[OPR] Baldauf-Quilliatre/Colón de Carvajal: Doing participation: non-players participating in video gaming

On this page you can download the discussion paper that was submitted for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics. The blogstract summarises the submission in a comprehensible manner. You can comment on the discussion paper and the blogstract below this post. Please use your real name for this purpose. For detailed comments on the discussion paper please refer to the line numbering of the PDF.

This submission is a contribution to the special issue “Co-constructing presence between players and non-players in videogame interactions”.

Discussion Paper (PDF)

Blogstract of

Doing participation: non-players participating in video gaming

by Heike Baldauf-Quilliatre & Isabel Colón de Carvajal

This paper investigates the role of non-players/spectators in videogame sessions. Much research has been conducted on gaming interactions and players’ activities in the last two decades. Yet, less attention has been devoted to other co-present participants and their activities related to the gaming (but see Tekin/Reeves 2017 inter alia). In many situations, other people – non-players – are physically present and participate in the interaction and the gaming in different ways.

Based on audiovisual data of French videogame sessions, the paper shows that non-players become spectators and ratified participants in the gaming interaction. We demonstrate that spectatorship is neither a predefined nor a passive role, but achieved through different forms of participation. We also highlight that participants do spectatorship while simultaneously enacting social relationships. To this end, we use the methodological paradigm of multimodal conversation analysis, which makes it possible to focus on the organization of interaction by drawing on ethno-methods, i.e. practices developed by the participants to mutually display their understanding of what they are doing. By looking more closely at what the non-players do and how these different actions are related to the gaming, we aim to explore what spectating means in this case.

We approach the data from two different angles. Firstly, we focus on the different configurations of the three gaming interactions with regard to the participation practices of the non-players, and we analyse the interrelation of the development of the game, watching, commenting, gaze and body movements of players and non-players as well as the configuration of the spatial environment. The paper describes three different “ways of spectating”: doing being a couple, doing being friends and doing being a supporter. On the one hand, these “ways of spectating” correspond to specific realities, such as the number of participants (players and non-players) as well as their relationships prior to the interaction, the type of game, the spatial configuration of the room, etc. On the other hand, they are practices which are locally accomplished and interactionally negotiated. 

Secondly, we present the detailed sequential analysis of certain moments of these interactions, in order to show their fine-tuned temporal organisation and to detail how these “ways of spectating” are achieved. We highlight different embodied practices connected/related to the local multimodal accomplishment of participation:

  1. how players and non-players co-construct the alternation between a non-player’s engagement and disengagement in the gaming;
  2. how players and non-players co-construct different jocular mockery;
  3. how players and non-players co-construct non-players’ coaching activities.

These practices show that spectating is co-constructed by players and non-players and that a larger repertoire of multimodal resources is used to accomplish different activities simultaneously.

Through these analyses, our paper argues that being a spectator cannot be defined as an assigned role. It is a complex and local achievement, co-constructed by all participants and related to the ecological context in a way that is complex and far from straightforward.


Tekin, Burak/Reeves, Stuart (2017): Ways of spectating: Unravelling spectator participation in Kinect play. CHI 2017, Denver, DOI: 10.1145/3025453.3025813

Empirical data referred to in the discussion paper as

One Reply to “[OPR] Baldauf-Quilliatre/Colón de Carvajal: Doing participation: non-players participating in video gaming”

