Miguel Co, Mark Enriquez, and Jeremy Yap
We decided to go to the Blue Skies internet cafe in Katipunan to observe its environment and how the other gamers acted. With the help of our informant Ken, we proceeded to play a few games with some friends.
Blue Skies was quite dark inside, with most of the light coming from the monitors of the gamers. The air smelled like cigarettes as there were a lot of smoking clients and the venue was poorly ventilated. The aesthetics of the cafe were very unkempt—dilapidated chairs, obsolete air conditioning systems, dirty walls– but the gaming paraphernalia were very much at par with today’s trends. However, it hardly mattered because nobody seemed to care about anything else except the computers and the consoles. Most of the objects by the tables of the people were either food, drinks, cellphones, or cigarette packs.
The gamers were stoic and very focused on their computers, seemingly oblivious of their environment. We weren’t able to hear much of their gameplay as most of them had headsets.
The game we played was called “Warlock.” In the game, the primary objective was to get to 100 kills. Each player had control over a warlock, and it was a free-for-all game. The warlocks started with a simple fireball spell, but other spells could be unlocked over the duration of the game as the character leveled up.
We were quite anxious when we were starting the activity, seeing as though we were going to play a game we weren’t very familiar with. However when the countdown to the start of the game and the loading screen popped up, we began to be overcome with excitement. When the game proper started, we panicked as the enemy warlocks were throwing fireballs at us. When the tables turned and some of us managed to kill them however, we were filled with the rush of euphoria and power. When there were enemy warlocks with low health, we became very eager as we competed with the other players to eliminate the warlocks and get the kills. But when we were the ones being chased, we again panicked. During times when someone else stole our kill or we were being chased, we were shouting in real life.
Because of the shouts and general excitement, the other players also did the same when we were playing the game. Thus, the game became a noisy and boisterous one. All of us were engrossed in the activity and paid little attention to the surroundings outside. Because this behavior was typical of a gaming group, other people were simply ignoring our seemingly disruptive actions.
Our key informant was Ken Leaño. He taught us the basics and gave us tips on how to play the game when we were starting, and he guided us on what spells and items we should buy for our warlocks. He also gave us insights on the nature of the other gamers, who weren’t as loud and noisy as us on the outside.
Before we started participating, the environment was quiet and consisted of seemingly neutral gamers. However when we joined, we made a lot of noise and the atmosphere of the general environment was elevated. The regular humdrum in the environment was replaced with festive air.
What insights were gained from participation as opposed to observing?
When you participate, you gain a firsthand experience of the event. This means that you get to experience emotions and understand habits, tendencies, and thought processes that you wouldn’t have otherwise felt or understood if you were just observing the activity. In the case of our exercise, an observer is merely able to perceive the external environment of a gamer in a literal and unexplained form, while a participant is able to become immersed in the totality of the gaming culture. By simply being placed inside a microcosm of this culture, you begin to lose the sense of unfamiliarity and weirdness about it that you previously felt while coming from a superficial perspective.
An example in the game “Warlock” that we played, we noticed that the ones who were close to dying and who frequently died were the prime targets of almost all the players. This was because as the purpose of the game was to reach 100 kills the fastest, it was easier to win by attacking someone who was dying or was a beginner rather than someone who was an experienced player or still has a high HP. Moreover, we were able to experience various gaming instincts such as the internal panicking and maintaining of composure while avoiding being killed, the competitive drive from trying to earn kills, and the euphoria of getting a kill or winning a game. We also understood why the players, in trying to earn kills, were clicking attack on the opponent’s immediate vicinity rather than on the opponent itself because they were anticipating its future movements. Additionally, we understood why others were rapidly clicking the mouse to move to a certain area when in fact a single click would have performed the same task– it was some random and unexplained tendency of gamers that multiple clicks would make the character move or respond faster.
These intangibles were not accessible to an observer; we were able to get these insights only after experiencing it ourselves when we played the game. They were some things that we might have completely missed had we not participated also as the people who were playing the game were generally stoic and did not explicitly reveal much information.
What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
The key informant served as our guide for the duration of the experience. The first thing he did was to instruct us on how to play the game properly: basic actions, rules, objectives, etc. The games we played and observed were generally popular titles and were easy to learn so we were able to gather a significant amount of data and participate in the activity without taking up too much time. The informant helped us on how to play better by teaching us strategies and shortcuts that gave us an easier way of winning the game. In a way, it accelerated our learning curve to try to simulate that of a regular participant in the activity and to minimize the possible deviations of our experience to theirs, giving us a more realistic feel of the activity.
