Games and gamers

At the recent DIGRA conference the future of game studies was largely thought/hoped to be non-formalistic. I take this to mean that many of those present were somewhat fed up with general claims about game structure and form, preferring instead more situated and player-oriented approaches (see also Jesper’s discussion on essentialism/formalism)
While I agree that the balance today is too heavy on the formal side (forgive the confused metaphors) I don’t see formal approaches as invalid in any way. My disciplinary background is a combination of formal approaches (film studies/analysis) and user-oriented approaches (empirical media studies). The two approaches can supplement each other quite well, as I will attempt to demonstrate in my own dissertation.

Having unfortunately missed Erml and Mäyrä’s presentation I was reading their paper. As a small experiment here are my think-aloud notes.

They say:

There has been a relative boom of games research that has focused on the definition and ontology of games, but its complementary part, that of research into the gameplay experience has not been adopted by academics in a similar manner. This is partly due to the disciplinary tilt among the current generation of ludologists: a background in either art, literary or media studies, or in the applied field of game design, naturally leads to research in which the game, rather than the player, is the focus of attention.

Indeed, indeed.

Yet, the essence of a game is rooted in its interactive nature, and there is no game without a player.

A curious sentence. The ‘essence’ component is arbitrary, it makes no sense that I can discern. No game without a player? I have the board game Risk in the next room. There are no players nearby. But Risk is still a game. Weird.

Human experiences in virtual environments and games are made of the same elements that all other experiences consist of, and the gameplay experience can be defined as an ensemble made up of the player’s sensations, thoughts, feelings, actions and meaning-making in a gameplay setting. Thus it is not a property or a direct cause of certain elements of a game but something that emerges in a unique interaction process between the game and the player. This has also led to suggestions that games are actually more like artefacts than media.

Err.. implying that experience of media is not “an ensemble made up of the player’s [user’s] sensations, thoughts, feelings, actions and meaning-making”…? Odd.

People play games for the experience that can only be achieved by engaging in the gameplay

Do they? I’m not sure if I do, personally. What players?

After enough effort and repetitions the player can get to a point where she masters the game and game playing eventually reaches the point of automation and does not feel so fun any longer. Thus, games can be considered as puzzles that the players try to solve by investigating the game world

I think that’s much too broad, depends very much on the genre.

On the contrary, the children thought that the emotional immersion and involvement in fiction was typically stronger for them while reading a good book or while watching a movie.

The authors speak here of player experience which they have studied by observing/interviewing children and their non-playing parents. Interesting observation.

Our research suggests that the gameplay experience and immersion into a game are multidimensional phenomena.

Okay, this is a personal hobby-horse of mine: What data would you need for your research to suggest otherwise?
“Through in-depth participant observation of the details of playing we have found the gameplay experience to be a simple, monocausal one” – not likely.

It’s an interesting paper. The authors go from qualitive data to survey trying to “validate” the former results and find a way to ask players about immersion. The authors are well-read. For my personal taste, I would have preferred more discussion on the methods applied. Ask people about their level of immersion? Maybe, but I would have liked to see a discussion of alternative approaches.
Making rather strong methodological claims in the beginning it would have been nice with more discussion on how players can (and cannot) be studied.

I guess I’m generally skeptical of asking players/users/viewers to verbalize/rationalize something which is not normally a conchious process. People are really good at answering questions but the validity of asking someone how he or she makes judgements about credibility, forms trust, makes meaning, plays games etc. is questionable (not to say that I haven’t done it myself). It borders on attempting to outsource the analysis to the test subjects/respondents. In general, a respondent can answer questions but the researcher should analyze the data (e.g. interviews) in order to answer the research questions.

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