As part of the Games and Transgressive Aesthetics project we conducted a gameplay journal study which aimed to explore how players experience controversial content when playing games, and what content they find uncomfortable, thought-provocative or offensive.
For the purpose of data collection we selected following video games:
- Alien: Isolation
- Beyond: Two Souls
- This War of Mine
- Grand Theft Auto V
Information about the study was published on social media, the website of the University of Bergen and noticeboards at academic institutions in Bergen, Norway. Those who were interested in the participating registered through a link at our website and chose the game they wanted to play, as well as their preferred gaming platform.
Overall, 60 entries were received, from 16 countries. After careful consideration, ensuring differentiation, we chose 4-5 players for each game. The participants committed themselves to play the chosen game at least 2 times each week, for a period of one month, until they didn’t want to play anymore, or until they had completed the game. In addition to this, they had agreed to fill in an online journal focusing on their play experiences.
The journal prompted the participants to:
- Briefly describe what they did in the game that day.
- Describe events from that day’s gameplay that made a special impression on them.
- Describe their thoughts and emotions about these events.
Within 2 weeks of finishing the journaling, the participant was invited to a follow-up interview carried out by Kristine Jørgensen. The interview focused on the subjective experiences that players had when playing the chosen game, and aimed to provide a better understanding of computer games as a medium.
All interviews were audio-recorded, subsequently transcribed and sent to participants for approval of quotations. After the study was completed, the participants’ names were anonymised and the audio recording of the interviews were erased.
Remarks on challenges related to the data collection process
The challenges we faced during data collection, was recruiting willing research participants, encouraging those selected to update their online journals, and finally technical issues during the Skype interviews.
The positive response to the GTA project and the study in question, made selecting the right participants a greater challenge than expected. It was important for us to ensure a differentiation in gender and social backgrounds. Furthermore, we needed to be confident that person who showed the interest in participating in the study, did so for the right reasons.
Another issue was easier to predict; for different reasons some participants were unable to update their journal regularly with description of their play experience – or it plainly slipped their mind Fortunately, email reminders pointing out the importance of the research project, solved easily the issue.
Most of the follow-up interviews were conducted on Skype, and there were some problems with sound quality, making the transcription process more difficult and time consuming. To overcome this particular matter we used software to improve the sound quality. In addition to this, the interview transcription once completed by the research assistant was first verified by Kristine Jørgensen and subsequently sent to the participants themselves for final approval.
What could be done differently?
Having in mind what we know about the data collection process now, couple of things could be done differently. The process itself could be better and simplified by ensuring more diversity among participants (most of the people who took part in the GTA project were male of European background with higher education). In addition to this many participants, despite email remainders and phone calls, refused to fill in online journals right after they received the chosen game; from a time perspective it can be said that instead of spending so much time trying to convince them to fulfil their obligations, other people who showed interest in participating in the research project could be involved much faster. Finally, in order to ease and quicken the interview transcription process, software to improve the sound quality could be install before the very first Skype interviews with the study participants.