (I have added the quotations). The player then adds that he is having a “great time.” At this point, five minutes have passed. The DM causes a mass of writhing spiders to appear on the ground as the five characters are bandaging each other. The male then makes a concerned remark about a charm. The other characters direct his attention to the fourth woman, who is talking to no visible subject. This is a point of speculation I must note. Throughout the course of event I was able to observe the significance of the charm, but I was not able to learn how the event began, where the charm came from, or what exactly it did (the event ended and the players left before I had the chance to ask). I am also unable to view any private messages between the DM and the other players. The spiders envelop the fourth woman. Afterwards, when she looks for the charm, she is unable to find it. The male suggests they walk into town, where they might find answers. At this point I receive another private message from the DM, who remarks: “If the poor things head into the temple, they’re doomed xD” (once again, the quotations are mine). Near the temple, the man begins to scream for an imp to show itself. Like the charm, I was unable to learn the details of the imp’s role in this encounter. The town appears ghostly, and then all of the buildings begin to burn. Frightened, the male attempts to leave and is immediately teleported back to the site of the group. While his attempt marks the end of the fifteen-minute period which I chose as my round of observation, I continued to watch and take notes until the event’s conclusion.
Possible Research Angles:
This direction of thought is the very reason I’ve taken as my subject of interest: interactive group role-play as it appears online and in face-to-face settings. The ethnography of online interactions is still fairly underdeveloped, and for our era it seems like a promising direction. There are several research angles that could be interesting to take, among them: the linguistic differences between online and interpersonal role-play, the way social issues like gender or race are addressed through fictional characters and how those reflect back onto the players, or the differences in the ways people communicate out-of-character within the different gaming settings.
Possible Problems:
The most obvious problems that occur to me involve the limitations of online interaction. Vocal qualities, facial expressions, and any other attributes that the player does not choose to convey become subsequently inaccessible to the ethnographer. Another issue is the problem of honesty; anyone can be anyone online. Interviews and other methods of analysis are limited by the fact that players may choose to provide information that is not, by current social definitions, true. A forty-five-year-old father and husband from Texas could introduce himself as a twenty-four-year-old single woman from California. A twelve-year-old girl could present herself as a responsible nineteen-year-old adult. Age, gender, sexuality, geographic location, and any other statistical variables are entirely malleable. In addition to this, any difficulties that ethnographers generally have to grapple with must still be applied.

Sample Solution