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Making sense of video games: An ethnographic case study on the meaning-making practices of Asian adolescents

, Teachers College, Columbia University, United States

Teachers College, Columbia University . Awarded


Despite the growing number of studies on video games, there are still gaps in video game research, especially when it comes to describing the situated (in situ) actions of gameplay. The study explores the locally-produced meaning-making practices of video game players, and analyzes gameplay as it occurs, not as a post hoc, reconstructed event, but as a situated event that unfolds in time. The participants of this study are Asian adolescents in New York City who play video games after school. The study is guided by ethnomethodology, an approach that has been applied to studies involving human-machine interactions, and has been increasingly important in helping us understand how people make sense of environments that involve different interfaces and equipment.

The first finding describes an instructional episode that unfolds between a novice and three expert players. The finding suggests that, when actors have different competencies, they might encounter misunderstanding between the differing interpretations of the event. It also shows that players can continue to make sense within the context of their interaction even when their interpretations of the game diverge from the game designers' intentions. This is because actors use constitutive rules to render their activity into an event that can be mutually understood by other competent actors. The finding suggests that situated learning in video games implies more than simply providing instructions in context; it is also understanding how learners interpret the game and when they need extra support to navigate the complex game environments and controllers.

The second finding demonstrates how players' actions are shaped by their social relationships and are continually refined and clarified by the ongoing deliberation with other players. Players decide, usually during play, what counts as "fair" and "unfair." These definitions are not stable, but are fluid and undergo continual adjustment, often depending on how the players organize their activity.

Finally, the study posits "regular play" as the most fundamental form of play that requires no additional rules and restrictions. This form becomes the basis on which other forms of play, such as training, instructing, and dueling, are built.


Hung, C.Y. Making sense of video games: An ethnographic case study on the meaning-making practices of Asian adolescents. Ph.D. thesis, Teachers College, Columbia University. Retrieved November 13, 2019 from .

This record was imported from ProQuest on October 23, 2013. [Original Record]

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