Social interactions of computer games : an activity framework
With the advent of computer games, the Human Computer Interaction (HCI) community has begun studying games, often with the intention of uncovering useful information to inform the design of work-based software. However, most HCI research on computer games focuses on the use of game technologies, often overlooking the fairly large amount of classic game literature. Despite the potential importance of computer game studies in HCI, there is a lack of frameworks that could guide such studies especially with regard to sociability. I believe that sociability is one of the most important criteria game developers may want to apply to game design as computer games are becoming more socialoriented due to the inception of the Internet. Therefore, the main aim of the thesis is to develop a play activity framework with an emphasis on social interactions. To achieve this, first, a comprehensive body of game literature was reviewed as a step to provide a solid foundation for the construction of the framework. Through the extensive review of literature, I chose Activity Theory as the foundation for the framework development. In order to demonstrate the applicability of Activity Theory in analysing computer-mediated social interactions, an exploratory study of online activities in a game community was conducted. Then, two studies were undertaken to formulate the framework by modelling play activities in the social game context. The first study was centred on the individual and collective play activities that take place within the game virtual world. The second study focused on games as a whole participatory culture, in which playing games is not just confined to within the game space but also includes other playful activities governed by norms and specific identities around the game. Through these studies, a play activity framework consisting of three play mode/s was developed: intrinsic, reflective and expansive play models, which are inter-related. The framework provides a vocabulary to describe the component, the motivation and the process of game play. The framework was then operationalised into methodological guidelines with a set of heuristic questions grouped into different categories. The guidelines were applied to analyse two issues, namely community building and social learning, in a Massively Multi-player Online Game (MMOG). As a conclusion, the framework has expanded conventional game studies by emphasising the socio-cultural context. It provides a different perspective on analysing computer games particularly the social aspects of gaming. Game researchers could use the framework to investigate play activities within and beyond the game and how they are related. The framework offers a theoretical explanation of various social activities observed in computer games. Finally, the methodological guidelines derived from the framework are useful as they give directions to analyse play activities particularly social interactions and game communities.
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