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Caillois argues that we can understand the complexity of games by referring to four play forms and two types of play:. Caillois also places forms of play on a continuum from ludus , structured activities with explicit rules games , to paidia , unstructured and spontaneous activities playfulness , although in human affairs the tendency is always to turn paidia into ludus, and that established rules are also subject to the pressures of paidia.

It is this process of rule-forming and re-forming that may be used to account for the apparent instability of cultures. Like Huizinga, Caillois sees a tendency for a corruption of the values of play in modern society as well as for play to be institutionalised in the structures of society. For example agon is seen as a cultural form in sports, in an institutional form as economic competition and as a corruption in violence and trickery; Alea is seen as a cultural form in lotteries and casinos, as an institutional form in the stock market and as a corruption in superstition and astrology; mimicry is seen as cultural form in carnivals and theatre, as institutional form in uniforms and ceremonies and as corruption in forms of alienation; and ilinx is seen as cultural form in climbing and skiing, as institutional form in professionals requiring control of vertigo and as corruption in drugs and alcoholism [ citation needed ].

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. This article needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. Similarly, we might consider that play forms are subject to considerable social pressures and we might note the economic significance of leisure and media as forms of play.

Dietz investigated 33 Nintendo and Sega games, with a focus on violence as a predominant narrative, and on the portrayal of female characters. Smith et al. Brand et al. Following Frasca , it can be argued that these studies have investigated elements of representation rather than elements of simulation, and consequently, that a number of characteristics that are essential to the game play experience have been overlooked.

Juul does not include in his definition the characteristic that video games make use of specific audiovisual codes or narrative techniques. Instead he refers to aspects that are not directly observable in the audiovisual output generated by the game program. Juul acknowledges that there exist lots of games that thrive on graphical detail and on narration, but he adds to this that the use of graphical and narrative codes is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for an entertainment product to be referred to as a video game.


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Studying games, according to Juul, implies interacting with the game rules and exploring the possibilities created by these rules, in addition to studying the graphical codes or the narration that unfolds. A game has to be played in order to be understood, and playing a game implies making active choices another player or researcher would not necessarily make.

As a consequence it is not possible to grasp the meaning that is formulated in a game, without taking into account specific details of the player context. Aarseth makes a similar remark but prefers a more practical solution. He refers to the analysis of Bartle , who identifies four basic types of game players: socializers, whose main enjoyment is the social contact made possible in games; killers , who enjoy hunting down other game characters; achievers , who love competing one another; and explorers , who enjoy discovering different aspects of the virtual game world.


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Aarseth argues that, ideally, a researcher should play a game several times, each time taking another of these roles, and study what happens in the game as a function of the role that is chosen. Due to time or budget limitations it may not always be possible to play a game for several times. In such cases it will be very important that the researcher develops an awareness of alternative play strategies that could have been chosen by other researchers or players. Aarseth makes a plea for complementing the analysis of a video game with the analysis of secondary resources, such as press reviews or player accounts, as a means to diminish the interpretational bias that is caused by the personal preferences and motivations a researcher necessarily brings along into a game.

In addition to this, Aarseth points out that different players, and consequently, different researchers can become involved in a game at different levels of expertise. He distinguishes four strata of engagement: superficial play, where the researcher plays a game for a few minutes; partial completion, where a few sub missions are finished; repeated play and expert play, where a part of a game is repeatedly being completed at different levels of difficulty and mastery.

Dependent on the specific needs of analysis, each type of engagement can prove useful. Whereas it may be sufficient to play a game superficially when one attempts to make a quick classification of a wide range of games, repeated play or expert play will be needed when one attempts to make a structural analysis of the processes of meaning creation in a specific game or genre.

