Qualitative video game studies: categorization and questions

In Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games (a paper published in Game Studies, 6(1) december 2006), Mia Consalvo and Nathan Dutton describe a method for the critical analysis of video games as "texts". Their point is to go beyond "simply playing a game, similar to watching a film, the proper method?": They propose 4 types of targets that could be considered: Object Inventory, Interface Study, Interaction Map, and Gameplay Logs. What I appreciated is the list of questions they set corresponding to these 4 issues:

Object Inventory Interface Study
  • Whether objects are single or multi use
  • The interaction options for objects: do they have one use (and what is it)?
  • Do objects have multiple uses (and what are they)?
  • Do those uses change over time?
  • The object's cost
  • A general description of the object.
What is important about the interface, from the researcher's point of view, is the information and choices that are offered to the player, as well as the information and choices that are withheld. Examining the interface (and going beyond elegance of design or ease of use) lets researchers determine how free players are to experiment with options within a game. Alternately, it can help us see what information is privileged.
Interaction map Gameplay logs
  • Are interactions limited (is there only one or two responses offered to answer a question)? Do interactions change over time (as Sims get to know one another, and like one another, are more choices for interaction are offered)?
  • What is the range of interaction?
  • Are NPCs present, and what dialogue options are offered to them? Can they be interacted with? How? How variable are their interactions?
  • How does the game allow players to save their progress? Are there restrictions to the activity? How and why?
  • Is "saving" as a mechanism integrated somehow into the game world to provide coherence, or is some more obtrusive method offered?
  • Are there situations where avatars can "break the rules" of the game? How and why?
  • A re there situations that appear that the producers probably did not intend? What are they and how do they work?
  • Does the game make references to other media forms or other games? How do these intertextual references function?
  • How are avatars presented? How do they look? Walk? Sound? Move? Are these variables changeable? Are they stereotypical?
  • Does the game fit a certain genre? Does it defy its stated genre? How and why?

Why do I blog this? there is indeed a lack of methodological framework for video game research. Though this corresponds to different research questions than the one I am addressing, the probes and categorization described in this paper are valuable.