Sock It To Me!
Puppets as Avatars
by Arthur Johnson & Ann McDonald
Will there be a marked difference and/or changes in behavior if we ask participants one question in the work frame and then ask another question in the play frame?
Will there be a marked difference and/or changes in behavior if we ask participants one question in the work frame and then ask another question in the play frame?
As participants in the Real Time Research (RTR) session conducted at the Games, Learning, and Society (GLS 4.0) conference in July, 2008, our group received the research cards: Methodology: Survey, Topic: Literary Media, and Theory: Behaviorism as an initial framework.
Our group was comprised of individuals of varied backgrounds: educators, designers and researchers. One group member was especially well versed in educational theory and research methods. We used the Real Time Research methodology of rapid, improvisational investigation at a conference where most were attending in a work capacity, but admittedly were present to examine what could be learned from game play to enhance learning, culture, and education.
Our group decided to explore the tensions between work and play and to test whether talking about play would elicit greater engagement on social, affective, and cognitive levels as compared to talking about work. The hypothesis was that people would respond differently when talking about work and play and that the use of a sock puppet would elicit play behaviors and greater engagement and further activate the play space.
Play theorists such as Sutton-Smith (1997) argue that work and play represent different ethos (i.e. the way that we engage with, and attribute, an activity). This distinction is particularly interesting for educators who, on the one hand, want the kind of commitment we associate with work but, on the other, also want the sense of experimentation that we associate with play. Play may impose what Gee (2003), in recalling Erikson (1963), calls a Psychosocial Moratorium (PM), where a person can take a time-out in life and retain a fluid or dynamic identity through which they are able to take risks in a less consequential environment.
Specifically, our research question was: Will there be a marked difference and/or changes in behavior if we ask participants one question in the work frame and then ask another question in the play frame?
Members of our team took on roles as puppet makers, participant wranglers, interviewers, camera operators, video editors, and coding framework designers. We conducted interviews of participants to fulfill the Survey criteria, recorded video to fulfill the Literary Media criteria, and coded observed behaviors from video interviews to fulfill the Behaviorism criteria.
We recruited conference participants to tell us about their work and play, recording the interviews with videotape. To get a sense of their work role as a benchmark, we asked them first to state what they did for work.
With participant’s head framed on camera we asked, “What do you do for work and how does it relate to games?”
We were inspired by the conference ‘swag’ as convenient and readily accessible play materials for the creation of sock puppets. Materials circulated to most conference participants included dark grey GLS 4.0 socks, round GLS avatar buttons, and white individually wrapped Life Saver candies. We added bright colored rubber bands and tape in order to create a series of sock puppets with a variety of distinctive looks.
We attempted to create a “magic circle” using sock puppets in order to create a space that would invoke playfulness and enable a play identity to emerge spontaneously. (Huizinga, 1938/1986; Caillois, 1962/2006) We offered participants a choice of puppets as avatars and provided additional materials so they could customize a puppet or use their own conference socks, eliciting a ‘ludic spirit’.
Wearing their chosen sock puppet, we then asked participants to step out of camera range and let their sock puppet become the focus of the camera and asked, “What do you like to play?”
The majority of attendees were willing participants; of the fifteen who we asked to participate, only three declined. As we were conducting interviews, people lined up to participate because our interviewees seemed to be having so much fun with the puppets. Some of the interviewees gave more than four minutes of interview as a sock puppet, exceeding even our expectations. The fact that the interviews were done in a relatively safe space of a conference setting and in public concourse may have led waiting participants to be influenced by others preceding them and engage in attempts to “outdo” previous participants.
A number of the participants integrated their own play stories with those from their sock puppet’s point of view,
“My new favorite is guitar hero, I can pick it with my little nose right here, its really fun to do and I really like my master, he’s great, come over here (kiss)”
“My favorite games to play are ones that are one-handed so I can use them.”
“I like to play anything I actually can control with my mouth, maybe, I don’t know something full body and minty fresh.”
Or offered revealing personal narratives such as, “I don’t play many games, I’m a sad, lonely person.”
The vocal shifts to more childlike or higher pitched voices when using the sock puppets suggest possible childlike assumptions about the puppets, which are thus allowed to have more playful voices and uncensored, informal, humorous responses.
