The Game Situation: An object-based game analysis framework

Miruna Vozaru

Research output: Book / Anthology / Report / Ph.D. thesisPh.D. thesis


Quantitative research conducted in cognitive and social sciences has yet to settle on specific methods of managing the digital game as a behavioral stimulus. Consequently, studies and their results are often confronted by criticism of their internal and ecological validity, and the size and generalizability of the results. The current work starts with the exploratory question ‘What role does the video game have in experimental research studies?’ intending to understand current practices, the reasoning behind their use, and their drawbacks. This exploratory question informs the parameters of this game analysis framework , specifically in terms of scope.
Previously developed frameworks have generally conceptualized the video game as a stimulus, with varying degrees of determination on the player’s behavior. The heterogeneity of games, and their variety, impose a resistance to this conceptualization that results in threats to the validity of the studies. As a response to this, this framework seeks to reframe the video game from a stimulus to a situation. We speak of a stimulus when we are interested in a specific object of the organism’s attention or response pattern. A situation, however, is defined by who the participants are, the location, and the type of activity or activities that are taking place. This reconceptualization appears to relate more closely to the procedure of the player engaging with the game and thus appears as a viable and productive avenue of exploration.
This leads to the second general question of the thesis, ‘What is a game situation?’ While research into psychological situations is broad, knowledge and concepts cannot be transferred wholesale to the constructed environments of games. The instantiation of the ‘who’, ‘what’ and ‘where’ in the case of the game situation must be established, in order to understand what a game situation is. Relying on ecological psychology, and particularly the concept of affordances, the current framework settles on game objects as the building blocks of the situation. Game objects are considered to be instantiations of game rules, transporting and modifying the agency of the situation participants that act on and through them. Game objects are linked by their complementary disponibilities (e.g., an avatar that can grab, can do so with a grabbable box), forming networks that represent the momentary game situation. Thus, this reconceptualization considers the game system and the player as two participants in a situation, determined by the momentary configuration of perceivable game objects.
The perspective of the game environment as an object network allows for multiple avenues of exploration of the player’s engagement with the game, both on a macro and micro level. On the macro level, observations about the most influential and influenced objects, for example, can provide information regarding the manner through which the player may exercise control in the engagement and how the game system challenges that control. Such an examination can also provide insights into similarities between games that belong to different genres, and differences between apparently similar games. In this way, it provides a verifiable means of tracing types of game engagement, starting from a unified common ground – the game object and its relations. On the micro-level, the framework provides a means of examining momentary object configurations - the aforementioned game situations. This answers the requirements presented at the beginning, of providing a means of selecting and controlling the limited engagement between the player and the game during an experimental study. The focus on momentary interactions respects the heterogeneous nature of games and allows equivalences to be made across such momentary interactions and not the games as a whole.
While presenting trace characteristics of the domain of origin, particularly in its focus on momentary engagements, the framework is a generative tool, that by virtue of the small scale of its constituent parts, the game objects, and their verifiability, can act as a common ground for the systemic analysis of games.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherIT-Universitetet i København
Number of pages227
ISBN (Electronic)978-87-7949-070-3
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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