Game Research Methods

Thursday 29.8.2019

at 9.15 – 10.45

Hall: D10B (Main building)


Session coordinator: Frans Mäyrä, IASR/ITC, Tampere University

Session description:

The contemporary field of games research is wide and emphatically interdisciplinary. The subject matters that interest researchers include both aspects that are ancient, and permanent parts of games and life in general (What is play? How do we define what games are? What is unique in playful mindset and experience?) as well as novel areas that have emerged alongside digital technologies, and associated new forms of games and play. In many cases, the research methodology adopted in this field can apply tools and approaches developed to study other and earlier forms of life and culture. In some cases the unique characteristics of games require considerable modification or innovation from researchers, to properly address phenomena such as play and interaction in online game worlds, mixed reality gaming, collaborative and experimental creation of games, or transmedial and hybrid phenomena such as eSports. In this session researchers from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies highlight several alternative and complementary approaches into studying games, play, and associated phenomena.

Speakers and presentation abstracts:

Frans Mäyrä (TAU): “Emergence of Cultural Game Studies: The Role of Humanities”

There is a long, but often forgotten history of scientific and scholarly studies into games and play. Until last decades, much of this work has taken place either in the field of philosophy or anthropology. Play and games have been seen as a key element of culture (Huizinga), something that can be divided into several distinctive and mutually different basic types (Caillois) and as complex, meaningful phenomena that can be actively designed and developed into new, interesting forms (Salen & Zimmerman). The role of humanities has been central particularly in evolving conceptual and theoretical understanding about the basic character of games and play, but in recent years the humanities-based research methods such as critical and formal analyses, and different kinds of (cyber)textual analyses have become established into the game studies’ toolkit.

Sabine Harrer (TAU): “Methods of Reflective Game Design”

Research practices of reflective design and collective creativity have been around for over 40 years, under such names as participatory design (Northern Europe) and user-centred design (North America). As methods, they emphasise the role of game researchers as materially involved, embodied knowledge creator in society. In my talk, I will introduce reflective design methodology for games research in two steps. First, I introduce reflective design epistemology and discuss its implications for knowledge creation in games and games-adjacent media. The second step will be to look at methods of (1) introspective and (2) participatory game design, and their contribution to game culture studies. How does reflective design treat data construction and analysis? What perspectives on the world does research creation foster? Complementary to a humanities-based view on games, research creation challenges participants to imagine futures, and to design interventions to reflect current problems in society.

Tom Apperley (TAU): “Ethnographic Research Methods”

Digital and situated ethnographic methods have been used to examine digital game play and game cultures. Such methods are often based on participation and observation, and supported by other forms of empirical data gathering. This talk outlines the key techniques of this method and highlights some of the practical and ethical challenges of implementing this research model.

Jukka Vahlo (TAU & UTU): “Case Study in Interdisciplinary Player Studies”

As a research subject, ’game’ has manifested as an elusive one, stubbornly standing at the intersection of multiple research traditions. In academic research, investigating game cultures, player preferences and societal impacts of gaming requires a joint effort of interdisciplinary collaboration. This is especially true in research projects in which experts from different faculties come together to study common research questions. This talk is about a first-person experience of working as a project manager and a researcher in a Business Finland project together with cognitive psychologists, nursing scientists, economists, and neurologists. The talk will focus on how knowledge interests and game research methods of different research traditions may inform each other and contribute to a more extensive understanding of the phenomenon under analysis. The talk also outlines how a researcher can learn to use alternative and additional research methods by working in interdisciplinary projects, and what kind of lasting impact such a personal learning experience may have.