  1. Elizabeth KeatingJuly 17, 2020 at 15:46Reply

     Review ofDoing participation: non-players participating in video gaming”
    This article looks at “spectatorship” a type of participation that has been little explored. The particular type of spectatorship that the authors study is spectatorship in a complex environment of simultaneous onscreen and offscreen participation frameworks. Rather than focus on the players in a videogaming environment, the authors focus on the behavior of those participants who are “non-players” or spectators. Videogames are notable for the important role that spectators can play, as video games spawn and support whole communities of different types of participants with diverse skills, and are also notable for the informal styles of expert-novice interactions, which often depend on watching experts and non-experts play.
    Building on work on face-to-face interaction and ethnomethodology, the authors take readers on a step-by-step analysis of how players and non-players engage with one another, particularly looking at the role of the body in performing the role of spectator and the way certain relationships are also created through these embodied displays. The authors situate their study within sequentially detailed studies of participation, and their contribution is to look at participants engaged in the kind of individual and group problem-solving activity that typically is part of learning to play videogames of various types. In describing what spectators do and how the role of spectator is interactionally achieved, they look also at how being a spectator is doing social relationships.
    The authors study three different gaming situations: Tomb Raider, a single player action-adventure game, Dance Central, a dance videogame where a single player dances to routines projected on the screen, and Dragon Ball Z, a multiplayer fighting game where two players at a time play through chosen avatars. The gaming situations involve one spectator or three spectators. The authors analyze several levels: what happens in the game, what the players do, and the interaction between players and non-players. Some comments on the paper are presented below.
    The authors take the position that spectatorship is co-constructed, and that for the most part this co-construction depends on non-verbal means. The non-verbal description of spectatorship is a novel aspect of the paper and this contribution could be emphasized more by the authors in their introduction and conclusion.
    The authors do an excellent job of showing that the activity of spectating is one that is characterized by a kind of engagement that belies how the term ‘spectator’ is typically considered to be passive in its deployment. The focus displayed by the spectators who are analyzed is remarkable, despite “shifts in attention” of some (line 462), for example, the participant Lucie exhibits attention to two very different activities. The activity of spectating is anything but passive.
    The authors highlight two aspects of spectatorship 1) they identify three different ways of spectating (as a couple, as friends, and as supporters) and 2) they describe and draw our attention to the embodied practices used to achieve these different ways of spectating. This one-two organization (first identifying types, and then how the embodied behaviors are linked to the types) works to some extent to demonstrate to readers the important contributions of their paper. However, by structuring their argument around types, some of the most important work that the authors have done remains underspecified. The sequence the authors have chosen of first classifying the types of spectators and then describing how they are achieved, in this reviewer’s opinion, foregrounds the types rather than foregrounding the more novel aspect of the paper, i.e. the role of embodied behaviors in “doing being a spectator.” In the case of the first claim, that three types of spectators can be identified, a question can be raised as to whether these three types are in fact separate. For example, couldn’t the spouse Lucie be called a type of supporter as well as spouse, since she coaches her husband on what to do, and similarly, aren’t two of the friend spectators on the couch in the dance example actually doing the kind of close touching of a couple? The different classifications or types in any case aren’t the most interesting part of the paper, to this reviewer. Rather the most exciting part of the paper is the careful description of the multimodal behaviors that spectators engage in (regardless of their category). The activity of being a spectator in these settings is complex—a spectator has to participate in ways that are expertly timed and are economical, and don’t distract the player too much from the concentration required to play. For example, spectator Lucie does an excellent job of fitting her remarks to both the action of her husband and the action in the onscreen game. She does this in an economical and repetitive fashion that enables her husband to finally achieve success. It would be interesting to have the authors analyze what it is about her initial vs. subsequent embodied behaviors (or the aggregate of them) that help him achieve this success, all the time her husband is staring not at her, but at the screen. Lucie must look at his player moves plus how the screen reacts, not to mention having to interrupt her own activity at a time when her own activity can be paused. This is all very fascinating and the authors capture some of this but they could certainly highlight these aspects more (perhaps in subsequent work). Rather than stopping at concluding that spectating is an interactional achievement, the authors could highlight more the skills that the interactants display, skills in performing and interpreting multimodal cues. The way the authors show the role of the embodied practices of the non-players/spectators contributes to studies on interaction and multimodality. The authors will hopefully focus more on this in subsequent papers.
