I’ve been active doing video game related things this summer and thought it was finally time to sit down and share. I’ll be breaking this up into multiple post, so stay tuned for most posts in the near future.
This July I had the opportunity to conduct archival research at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, as part of the Strong Research Fellowship. For those unaware of the this impressive museum, The Strong is the largest museum dedicated to the act of play in the world and boasts multiple exhibits dedicated to video games and gaming. I was thoroughly impressed by the range of exhibits the museum offered, both those pertaining to video games and those more centered more broadly around the history of play. In particular, the Strong had an excellent exhibit on the history of Women in Games that was expansive and nuanced. With the Strong having broken ground in 2018 on a major expansion aimed to open in 2021 that will include a World Video Game Hall of Fame gallery and other immersive video game related exhibits, the future for the museum as a global archive and educator of play is bright.
As a part of the fellowship, I had access to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games’s impressive collection of documents, artifacts, and digital records pertaining to play. I came in interested in studying software and hardware cloning in the early history of video games (1972-1995), a subject that I have developed a fascination for this past year. Through the ICHEG’s archives, I was able to to play and see some devices that have become increasingly rare to find in working order, as well as diving into documents of gaming past that inform our current community. I’ll have more to share via the Strong’s Play Stuff Blog about the specific of my research findings in the near future, but I can’t express how grateful I am to have received the opportunity to do this form of archival research by the staff at the Strong.
My next post will share some pictures and experiences from the Higher Education Video Game Alliance’s (HEVGA) first Summer School that took place in Skövde, Sweden.
I’ll be presenting my research “No Skin=No Skill: Reproduction of Toxic Masculinity and Capitalist Hierarchy in Free-To-Play Battle Royale Video Games” at the Pacific Sociological Association’s annual conference on March 29th in Oakland, CA. I’m excited to meet with other sociologists and for the discussion the panel I’m presenting on creates around video game’s place as an area of sociological inquiry.
I’ll also be presenting this research in April at the Southern Sociological Society’s annual conference in Atlanta, GA. More details about that presentation to come.
I had the opportunity to participate in Accessible Media Inc.’s documentary Gaming Blind, a documentary that explores blind and partially sighted accessibility in the video game industry.
“After losing her sight, Shelby Travers thought video games were a part of her past. Join her as she discovers how accessible gaming is to the blind and partially sighted community today, picking up a controller for the first time in 10 years.”
You can see a trailer for the documentary here:
but you can also watch the entire documentary, including the interview with me, right here: Gaming Blind
I had the pleasure of talking with Shelby and we discussed the changing demographics of the video game industry, as well as how developers are attempting to reach a more inclusive audience. The documentary does a great job of evaluating issues that blind and partially sighted gamers face, and speaks with prominent industry professionals about how these issues may be faced.
Thanks to Shelby Travers and everyone at AMI-CA for developing this great documentary and for allowing me to be a part of it.
Earnest, a technology company that analyzes data pulled from loan applications, surveys, and/or publicly available data sources released their finding on the demographics of video game consumers. In this case, they pulled their data from student loan refinancing applications. Data sets on video games usages and gamers are relatively rare so I figured I’d examine their findings and share. Despite the less than ideal data source, let’s examine what their key findings were:
Younger people, especially those aged 18-24, are more likely to make video game-related purchases than older individuals.
Men are more than three times as likely to make gaming purchases than women.
Individuals with high school diplomas or Associate degrees are the most likely to make gaming purchases, while dentists are the least likely.
People making more than $90,000 are less likely to make gaming purchases than their lower-earning counterparts.
People are less likely to make video game purchases the more time has elapsed since they graduated from their highest degree program.
There’s some interesting findings here, some of which reinforce or challenge the Electronic Software Associations. The disparity between male and female game purchasers is significantly higher than the findings of ESA, who found that men are the purchasers of video games about 63% of the time (compared to 37% for females). Likewise, the finding that 18-24 years are the ones most likely to make gaming purchases conflicts with finding that the average purchaser of video game content is 36 years old.