We found the format for data collection was quite effective. The video record allowed us to edit together a series of interviews for playback and coding analysis by the entire RTR follow-up session. In the spirit of RTR and using each other as resources, all the RTR session participants were asked to code the behaviors observed in the video interviews using a printed coding form as part of our team’s results presentation. We provided a framework built from elements of engagement as summarized by Chapman (2003) and codified by Dubbels (2008) and asked all to code body positioning as symmetrical (non animated, stiff, not much variation in tonal quality or facial expression) versus asymmetrical (animated, varied tonal quality, relaxed, and verbose).
Due to time constraints, we did not tally all the coding results, but rather had a group discussion about the observations made during the coding process. Some observations from the RTR session were that the work responses sounded canned and terse while the play responses through the sock puppets were clearly more relaxed and humorous. In answering the standard conference question icebreaker “What do you do?” many participants struggled at first to find words to answer a question they had likely already answered several times earlier that day. In contrast, interviewees engaged and expressed themselves readily while using the sock puppets. All those talking through the sock puppet adopted a clear frame of play through voice modulation and additional narrative. Communicating through sock puppets immediately put participants at ease talking about personal issues with complete strangers. Participants worked very hard at their play and were expressive, creative and willing to take the risk of being silly.
In the ethos of work and play, play is often not regarded as a productive learning activity. One of the challenges to educators may be the predominant metaphor of learning as work. These findings reminded us of Wohlwend’s (2007) studies of teachers observing students’ learning. As teachers watched children playing, they began to see their play as directed towards and around exploration of the outcome and content manipulatives and therefore reconsidered their theories of learning as work. Observing the sock puppet videos showed that people worked very hard at their play, were willing to elaborate, be expressive, creative and take risks. As all these qualities are important to innovative work, we ask, can play be a portal to tap into more productive work?
Conclusions and Future
The creative and impromptu nature of the research project engaged the expertise of all the team members. The puppet making and video methods were more aligned with visual designer’s typical tasks and the design of the interview questions and coding methodology was more aligned with the participant’s typical tasks. The collaborative, interdisciplinary nature of the team structure and the initial conceptual framing of the research project based on the cards provided, materials at hand, and the limited timeframe allowed all group members to participate without feeling inadequate because of a lack of training in research methodologies.
The mapping between sock puppets and avatars offers some intriguing opportunities for non-digital, interactive, rapid prototyping research, using sock puppets to more deeply explore player/avatar relationships. We often think of the question of the player/avatar interface as being specific to a video-game player controlling a digital character. However, the sock puppet gets at the core theoretical questions of this complex issue without all the technical hurdles involved in the creation of game characters and arguably could result in more widely relevant findings, reminding us that play and games are not intrinsically tied to the computer.
The role of the sock puppet across multiple frames could be studied more fully by adding a control group with and without sock puppets and a reversal of the work and play framed questions answered using the puppets. Using a sock puppet to immediately elucidate a sense of play is an easily replicated process. This suggests an untapped method for encouraging reluctant participants to open up for interviews. The use of sock puppets as a research methodology suggests that simple role-playing (through conventions such as sock puppets) may be an underused method for quickly creating a ludic spirit around reflection activities.
This investigation was a collaborative effort enacted by a diverse team of researchers: Brock Dubbels, Arthur Johnson, Janet Kretschmer, Christine Lupton, and Ann McDonald. Our research was facilitated by the real time research session leaders, the generous logistics and detailed support of Seann Dikkers and the contributions of GLS 4.0 conference attendees who willingly played along on camera.
Chapman, E. (2003). Alternative approaches to assessing student engagement rates. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 8. Retrieved October 14, 2009 from http://PAREonline.net/getvn.asp?v=8&n=13.
Dubbels, Brock. (2008) Video games, reading, and transmedial comprehension. In R. E. Ferdig (Ed.) Handbook of research on effective electronic gaming in Education, (pp 251-276) Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference, IGI Global.
Erickson, Erik H. (1968) Identity: Youth and crisis. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Gee, James. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.
Huizinga, Johan. (1938/1986). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
Caillois, Roger. (1962/2006) The definition of play: The classification of games. In K. Salen & E. Zimmerman (Eds.), The game design reader: A rules of play anthology, (pp. 122-155). Cambridge MA: The MIT Press.
Pintrich, P. R., & Schunk, D. H. (1996). Motivation in Education: Theory, research, and practice. Englewood Cliffs NJ: Prentice Hall.