For more than 50 years already, the technique of qualitative content analysis has been considered a valuable alternative for, or addition to the positivist method of quantitative content analysis. Kracauer argued that, in order to understand the meaning of a media message in its full depth and richness, it is not sufficient to study the manifest content that is communicated. As the latent content of a message cannot be analyzed in terms of a strict, quantitative coding scheme, it should be discovered, and its meaning should be explained, described or made plausible, rather than quantified.

Within a first line of thought, the argument is made that the value of a qualitative study should be assessed by applying measures comparable to the notions of validity, reliability or generalizability that are used in quantitative research. Mayring , for example, emphasizes that qualitative content analysis essentially is and should be a systematic technique, and distinguishes a number of coding procedures that live up to this requirement.

More specific, he identifies three coding techniques that make it possible to systematically extract general tendencies from a text: inductive category formation, explicating content analysis and structuring content analysis. Although these procedures serve different purposes and, accordingly, imply different types of analysis, each of these techniques suggests that the researcher begins with a fixed, predefined analysis scheme, and that this analysis scheme is strictly applied throughout the investigation.

Within a second line of thought, it is also recognized that qualitative research requires quality notions that are similar to those of quantitative research, but an attempt is made to define these notions in a way that is closer to the praxis of doing field research. The relationship of respect a researcher has with the text or respondents that are analyzed is considered an important criterion as well. The argument is made that, while reporting the results of a qualitative study, a researcher should be very open and transparent about the interpretive role that was taken.

A few authors have made the attempt to apply the principles of qualitative content analysis to the domain of video game studies. Fabricatore et al. Combining a grounded theory approach with a user-centered approach that is rooted in usability research, a set of guidelines was elaborated for the development of games that have a high degree of playability. Within their scheme the content of an electronic game is split up in the following components: object inventory, interface study, interaction map and gameplay log. Konzack addresses the issue from a structural point of view and makes a distinction between 7 content categories: hardware, program code, functionality, game play, meaning, referentiality, and socio-culture.

Although within this study a similar effort is made, nevertheless a different perspective was chosen -that of media effect theory- and different methodological choices were made. The procedures that will be described in the remainder of this chapter should not be seen as a form of criticism, but rather, as a complement to the procedures used by the authors mentioned above. In the paragraphs that follow, the methods will be described that were used in 3 subsequent stages of the investigation: constructing a scheme for analysis, selecting games for analysis and training the coders.

In the first stage of the investigation, an analysis scheme was constructed that takes into account representational as well as rule-based elements. Whereas the representational component was modeled on the framework used in the studies by Brand et al. Juul identifies 3 constituents of the structure of a video game: the material , containing all textual, graphical and audio files that are included in the game software; the program , consisting of the algorithms that combine the material into an interactive experience; and the output , which is the audiovisual result of the calculations performed within the computer or games console.

Aarseth provides a more detailed elaboration of this general structure, in his model of the internal structure of a generalized, role playing cybertext. Based on the authors mentioned above, a general scheme for analysis was developed, structured around 7 topics of interest: audiovisual style, narration, complexity of controls, game goals, character and object structure, balance between user input and pre-programmed rules, and spatial properties of the game world. Each topic is briefly discussed in table 1. Table 1.

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The scheme for analysis and its topics of interest Elements of representation Audiovisual style Within this category, the audio-visual elements of the user interface are described. With respect to violent activity, this study will focus on graphical explicitness and level of graphical detail, in addition to the filmic atmosphere that is created. Narration Within this category the narrative is studied. Within this study there is a focus on the moral justifications that are given to violent behaviour, on the importance of action scenes in the narration that unfolds, and on the demographics of the perpetrators and victims of violent behaviour.

Elements of simulation Complexity of controls Within this section the mental and physical efforts are analyzed that are required of a player in order to successfully and efficiently interact with the game program. Included here are the commands a player disposes of, and the out-of-game information that is given about the goals and missions of the game. Game goals Generally three main types of game play are identified: competitive play, explorative play and narrative play e.

