Ethnographies of Gamers

I read Sherry Turkle’s essay, “Video Games and Computer Holding Power” differently from how I read other essays in the New Media Reader. This is partly because it is an ethnographic study and I can’t remember any other selections in our readings that employed ethnographic data. My own current research is in a social constructivist paradigm, and I am just starting to feel confident about what that means, and I think that made me engage in Turkle’s piece on a different level than other pieces.

I think she treated her research subjects fairly. I think she treated them more fairly than I could have, and I respect her for that. I found myself judging some of her subjects and I found myself projecting my own value system. I don’t usually do this.
Even though Myers-Briggs tests have fallen out of fashion in many circles, I still find the system to be useful in some areas. Whenever I took the test, I was kind of on the fence with E/I, N/S, and F/T. After about the age of 15, I always scored very strongly in P rather than J. I typically observe things without trying to determine if they are good or bad. I just notice that they are, but I have developed strong exceptions. In “Video Games: Computer Holding Power” David the lawyer went to a video arcade for 2 hours on his way home from work every day while his wife was pregnant to get himself in a zone where he could communicate with her. That made me feel somewhat “judgey.” That didn’t sound like a very equitable relationship. I appreciate the need for escape and a safe place to release stress. I empathize with all of research subjects, but I couldn’t help but think “What about trying x?”

I don’t think there is anything wrong with gaming per se. I recognize the value of gaming for analyzing and solving societal and scientific problems. I question the amount of time that some people devote to games. I occasionally exhibit addictive behaviors to certain games. I can relate to the feelings the research subjects described (the experience of social isolation and stress that can make a gaming environment attractive, and the feelings that the gaming environment can provide. But I cannot claim that the games actually relieved me of stress or made me a more focused person. When I move out of a game, I don’t feel more ready to focus on work of family. I feel less mentally available for those things. I feel acute signs of stress and anxiety. In extreme cases I develop a tic.

Another thing affected my view of the gamers. In late 2002 and early 2003, I was living in New York City. My laptop was clunky and having problems. I didn’t have a printer. I didn’t have money to do anything about either of those problems, and they were real problems because i was chronically under-employed at the time. I went to a pay-by-the-hour computer lab to work on my vita (for full time work as well as for printing and to apply for jobs and research graduate programs. It was about 2 blocks from my apartment, and it was filled with kids playing combat-oriented massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs). These kids were highly engaged in their games. And they were incredibly competitive with one another too. There was a great of jocularity, swearing, and yelling. I was editing my vita to the dulcet sounds of unwashed prepubescent boys screaming “I’m going to kill you [nigger/faggot]!!!” It was a non-smoking facility, but the signs were ignored. It was a deeply unpleasant environment for me, and it has colored my view of gaming. It made me not want to engage in MMOGs.

I enjoy and perceive value in games that involved puzzles, logic, and strategy. Many gamers have heightened spatial intelligence — they can mentally navigate abstract spaces, imagine and manipulate 3D objects. I appreciate games when I can easily move out of them and when I can understand how I can apply what I learned from the game to other aspects of life.