Reading material: Gaming as Culture

[Research] (08.07.08, 1:02 pm)

It’s odd to be writing about this, at least before I make a full reading post about the book. Currently I’m in my strange postit note phase of going through the text. Right now I’m reading a book from my school’s inter-library loan, and it’s about roleplaying and doing some cultural studies stuff around that. Good stuff, since there are very few academic publications on the subject of tabletop RPGs.

One of the essays in the book really caught my attention, though. Not because of its content, but how it was written and it seemed extremely odd. I have no objections to researchers using their personal experiences in analyzing roleplaying games. Those of us who are in the position to research RPGs are no doubt doing so because of some personal history or attachment. And, while the recounting personal experiences and analyzing them does not have the ring of sophisticated research, it can still be a very successful way to communicate and get a point across. Perhaps this is the dilemma of the sociologist: with a broader understanding of interaction, it becomes difficult to observe oneself both with critical distance and with personal closeness.

The article in question is “Social Events and Roles in Magic” by Csilla Weninger, documenting a game of Magic: The Gathering using semiotic and situational analysis. The dynamics of human interaction mediated by tabletop games is not central to my research interest in them (I’m interested in world building and how people work with simulations and systems), but this article was fascinating from the perspective of documenting personal experience. I am pleased with her article, and the way that she slices analysis of a card game into several contexts: the teaching event, the game itself, the research event, and the family event. Separating these and examining how the frame shifts from interaction to interaction is very important. The game in question was played with her husband as an odd hybrid of a research cross leisure activity. This is the sort of event that I can imagine myself being a part of, especially with the odd conflicting dilemmas regarding what to do or think about from moment to moment.

Weninger’s article is odd, though, because there is a clear conflict between her academic and analytic tone as compared to the deeply intimate and personal interaction that she is actually describing. She does not come forward with her thoughts and intentions in the article when discussing herself, but rather attempts to interpret what they are given the evidence in the recordings. Part of this, I’m sure, is good protocol, but it seems irrepressibly awkward. I have to imagine that if I were in the situation of analyzing a game session that I was participating in or running, would have to be full of my personal thoughts and ideas taking place as relates to the game. As a reader, I think there are important observations to be made about this fascinating intersection of moments, but they are obstructed by the distance.

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