Event – Computer Games: Learning, meaning and method

Computer Games: Learning, meaning and method
A Game Studies/Gaming Theory One-Day Seminar
Friday 26th of January 2007
At the London Knowledge Lab
23-29 Emerald Street
London WC1N 3QS

This event is supported by the Eduserv Foundation, and it is convened by Diane Carr, Eduserv
Research Fellow, CSCYM, K.lab, IOE, University of London

Session 1 Play, games and methodology
Helen Kennedy: Stop, Play, Rewind: Using video microethnography to analyse ‘close playings’
Aphra Kerr: Researching games in society – adventures in methods and methodology
Jason Rutter: Is there methodology in this madness? Searching for meaning in mundane gaming

Session 2 Meaning and method
Diane Carr: Computer Games, Motivation and Gender (project report and overview)

Session 3 Sociable online worlds and online communities
Aleks Krotoski: Making e-friends and influencing people in Second Life
Natasha Whiteman: Control and contingency: The methodological implications of the hacking of Silent Hill Heaven

Session 4 Online games and multiplayer worlds
Introduction, Diane Carr and audience volunteers: World of Warcraft: The Game That Ate Game Studies
Tanya Krzywinska: Arachne challenges Minerva: World of Warcraft and the spinning-out of Long Narrative

Knowledge Lab Panel
The ‘World of Warcraft Experiment’: Learning, Meaning and Methods in MMORPG research
Diane Carr: Backseat driving in a World of Whining: Angst and Agency in World of Warcraft
Martin Oliver: Me, myself and I: learning to negotiate identity on a World of Warcraft role-playing server
Andrew Burn: MMORPGs – Drama, play and pedagogy
Kevin Walker: Structures for learning in World of Warcraft

After close: DiGRA report and meeting Helen Kennedy reports from DiGRA (the Digital Games Research Association)

Computer Games: Learning, meaning and method
Background and Rationale

Diane Carr

This event follows on from ‘DigiPlay 4: Teaching with/Learning from Computer games’, convened as part of Jason Rutter’s ESRC funded Digiplay series. The focus of DigiPlay 4 was learning, education and games. The use of games in formal learning contexts, games and pedagogy, the
production and assessment of learning games, and game degrees were discussed by educationalists, learning theorists and game designers.

The focus of today’s event shifts to computer games, meaning and methodology, and the disciplinary emphasis veers towards digital/computer game studies (taking in cultural studies, sociology, ethnography, psychology, media studies and various ‘humanities’ perspectives en route). Within these parameters, questions of meaning and method are posed broadly and speakers are invited to approach and reflect on the issues as directly or obliquely as they see fit.

Meaning
The game/player relationship. Agency. Subjectivity. Learning. Narrative. Technologies. Pleasure/Play/game – consent, constraints and variability. Learning. Intrinsic and extrinsic signification. The ramifications of context (locale, cultural, social, contexts of production). The construction of the
player/user – by games, player communities, within fan communities, by the games industry/marketing, or by academics. Communicative aspects of game rules and design. Politics of representation. Genre conventions. Popular culture and inter-textuality. Digital diversity and divides. Trans-media content.

Method
Presenters are invited to discuss the usefulness, limitations and procedures involved with a given methodology – preferably one they’ve tried and tested. Researching computer games involves investigating phenomena (software, space, play, pleasure, competition, learning, domestic habits,
technologies…) that exceed any single methodology. This suggests that it’s constructive to discuss methods in their research contexts: to weigh working procedures in relation to the specific questions being asked at the time; the particular phenomena under investigation, and in terms of
the disciplinary conventions evoked by the researcher.

Contributors to computer game studies employ different disciplinary perspectives. At the level of practice, this variety manifests in the aspects of games that we choose to prioritise and the working procedures that we adopt. At a ‘meta level’ our colleagues’ perceptions of our disciplinary
affiliations will impact on how our work is framed, received and reviewed. Dicing with conflicting or misplaced expectations is an inter-disciplinary hazard, but most of us agree that this diversity is one of the best things about the field – don’t we?