The key informant and the participation were able to enrich our comprehension of the games because they were both devices that allowed a straightforward approach to data collection. The former was able to provide us the information through his own experiences, while the latter gave us an avenue to directly access it ourselves. It saves us from the inconvenience of trying to figure out the intricacies of the system in a “brute force” manner. Furthermore, the two devices are complementary in that the key informant is an application of the skills and knowledge that is needed to properly operate the participation tool.
Our key informant, Ken Leaño, was a veteran at the game we were playing. After the game, we were able to consult with him regarding some of the observations and feelings we experienced during the game. Although we were really loud and boisterous during the game, the other people around us seemed to be quiet and reserved. Ken explained that although this seemed to be the case, the people who were playing were no less competitive. It was just that prolonged exposure to playing games such as the one we played led them to adopt a reserved gaming attitude in order not to exhaust themselves as much when they played, and also so that their foes wouldn’t be able to read their expressions.
What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or an interview about it might miss?
In using participant observation, we were able to analyze the experience more closely, and in more detail. The questionnaire would not have been sufficient enough to reiterate what really happens during an actual game. If a questionnaire were used, the person answering the interview would just be recalling things from his experience and it might not be as accurate as an actual event. He also will nott be able to relay certain instances vividly such as the boisterous laughter of the new players and the silence of the veterans while playing the game. One example would be when a student from another group, Micx Nadela, kept on shouting, “What do I do!? What do I press!?” in the beginning of the game, as opposed to the poker face of another student, Jay Caluag.
Holding a pen is clearly not the same as holding a mouse. To most players, especially hardcore ones, each game is a battlefield. The adrenaline rush brought about by the firsthand visuals far exceeds that of recalling from memory alone.
One important observation is that when the players are right there in their “war”, they resort to making quick and possibly rash decisions, which are greatly affected by a mix of excitement and nervousness. Players who are given questionnaires however, are given more time and thus, they are able to think about their strategy more clearly, in the absence of pressure.
Through participant observation, we are able to jot down notes that might have otherwise been inaccessible to us, if we had taken the path of using questionnaires. The reason for this is that our short-term memory is very limited, and we will not be able to remember a lot after a given time. This causes the probable inaccuracy of the answers in questionnaire, if they are expected to be as detailed as the observations done in participant observation.
This blog entry alone is a victim of limited observation. It is a possibility that we have not written down everything we have experienced, since we are not able to write down during each minute of our gameplay. Even if it was our first time to participate in such an excellent multiplayer game, we were quickly sucked into it. At some point, we might have not even stopped to drink water or to check what time it was, let alone noting our observations. That is why we encourage all our readers to also try the game or simply try gaming itself. These paragraphs are but a “picture of a dish” and you cannot expect to be able to taste it unless you have it right in front of you.
For what purposes might an interview or a questionnaire be better than participant observation?
Interviews and questionnaires have the benefit of being able to be conducted expeditiously whereas participant observation takes time. There are some topics or activities that require large-sized sample population, so it is very unfeasible to use participant observation with regard to these areas, as it will take too much time that can be better used somewhere else.
Also, questionnaires allow access to a greater breadth of people to question, given that it takes less time to administer the questionnaires and the results will cover more ground, as opposed to conducting a participant observation– this is carried out in a limited setting with only a few people participating, and sometimes only consisting of groups of friends or acquaintances. Questionnaires and interviews allow for selecting a representative sample from a certain total population that the study specifically targets, meaning the answers from the interview or questionnaire is more in keeping with the various answers that different members of the population would give. This is why questionnaires and interviews are well-suited when making demographic studies.
There are also some topics that participant observation cannot answer, such as someone’s income, their orientation, their educational attainment, and other similar information, which are classified as personal information. With participant observation or even just direct observation these would be mere guesses at best. The better way to find out these information is through interviews or questionnaires. There are some sensitive topics that people would not want to reveal unless it is under anonymity, and that is where anonymous questionnaires prove to be very useful.
There are also some things where it just does not make sense to do participant observation or observation in general. For example, trying to find out what people do in the shower or how they go about their sexual relationships is obviously off-limits in terms of observation in general. The better way to find answers is to only ask questions, meaning interviews.
There are also instances when participant observation simply is not possible. It is not possible to conduct participant observation in a village that has experienced a bombing run or to a person who has witnessed a murder. In these situations interviews would be better because they allow for a restructuring of the event first and subsequently drawing information from this because it is not possible for the interviewer to recreate and observe the situation himself.
Ciccarelli, Saundra K., and J. Noland. White. “The Science of Psychology.” Psychology. Third ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009. 23-25. Print.