Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Arguing for an Immersive Method: Reflexive Meaning-Making, the Visible Researcher, and Moral Responses to Gameplay

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Arguing for an Immersive Method: Reflexive Meaning-Making, the Visible Researcher, and Moral Responses to Gameplay

Article excerpt

A number of researchers of videogames have posited that the main difficulty facing games scholars is not why we should study them, but how (Mäyrä, 2008: p.2-3; Buckingham, 2008: p.1). Application of theories from other disciplines is both useful and insightful, but many debates within the field have centred on whether this approach is sufficient in and of itself. As videogames are demonstrably both visual and audial, as well as, at least in part, structured around narrative, it would seem that videogame researchers cannot ignore the scholarship which exists in fields such as media studies, literature studies, and sociology. Beyond this evaluation, however, the videogame must be recognised as a medium distinct from literature and film due to the rules which define and restrict interactive play. As these rules impact upon other elements of the game (such as narrative), the rule set which governs gameplay must therefore be analysed alongside the other visual, audial, temporal, social, and experiential elements of a game in order to give a fair and full analysis.

If we consider both the significant expenditure of time and effort needed to play videogames, it seems a commonsensical view that they have the potential for significant cultural and social impact on players. While this view needs to be investigated and supported, especially as it is a background assumption for the moral panic which has fuelled media debates around the effects of violent games (see for example Pow, 2012; Daily Mail, 2012), it is nevertheless useful to consider the interactions and perceived engagements which form the basis of gaming praxis and which have led people to make these assumptions. For many narrative-led AAA ("triple A") games (which are the focus of my research) in order to play the game to completion, whether simply beating the game or actually aiming for a 100% achievement rating, the time spent immersed in the gameworld often totals tens if not hundreds of hours.2 This time is not spent on a passive process; not only because videogames require active involvement on some level in order to function and progress, but also because there is a necessary process of "internalising" the controls and active problem-solving involved. To "beat" a game, therefore, some level of involvement, both physical and psychic, on the part of the player is necessary. I propose that in order to better understand and theorise this process of engagement, one method which enables us to get critical purchase on this relationship is to practise it as a subject. To this end, this article's argument is fourfold: firstly, it situates and negotiates the tensions surrounding the major debates, discussions and analyses in the study of immersion, both within gaming and in wider contexts; secondly, it argues for the inclusion of a participatory immersive method to be undertaken by the researcher when analysing media (especially interactive media such as video games); thirdly, it outlines the way in which this method could be implemented by researchers, and finally, it draws on examples from my own research journal to illustrate how an immersive method can yield interesting results whilst also detailing some of the practical issues I faced when utilising this method in my research.

This article proposes that an immersive participatory analysis whereby researchers openly and visibly research videogames through play could be a useful tool which enables them to potentially gain insight and get critical purchase on elements of both the game and experience of play which other methods of visual analysis, on their own, do not address. I believe it is a valid mode of analysis due to the interactive nature of videogames. It also enables the researcher to utilise their position as an "insider". This perspective is not only considered to be essential for understanding videogames by some members of the gaming community,3 but it also provides insight into the experience of gaming. …

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