Sutton-Smith, B. (1997) The Ambiguity of Play. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
Wohlwend, K. E. (2007) Reading to play and playing to read: A mediated discourse analysis of early literacy apprenticeship” In D. W. Rowe, R. Jiménez, D. Compton, D. K. Dickinson, Y. Kim, K. M. Leander & V. J. Risko (Eds.), 57th Yearbook of the National Reading Conference. Chicago: National Reading Conference.
by Jason Haas
Will conference goers use a physical wiki, & what behaviors can we observe emerging by watching during conference downtime & by studying the final artifact?
Will conference goers use a physical wiki, AND what behaviors can we observe emerging by watching during conference downtime and by studying the final artifact?
The idea to create a physical “wiki” in a public space emerged very quickly from our cards. This wiki would be like a bulletin board but governed by the rules of popular wikis such as Wikipedia. Our hope was that, with the understanding that our research base was limited (GLS conference attendees), we could see some sort of “mind map” of the conference-goers, and accordingly, the field. As wikis are touted as a great loci to host “collective intelligence” and establish participatory cultures (Educause et al., 2008; Jenkins et al., 2006), we thought that the GLS conference goers could share immediately applicable information with one another. We were all very interested in observing the emergent behavior on the board, but a major question was whether to seed the wiki with topics or to simply create the wiki and leave it empty to observe the pure emergence.
Ultimately, because the time frame for the experiment was so short (less than 3 days), we seeded the wiki with a few posts as models and with encouragement for others to make similar posts. Our initial effort to set the Physiwiki up on a section of wall needed to be modified due to the conference center’s rules, so we used a bulletin board on an easel (see Figure 1). The top of the board was adorned with a playful logo and rules gleaned roughly from pre-existing Wikis. The rules were:
1. Big Posts – To start an ent ry.
Small Posts – To amend or
2. Use one consistent user
name. Put it on each entry.
3. Note the time on each entry.
4. NO removing! Crossouts only.
We provided 8.5”x11” pages for major (top-level) posts, and multicolored Post-It notes for amendments and additions. We also provided Sharpie markers to title major posts and ballpoint pens for the additional notes. The seed posts were “Kurt Squire,” “Things To Do in Madison,” and “Games and Learning.” Our hope was that the playful logo, the rules, and the seed posts would invite interaction and set a very low barrier to participation. After those were posted, we observed and took pictures at every possible opportunity, usually between sessions and at the beginning and end of the conference days. Our photographs were of the board in order to have some sense of the emergent behavior over time, as well as of conference goers pausing and grouping at the Physiwiki. Our participants thus, were self-selected. This is true not only of the most active participants (those that made posts on the Physiwiki), but also of the low level participants (“lurkers”).
None of our group members were PhD social science researchers, so our methodology for data analysis was to rely on our loose observations of the board and the area around the board. We augmented this by performing simple counts of the types of posts and performing simple codings of the post content on the final artifact. We were mostly concerned with the information brought to bear, although in some cases it was also easy to discern some attitudes of posters. Figure 1 also shows the final state of the Physiwiki.
At the end of the conference, the Physiwiki had 5 major “topic” posts, 3 of which were seed posts, and 41 smaller posts. There were 23 non-anonymous posters and 19 of those made only one post. Ten were anonymous posts. The Physiwiki seemed to be fueled by utility and fun. One important finding was that there was little response to abstract topics but concrete topics attracted attention: the “Things to Do in Madison” had the highest number of respondents and the entry on Kurt Squire (a presenter at the conference) also gathered silly/sweet commentary and inside jokes; in contrast, the Games and Learning Topic had fewer respondents. The longest conversation, however, was under that topic and was one of utility – making connections around ecology games. Many more small posts (additions and corrections) were created than new, top-level posts. The two top-level posts needed encouragement from Physiwiki staff.
While we do not have exact numbers, the Physiwiki attracted a great deal of attention, including repeat viewers. Given the number of posts we counted at the end of the conference though, it was apparent that there were many more readers/lurkers than there were contributing posters. Some would meet at the Physiwiki and start conversations about it. The RTR manager, positioned next to the Physiwiki, related a story that indicates how people responded to the Physiwiki:
“On one occasion I overheard someone being pulled over to the board by a friend. ‘Have you seen the ‘Things to do’ post over here?’ Both were from out of town and looking for a place to go to eat, but they stopped here to see if any ideas were posted since the one had been here last. Newly initiated, the second commented in awe, “This is simply the best thing I’ve ever seen at a conference.”
