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Jeffrey R. Vadala PhD Temple University  Alissa M. Jordan PhD University of Pennsylvania This research explores the emergence of the Ugandan Knuckles online virtual reality cult. We do this by using the case study of users of a meme-avatar, known as the Ugandan Knuckles, that dramatically “took over” a virtual reality social platform, VRChat. After its introduction, this meme rapidly transformed the futuristic VRChat social sphere into something many users considered entirely “unusable.” Historically and ethnographically exploring how this happened, we characterize the emergence of the Ugandan Knuckles phenomena as an assemblage of multiple interconnected components and flows of social power, technology, virtual embodiment and representation that eventually came to reiterate deeply problematic media depictions of african culture, religon, and black masculinity. We also explore the social processes that contribute to constituting virtual reality platforms like VRChat into both the what some call the “future of online socializing” but also commonly an “infested” “trollfest.” We are preparing a peer reviewed publication for release in 2020. 

Screenshots of VR Ethnographic Work:

Follow this link to see progress on my virtual reality ancient Maya site used for spatial analysis and interactive experiential college courses. The videos and pictures were composed from three versions (2013-2014, 2016, 2019-2020) of the virtual reality reconstruction of Cerro Maya (Cerros, Belize).

Although they relied on different software toolsets (CryEngine, Unreal 2.0, Unreal 4.13, Unreal 4.20), all versions were produced to be as historically accurate as possible. Details for the reconstructions were garnered from contemporary research, excavation notes, original survey maps, satellite imagery, and photography.

I have used these reconstructions as analytical tools for examining astronomical uses of architecture, social spaces used for ritual, social segregation, and more. Additionally, these 3d reconstructions have been used as teaching tools for anthropology and archeology classes at the University of Florida, Hampshire College, and The College of New Jersey.

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