[OPR] Olbertz-Siitonen & Piirainen-Marsh & Siitonen: Co-constructing presence through shared VR gameplay

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

Co-constructing presence through shared VR gameplay

by Margarethe Olbertz-Siitonen & Arja Piirainen-Marsh & Marko Siitonen

This study takes an ethnomethodological and conversation analytic perspective into understanding how participants playing virtual reality (VR) games co-construct presence in a form of shared gameplay. Our analysis concentrates on the social aspect of presence and play – the observable practices through which participants construct presence while playing VR games.

The data for this study come from instances of play where one person is in charge of the controllers and wearing the VR equipment, and other participants are located nearby – sitting or standing in the same room with a view into the game world through an external screen, but without the ability to directly interact with the game. Video recordings of play situations were transcribed following the principles of multimodal transcription. This means that we were able to look both into the embodied activities of the participants and their relation to talk as well as the active players’ in-game actions as they became visible to the other participants via an external screen.

As a starting point, we utilize a recent theoretization of gameplay where gameplay is seen as arising from “the constant and rather subtle toggle between “here” and “there”” (Larsen/Walther 2019: 2).

In our analysis, we first show how the active player using the VR equipment draws on talk and embodied activity to signal their presence in the shared physical environment, while simultaneously conducting actions in the virtual space, and thus creates spaces for the other participants to take part in negotiating emerging puzzles of the game. Second, we describe how the co-players other participants draw on the contextual configurations of the moment in displaying co-presence and position themselves as active co-players whose contributions are consequential to unfolding gameplay.

Through our analysis, we are able to demonstrate how the participants’ verbal and bodily practices of meaning making dynamically constitute a kind of oscillation between different modes of participation, and that it is this oscillation, that is at the heart of shared gameplay. Similarly, we are able to demonstrate how the positioning by the active players and their co-players relative to the physical and virtual spaces feed into co-constructing presence and contribute to the dynamic flow of ‘here’ and ‘there’ of gameplay.

Most studies looking at player interaction have done so in the context of multiplayer games. Our study contributes to the literature by demonstrating how gameplay can be communicatively constructed even in situations where the participants have differential rights and possibilities to act and influence the game. Instead of acting as a possible disturbance, the other participants can be seen as a potential resource, and an active party in forging the social fabric of the event in the first place. Our analysis shows how the participants’ spatial organization in the shared material environment enables interaction and creates possibilities for different forms of participation, such as transitioning between roles of ‘spectator’ and ‘co-player’.


Larsen, Lasse/Walther, Bo (2019): The Ontology of Gameplay: Toward a New Theory. In: Games and Culture. [online first February 2019] https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412019825929 .

One Reply to “[OPR] Olbertz-Siitonen & Piirainen-Marsh & Siitonen: Co-constructing presence through shared VR gameplay”

  1. RedaktionAugust 27, 2020 at 15:31Reply

    Reviewer: Pentti Haddington


    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read the manuscript. I read it with great interest and enjoyed it very much.

    The manuscript studies interaction in a joint gameplay of an immersive virtual reality game. In the set-up, one primary player is wearing gadgets that allow them to enter and play in a VR space and co-players follow the game through an external screen without a possibility to control the game. The study focuses on how the co-present participants all actively participate in the gameplay although they don’t all have the same access to control the game. The analytic focus is on the moments where the co-participants’ (co-players’) talk and embodied actions become intertwined with the player’s actions as they become visible on the screen.

    The authors argue that the participants’ verbal and embodied conduct constitutes “a kind of oscillation between different modes of participation, and that it is this oscillation, (sic) that is at the heart of shared gameplay.”

    The authors study two cases:

    1. the primary player drawing on talk and embodied conduct to signal their presence in the shared physical environment while acting in the virtual space, and how this creates a possibility for others to take part in the game;
    2. non-players (or co-players) drawing on contextual affordances to display participation and participate actively in the gameplay.

    The paper has been written carefully, the analysed set-up is interesting and explained clearly, and the interaction in it is definitely worth studying. The analysis is also interesting.

    I recommend that the paper is accepted with revisions. I would ask the authors to attend to two points: (A) to crystallise the main point of their study and (B) to strengthen the analysis by grounding it more clearly to the participants’ talk and actions in their sequential context. (Currently the analysis often just describes the participants’ actions, therefore hiding what I consider the paper’s important analytic point.)

    I will next explain in more detail what I mean.

    The authors argue several times that gameplay in this setting is a joint activity where the primary player and the co-players offer each other possibilities to progress the game. They also state that the gameplay is collaborative despite the primary player’s and the co-players’ different roles in the situation. This is true. At the same time, for a conversation analytic study, this is quite a predictable finding.

    At the same time, the authors argue that the participants’ actions are indicative of “oscillation” between different modes of participation. I find this an exciting observation worth developing. The authors also use the concept ‘double orientation’ to describe this phenomenon. Indeed, the primary player and the co-players – while “being in the same space” – have only partial and limited access to some aspects of each other’s spaces (physical vs. virtual respectively). Hence, they don’t have the same access (in terms of perception and control) to or fully share the interactional resources in those spaces. They are also not able to control the actions in the virtual and physical spaces in the same way. It seems therefore, that the situations are characterized by asymmetry, which becomes evident in the participants’ talk and actions.

    The authors address this, but I think the claim could be much stronger and more consistent, and it could be grounded in the participants’ talk and actions. This relates to point (B): the analysis remains a bit descriptive. The analytic claims about ‘oscillation’ between different modes of participation and ‘asymmetry’ could be strengthened by showing how the co-participants’ responses or subsequent actions confirm the claims about “oscillation”. In the excerpts, there are several actions and sequences that seem to build on, assume and create ‘co-presence’:

    • proposal sequences (Excerpt 2, Excerpt 5),
    • question-answer sequences (Excerpt 1, Excerpt 3),
    • noticing-response sequences (Excerpt 1),
    • reference-making (Excerpt 4, lines 68-69, with “mutta miten se pääsee tonne kun tuo on tolleen ilmassa” or “ton rampin yli” => these presuppose mutual access and collaboration)
    • displays of accountability (Excerpt 4, lines 60-61), which implies and creates co-presence.

    However, the design of some turns and actions seems to be indicative of the asymmetrical access to participate, e.g.

    • missing responses to first-pair parts (or ‘sequential misalignment’); for example, in excerpt 3, Simo’s repair initiation in line 31 may reflect the distributed, asymmetrical or divided co-presences of the participant. Prior to the repair initiation, there are several turns doing proposals and making clarification questions which are probably targeted to Simo, but Simo doesn’t respond to them, until line 31, with the repair initiation. The repair initiation suggests that he wasn’t paying attention to what was talked about in the “physical” space.
    • online commentary / self-talk (several excerpts), which seem to individual or subjective actions.
    • the use and role of gestures (see lines 361-366): the gestures used by co-players are not available to the primary player and hence their interactional role in this “double space” situation is limited.

    The latter points above seem to reflect the oscillation between the modes of participation and indicate that the primary player and the co-players are acting in different spaces (“double orientation”, “double space”) while still playing the game together. The paper would make a nice contribution to research, if it made this claim even stronger.

    I don’t think that strengthening the argument about “oscillation between the different forms of participation” requires restructuring of the paper; it can be done by highlighting the most important observations and wording the analysis carefully by relying on sequential analysis.

    I’ve attached the manuscript and made few corrections in it (typos, etc.). [see OJS; MM]

    Recommendation: Revisions Required

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