This graph I find particularly interesting, because it exemplifies how video games as a medium is a relatively universally participated one. You see some minor dips, especially as income increases, but for the most part there isn’t a huge difference across income levels. As the report points out, some of this may also be tied to age and profession; as one earns more they are often more set in their careers, older, and perhaps have less time for video games.
I’d be interested to see survey myself and to get a little more information about sample size and general demographics of respondents, but this report does provide an interesting perspective that we may not get in other large scale data sets. You can check out the entire report here: https://www.earnest.com/blog/the-demographics-of-video-gaming/
I’ll be presenting at the “Capitalism: Culture and the Individual” on April 14th at San Diego State University. The presentation, entitled “Now You’re Playing With Power: Video Games and Capitalism”, will focus on how video games have contributed to a continued capitalist global ethic and an extension of empire. The presentation will also look into how video games may combat capitalism, and how video games may be the medium to implement counter-capitalist ideology.
The conference is free to the public and will feature presentations on an array of subjects across the theme of capitalism and culture. My presentation will be apart of a panel focusing on capitalism and entertainment, but the entire day should foster some great conversations. The conference will conclude with a keynote presentation by Dr. Timothy Taylor of UCLA.
I recently did a pilot study of physical gaming spaces and why individuals choose to attend gaming events. I’m currently looking to extend the pilot study to a fully realized research project, and will hopefully share it when it is complete, but an interesting phenomenon occurred during the course of my research: The Nintendo Switch was released.
Released in early March, Nintendo’s new console handheld hybrid has been a hot topic in the gaming industry, but few are talking about what potential the console may hold for create physical gaming spaces. Simply put, physical gaming spaces are local gaming gathering, events, or meetings with the intent purpose of interacting together in a shared local environment. Examples of physical gaming spaces range anywhere from LAN Parties to competitive competitions. Although handhelds have had wireless multiplayer for over a decade, those seeking a true console local multiplayer experience often had to go to great lengths to create physical gaming spaces around console gaming. With the Nintendo’s Switch’s ability to immediately transfer between Console and handheld, it has the unique ability to create authentic local multiplayer experiences anywhere, without the need to connect to a television or several handhelds.
Anecdotally, we’ve seen new stories of athletes turning to the Nintendo Switch to kill time during rain delays and long travels, pointing to the console early success in reaching new audiences with innovative ways to create physical gaming spaces anytime, anywhere. Such an occurrence is exciting for anyone who is passionate about local multiplayer, as a rise in people playing in physical gaming spaces may result in more developers designing games that take advantage of space and place. Although games like the Jack Party Box and Towerfall Ascension have had success in the ever increasing niche local multiplayer market, the industry is progressive moving towards one that promotes online interaction in lieu of local multiplayer; the 2017 ESA Report on video game consumption and use found that the amount of time gamers play online with others is significantly higher than the amount of time they play with others locally. The Switch is still freshly on the market, and console shortages have prevented many gamers from being able to dive into all that console has to offer, so we’ll have to see how the console develops in regards to physical gaming spaces once the console is more readily available. Nonetheless, it’s an exciting time for people who enjoy playing locally; the industry has seen its first big developer’s push since the launch of the Wii.
I hope to update the blog as my research continues, but I would love your opinion about the Switch and what it may offer to both local multiplayer and physical gaming spaces. Feel free to post a comment or message me with your opinions or questions.
I’m a few years late with this, but I recently had the chance to read Coming of Age In Second Life by Tom Boellstorff, an anthropological ethnography of the Massive Multiplayer Online World Second Life. I know this might be an odd book to review, given that it’s nearly 10 years old now and Second Life isn’t quite the juggernaut in the MMO scene that it once was, but the book provides valuable insight for social researcher looking to do research in online worlds. I thought I’d share my opinion about the book so that others could check it out.
