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

Update (22.03.2023): The Open Peer Review for this submission has been completed. Based on the Open Peer Review, the article has been approved for publication in the Journal for Media Linguistics and is available at: https://doi.org/10.21248/jfml.2021.31.

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 .

3 Replies 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

  2. RedaktionNovember 18, 2020 at 16:50Reply

    Reviewer: Björn Sjöblom

    Recommendation: Revisions Required 


    Overall, this is a well written and methodologically sound paper the contributes to a growing body of work related to interaction in various sorts of gaming. The study is well designed and presented.  As such, I recommend it for publication, with some revisions. These will entail some additional literature review as well as some new sections of text but since, but the paper does not need major restructuring or overhaul I classify these as minor revisions.  


    The ethnomethodological and conversation analytical framing of the paper is well thought out, and shows the interaction intricacies of cooperative gaming in a VR-game. While the EMCA perspective is useful in unpacking the details of gaming interaction, the paper will be well served by a more thorough engagement with some of its conceptual underpinnings, which in turn will give it a stronger connection to both EMCA-style interaction analysis of games and game studies in general. 


    Following, I have listed the sections that need changes in order to improve the paper’s overall quality.


    1)    The concept of presenceis important to the paper (even included in its title and its main aim in the first paragraph. The paper claims to study “the social aspects of presence and play”, yet the reader is hardly given any definition or discussion of presence outside of the contrastive stance that you take. The article should include a more substantive section on this concept. This will also aid in developing the discussion further. Presently, the discussion talks about challenging particular views of presence, but this challenge is difficult to see when the concept that you challenge has not been sufficiently presented. There are also some shifts in what the papers does: is “co-constructing presence” (Title) the same as “construct co-presence” (discussion)? 


    2)    Related to (1) is the issue of what the paper actually studies. Co-construction of presence is set up as the phenomenon under study, but the analysis and discussion focus much more in the oscillations between single-player and cooperative gaming. How these interactions related to the co-construction of presence, as an overarching concept? This has implications for the analysis: when you say that a players “signals his presence” in the shared environment, what does the term presence actually mean here? 


    3)    The paper uses Larsen & Walther’s ontology of game play. The section relating to this model, both in the introduction and in the discussion, needs expansion. The model is more complex than the paper states, and in order to discern the study’s contribution (or relation) to Larsen & Walther’s model, it has to be explained in more detail to the reader. 


    Presently, you also discuss the model in the context of different methodological approaches to game studies (formalist and player centric). While the model does try to bridge this gap, your own methods are player centric. In order for the study to engage more deeply with Larsen & Walter’s model you will need to expand on the being-here and being-there of both “game” and “play”. This will then also need to be related to in the actual analysis of the excepts – how is “the dynamic flow of ‘here’ and ‘there’ of gameplay” actually instantiated in the interaction. 


    4)    The paper will be well served with an expanded motivation of the interactional situation it studies. VR is an interesting domain of study, but the paper does not explain why VR was chosen in this study. Because it is a constructed situation (rather than an ethnographic exploration), you need to motivate why VR was an important element. Could it not have been done with any sort of single player game played with multiple spectators? Is it the asymmetric resources that make this situation particularly interesting (that the player cannot see the room or the spectators?). If it is the participants’ differential rights and responsibilities that is of interest, that could be studied in a different setup. If it has to do with “presence” (certainly a topic discussed in relation to VR), then this needs to be more clearly explained (see (1) and (2) above).


    5)    There are EMCA-studies of gameplay that could be useful in the analysis. Several of them are discussed in Reeves, Greiffenhagen & Laurier (2017). This includes, but is not limited to, Bennerstedt & Ivarsson’s (2010) discussion of accountable action in multiplayer games. 



    6)    The excerpts are well presented and surprisingly readable, given the complexity of the data. The analyses will be easier to follow if you place all of the analyses after the excerpts. As it stands, there are several cases where the analyses commence without the reader having read the excerpt first (for example in section 5.1 Case 1, detailed analysis is given, including line numbers, before the excerpt). An introduction and lead-in to the excerpt increases readability, but leave the analyses until after the excerpt itself. 

