Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Video Gamers and the Linguistic Navigation of Collaborative Virtual Environments
by LaFave, Nathan, Ph.D., New York University, 2016, 218; 10192314
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation seeks to characterize the cultural and communicative practices of a community of video game players. My intention is to address several rather different linguistic features tied to the sociocultural work that language can be used for. I discuss how group members employ reference to virtual spaces that exist in the video game worlds that they inhabit during gameplay. In particular, I evaluate the utility of the community of practice model in describing the variation in group members’ use of spatial reference. I will also compare this approach to one which explains patterns of players’ linguistic strategies for navigating space as a function of their familiarity with their teammates and their teammates’ behavior in that virtual environment. In addition, the fact that the community contains a number of New Yorkers provides the opportunity to examine their use of features of New York City English (NYCE) in various speech styles, including gameplay, interviews, and reading passages.

The community of study, Spartan Meetup, is a Meetup.com group for video gamers interested in playing Halo: Combat Evolved, a First-Person Shooter (FPS) game. In FPS games, players view their virtual world through the eyes of the game character that they control. Thus, an FPS provides the opportunity to examine players’ use of spatial reference in an immersive environment where they perceive the game world as if they were navigating it in the real world. I focus on team-based gameplay in assessing how teammates collaboratively negotiate the meaning of spatial reference in order to cooperatively strategize their movements in the virtual environment. As a gamer and member of the group, I participate in gameplay and social activities with the other Spartans, permitting me to make ethnographic observations from within the community.

The results show that certain communicative strategies (Explicit spatial reference and use of here vs. Implicit spatial reference and use of there) pattern in accordance with varying levels of involvement with Spartan Meetup. That is, core members (the group who has attended meetup most frequently) use more Implicit spatial reference and the deictic pronoun here in comparison to peripheral members (who have attended several times, but have fewer community connections than the core members) and tangential participants (who have only attended once, and are therefore not true members). However, core members and tangential participants pattern alike when considering their use of personal reference (spatial reference which uses a player as a reference point for another object), suggesting that not only membership status, but also properties shared by the core and tangential players, play a role in the use of spatial reference.

In addition to my analysis of spatial reference during gameplay, I also examine the Spartans’ use of the NYCE feature r-vocalization. I investigate the use of this variable in gameplay for all Spartan Meetup members who are from New York, and also incorporate data from sociolinguistic interviews and reading passages for the core group members. My analysis shows that gameplay speech has the highest rates of r-vocalization, which I argue is due to the high degree of attention that the gameplay itself requires; the task is too cognitively demanding for much attention to be given to speech. I also show differences within the community for use of r-vocalization corresponding to the age and racial/ethnic categories of group members.

This research contributes to the small but growing body of linguistic research on video game communities, which offer a number of advantages to researchers interested in the negotiation of meaning and cultural identity between collaborative (and, depending on the community, competitive) group members.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Singler, John V.
Commitee: Blake, Renee, Gallagher, Gillian, Guy, Gregory, Squires, Lauren
School: New York University
Department: Linguistics
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/05(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Sociolinguistics
Keywords: Collaborative virtual environments, Computer-mediated communication, Language variation, New York City English, Spatial reference, Video games
Publication Number: 10192314
ISBN: 978-1-369-33269-8
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