First published in 2008, Coming of Age in Second Life is part proof of concept and part by- the-books ethnography of a digital world. With new virtual worlds being constructed each year, Tom Boellstorff set out to prove to the academic community that traditional methods of research could be applied to these rapidly changing, new worlds. Coming from an anthropology background and having done. There have been many ethnographies of online worlds, but Coming of Age may be one of the most groundbreaking and influential.
Boellstorff starts the book by discussing the background of Second Life and painting what a typical day in the world looks like, before moving onto a discussion about the philosophy, ethics, and academic interest in researching such a community. Collecting data and living natively for over 2 years as his online avatar Tom Bukowski, Boellstorff explores various topics of inquiry within this rapidly changing online world. Using traditional anthropological methods and theories, Boellstorff tackles this virtual world with the same keen sense and methods as he would any other social field. Boellstorff does not claim his research to be a definitive guide to MMOs or even Second Life, rather a dive into a very specific era of a constantly changing world.
The crux of the book comes in the forms of chapters dedicated to overarching themes that emerged during Boellstorff’s research: place and time, personhood, intimacy, community, and political economy. In each of these chapters Boellstorff explores more narrowed down sub-themes in discussions that include the anthropological and philosophical background for their importance, and data as evidence for their existence within Second Life. This justification through data comes in various forms, including transcribed interviews with second life citizens, summaries of pertinent events the author witnessed or heard of second hand, and screenshots that give the reader a visual understanding of what the author is expressing. I mention this range of topics to say that the book offers a sort of survey about the world of Second Life during the author’s stay. While your typical ethnography will focus on one individual topic of interest, Boellstorff has the luxury of exploring a world that many of his respondents will have absolutely no experience with; such a luxury is almost impossible in the “real world”.
Throughout the book, Boellstorff is attempting to both prove that traditional methods work in digital worlds, but also argue that humans have always existed between real and virtual, with online virtual worlds being newly enacted forms of traditional culture creation, social interaction, and creativity. By presenting his years of research with precision and thoroughly thought out discussion, Boellstorff’s argument is carefully explored and fought for. The only draw back that I may mention in regards to the book, is that it is at time perhaps a little too academic. This of course is a concession the author must of had to make; either weigh too heavily on public appeal and be ignored by the academic community, or weigh too heavily on the academic side and prove a little dry to the general population. In the end, the book seeks what it sets out to do. For anyone seeking to conduct social research on video games or massive multiplayer online worlds, Coming of Age in Second Life proves to be a useful resource to have on your shelf. Boellstorff’s work exemplify what we students of the social sciences and lovers of interactive media should strive to. You’ll be hard pressed to find a deeper dive into an online world.
I hope this book review has proved worthwhile. I’ll try and recommend other useful books and resources as I come across them.
The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) has published their annual report about the computer and video game industry. This yearly report is an invaluable asset for researcher looking for statistics and figures concerning video game usage and consumption, as the ESA is the foremost collectors of this type of data. Each year they’re kind enough to report their findings, so let’s take a look at what this year’s report found.
Who is playing
More and more people are playing games, and the stereotype of video games being relegated to young boys is a thing of the past. The “average gamer” has seen an age decrease across both genders, with 2016’s report finding the average female was 44 and the average male gamer was 35. Nonetheless, the demographics of the gaming community is shifting towards being an activity participated across all ages. Female gamers above the age of 18 make up significantly larger population of the gaming community than men under the age of 18. That may sound unimportant, but consider it in relation to the general cultural perception of video gaming be a teenage boy activity.
Despite gains in the community, male gamers still make up the most frequent purchasers of video games. Considering that free-to-play titles are often a popular genre of games for females, this statistic may be slightly misleading as to who is actually playing games.