Abstracts and Presenter details

Helen W. Kennedy
Stop, Play, Rewind: Using video microethnography to analyse ‘close playings’

This presentation will refer to two research projects which make use of video to record and analyse gameplay. These research approaches, and the material they have generated, allow us to engage not just with methodological challenges of analysing gameplay, but also with the relationships between pleasure, technology, identity, and the aesthetics in everyday play. The two projects are:
Playing Lord of the Rings: intermediality, play and technicity, February 2004
Playful Objects: technology and agency in Lego Star Wars, October 2005

Helen W. Kennedy is Senior Lecturer and MA Award Leader in the School of Cultural Studies at the University of the West of England. She has published on the subject of feminist readings of Lara Croft, female Quake players and game studies more generally. She has recently completed
(with Jon Dovey) a book entitled Game Cultures – published in May 2006. She is Chair of the Play Research Group within the School which has organised a number of international conferences and symposia on the subject of computer games.

Aphra Kerr
Researching games in society – adventures in methods and methodology

This talk will draw upon my experience over the past six years on a number of personal, academic and industry research projects investigating production, consumption and regulatory aspects of digital games in the Irish context. These projects have involved a number of mainly qualitative research methods and led to a number of questions about technique but also about methodology and how to research something as unstable as making and playing digital games.

Dr. Aphra Kerr, Department of Sociology, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, Rep of Ireland. I am interested in new media and for the past six years digital games. My work has focused on production and consumption cultures, but also regulation. I am also interested in cross-cultural and interdisciplinary research, qualitative methodologies, gender and more recently ethnicity. Recent publications include Kerr, A. (2006) The Business and Culture of Digital Games: Gamework/ Gameplay. Sage Publications, and Kerr, A, Brereton, P, and Kücklich, J. (2006) ‘New Media: New Pleasures?’ In the International Journal of Cultural Studies. March 1 2006, Volume 9, No. 1. For more information see http://sociology.nuim.ie/publicationsAphraKerr.shtml and http://www.arts.ulster.ac.uk/media/kerr/

Jason Rutter
Is there methodology in this madness? Searching for meaning in mundane gaming

This presentation offers for discussion the view that developing a range of game methodologies to explore the more mundane aspects of digital games has a valuable part to play in developing the research field. It suggests ways in which ethnographic and interactionist research can be
used such that they not only represent local narratives but can successfully provide useful input into broader academic, policy and business debates. Drawing on examples from previous research the presentation suggests that useful insights can be obtained by decentering games as our object of study in favour of exploring the context of practice and meaning surrounding gaming.

Jason Rutter is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Innovation and Competition at The University of Manchester. He works primarily in the areas of Leisure Technologies (especially digital gaming and mobile telecoms) and counterfeiting and piracy of digital content. He has been
involved in projects funded by the European Commission, Northern Ireland Office, NESTA, DTI and ESRC. His publications include Understanding Digital Games (2006, Sage) and Digital Game Industries (forthcoming, Ashgate).

Aleks Krotoski
Making e-friends and influencing people in Second Life

Online community research, once considered a closed book by some sectors of the academy, has witnessed an upsurge in interest as social systems have emerged as important factors in the development of internet-based services. Sites like MySpace, games like World of Warcraft and
virtual worlds like Second Life highlight the trend for e-participation in sociable media. But what does “being social” in an online environment mean? This presentation examines one contemporary virtual platform and describes the user-generated definitions of closeness through which the cultures of internet spaces are formed.

Aleks Krotoski – PhD student, University of Surrey. I’m currently researching innovation diffusion through the social networks of Second Life, having fallen into virtual worlds by way of games journalism. Previous research includes online identity, online-offline crossover, self-presentation
of stigmatised offline identities in online spaces, women in games and games and in curriculum-based education. I’ve published both academic and industry research, including two reports for ELSPA (Chicks and Joysticks and Unlimited Learning). I also write a column for The Guardian’s
Technology section and am co-author on their gamesblog.

Natasha Whiteman
Control and contingency: The methodological implications of the hacking of Silent Hill Heaven

In this paper I will describe an event from my doctoral research – the moment when one of my research settings disappeared – to consider the methodological implications of unexpected empirical developments.

Natasha Whiteman (n.whiteman@ioe.ac.uk) is Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Culture,
Language and Communication at the Institute of Education. Her PhD thesis examined pedagogic activity in two online fan communities. Natasha teaches research methods on a number of courses at the Institute and runs the “Researching Online Communities” seminar course on the Doctoral School Training Programme.

Tanya Krzywinska
Arachne challenges Minerva: World of Warcraft and the spinning-out of Long Narrative.

