[Rutgers University graduate Preeti R. Khanolkar presents the results of her honors thesis, offering an in-depth study on gamer etiquette, gaming's social impact, and what drives players to strive for 100 percent completion.]
100-Percenting It: Videogame Play Through the Eyes of Devoted Gamers examines video gaming from a cultural sociological standpoint. The paper is based on my undergraduate honors thesis, which I wrote during my senior year at Rutgers University in 2006-2007.
Back then, gaming research was not as prevalent as it is today (and most of the studies I encountered involved violence in games). When I decided that I wanted to study gaming, many people told me that it was immature, stupid or that there was nothing worthwhile that anyone could learn from gaming (not surprisingly, my first chapter was a strong, 26-page defense of why one should study gaming).
However, I was fortunate to find two extremely supportive advisors who were willing to indulge my interests and guide me. Neither of them were gamers, but they saw the value of studying gaming and encouraged me to produce something that would make me proud. The end result was a 260+ page thesis that received the distinction of highest honors and several awards, including the award for best thesis in the department.
The publication, which appears in the December 2012 issue of Sociological Forum, is considerably shorter and significantly more polished than my original thesis. Below, I have provided a brief overview of several of the publication's topics. The full text of the publication is available here.
I relied primarily on three forms of data: one-on-one interviews, participant observation (you guessed it: watching people play video games), and a questionnaire. I interviewed 20 "devoted gamers," 17 male and 3 female, ages 18 to 27. These people were a mix of core and hardcore gamers, but they were unwilling to attach such labels to their gaming. I spent over 12 hours observing my gaming participants, four 21-year-old males, play video games.
All of the quotations in this article are either from the interviews or the participant observation sessions. The 50-question questionnaire was administered to a random sample of undergraduate students at Rutgers University: 101 female and 69 male, ages 18 to 25.
Defining the "Devoted" or "Hardcore" Gamer
Earlier, I used the term "devoted" to describe my interviewees' gaming habits because no interviewee wanted to identify as a "hardcore gamer," fearing that it carried a negative connotation of playing too many video games or being obsessed with them. In fact, interviewees went to great lengths to distinguish themselves from the stereotypical "hardcore gamer," though they did not attempt to downplay their own dedication to video games. Thus, the interviewees did not personally think that they were too invested in gaming but believed that others could be.
Because no interviewee was willing to accept the term "hardcore gamer," I relied on the term "devoted gamer," which I elicited and defined through my questionnaire data. The definition of "devoted gamer" is just as imprecise as "hardcore gamer," the former being a person who has a passion for games, plays them more often than the average casual gamer, and for whom games are meaningful.
Gaming as an Immersive Experience: Atmosphere
Interviewees described gaming as an immersive experience both because of the gameplay itself and through other absorbing aspects of the game. For example, many interviewees appreciated in-game music, defending it as real music, and the artistic quality of games, including the art found in game manuals.
One interviewee referred to a game's immersive quality as its "atmosphere," which he explained is "something that when you play the game and when you hear the music from the game afterwards [it] sends chills down your spine" and makes each game "feel different." He described Metal Gear Solid as a game with such atmosphere -- a "masterpiece" that "works on so many levels."
Gaming as a Social Activity
Almost every interviewee agreed that gaming is a social activity, both online or offline and whether multiplayer or single-player. Indeed, gaming facilitates gamers in forming and solidifying their friendships, leading to a rich social experience. Gamers play games alongside one another, often discussing subjects unrelated to the game itself. And gamers discuss and reminisce over games even when they are not playing them, adding a social dimension to single-player games. One interviewee described how he became better friends with an acquaintance because they both used Xiaoyu in Tekken 4. Another interviewee explained how gamers met and played games together at her college's gaming society.
Ironically, many interviewees believed that gaming made people less sociable, but every interviewee (except for one) felt that games had personally made them more sociable. Thus, the interviewees subscribed to the image of the stereotypical socially-isolated gamer -- "guy with glasses, greasy hair, Cheetos stains on his shirt . . . sitting in his mom's basement" -- but did not believe that they fit that image. If such a stereotype exists but does not apply to most gamers, then how accurate is the stereotype?
While watching gamers play multiplayer games (specifically, two-on-two Super Smash Bros. Melee timed games on the Final Destination stage), I noticed that the players simultaneously, but separately, interacted with each other and with each other's characters. When a player spoke to his teammate in-game, he referred to his teammate by his teammate's first name. However, when a player referred to his opponents in-game, he referred to them by their characters' names (e.g., "Greg, way to just look at Yoshi!" and "Aw, fucking Bowser!").
In fact, when a player picked a female player, the other team referred to the player as a "she." Thus, allies were players but enemies were characters. Interestingly, the players referred to the opposing team by their characters' names only in-game but did not do so in between matches, i.e., while on the character selection screen ("Peter, keep Greg off of me as much as you can"). I observed the same phenomenon when the players switched teams.