The RTR manager also observed that people rarely asked for their RTR stickers (the official incentive that was offered) to participate in the Physiwiki. Instead, participation appeared to be a reward in itself.
Conclusions and Next Steps
The Physiwiki’s success certainly has implications for bulletin boards at future conferences. It is difficult to know what made it successful, however. Using humor to lower the stakes may have increased participation and many conference goers found it to be a worthwhile endeavor. Our target audience (the GLS conference-goers) may have been more likely to playfully engage in new things, which probably meant they were more likely than the average audience to alter the traditional bulletin board through the metaphoric use of a technology like a wiki. But it is also possible that wiki-style conference bulletin boards could be successful with other communities if similarly pitched for a given conference.
Our research question was undoubtedly answered – conference-goers definitely used the Physiwiki. Several made posts, and many more were drawn to it for information or, at the very least, for the spectacle of it. The seed posts successfully performed their task of shaping the conversation and providing useful models; however, they also limited the conversation. And while we reduced some barriers to entry, more might have been done to scaffold new top-level posts, and to encourage even greater participation.
The conference organizers later commented that they wanted to include the Physiwiki in future GLS conferences, and it would be interesting to experiment with ways to encourage participation. What form might participation take if using a larger space or more blank top-level posts on the board, inviting others to fill them in? While the RTR stickers were generally passed over (or missed) by Physwiki participants, it would be worthwhile to find out what enticements (not undue ones, of course) could encourage lurkers to cross the threshold and become users. To drill down even further, it would be interesting to survey users and/or record in finer detail the sequence of posts and to observe readers and gawkers to determine what effects posts have on users with respect to encouraging others to participate. Further, conference goers could be asked at the end of a given conference whether the Physiwiki was a fair map of the conference. The early promise of the Physiwiki is worth improving with a series of design-based inquiries in order to yield a model information storehouse and mind map for ad hoc communities (such as conferences). Physiwiki research could even inform research into ubiquitous computing and data augmented objects, acting as a prototype for how we might successfully connect the physical, onsite collective intelligence needs of ad hoc communities to more enduring digital presences.
Jenkins, H., Purushotma, R., Clinton, K., Weigel, M., Robison, A. (2006). Confronting the Challenges of Participatry Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. Chicago, IL: The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved October, 6 2009, from http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/files/working/NMLWhitePaper.pdf
The New Media Consortium & EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2008). The Horizon Report (2008 edition). Retrieved October 6, 2009, from http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2008-Horizon-Report.pdf
of Inventory Items
in World of Warcraft
By Vance S. Martin, Lee Sherlock & Dongping Zheng
Is there a difference between lower level and higher level characters (newbies and experts) in terms of whether they held on to seemingly ”worthless” items and the reasons they gave for keeping those items?
Is there a difference between lower level and higher level characters (newbies and experts) in terms of whether they held on to
seemingly “worthless” items and the reasons they gave for keeping those items?
As part of the Games+Learning+Society (GLS) Conference 4.0 in July 2008, we took part in a Real Time Research Activity. As a team decision, we chose a set of cards made up of constructivism/situated cognition, ethnography, interview and survey, and World of Warcraft (WOW). Within this general framework, we brainstormed what topics each of us was interested in looking into. Among the five original researchers, four of us had advanced at least one character to level 70 (the maximum character level at the time of our study) in WOW. One of the authors has studied (inter)actions in the virtual worlds Second Life and Quest Atlantis for over 6 years. One topic that stood out in particular was the underlying human characteristics that keep gamers engaged, either combating or working tightly together in guilds.
The ecological psychological concept of “meaning making” and “value-realizing” in human activities appeared to be sufficient and satisfying to dissipate our puzzle (Gibson, 1979; Reed, 1996), specifically, Reed’s account of collective appropriation of affordances, Hodges and Baron’s (1992) account of values as multiple, heterarchical and dynamical constraints on actions and interactions, Hodges and Lindhiem’s (2006) account of carrying as value-realizing activity, and Hodges’ (2007) account of caring to go on in conversing. Grounding our thinking in ecological terms, we shared our experiences in WOW and virtual worlds in terms of our emotional engagement, things we carry in our packs, people we have the most interaction with, and so on. One of the members mentioned he carried a worthless item, a cracked bill, in his pack because his character’s first name was Bill. So we began to discuss what people might carry in their packs, which held personal value to them but had little functional value in the game (i.e., those items not directly related to the dominant terms of progress in WOW via gameplay, such as combat, active quest items, profession advancement, or in-game profiteering via selling to other players).