It is now more likely to have a gamer in your household than it is not to. The percentage of households that have at least one person who plays 3 or more hours a week has seen a slight increase from 2015 (63%). With this percentage growing each year, more and more we are moving towards a culture in which playing video games is the norm.
Who Are Gamers Playing With?
We’ve established that gamers are playing, but who are they playing with? With an increase in the number of online enabled games and access to online multiplayer platforms increasingly becoming easier each year, it’s not unreasonable to assume that more people are playing together.
The numbers suggest that people are connecting through games, with the majority of gamers believing gaming to be a way to connect with friends. This statistic falls in line with contemporary research on how gamers view multiplayer interaction within their lives. The amount of time spent online vs. playing in person has actually shrunk from 2015, with gamers playing half an hour more with individuals in person in 2016. With developers such as Nintendo investing considerable attention in local multiplayer, particularly with the newly released Switch, it will be interesting to see how this figure changes next year. All of this is to say that people are using gaming as a way to connect with those around them, including their family members and spouses.
To go along with those findings, the amount of parental approval of video games has stayed steady with a very slight decrease from 2015 (68%). Despite this decrease, the majority of parents are found to believe video games are a positive influence on their kids’ lives and nearly all parents control the games their kids play in some way.
Games are big money: the video game industry is continuing to grow, with the industry growing to 30.4 Billion from 23.5 Billion in 2015.
Bang for your buck: most gamers believe video games to be a better value for their money than music, movies, and dvds combined.
Digital Games are on the rise: digital purchases now make up 74% of all sales, with an increase from 69% in 2015.
Video Games are good for America: Video games added more than 11 billion to the GDP of the US in 2016.
Some great information for social science researcher to use to analyze video games and gamers. I left out a good deal of findings, so I definitely recommend checking out the actual report from the ESA. All graphics and pictures were pulled directly from the ESA’s report.
Google today released It’s Lit: A Guide to What Teens Think is Cool a report of the brands, technology, and products teens think are cool. Of the topics covered in the report are what teens think are the coolest video games and video games brands. It’s rare that we see a huge company like Google conduct such forms of qualitative research (and share it), so I thought it would be worth looking at.
The first thing you’ll probably notice is the theme of the the whole report. It’s…grabbing? From the name of the report “It’s Lit” to the usage of headlines like “Gen Z are the most aware generations in recent history”, it’s definitely trying to pander to a certain crowd. Likewise, its attempts at presenting the data seems like a shallow attempt to come off as cool itself; from the terminology being used to the overall design of the report. Google is clearly targeting a specific audience with this report and evaluating a reports presentation, focus, and scope is an important step in analyzing it’s validity and purpose. I can poke fun at how ironically uncool this presentation manner comes off for hours, but let’s move on and look at the actually findings:
The report finds that the most popular video games amongst teens are, surprise surprise, the most popular games. The part of this I do find interesting is the reports usage of descriptions as to why teens like video games. “It’s no wonder most teen boys see video games as a cool escape from reality”. That’s an odd statement that seems to come out of no where, and I’m not completely sure if it’s something they polled for or if it’s something they’re just pulling out of no where.
The narrative of video games prevalence being in part due to its escapism aspects is certainly true, but studies have found that it’s often not the leading cause for why people choose video games. Granted they follow up with more options as to why people choose it, but even those options feel as if it’s interjection added in by the report.
Here are the final two findings regarding video games, and even they are not all that controversial. It’s not unreasonable that a younger generation finds X-Box as the “coolest” video game company, considering that Microsoft has done a considerable amount to appeal to the younger demographic and appear hip and cool. The second graphic of brands is…Odd. To think that teens are saying “oreo”, “doritios” and “chrome” are the coolest of brands sounds almost as if it was a made up as a joke. I’m not questioning their validity, but I do wonder if these answers were perhaps some what leaded. Which brings us to their methods:
It sounds like a solid piece of research, but I’d be interested to see what the actual poll looked like. I wonder if the poll was open ended or if it had specific answers for respondents to pick from. If the later was true, I think that would explain answers like “oreo” and “chrome” as appearing as the coolest brands.
