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