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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Moments of Play: Uncovering the Performances of Videogame Play
by Hanford, Nicholas A., Ph.D., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 2017, 296; 10682415
Abstract (Summary)

Videogames are complex media objects that require significant input from the player for their enjoyment. The multiple experiences and outcomes that can emerge when an individual plays a game present difficult methodological challenges for games researchers. This dissertation proposes two complementary methods for studying this complexity: temporal data collection and situational analysis. These help delineate both how players acquire knowledge from a game system and use their previous knowledges in future videogame experiences by focusing on the moment-to-moment decisions and actions that the player takes in a given situations. In addition to providing a way to investigate player skill and knowledge of a system over time, this method also provides a way to understand how the meanings that players and scholars make from games develop over the course of their play.

By expanding on previous definitions of the repertoire—the sets of skills and knowledges that player rely on in overcoming a game’s challenges—, I develop models for how knowledge is acquired, incorporated, and utilized over the course of an individual game and different game genres. These models developed through the individual situations that occurred in my analysis of these games and show how knowledges and skills develop not only within a single game, but are translatable from game to game. I developed the concept of a technique to provide a means for scholars and designers to understand how an individual’s performance is practiced and evolves as they learn more about the game system and come to grow comfortable with particular actions. The second performance model developed in this dissertation, the play style, describes the general ways that a player approaches a game and how different goals, both internal and external, can effect how knowledge and skills are used.

Lastly, through the temporal data collection and situational analysis methods, I am able to further elucidate the roles that luck plays in videogames—an undertheorized arena of gameplay experience. I provide three distinct ways that scholars can discuss the experience of luck and how it intersects with the repertoires of skill that a player develops: designed chance mechanics, glitches, and botches. Designed chance mechanics are the elements of a videogame that provide randomness to the game system and must be understood and responded to appropriately by the player in order for their success. Glitches are aberrations in the software or hardware that can develop unexpectedly through player action. Lastly, a botch , adapted from the world of professional wrestling, provides a model for understanding how feelings of luck emerge from unexpected situations that are not intelligible within the repertoires of player knowledge. With these concepts, I have provided the field of game studies a comprehensive method for discussing the forms of luck that emerge from the player’s subjective experience, the system’s designed uncertainty, and mixtures of the two. By offering models of performance and consideration of a largely overlooked concept like luck, I provide a nuanced look into the complicated development of skill that occurs in the performance of videogame play.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Deery, June
Commitee: Century, Michael, Haskins, Ekaterina, Zappen, James
School: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Department: Communication and Rhetoric
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 79/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Communication, Multimedia Communications, Mass communications, Recreation
Keywords: Game studies, Gameplay experience, Luck, Reader-response theory, Videogames
Publication Number: 10682415
ISBN: 978-0-355-67694-5
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