  3. Margarethe Olbertz-SiitonenFebruar 9, 2021 at 16:33Reply

    Response to the reviewers
    First, we want to thank both reviewers for their valuable comments. We appreciate the care and attention that the reviewers have given to the manuscript. 
    In response to the reviews, we made some general changes: The introduction, as well as the theoretical part on gameplay, have been extensively modified. We removed entire paragraphs of text, and wrote new ones, in an attempt to make the motivation of the study as well as its theoretical underpinnings clearer. We also made changes to the discussion after revising our analysis.
    After deliberation, we removed instances of the word ‘co-player’ and replaced them with ‘other participant’. This was done so as to increase clarity, and in order to be more consistent in our argumentation.
    Since the reviewers highlighted distinct aspects and proposed slightly different paths forward, it has been a challenge to address all of the comments while still keeping in with the special issue’s theme and the word limit of the article. In what follows, we explain the choices we have made and describe how the manuscript has changed in the process. 
    Reviewer 1 requested that we crystallize the main point of the study and strengthen the analysis by grounding it more clearly in the participants’ talk and actions in their sequential context. He suggested that in addition to highlighting the collaborative nature of gameplay, we develop the observation that “the participants’ actions are indicative of oscillation between different modes of participation”. We found this observation very valuable and have revised the analysis and the text in order to strengthen this observation.  
    Reviewer 1 was also right to draw attention to the participants’ different access to the physical and virtual spaces and different ability to control actions in the game. To address this point, we have highlighted this asymmetry right from the start and revised the analysis so that it pays more systematic attention to the limitations of access and how these are managed by the participants. To this end, we have gone through the analysis paying detailed attention to first pair parts that do not get a response from others, online commentary by the active player and the use of gestures (points 8-10 in R1). We have revised the analysis and attempted to clarify the asymmetries involved. It is clear that online commentary, for example, is structured by the participants’ different ability to control actions. However, we argue that it is not merely individual or subjective action, but rather makes the active player’s (online) reasoning public and available for the others. 
    We have also revised the description of the co-participant’s use of gestures that are not visible to the player in control. The use of gestures is indeed structured by the asymmetry between the participants. However, the data shows that gestures are a recurrent resource for both the active player (as is visible in instances of virtual pointing) and the co-participants, who use gestures to depict features of the visual objects or scenes referred to in talk. Although these gestures are not visible to the player, they show orientation to shared access to the visual field and provide resources for formulating suggestions, for example. It is worth noting that the gestures are also potentially observable to other participants in the physical space.
    Reviewer 2 suggested that the article should more strongly engage in its conceptual underpinnings. He pointed out that the paper would benefit from including a clearer view on presence and noted that there is an inconsistency in the way the article is framed in terms of “co-constructing presence” vs. “constructing co-presence” (comments No. 1 and No. 2). This was very true. We modified the title (“constructing co-presence”) and body of the text to capture better what the paper is about, namely the ways that participants create a sense of being together in spite of the asymmetries involved. In other words, we made sure that we are consistent in how we speak about constructing co-presence.
    In addition, reviewer 2 recommended that the section relating to Larsen and Walther’s (2019) model should be expanded, and he presented some critical remarks on the way it is discussed and used (comment No. 3). This is a fair point. The model is indeed complex, as it includes multiple levels ranging from very abstract (ontological) to the more concrete question of “doing” gameplay (ontic). We added information regarding the model into the theoretical background. In the end, diving fully into the theory proved undoable within the scope of this article. Thus, we added a remark about this in the text, but pointed out to the reader that testing or developing this model per se is not the main point of this study. What we did is that we returned to the topic of oscillation more clearly in the discussion, and pointed out how co-constructing gameplay can relate to constructing co-presence (comment No. 2).
    In our revision, we also included more reasoning for the choice of the context. As reviewer 2 pointed out, the motivation of the interactional situation we study was not apparent in the first version of the paper (comment No. 4). It should be clearer now that what we are interested in here is participants’ orientations to asymmetry in terms of differential rights and possibilities to act and influence the game, i.e. how the material ecology of VR activities shapes shared play and how this ties in with co-presence as a resource. Reviewer 2 further proposed to include more game related EMCA-studies to support our analysis (comment No. 5). In addition to the EMCA-sources we had already utilized in our work, we added links to previous research.
    Finally, reviewer 2 noted that in some cases, the readability of our analysis was somewhat hampered by the order of how we presented excerpts and analysis, and he advised to always place the analysis after the passage in question (comment No. 6). In our revision, we changed almost all of these instances accordingly.

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