Edwards, Within this study, the question will be posed of how much importance is given to a competitive, adrenaline-driven game play, and to what degree other modes of play are also included. Character and object structure Within this section, there is a focus on the character and object systems that have been elaborated.

More specific, the complexity of these systems is investigated, as well as the ideology that is hidden in the rewards a player is given. Balance between user input and pre-programmed rules This section addresses the issue of how much freedom of action players are granted, or in other words, to what degree players are obliged to follow a pre-programmed sequence of events, and to what degree they have the liberty to exercise an influence on the action that takes place.

Spatial properties of the game world. Within this section, characteristics of the world map s are investigated. With respect to violent activity there is a focus on the fighting styles that are stimulated in the geography of a game, and on the realism of the environments that constitute the game world.

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Whereas the methodological purpose of this study was reflected in the identification of a set of general content categories, the theoretical goal of this study was reflected in the specific points of attention that were chosen within these categories. It might be interesting for other researchers to take into account the same or similar content categories as was done by a.

On the other hand, within these general categories, other researchers might find it more interesting to emphasize other elements of game content, dependent on their specific research needs. Scholars who are investigating the portrayal of gender roles, for example, might rather be interested in the different combat possibilities female and male characters have, or in the degree to which narrative play is included. Similarly, researchers who are interested in the depiction of World War II, might rather be interested in the accuracy with which the weaponry and fighting tactics of that period are simulated, than in the ideology of the reward system.

After the development of the scheme for analysis was finished, a number of game titles was selected. Two criterions were used in order to include a game in the selection: relevance and diversity. As for relevance , given the focus of this study on violent activity, it was chosen to only include games that have been labeled as appropriate for a mature audience. It was decided to select a number of games that were dominating the charts of that period e. Half-Life, Carmageddon II. Since it was one of the main goals of this study to compare the different shapes of violent activity, another criterion for selecting game titles was diversity.

When making a selection of online shooting games, for example, it was decided to include a tactical game Urban Terror , as well as an action-centered game Quake3: Arena. It was also attempted to have a representative of different genres. Not only different narrative themes such as the mafia, science fiction, World War II and terrorism were included, but also different game play mechanisms such as first person shooting, third person shooting, fighting, car driving, narrative play and online competition.

The process of selecting game titles did not prove significantly more complicated than the process of selecting television programs or film titles would have been in a classical content analysis. Some more serious difficulties arose when a decision was made about what it practically meant that a game was included in the selection, and would be analyzed according to the analysis scheme that was developed. Juul, Juul coins the term irreducibility in order to describe this methodological difficulty: Although the rules of a game system provide a specification of the actions that are possible, the activity that takes place can never be reduced to these rules only.

Within the context of this study, a number of practical difficulties were encountered that are -directly or indirectly- related to the characteristic of irreducibility. The most important of these issues are now discussed: game modules; modifications, conversions and add-ons; and hardware-software relationships. In the software of most contemporary video games, different modules are included, each module offering a more or less radical alteration of the basic game rules.

The most common example is the use of different levels of difficulty. In the sample that was used for this study, in a number of games these differences were mainly a matter of quantity, i. In some games, an extra level of difficulty is included where the player is offered different missions and an extra storyline e.

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In many of the games that were analyzed not only various levels of difficulty have been included, but also different modes of play. Another recent phenomenon is the inclusion of modifications and add-ons to the source code of a game. The existence of these add-ons makes it very difficult to determine under what conditions a modification should be considered a distinct software product and thus worthy of a separate analysis , and under what circumstances a modification should be considered a mere variation to the source game and thus be analyzed as a level or location in an existing game.

A last aspect that complicates the process of selecting games concerns the fact that the software of a video game is strongly dependent on the hardware it is intended to be played on. Different versions exist of most games, each version designed to be played on a specific platform. Related to this is the existence of different versions of a game in different countries or markets. These three aspects taken together result in the difficulty that it is practically impossible to provide a specification of all features that are part of a game. For reasons of methodological transparency it is very important for a researcher to point out what versions and modules of a title have been included in the analysis, as well as what versions and modules have been excluded.

