Nerd Kingdom Reading Club: The virtual census

PuttyPutty REGISTERED, Vakaethei Posts: 24 Golem
edited March 2014 in Science!
Hey everyone,

I wanted to offer the next piece in our reading club. Our intent is to get you to look at the stuff that we on the research team have read or used in our own research. If you don't know, one of the advisers for Nerd Kingdom is Dmitri Williams. This guy is a dynamo of MMO related research and I highly recommend anything he has written.

To that end, I thought i'd point you all to The virtual census: representations of gender, race and age in video games from Dmitri Williams, Mia Consalvo (who was on my own Master's Thesis Committee), Nicole Martins, and James D. Ivory.

You can download this article here: http://129.105.161.80/uploads/VirtualCensusFinal.pdf

Synopsis
The authors engage around 150 games spread out over the course of 9 years. From those games, they examined around 8572 non-playable characters in order to answer 4 research questions about the representation of age, race, and gender inside of those games.

Research Question 1: How frequently are different gender, race and age groups represented in games?
Research Question 2: Is there a difference between groups’ appearance in primary and secondary roles?
Research Question 3: Is there a difference in character representation between the typical game made and the most popular games?
Research Question 4: Is there a difference in characters’ social group representation between games with different ESRB ratings?

Basically, the researchers wanted to look at the way that different games were showing different types of people. In particular, they are interested in how different audience targets might shift the representation of race, gender, and age inside of a game.

The results are interesting but this post is getting long and I don't want to spoil too, too much.

To hasten the description a bit, let's see a couple pictures from the article itself. This is their results by gender.

Remember that Primary means "Player Controlled" whereas secondary means "Computer Controlled"

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It is interesting that we see so many males inside of games which is indicative of another issue but we can discuss that a little later.

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This chart is a bit more interesting. Why do you think the representation of differing types of characters?

Getting Data Out of Video Games
Nerd Kingdom is an answer to a difficult question about data collection in games. That question is most easily described as, "How do you get data to analyze from a closed system protected by numerous other closed systems?" You just can't gather data easily from games unless the companies that make those games give you that data. For example, refer to this paragraph inside of the article:
"Each game was played by an expert game player – who was not one of the coders – for 30 minutes on the default difficulty setting, typically ‘low’ or ‘easy’. These 30-minute segments were recorded digitally and stored on a high-end desktop computer for coding. The 30-minute segments were the largest unit of analysis and were used for the research questions that called on game-level data. Measures of representation as portrayed on games for a given system required a game-level number for computation. Similarly, portrayals by ratings code required a rating-level value of different titles. In these cases, the weighted data were used to create collapsed mean values for games rather than including all characters as equal units of analysis. Such an approach would have skewed the results, given that some games feature more characters than others."

The reason we have so little research about games is that it takes a fantastic amount of time to get data about them unless you work for a company that produces that data. However, working for those companies usually means that you are non-disclosure agreemented out of talking about anything you see.

Who Cares?
If you read about this topic outside of academia, you get a lot of comments like, "Who cares?"

The easiest way to discuss this is through a concept from an article by another researcher named Henry Jenkins, "The War Between Effect and Meaning."

So, this article from Jenkins, and this article from Williams, et al. really gets into the idea that video games have an effect on its players. Now, before you pick up your pitchforks, this is where this concept gets murky. I'll make this a list.
  • Origin of Concept: "Video Games should be regulated by law because they have an impact on players."
  • Dissent: "Video games do not have an impact on players and should not be regulated."
  • Re-calibration: "Video games, having no meaning, should not be protected as free speech."
  • Re-Dissent: "Video games are meaningful and are procedural representations of ideas. Video games have meaning."

So, we see a war between effect (as in, games influence people somehow) and meaning (games mean things to people). The problem here is that if games are meaningful, then they do have an effect since meanings are the formation of effect.

Representations inside of games mean a lot to us though for the most part this is unconscious. I will leave this post here and see what happens.
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