Similar to our switch from Constructivism to Ecological Psychology in the theoretical perspectives, we also modified both ethnographic and survey data
collection techniques to accommodate our real-time data collection in
the GLS 3-day conference. We had one and a half days to grab people on the fly during session breaks, at lunch and breakfast tables, and in the game room (GLS has a game room set up with any game you name for conference attendees to take action in playing). As a result, a qualitative short interview questionnaire in the form of short survey items (see Table 1) seemed to be suitable for the nature of the study and the context where research took place.
The questionnaire asked,
“In WOW, on your main character, name one object you regularly carry in your inventory that has nothing to do with advancing. It must be something useless in combat or combat support. One item only please.”
We also asked people to give their main character’s level, race, class, last login, when they got the item, and if they had ever passed on a green (uncommon) item or higher to keep it. While the question was emergent, it seemed to be focused on differences in players, their levels, and their reasons for valuing particular items.
In order to gather the data we followed several steps. Each of the five members of our group distributed surveys and asked people at the conference to either fill them out themselves or group members filled them out as they conversed with conference goers. Some surveys were left on clipboards. Participants received stickers for participating. However, gathering the information was not as straightforward as simply asking questions about a character. As Brown and Thomas (2009) have discussed, playing a character is an act of being the character, so we were touching on something personal which had often involved a large time outlay for the participants. This time outlay was evidenced by the time it took to answer the questions. Intense conversations occurred about characters, class, how items were acquired, and why they were kept. These conversations could last for fifteen minutes or more. In some cases it was deemed necessary by the participant to show the interviewer the character and item on computers provided at the conference. Thus, data collection often took the form of listening to and asking further questions about participants’ recalled stories surrounding the item’s history and context. In this sense, our study elicited what Gee (2007) calls “embodied stories” of video gaming in which experiential, emergent meaning is constructed based on in-game events.
After a day and a half of gathering data, 70 surveys were collected. The group sat down with the surveys and copied the items and reasons for keeping the items. Some items were excluded as they were skinning knives or mining picks, which actually do have a value concerning professions. Once these items were excluded we had 37 items and reasons listed out of 70 surveys. An example of an item and reason would be “I’ve been carrying this lieutenant’s insignia I got in Durotar since level 8 just in case it’s useful” or “I got this cool pet earlier in the game you remember at the end of year one.”
We anticipated that a high-level player would have fewer items with emotional ties because bag space (at the time of this writing) is at a premium at higher levels. Stories of players having to clean out and organize their bags to prepare for a raid (large group events) – or worse, forgetting to do so and having to run home to a bank – are legendary in the WOW community. However, we found that almost all players had a few items that they held onto for various non-utilitarian reasons.
We did not find any correlation in items kept or reasons for keeping them related to level or time playing the game. Overall, the reasons were highly personal; typically, the items related to a personally important event in the game or had been kept so long as to take on personal meaning. Reasons given in the survey included aesthetics (“looks awesome” or “cute”), performances of social capital (“not many people have it” or “needed reputation to get it”), humor and amusement (“funny,” “whimsical,” or “humorous visual effect”), individual or group identification (relates to character name or guild affiliation), and emotional attachment (“made the game more human” or “gives me a sense of belonging”). Additionally, 35% of survey respondents reported they would pass on a green item or higher to keep the item mentioned.
It can take 240 or more hours for a player to take a character from level 1 to 70. What we did not perhaps fully grasp at the time of the study itself was the truly personal experience we were touching on. At the time of the event itself, we speculated that we could have asked different questions or perhaps shortened the questionnaire, but did not understand what we were getting at in terms of a broader concept of valuation. Were we to have added what items do you keep in your office, bedroom, or house that you have refused to get rid of numerous times, and why do you keep them, we may have come closer to understanding the participants and their rationale for hanging onto what, by all definitions, can only be considered mementos.
