Negotiations of Play


I’m pleased to say that I’ve posted my project website for my thesis, called Negotiations of Play. This is designed to support parents and to capture the experiences of Australian parents and caregivers of children aged 4-12. Right now you can leave your email address if you want to notified of then the study commences. I expect that this will take about 12 months to collect.

Overall, there is no research into what parents and children think about online games or how parents mediate them in Australia. Much of the reports in mass media tend to discuss statistical data which they use to inductively to tell parents what they should or should not be doing. The dominant literature which voices concern focuses on, and extends the long running negative ‘media effects’ debate by experimental psychology. The positive often focuses on theories of ‘flow’ and the design of games and player behaviours, especially fun, motivation and enjoyment.

My approach is somewhat different in that I am interested in the broad negotiations between the media and families and inter-family conceptions of the role video games play in family life as media markets, which to me plays a key role in developing both adult and childrens literacy. The market benefits though reproductive process helping expand what games can do. Evidence of this can been seen in the rise of new forms of games which negates much of the ‘violence in games’ claims these days. I see what games do as establishing what I’m calling a neo leisure class. People in constant negotiation with game designers and media producers through the cultural production of their avatars and game-identities. In particular, I’m interested in network mediated culture which I think is largely ignored or overlooked in game-studies, yet as every Steam or Xboxer knows is an essential site for identity, socialising and play.

I have many people to thank for getting me to this point: Not least: My wife and kids and our household’s game characters – Vormamim, Vorsaken and LollykingOMG each of whom have played an important role in developing my interest in the issues and controversies of parenting the gamer generation. Then there are those whom I know in-game by gamer-tag (anonymously represented here). Next, those whom have contributed significantly to what I now call ‘work’ – the ones who I ‘talk to’ on Twitter, but also those who have been working on using games for over a decade in Australia: Judy O’Connell, Bron Stuckey, Jo Kay, Kerrie Johnson, Westley Field and countless others in Australia and overseas such as Derek Robinson and Peggy Sheehy, two people I see as key critical thinkers in what games can do to improve kids lives, especially those kids who are increasingly being marginalised by educational technology’s neoliberal-elitism.

Finally, and not least my PhD supers Professor Catharine Lumby and Dr. Kate Highfield who have been amazing in the last year of my life and lit the darkest of days when I’ve needed it most. A few more essentials, Dr. David Saltmarsh who has really expanded my thinking and coffee drinking and Mal Booth at UTS Library who shares a love of ink-pens, Alfas and innovation.

How important is enjoyment?

I play games because I enjoy them. I started playing more when I saw how much my kids did. Its only years later that I’ve come to wonder how as a family we’ve constructed numerous rituals, insider language and shared memories though playing them. It took me a few seconds to click on this paper when it appeared in my alerts this week.

(Shafer, 2013) investigates the notion of ‘enjoyment’ in console and mobile tablet games. This paper explores the differences in perceptions of enjoyment between playing first person shooter games on consoles and tablet computers. The main argument is that enjoyment has three predictors; interactivity, realism and spacial presence. The hypothesis was that was that console games exceed tablets in relation to enjoyment. The method was a randomised experiment with 257 players. This paper contributes to the debates on player motivation, convergence, literacy and human behaviour. It concluded that “perceptions of interactivity, reality and spacial presence as well as evaluations of skill, all blend to produce enjoyment” and that “console games are perceived as more interactive and more realistic, which increases enjoyment of them beyond their mobile counterparts” (p.153).

This is one of the few studies that has sought to introduce ‘enjoyment’ as a key element of effort towards labour. The study showed that perceived interactivity, perceived reality, spacial presence and skill significantly and positively predicted enjoyment. In regard to potential application towards education, these factors could be aligned to the nature of computer activity (some devices are perceived more enjoyable), whether the activity has a observable outcome related to the task, the classroom environment (and the student place in that space) and their perception of their skill towards the activity.

There are some limitations with the study which the author acknowledges; the differences in interface control, the use of sample students and the limitations of the variable used due to this being an exploratory study. However previous studies of this type have been broadly seen as representative of game-player demographics (at this age). Furthermore, this method cannot reliably account for the choice of games children play at home – nor explain how they come to know about and want to play certain games and not others. In summary, what the study did show was a preference towards consoles for enjoyment of FPS games.

Stepping outside my research-head for a second, FPS are popular games, and so students might be keen to play them (especially when rewarded with credit points). However, anyone who’s every played a FPS would wince at the idea of playing it on a tablet, if the alternative was console. If a further alternative was a PC then I would hypothesise that would be the most enjoyable. This illustrate how complex it is to try and measure human behaviour and emotions around video games. Having said that, the introduction of ‘enjoyment’ as a variable into play (and learning is part of play) is one of the first I’ve seen.

In the short history of ‘gamification’, which emerged after PEW announce 97% of teens play games (2008) no work has focused on the ‘enjoyment’ of learning using games. Games are used towards what (Juul, 2005) describes as concerned with using games to study human matters, and that insight into games themselves has been incidental to this research.

It would be interesting to use adapt this study towards methods of teaching with technology such as ‘flipped classrooms’ to discover whether of not students found them more enjoyable. It seems to me that joy is critical influencer on my learning and strange that ‘being enjoyable’ is a factor missing from much of the assertions being made about “better than” debates among online-discursive educators.


Juul J. (2005). Half-real : video games between real rules and fictional worlds. Cambridge, Mass.: Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press.

Shafer, D. M. (2013). An Integrative Model of Predictors of Enjoyment in Console versus Mobile Video Games. PsychNology Journal.