NIck Sherriff 

Chapter 3


As the title indicates this piece of work is concerned with trying to find the pleasures that may exist within the parameters of the video game. The methodology employed had to consider issues such as the sensitivity of the subject within society, the fragmentation and interdisciplinary nature of the lack of academic information and the difficulties of pinning down a definition of pleasure.  As mentioned in the earlier chapter the video game can be considered as having been plagued by value judgements and scaremongering terms associated with ‘moral panics’ such as ‘addiction’, although this assumption may be in part to the lack of good quality research in favour of part-time theorists or ‘moral entrepreneurs’. However it is acknowledged that both theory and research have merit, ‘for innovative thinking and a meticulous attention to the detail of data gathering characterise the practice of social research’. (May. 1993.) ( see references)


 As previously discussed video games were born in the late sixties and early seventies thus these child game players have now matured in to adults who according to the ISDA 2001 report are still playing games. The questionnaire was aimed at the adults who have greater playing experience and the disposable income to frequently participate in video gaming. This piece rather than an external, valued judgement from a non-player is a genuine attempt at an informed internal investigation by an avid games player.  As Evered and Lewis posit an, ‘inquiry from the inside rather than an inquiry from the outside’. (1981)


Within the umbrella term ‘Methodology there are two distinct classifications of research ‘quantitative’ and ‘qualitative’ although that is not to say that research cannot contain elements of both. Exploration of both schools of thought will enhance the understanding of the method undertaken at any given time. Baxter, Hughes and Tight posit,

Quantitative research is, as the term suggests, concerned with the collection and analysis of data in numeric form. It tends to emphasize relatively large-scale and representative sets of data, and is often, falsely in our view, presented or perceived as being about the gathering of ‘facts’. (1996:60)


This does beg the question of whether social aspects of life or in this case the pleasures of video games can be solely represented in a numerical fashion? An earlier discussion that has raised the difficulties of quantifying pleasure per se would seem to negate the use of such a method. Quantitative research is also as stated usually large-scale which is not only expensive in manpower but also financially something that this small-scale study can ill afford. Although it is recognised that certain information gathered quantitatively is useful but for this study it will be left to the professionals who have more adequate resources such as the Interactive Digital Software Association. (See Apendix 4 for the full report.) Therefore a qualitative study was generally employed which is, ‘more open and responsive to its subject’. (Best and Kahn. 1989) Further Baxter et al offer qualitative research as,

…concerned with collecting and analysing information in as many forms chiefly non-numeric, as possible. It tends to focus on exploring, in as much detail as possible, smaller numbers of instances or examples which are seen as being interesting or illuminating, and aims to achieve ‘depth’ rather than ‘breadth’. (1996:60)


Rather than data that lends itself to statistical manipulation (quantitative), qualitative research is more concerned that ‘satisfactory explanations of social activities [video game pleasures] require a substantial appreciation of the perspectives, culture and world-views of the actors [video game players] involved’. (Burgess. 1984) One of the criticisms of qualitative research is that it is ‘impressionistic’ and ‘non-verifiable’, (Allan and Skinner. 1991) although it is the remit of the researcher to assume a position of naivety and therefore be open to new ideas or suggestions. As such perhaps good research is impressionistic (Allan et al. 1991) but as to it being non-verifiable is to oversimplify the nature of the research.  The key aspect of science is verification and the ability to test empirical evidence by replication, which it is agreed cannot be totally achieved by qualitative methods alone. However, the beauty of qualitative research lies in its flexibility and that a researcher can develop themes as and when they arise, exploring avenues that fall outside ‘the previously set formula’ (Allan et al. 1991:182) It is necessary to do this especially when exploring new areas, or unknown worlds. The manner in which one particular researcher asks a question and then develops it makes the data collected less likely to be replicated and perhaps more prone to bias. This does make the notion of replication very difficult to achieve but those who favour this approach argue that the quality of the data gathered affords a greater, ‘reflexivity about the theoretical and conceptual assumptions being made than do those methods which produce apparently more reliable, highly structured data’. (Allan et al. 1991:182) This in-depth style could not be facilitated had a more large-scale method been employed especially on a students budget.


By its very nature this project is qualitative research because, ‘…the focus becomes the detail and quality of the individual or small group’s experience rather than the number of people who responded in a particular way’. (Powney and Watts. 1987) Thus video games players whilst initially categorised for purposes of identification and target sampling are then seen as individuals with differing and complex perceptions of pleasure, which must be investigated in depth to facilitate any sort of understanding.

