New book chapter – Learning from non-players

I’m very pleased to be part of the latest addition to the Barbie & Mortal Kombat series! Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: Intersectional Perspectives and Inclusive Designs in Gaming. This collection was edited by Yasmin B. Kafai, Gabriela T. Richard, and Brendesha M. Tynes and has recently been published by ETC Press.

You can purchase a print or ebook copy here. But thanks to the awesome folks at ETC Press (and of course, the editors for pushing to make it happen) a creative commons digital copy is available for free.

My contribution to the book comes from my dissertation work about EVE Online, focusing  on what we can learn from asking non-players about a game they have chosen not to play. I like this chapter because it gives a “lite” version of the literature I used to ground my dissertation (leisure studies and the study of non/participation) and gives a taste of the rich qualitative data I was drawing from. Here is a direct link to my chapter, but you should really check out the entire book!

Upcoming talks

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
Kelly Bergstrom

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. 

What can we learn from abandoned avatars?

Keeping in line with my interest in quitting and non/participation in games, I’m happy to share this new paper I wrote with Suzanne de Castell and Jennifer Jenson. Here we went back to look at an old dataset of avatars created for VERUS. Due to the nature of the study design, these avatars will never be played again by the people who created them. We argue that there is still a wealth of information that can be gleaned from these avatars, even if they have been shelved.

I will be presenting this paper later this summer in Scotland, and eventually it will appear in the Digital Games Research Library.

Digital Detritus: What Can We Learn From Abandoned Massively Multiplayer Online Game Avatars?

ABSTRACT: Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) player data has been used to investigate a variety of questions, ranging from the sociality of small groups, to patterns of economic decision making modeled across entire game servers. To date, MMOG player research has primarily drawn on data (e.g. server-side logs, observational data) collected while players (and their avatars) were actively participating in the gameworld under investigation. MMOGs are persistent worlds where avatars are held in stasis when the player logs out of the game, and this is a feature that allows players to return after an extended absence to “pick up where they left off”. In this paper we explore the sorts of information that can be gleaned by examining avatars after their creators have played them for the last time. Our preliminary findings are that “abandoned” avatars still contain a wealth of information about the people who created them, opening up new possibilities for the study of players and decision making in MMOGs.

EVE is Real, Revisited

A revised version of the paper I co-wrote with 3 other EVE scholars for last year’s DiGRA has been published as part of the latest issue of Well Played.

“EVE is Real: How conceptions of the ‘real’ affect and reflect an online game community” is open access and can be downloaded with the rest of the issue here.

The EVE book has landed!

I had a package waiting for me yesterday… I was surprised to discover it was my author copy of Internet Spaceships are Serious Business! I must say, it is a very pretty book… and it is full of very interesting essays! 😀

I’ve been told our pre-order game has been very strong. Amazon is quoting a release date of March 23, but according to the press’ website it is available now.  Huzzah!

CGSA Reviewing guidelines

In 2009 I was still fairly new to academia. I had collected all the data for my MA thesis and was in the process of analyzing and writing it up. Somehow I stumbled across the CFP for the Canadian Game Studies Association. I wrote an abstract and was accepted (yay!). This would end up being my second conference ever, and it was really intimidating. But once I found the room, Suzanne de Castell was there at the registration table and welcomed me. Everyone I met at the conference was warm, welcoming, and generous with their feedback.  After I gave my presentation, Suzanne asked if I was planning to do a PhD. Well it was more of a “you ARE going to do a PhD”, but anyway…

I went on to finish my MA and then a PhD. And I also became part of the CGSA conference committee.

One of the best parts of being a conference coordinator for the Canadian Game Studies Association is that I’ve had a chance to meet new members and welcome them to our annual conference. This year is our largest year ever (and I’m happy to say that I get to say that EVERY year). We have grown so much that we have had to also grow our reviewer pool. This means that we had to sit down and actually put CGSA’s philosophy down on paper. Since I get a lot of hits to my website looking for CGSA information, I thought I should share our reviewer guidelines. We may do things a bit differently than other organizations, but I’ll always be proud to call CGSA one of my scholarly homes.

CGSA Guidelines for Reviewers

Thank you for agreeing to review for this year’s CGSA conference!

As you are probably well aware, CGSA operates a bit differently then other scholarly organizations. Our mandate is to provide a space (in Canada!) for emerging and established scholars to discuss their research and theories about games (digital and non-digital). Underpinning this is the idea of radical inclusivity.

We ask reviewers to evaluate with a sense of generosity. If you feel like an abstract is underdeveloped or weak in any way, we ask you to provide at least 2-3 actionable items that the author can do to make their next abstract stronger. These can be things such as:

  • Pointing them towards literature that they may have overlooked;
  • A suggestion for how to rephrase their thesis/argument statement to make it clearer;
  • Style improvements (e.g. a more descriptive title);
  • Theoretical frameworks they might find valuable;
  • Anything else you feel the author might find helpful.

Feminist War Games?

Some of the lovely folks associated with the Canadian Game Studies Association and ReFig are hosting a game jam next weekend. Their call for participants asks:

Can a feminist war game exist? War, traditionally the sole purview of men, is an essential site for asking critical questions about masculinist systems, objectifying economies and mediated representations, especially since subjects, objects and agents are all instruments within the ideological narratives that frame the brutal history of armed conflict. Simply including female “warrior” characters in a war game, for example, continues to normalize the mechanism of war while extending its “inclusiveness” to groups that have traditionally been marginalized and victimized by it. However, prototyping complex intersections between mechanisms of war, digital game narrativities, and inclusive feminist values suggests that feminist discourses can be used to denaturalize and reframe narratives of war in spaces of programmed play.

More information can be found here. And there is a video version of the call for participants here.

The EVE book has (almost) landed!

Internet Spaceships Are Serious Business Ready for Pre-Order

At the FDG conference in Raleigh, NC, I met two other PhD students: Marcus Carter and Darryl Woodford. We were all writing about EVE Online, but up until that point in time had not ever met anyone else working on this particular MMOG. On a lunch break we first hatched our plan to write a book. First, we hosted a workshop at the FDG in Greece, then another at DiGRA Atlanta. So many other EVE scholars came forward and we realized that many people had a lot to things to say about internet spaceships.  We wrote a book proposal. Sitting in a brewery in Salt Lake City before heading up the mountain for DiGRA Snowbird, I got the email from University of Minnesota Press that the reviews were positive and they wanted to move forward with publication. And now here we are, with a March 2016 expected release date. This book has been a long time coming, and I’m so excited that it is almost here.