Conclusions & Next Steps
Our initial research question was, “Is there a difference between higher and lower level characters in WOW and the non-functional items they keep or their reasons for doing so?” In the end, there was no correlation between level, race, or time played to show why they kept an item. Most people had a worthless item, and they all had a personal story that they loved sharing to explain why they kept it. Along similar lines, Hodges and Lindhiem’s (2006) study revealed that participants were rated more careful in carrying invisible children across uneven steps than grocery bags or trash. Discussing this result, Hodges and Lindhiem reflected that there are many variables that affect the carefulness rating. Among them, the motion movement can reveal something of the content of what is carried. Regardless of the observed differences between perceptual and behavioral critical action boundaries, social engagement is crucial. Social engagements, such as trust between a guild leader and guild members and the cooperation between the guild members, together with moral dimensions are important constraints on actions. In other words, the things that gamers carry in their inventories can have social impact and thus can possibly alter gaming behaviors in significant ways. A possible parallel application of their research findings to our current study might be to collect a larger N and replicate the study, potentially yielding findings that bear on the issue of whether or not the mementoes we carry around in-game make a difference in relation to our perception and action boundaries in individual questing or group battles. Another interesting question might be whether items that players carry can boost their avatar’s self-efficacy. In other words, will the players feel more confident, comfortable and caring in some uncomfortable situations with these items in their inventory?
Something we did not examine in this small study was the affordances an MMORPG could have for emotional attachment. Such emotional attachment may have great implications for educators as they attempt to integrate digital technologies into their instruction. How can we elicit positive feelings in learning so that it has real import? The stories told about seemingly worthless items held value for the players interviewed just as mementoes do for many in the real world.
We believe that there would be value in repeating this study with small samples; however, there should be some revision. As mentioned above there did not seem to be a correlation with race, character class, or time played in the attachment to an item, so it appears following those hypotheses would yield little knowledge. However, perhaps asking about an item and its importance in the game as well as in the real world may create a clearer understanding of how people view their online versus real life (social) encounters and whether they perceive a difference in value between the two. It might be revealing to report cases of how high-level players perceive their longest carried items as opposed to lower level players. The aim of understanding how novice players become experts in the spirit of legitimate peripheral participation may shed light on how we scaffold novice learners in communities of practice in educational settings (Lave & Wenger, 1991)
Age or generation might be one important factor to consider in such future investigations, however. As Angela Thomas (2007) has touched on, younger people see little delineation between online and real world encounters. Thus, including age as a variable would help further interrogate the possible connections between “real” and virtual systems of value and meaning making.
This study is a collaborative effort and the order of authorship is alphabetical. We would also like to thank William Chamberlain and Lisa Nakamura’s participation in the initial research, design, and data collection.
Brown J. S. & Thomas, D. (2009). Why virtual worlds can matter. International Journal of Media and Learning, 1.
Gee, J. P. (2007). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Hodges, B. H. (2007). Good prospects: Ecological and social perspectives on conforming, creating, and caring in conversation. Language Sciences. 29, 584–604.
Hodges, B.H., & Baron, R.M. (1992).Values as constraints on affordances: Perceiving and acting properly. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 22, 263–294.
Hodges, B. H., & Lindhiem, O. (2006). Carrying babies and groceries: The effect of moral and social weight on caring. Ecological Psychology, 16, 93–111.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Reed, E. S. (1996). Encountering the world: Toward an ecological psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Thomas, A. (2007). Youth Online: Identity and Literacy in the Digital Age. New York, Peter Lang.
Main Character Level
When was the last time you logged on?
# in Days [estimate]
In WOW, on your main character, name one object you regularly carry in your inventory that has nothing to do with advancing. It must be something useless in combat or combat support. One item only please.
Why do you like the object?
Any length response, use back if you like.
At what level did you get it?
Have you ever passed up a green item [or higher] to keep it?
Yes or No
by Vinod Srinivasan
Can “participatory mapping” serve as a
useful research methodology?
Can ‘participatory mapping’ serve as a useful research methodology?
The goal of this unique project was to come up with a research question and devise an experiment to address that question. The primary constraint was that the experiment had to be carried out during the remaining one and half days of the conference among conference attendees. Each group was also randomly given several keywords to use as the drivers to formulate the research question and the experiment.