The research techniques used largely reflect a qualitative nature although occasionally in the questionnaire individual aspects were quantitative, which encompassed ‘factual, attitudinal and explanatory’ (Ackroyd and Hughes. 1983) characteristics. (Full questionnaire at Appendix 2)  The questionnaire served the purpose of a pilot, checking information prior to the selection of respondents for the main interviews.  A written introduction or cover sheet was used explaining the questions and persuading the respondent to complete and return the questionnaire. (Allan et al. 1991, May. 1991)  A contact telephone number was offered to help with any problems and a reassurance was given as to the respondent’s anonymity, which was facilitated by the high score name. The high score name is the displaying of a players high score alongside their abbreviated name, abbreviated initially due to the rudimentary nature of the early machines which only allowed three characters (letters/numbers). Later games allow for full names and replays of events to be stored and displayed.


The initial factual and closed questions dealt with age, sex and the approximate number of hours played per week. The pilot was therefore able to check if the correct target group had been surveyed i.e. adults who play video games.  Such demographic data could be used to assess the typicality of the sample by comparing the percentages with a larger sample. Questions 2 and 3 looked at the experience of the respondents asking them to name various games they had played as well as the complex grid style of question 3, which asked for the ranking of various games. This was also used to ease the respondents into the questionnaire and to get them thinking about games especially their favourites, which they are more likely to remember and want to write about.


As a pilot the questionnaire was able to confirm whether respondents were capable of communicating the relevant information. Some of the words were extremely academic and could appear unfamiliar or daunting to the layperson as such plaisir and jouissance have been changed to ‘following the story’ and ‘the recognition of playing a well made game’. As discussed earlier academics find pleasure hard enough to define as such the average person in the street will find it just as hard. Questions 4 and 5 asked for video gaming pleasure but question 4 was again linked to their favourite game for similar reasons as discussed earlier with question 3. Both the open-ended questions 4 and 5 purposefully came before the pre-coded question 6 thus requiring the respondent’s unprompted own thoughts, facilitating a greater freedom to answer in a way that suits their interpretation. (Baxter et al. 1993, Allan. 1991, May. 1991) However it is agreed that respondents could have skipped forward and used suggestions from question 6 just to please the researcher. To combat this some of the pleasures in question 6 were dummies and a space was left for any pleasures not on the list, thus it would have been difficult to second guess what was required. Question 7 asked respondents to think comparatively (best versus worst) almost an inverse logic, in that if you understand what is bad then the opposite may be what is good. Thus respondents were thought better able to answer if they took parts from what makes a good game and the opposite of what makes games bad. Finally respondents were given the opportunity to take part in the next phase of the research the informal interview.


The interview has been likened to marriage as Oakley posits, ‘…everybody knows what it is, an awful lot of people do it, and yet behind each closed door there is a world of secrets’. (1986:231) This particular interview was qualitative in that it was less structured and informal allowing the researcher to use their knowledge and explore beyond the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses more common in survey interviews. (Allan et al. 1991:203) Lummis (1987:62) extrapolates further suggesting,


…the art of good interviewing lies in being able to keep most of the interview conversational while following various digressions, remembering which questions the flow of information has answered and yet being prepared to question more deeply and precisely when necessary.’


During these interviews the previous knowledge of the researcher (My gaming experiences) facilitated a more in-depth analysis forming an insider’s view similar to that of Allan (1991:203) who posits a change in the ‘research relationship where interacting rather than merely establishing a rapport has been observed.’ In order to keep track of a possible meandering interview a pocket tape recorder was used after first gaining permission from the interviewee although during the interview general notes were made as a reference for the topics discussed thus far. 

This could however be seen as facilitating unforeseen variables such as the preferences or value judgements of the players, notwithstanding the well documented but unintended observer effects which have been noted by Scott (1985) who further offers,


‘The presence and personality of the interviewer are thus acknowledged as variables in the research process, and there is a recognition of the fact that ‘ all researchers operate from within a theoretical overview and … affects the data at all stages.’



All interviews were conducted at the interviewee’s homes in order to put them at ease. Some of the initial survey questions were repeated to refresh their minds and all questions were related to the games the respondents had chosen as favourites or the worst. Thus making memory recall easier and keeping up their interest. Interviewees were again asked to play approximately 15 – 20 minutes of video games prior to the commencement of the interview again aiding recall. A transcript example of an interview is at Appendix 3. Whilst the interview was more unstructured a reference sheet was used in order to ensure certain topic areas had been covered although interviewees were given latitude to go off topic. (Reference sheet at Appendix 5.)

(next chapter)