As was demonstrated in this short overview, the differences between separate modules can be limited to graphical detail, but it can also concern aspects such as artificial intelligence, the virtual locations that are used, or the goals a player has to accomplish. Because most of these aspects have been given a central role in the scheme for analysis that was developed, during this phase a number of choices were made that would exercise a large influence in the further course of the investigation. The most important of these choices are now discussed:.

Game platform. Of each game not only the title and the name of the developer are specified, but also the year of release and the platform it was released for see above. Flemish release. Unlike other countries such as Germany or Greece, the regulations concerning video game content that are applied in Flanders are not significantly stricter than those applied in most other European countries. Of the other games, the multiplayer modes have not been included in the analysis. All single player games were analyzed in narrative mode. Missions and maps.

In the online shooting games that were selected, it was chosen to restrict the analysis to a number of competitions and maps from the first official release. Level of difficulty. In narrative games, it was chosen to restrict the analysis to the second-hardest level of difficulty, because in the hardest level often some a-typical game play elements are included, and because in the less difficult levels often a lot of features are not elaborated with as much detail. As was the case in the previous step, these choices were directly dictated by the theoretical research goal: to perform an analysis that bears relevance in theory and debate on the effects of playing violent video games.

It was not a specific goal to provide a structural analysis of all features that are part of these games, but rather to provide a set of content descriptors that allow making a theoretical distinction between different presentations and simulations of violent behaviour. Therefore, it was chosen to focus on the most common and typical modules, and to attribute only secondary importance to the specific characteristics that are included in separate modes and versions.

Once again: other researchers, with different theoretical concerns might have made a different choice in order to overcome this methodological difficulty. In traditional media studies there is a lot of debate on the fact that a researcher necessarily has to make an interpretation of the text that is being analyzed, which has resulted in the development of several research paradigms, such as the etnomethodological approach, the neopositivist approach or a variety of left-critical approaches e. Flick et al. In the domain of video game studies, this debate has been taken one step further, as the researcher is not only required to make an interpretation of what is visible on the screen, but is also required to make an active contribution to the text that unfolds.

The reason for this was mainly practical, and motivated by the fact that the research question was formulated with respect to the fixed rules of the game program, rather than to the discourses that are created during game play. The most important of these measures are now briefly discussed.

The sample of games was analyzed within the context of a seminar course on popular culture. In addition, three games were analyzed by the supervisor of the course.

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This resulted in a total of 22 game analyses being carried out. Each of the 11 games in the sample was analyzed by two different coders. In the first weeks of the investigation the coders were demanded to play the selected games for 10 to 15 hours. During this initial period, they were given as few instructions as possible, in order to have them follow their own motivations, intuitions and preferred play tactics.

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Only after two weeks of playing, they were demanded to reflect on possible alternative strategies, and to consult a number of secondary resources on the game, such as walkthroughs, reviews and discussion boards. They were then instructed to re-play a number of levels, and try to explore different sides of the game, as well as to experiment with alternative styles of playing. Having had previous experiences with fighting and shooting games was explicitly stated as a requirement for students who wanted to participate in the seminar.

As such, most coders were already familiar with the game that had been assigned. Only two students reported having needed several hours of training before they felt capable to play the game they were allocated at a reasonably competitive level. On the other hand, only one coder claimed to have already had hours of experience with his game.

Within the terminology of Aarseth , it can be argued that most games were played repeatedly but not by experts. The coders were instructed to, during the time spent playing, frequently pause the game and to make notes about the play experience they had had. It was demanded to structure these notes around the categories constituting the scheme for analysis.

After four weeks of playing and making notes, all coders wrote down a first analysis report, wherein the most important observations were summarized, once again structured along the categories constituting the scheme for analysis. Each coder then presented this report to the other coders among whom one had been analyzing the same game. Each presentation was followed by a discussion session, where the other coders could comment on the play tactics that had been used, as well as suggest a number of alternative styles of play.