    In the first extract analyzed, more could be made of other aspects of the couple relationship, other than just “doing being a couple,” for example, Lucie shows interest in what Greg is doing, but the reverse is not true, in other words, she engages in his activity, but he doesn’t in hers, i.e. they are each doing being a couple in a different way?
    Choosing three different games, rather than three examples of playing the same game is fruitful for analyzing the varied types of spectatorship, but creates an analytical situation in which generalizations from so few examples have to be somewhat tentative.  The small number of examples is a common complaint of critics of some CA/ethnomethodological work. This type of work takes each instance as evidence of widely held behaviors and habits of interaction, much like one native speaker is sufficient to understand the grammar of a language. In the first case of the ‘couple,’ however, the spectatorship seems quite different from the other two examples. More examples would be helpful to understand what couples do when only one is gaming and the other puts herself in the position of a kind of drive-by coach. More could be analyzed about the difference between sets of couples, friends, and supporters, particularly as these differences apply to the authors’ link of spectatorship to relationship. For example, if Lucie were a friend and not a spouse, would it be as acceptable for her attention to be split between being a spectator and simply doing a separate activity? How might her split attention be interpreted?
    Another interesting aspect that the authors bring to our attention is the voluntary acceptance by the gamer/player of the position of novice and the player’s expectation and acceptance of input from the spectators (the authors refer to this in line 681). This expectation of spectator critique, combined with the authors’ description of the activity as a problem-solving activity, opens the possibility for the authors to link their study to the huge number of researchers in business and education trying to understand the nature of problem solving. The authors may be missing an opportunity to make their ethnographic work more broadly applicable, since this is so obviously a team problem-solving environment. There are also interesting connections to the ordinary ethics literature when in line 393 one of the spectators discusses his rationale for certain supporting moves, and states that he wants to start to favor the underdog. This displays the way negotiations about morality in terms of support/coaching within a game setting (and competition) can take place.
    The authors do a good job of recruiting scholarship that is applicable to what they are analyzing, but there is even more potential to do this. According to what the authors have shown in this paper, assessments seem to be a big part of what spectators do, so looking at the CA and ethnomethodological work on assessments and bringing that into their work would be useful. The authors discuss a slow problem-solving approach vs. a fast problem-solving approach. This is intriguing and warrants some follow-up work in another paper.
    The sequence with Lucas has potential for understanding aspects of screen vs. face-to-face behavior, i.e. the dancer on the screen (the leader Lucas has to follow) has no flexibility to alter his “teacher’s” timing in order to help the novice (Lucas) by e.g. slowing down. Lucas is in fact paired with a person who is much more skilled. It’s almost unfair, though the participants don’t display this attitude. If we consider the vast literature on expert-novice interactions, it’s clear that this isn’t how novices are usually treated by experts (i.e. one size fits all). (In fact in the other game under analysis Xav’s coaching sequences contain directives as well as praising.) Being mocked for dancing ability and having little dancing skill can be negatively correlated with other aspects of a person’s personality. Interestingly, spectators are allowed to treat the budding artist/performer’s dance moves as unworthy of respect or awe. As spectators they have little of the moral attitude displayed by Xav (the authors comment on how laughter or mocking has moral implications, line 1048). Lucas finds himself in the interesting position of being an intermediary between participating as an onscreen performer and participating “at home.”
    While the authors’ claim of the importance of embodied practices is well attested in the paper, the claim that the spectators are co-players needs better support. It’s not clear what is gained by joining these roles of spectator and player. Rather, separating the roles of player and spectator seems much more fruitful to developing an understanding of these complex interactions. There don’t seem to be enough similarities between the roles of player and spectator to categorize them with the same term. More can be gained by understanding what’s different about these roles, for example, the stakes are different and the resources spectators have are different. As the authors themselves note, watching and interacting are two different activities (line 45-46), and playing and watching are two different roles that people alternate between.
    This is an excellent paper that makes a significant contribution. It also shows some great potential for future work that can be done by the authors. The goal of this reviewer is not to urge the authors to change this paper, but to acknowledge the contribution as well as to point out some future directions for this intriguing work.
    Elizabeth Keating, University of Texas at Austin

Leave a Comment