It is hard to believe that October is just around the corner!
I am not going to Berlin this year for the Association of Internet Researchers (boo!) but this means that I can finally attend Meaningful Play (yay!). Meaningful Play has been on my radar for years, but it usually conflicts with my AoIR travel plans. I am excited to see old friends and meet new ones in East Lansing!
While I’m there, I’ll be giving two talks. The first is about non-players, drawing on my dissertation work:
This game is not for me: Non-participation in EVE Online
When not played for profit (e.g. professional e-sports, competitive tournaments, goldfarming, etc.) digital games are typically considered to be leisure activities. This in turn usually leads to playing or not playing typically being viewed as an autonomous choice motivated by individual preferences for how one spends their time not occupied by work or domestic obligations. This idea of an unfettered choice of games and absolute freedom to play has been complicated by studies using a critical feminist lens to illustrate how social forces continue to write digital gameplay as a primarily heterosexual white masculine space outside of a very narrow definition of games deemed “acceptable” for female play (Chess, 2010; Jenson & de Castell, 2008). While a growing body of interventionist literature documents new entry points for girls and women into traditionally masculine play spaces (Gray, 2012; Jenson, Fisher, & de Castell, 2011; Kafai, 2008) or making games of their own (Fisher & Harvey, 2013; Harvey & Fisher, 2013; Harvey & Shepherd, 2016), these investigations are primarily focused on current game players.
What is less understood is how current players came to their particular game(s) of choice, and their reasons for not playing other games. Using the space-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) EVE Online as a case study and an analytical framework provided by the long history of investigations into and theorizing of barriers and constraints to participation by leisure scholars (Crawford, Jackson, & Godbey, 1991; Henderson & Gibson, 2013), I argue for the importance of accounting for non-players in the study of digital games.
Drawing on the results of a large survey where I collected the thoughts and experiences of current, former, and non-EVE Online players (n=981), in this paper I narrow my focus to an analysis of responses from survey participants who indicated they had previously heard of EVE Online but to date have not actually played this game (n=145). Through a thematic analysis of open-ended responses to the questions “How would you describe EVE Online to someone who has never played it before?” and “Why are you not playing EVE Online?” my findings indicate that many non-players are surprisingly well-informed about the mechanics and players of this MMOG. Despite indicating they have never played EVE Online, survey participants were still able to describe its objectives and gameplay in detail. Non-players also indicated that they were made to feel like the game was not “for them” as actions on the part of both the developer and current players have created a community that seems welcoming to only a very particular demographic. Furthermore I find evidence that knowing too much about EVE Online can lead to a decision not to play it, especially for respondents who do not identify as straight, white, and/or male. Rather than assuming that playing or not playing is exclusively about choice or interest, in this paper I argue that there is much to be learned by asking players about what games they do not play and their reasons for quitting or never purchasing or downloading a particular game in the first place.
In the second talk, I’m excited to revisit my MA work (exploring how romantic couples use MMOGs as part of their shared lesiure time) and some of the RA work I was involved in while I was a doctoral student.
A Matched Set: Romantic Couples Play in MMOGs
Kelly Bergstrom, Jennifer Jenson, Nicholas Taylor and Suzanne De Castell
Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) have been a fruitful venue to study social interactions ranging from small temporary groups, to larger, more permanent in-game social collectives such as guilds or clans. Much of this literature is focused on strangers becoming friends through MMOG play, yet comparatively little is known about gameplay-based interactions between pre-existing romantic couples. To address these gaps, in this paper we describe the results of two studies: (1) small qualitative investigation of the avatars made by twelve romantic couples to illustrate that collaboration is apparent from as early as the avatar-design phase of MMOG play and (2) a quantitative investigation of the in-game actions and collaborations between romantic pairings as they played the fantasy MMOG RIFT. Taken together, these two investigations add much-needed insights to the oft-overlooked play habits of collocated romantic pairs who play MMOGs as part of their shared leisure time.