For our experiment, we wanted to incorporate the idea of participatory mapping as a research methodology. Participatory mapping is a practice whereby participants map ideas of concern to them. The goal is to enable ordinary people to have a say in how spaces and resources around them are utilized. As a research method, this is interesting since the underlying social values run counter to the tradition of positivist research. The balance of power is shifted from professionals and experts who have dominated media discourse on various topics to those who have a more direct relationship with those topics (the “participants”). Although in this particular instance, the participants (conference attendees) were already in a position of power, the study had the potential to serve as an example that could be replicated in other contexts.
The subject of our research was World of Warcraft (WoW), the popular massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) that has been the subject of several academic studies. Given the primary themes of the conference (games and learning) we decided to poll conference attendees on what they thought World of Warcraft taught. While this was the primary goal of our experiment, the larger goal was to investigate whether the methodology had use as a research tool in this context.
In order to minimize the barriers to participation and encourage active engagement, we devised a two-phased approach in which participants would come up with individual responses in the first phase and then deliberate on those responses collectively in the second phase. In Phase 1, conference attendees were asked to come up with a word to complete the phase ‘I believe WoW teaches [blank]’. Participants wrote their responses on Post-it notes and put them up on a public board. Post-it notes of two colors were used to represent those who had played WoW before and those who hadn’t. In Phase 2, the sentence was changed to ‘We believe WoW teaches [blank]’. The notes
collected from Phase 1 were randomly laid out on a board along a horizontal axis indicating the level of agreement of the participant with the choice of word to complete the new sentence. Each participant was allowed to move only one note. No distinction was made in Phase 2 between WoW players and non-players.
At the end of Phase 2, the layout of the notes was analyzed to determine if there was consensus among conference participants on the choice of words. The words themselves were also analyzed to determine if there was any difference in perception between those who had played WoW and those who had not.
Our first finding was that there was an implementation problem in Phase 1. Our original goal was to restrict participant responses to single words rather than long phrases or sentences. We also wanted to keep the responses private until Phase 2. However, our instructions to participants and volunteers were not completely clear. Some participants gave multiple responses on the same note and the responses were also made public from the beginning. We made modifications to clarify our instructions, but allowed all responses to remain public.
The public nature of the responses led some attendees to pass on participating if they saw an existing response that they agreed with. It also encouraged people to gather around the board, acting as an interface encouraging participants to engage in discussion and debate.
Although the response rate in Phase 1 was very good (in terms of number of notes), we saw less participation in Phase 2, making us wonder if there was less interest, less obligation and/or participants did not see Phase 2 as a separate part of the experiment that needed everyone to contribute, even if for the second time. For those that did participate in Phase 2, observers noted that the instruction to ‘move one note per person’ made them ‘serious’, causing them to deliberate their choice carefully.
Analyzing the notes themselves, we noticed that WoW players were more opinionated in their responses and chose words like “aggression” and “obsession” to complete the sentence in Phase 1. Non-players chose words like “leadership”, indicating that they may be basing their opinions on previous WoW studies that they were aware of. Interestingly, in Phase 2, the two categories of words clustered in entirely different ways. Words chosen by WoW players tended to move towards the “disagree” side of the axis, while those chosen by non-players tended to hover around the neutral zone. This would indicate that WoW players’ perception of the educational content in the game is at variance with the perception of the larger community.
Conclusions & Next Steps
The fact that the participant responses were public in Phase 1 appears to have had an impact on the study. It clearly influenced the decision of some attendees to not participate in Phase 1. It could have also led to participants giving a response that was not their first choice, if their first choice was already represented on the board. Thus, keeping the responses private could also have led to a smaller range of words to work with for the second phase. In Phase 2, rather than a random distribution, the notes could have been placed in a “neutral” zone at the start. Apart from providing a ‘cleaner’ layout for participants to work with, this could have led to more defined clusters in the final distribution. It would also have eliminated the effect of any ‘inertia’ that may have prevented participants from moving a note that was already in the general area of where they thought it should be.
Overall, the study as conducted did give us interesting results as noted above. We concluded that our research method appears to be a good one to get collective opinion at a venue like a conference. However, effective implementation requires proper monitoring of the data collection and enforcement of constraints imposed on participants. In order to scale this experiment to a larger group, additional data collection stations would probably be needed. To improve the validity of the findings, additional steps would be required to ensure that the same person does not participate more than once in each phase. Further work on the method would be needed but would also be worth the exploration.
I’d like to thank to Colleen Macklin, Ben Stokes, Shawna Kelly and Tim Burke who were my partners in this project. Colleen and Ben also made contributions to the initial version of this paper.