My focus here is to explore the ways in which World of Warcraft can be said to have a long narrative. Core to my argument is that ‘worldness’ is key to understanding how it is that long narrative can be sustained and make sense. I will historicise long narrative formats through reference to epic poetry–taking as my starting point the battle of narrative form between Arachne and Minerva in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, as well showing that world-based long narratives are often driven by media economics and especially franchising. Using Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a point of comparison, I show that because the ‘World’ of Warcraft is driven ludically, a rather different type of long narrative is produced than found in other media formats.

Professor Tanya Krzywinska. Brunel University, UK. Co-author of Tomb Raiders and Space
Invaders: videogame forms and contexts (IB Tauris, 2006); co-editor of ScreenPlay: cinema/videogames/interfaces (Wallflower, 2002) and, with Barry Atkins videogame/player/text (MUP forthcoming). She edited recently an edition of Games and Culture focused on World of Warcraft, convenes an MA in Digital Games Design and Theory and is President of Digital Games Research Association.

Diane Carr
Meaning and methodology

Overview and final report from ‘Computer Games, Motivation and Gender in Educational Contexts’, a research project supported by the Eduserv Foundation.

Prior to being the principal investigator on this project Diane Carr was the researcher on the AHRB funded Textuality in Video-Games: Narrative, Interactivity and Role Play,(2001-2003), led by Andrew Burn and David Buckingham. Diane has a long term interest in popular culture,
cultural theory and representation. She has published analysis of various computer games including Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, Enter the Matrix, and Anarchy Online, as well as research on players and gender. Diane co-authored the book Computer Games; Text, Narrative and Play
(Polity Press, 2006). From the end of January 2007 she will take up a Post-Doctoral Fellowship in New Media and Education for 12 months at the IOE.

Knowledge Lab Panel session: Learning, Meaning and Methods in MMORPG research.
Diane Carr, Martin Oliver, Andrew Burn, Kevin Walker
During 2006 we ran a small experiment into participatory methodology, learning and online multiplayer gaming as part of the above research project. Six learning theorists from the Knowledge Lab volunteered to play World of Warcraft, testing out (or at least exploring the applicability) of their preferred learning theories while in the virtual field. In this session three of the volunteers will report their findings.

Martin Oliver
Me, myself and I: learning to negotiate identity on a World of Warcraft role-playing server This presentation will draw on data produced for a reflective diary about playing World of Warcraft. Excerpts will be presented and analysed, to explore ways in which identities were constructed and negotiated during play. This will be used to examine Gee’s idea of the three identities that arise during play: the real, virtual and projective. I will contrast this with Wenger’s work on communities of practice, which frames identities in terms of participation in communities. Specifically, I will look at the idea of multi- membership, and the process of negotiating the tensions that arise from participating in different kinds of communities at the same time.

Martin Oliver, London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, is a Senior Lecturer and is course leader for the MA in ICT in Education. His research in gaming arose from a curiosity about how people learn to play, and was an opportunistic way of bringing his gaming and work together. He is an editor of ALT-J: the journal of research in learning technology, and has just had a co-edited a book entitled Contemporary Perspectives in E-Learning Research.

Kevin Walker
Structures for learning in World of Warcraft
WoW contains several interesting and effective mechanisms for learning which might be applied to other domains. These include layered sets of skills and abilities, structured and compound quests, and group activities. Abilities and group activities are usually applied to combat; I will
focus on complementary skills and quests, which are used over a longer term and require more
planning and reflection.

Kevin Walker is a researcher at the LKL whose current interests include learning trails and navigation, the design of learning experiences, and games. He also designs interactive museum exhibits and multimedia software.

Andrew Burn
Thoughts on drama, play and pedagogy in relation to learning in MMORPGs

Andrew Burn is Reader in Education and New Media in the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at the Institute of Education. He teaches on the MA in Media, Culture and Communication, supervises research students, and works on funded research projects in the field of media and young people. He has co-directed games related projects including Textuality in Video-Games: Narrative, Interactivity and Role Play, AHRB, 2001-2003 and Making Games, PACCIT-LINK project, ESRC/DTI, 2003-2006, and he was a co-author of Computer Games: Text,
Narrative and Play (Carr, Buckingham, Burn and Schott, Polity, 2006)

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One Response to “Event – Computer Games: Learning, meaning and method”

  1. Gameplay/Game design Blogs « GameThing Says:

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