The interactional ‘work’ of video game play

There’s a significant and rich body of research on video games, spanning various disciplines. It addresses a wide range of aspects of video gaming, encompassing studies of video gaming cultures, the economics of video games, player motivations, creativity and video gaming, and many more things besides.

But little of this focusses on the fine-grained ‘details’ of actual play as-it-happens: in other words, the ‘messy stuff’. Some time ago (2007–2009) we sought to remedy this in some small way by taking an ethnomethodological approach to making sense of video gaming practices (“Experts at play: Understanding skilled expertise”).

Since then, more ethnomethodological and conversation analytic (EMCA) work has been done on video games. Our paper, “Video Gaming as Practical Accomplishment: Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis and Play” (published in Topics in Cognitive Science) attempts to bring together this literature. It also seeks to do some interdisciplinary work by introducing EMCA studies of video game play to a cognitive science audience, which has, historically, often been interested in the study of games as an approach to understanding cognition (e.g., chess, which also illustrates the overlapped concern with AI).

In our paper (PDF here) we look at a number of things:

  • We present a short history of ethnomethodology and conversation analysis and (video) gaming, and a primer / intro to EMCA from this perspective.
  • We present a practical ‘tutorial’ of sorts, in order to introduce EMCA studies of video games. To do this we use a series of fragments of (video) data drawn from different EMCA studies of gaming, we look at how gaming ‘gets done’ in public internet cafes, in the home, and online. By gradually ‘zooming’ into these settings we try to cover both the stuff that happens ‘around’ video gaming and what happens on screen too.
  • We discuss a few analytic challenges to looking at video gaming in this way, and some ideas for future work.

Originally published at