In the end, it’s all a bit silly. This market research is attempting to label what is cool by the usage of products, as if they have some inherent value besides what we place upon them. It’s the ultimate capitalist research: we’re defining teens sense of “coolness” by products and things we can consume and buy. Any sort of philosophical or analytical thoughts of why things are “cool” are left to the background and almost completely left out of the findings.
Regardless, it’s interesting to see how a massive corporation like Google collect, interpret, and present data.
I often find myself listening to video game music as background music while I read or write. It makes sense, most of the tunes we hear in video games were meant to be just that: background music to your adventure and experience. Having played countless video games over the year, the right video game tune can bring back a deep memory or a long forgotten emotion. I can’t imagine I am the only one, so I’ve decided that the time may be right to discuss video game music.
Why should we care?
There’s some inherently interesting about video game music. Its evolution from basic background tunes composed out limited tech to grand orchestrated ballads that overlay movie level scenes is of interest in a historical context alone. Separated from the medium, sociology has had a long interest with music; the sociology of music has been a strong and intriguing sub-field within sociology because of music’s unique ability to bring people together in a shared experience. Many social researchers examine music and live-shows as a form of collective effervescence; a shared communal event in which people come together and share a release of emotion. All of this is to say that caring about the sociology of video game music is a natural extension of sociological interest that we can look at, explore, and try to understand. With an increase in the amount musical events being formed around iconic video game series and songs (Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess, Video Games Live, etc.), more people are coming together to share their love for video game music and video games in general. If we’re to study video games as a medium and their social elements, then certainly video game music and the shared connections they forge are of pertinent interest to us researchers.
How should we research video game music and its community? Who should lead the charge in studying video game music? Game studies researchers? Music Researchers? Sociologists? Obviously Video Game music as a genre of music it doesn’t hold all the hallmarks of the dominant genres in the industry, but it does share a considerable amount with the overarching medium as a whole. Similarly there’s a considerable amount of concerns within the subfield as well; issues of archiving tracks, legality of who owns rights to tracks, and the place of fandom within maintaining and creating new remixes and tracks around their favorite games and series.There’s a good amount of questions that one can hypothesize concerning video game music, but the first and most accessible aspect is knowing one’s field. As such, I’ve put together a small resource list for researchers and fans alike to discover new and old video game tracks.
It may not dawn upon everyone that listening to your favorite video game tunes is something one can even do. We’re fortunate to live in a time in which more or less every video game soundtrack is readily available one way or another. Here are some useful resources to listen to some great video game music that don’t require you to pirate or spend tons of cash:
VGM Radio is just that: a video game music radio station. If you’re feeling like having a mix of tunes, genres, and eras, then VGM is a great choice to let your video game music interest get set on shuffle.
If you feel like listening to video game music on the go and have a mobile device, the Video Game Music Radio App is a great free choice. Featuring an array of channels, you’re likely to find a station that meets your interest. I recommend RadioSega if you’re a fan of a classic Sega tunes.
If you’re more interested in discussing video game music, then you’ll need a place to do so. In this case Reddit provides a great outlet for gamers seeking to connect around video game music and discuss classic and modern tunes alike.
Of course the most valuable resources for researching video game tunes is youtube. With a dedicated community of gamers uploading musical tracks, compiling playlists, and sharing remixes, youtube is a great place to find any video game track you’re looking for.
So this may have just been an excuse for me to talk about video game music and share some links to fellow gamers, but I do believe that video game music has a place within the analysis of the medium for social researchers. The amount of activities and shared interactions that are being created around video games are increasing with each year. As someone who has been to multiple of these video game related concerts and shows, I can tell you that the experiences and interactions shared there are genuine ones. We’ll see where video game music goes in the future, and where its place within the medium as a whole falls.