After these discussion sessions were finished, the coders were one last time instructed to re-play the game or the levels that had already been played for a few hours, and to take into account the suggestions that had been given by the other coders. Based on the notes that were made during these final play sessions, the initial reports were changed, and the final analysis reports were written. In short, analyzing the games entailed three stages of playing and making notes. During each stage, the coders were trying to discover different sides of the game program.

Within their final report, the coders were demanded to reflect on the differences between the play experience they had had during the first hours of playing when they were merely following their own preferences and during the final play sessions when they were instructed to take into account different possible play styles and tactics.

It is remarkable, on the one hand, that only one coder did find it necessary to change the general conclusions of his report, based on the discussion sessions that were held and on the different styles of playing that were used later on. On the other hand, with respect to specific parts of the game program, every coder made some significant changes to the initial report, as a consequence of the observations made during later play sessions.

These changes ranged from the identification of more advanced features of enemy artificial intelligence, to the discovery of locations, storylines and characters that had not been met before. Unlike the studies mentioned above, the primary goal of this study was not to provide an inventory of the variety of all possible mechanisms of video game play, in order to generate a better understanding of the codes that constitute the video game as a medium. The purpose of this study was to forward a number of content descriptors that can be used in upcoming research on the effects of playing violent video games.

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Within each of the categories outlined in the scheme for analysis it was possible to elaborate a number of detailed comparisons between the games that were analyzed. Rather than to present the results of the analysis as an extensive enumeration of a wide range of comparisons and classifications, it was chosen to summarize the most important findings based on their relevance in the context of media effect theory. Three topics of relevance have been chosen as a framework around which the presentation of the results is structured: the pace of violent activity, the complexity of violent activity and the reality claim that is made.

The pace at which violent activity proceeds plays a significant role in theories on the desensitizing effect of playing violent video games - theories that consider the number of killings adolescents or children participate in while engaging in an electronic game e. Funk et al, Although the pace of a game, and accordingly, the number of injuries and deaths that occur in a given period of game play, is partly dictated by the strategies a player chooses to adopt, nevertheless certain elements of the programmed game code were found to contribute to it as well. The following content aspects were considered relevant within this respect: virtual locations, artificial intelligence, and narration.

The use of virtual locations. Whereas in the first game, a slower pace of activity is stimulated by the use of realistic environments that offer lots of tactical possibilities, in the second game, a fast, adrenaline-driven play style is stimulated by the use of simple, arena-like geographical conditions. The artificial intelligence of NPCs. In this respect, multiplayer games were generally found to require more caution and anticipation than single player games.

Within games that thrive on a strict and linear narration e. Within our sample of games, at least two content elements were identified as contributors to the cognitive effort that is required of the player:. The complexity of the controls. Within several games the player is offered a wide range of possible moves and instructions, which results in a relatively long initial period of practicing and training before one has reached a minimal amount of skill or expertise. The complexity of the character and object systems.

In most discussions on the hazardous effects of playing violent games, specific game titles have been criticized for morally rewarding and stimulating the use of violence in a realistic environment e. With respect to both realism and the justifications that are given for performing an act of violence, a number of important differences were observed within our sample of games. In the context of the reality claim that is made, a number of aspects were identified as inhibitors of the verisimilitude of a game title, including humor e.

In the context of the justifications that are provided for violent behaviour, differences were observed between, on the one hand, games that maintain a strict division between right and wrong e. The analysis of the programmed text of a selection of mature-rated video games according to the principles of ludology brought along a number of methodological difficulties that have not been documented in traditional works on content analysis or text analysis e. Titscher et al. It was therefore chosen to structure this paper around the different phases in which the analysis took place, and to provide a detailed description of the most important methodological difficulties that were encountered within each phase.