Conversation in computer games is also research in interaction

It is Friday morning. In a conference room at the Department of Business Communication, Aarhus University, a small group of researchers have gathered around a table with coffee and tea. The group gathers every other Friday to discuss their research amongst themselves. They all do research in human interaction – in how to understand and interpret a conversation taking place among two or more persons. The Group call themselves “Social Interaction Research at Aarhus University (SIRAU)” and is part of CESAU.

By Ida Marie H. Pipernmj@cesau.au.dk

Today, Mark Thornberg-Pedersen presents his research and asks the rest of the group to help him with his next step. Mark is a Ph.D. student at Information Studies, University of Southern Denmark. The purpose of his Ph.D. project is to bring about understanding of how people communicate virtually while playing computer games on the internet. Mark has brought with him a brief sequence from a computer game and a conversation. The group remain silent while watching the screen, listening to the conversation, and taking down notes on a piece of paper.

Many years of interactional research

The group consists of about 12 active members altogether, but today’s meeting features five persons. Sae Oshima from Japan, assistant professor at the Department of Business Communication , BSS, Ditte Laursen, post.doc at the main university library, and Caroline Grønkjær, youngest member of the group and still a BA student of linguistics at Aarhus University. And then there is Birte Asmuß, associate professor at the Department of Business Communication, AU. She is the informal moderator of today’s discussion and has been part of the group since it was formed fifteen years ago.

Jakob Steensig, associate professor of Linguistics, AU, still an active member of SIRAU, initiated the forming of the group in the 1990s. Birte explains that the croup has always spanned a broad spectrum regarding areas of interest as well as participants. “Everybody is welcome. The only requirement is that one contribute when present”, she says, continuing: “What binds us together is our methodological foundations. We all work with conversational analysis as our analytical tool, and our meetings are intented to train our analytic capabilities across a number of institutional contexts.

The group has worked with many different types of interaction, for instance between a ladies’ hairdresser and her customers as well as between leader and employee during performance evaluations. They have also looked at family communication during the evening meal. “And now today, we have been presented with communication between two young men playing a computer game on the internet”.

Alternative workday

Once everybody has sat down and poured a cup of coffee, Mark starts out by saying that this workday may be somewhat different. He is sitting across from four women, and he needs their help in order to analyse conversation in an online computer game. He is aware that the world of virtual gaming is not their home turf. But this is exactly the point.

”I take a lot from presenting my research to someone not accustomed to playing computer games. It draws my attention to whether my explanations need enhancing in order for outsiders to understand my points”, he says.

The group starts out by viewing a sequence in a computer game where two young men cooperate to fight and kill a large green fish. The two men discuss how best to handle the situation.

Standard procedure

Subsequently, the group read the transcript of the conversation between the two men. The group evaluate the transcript, suggesting corrections. It is important that the transcript be as detailed as possible, providing insight into both what is said and how it is said. Mark listens to their suggestions for correction, takes notes, and asks questions back. Next, he draws attention to a certain passage for which he needs help. They all focus upon three lines that are then processed for possible interpretations.

“This is how it always works”, says Birte. “We have quite a fixed procedure for how we work and help each other”.

It is Mark’s first time participating in the group. And it has been quite rewarding for him. He will go home and take look at some of the group’s comments straight away.

”It is rewarding to work with and discuss various areas”, Birte explains. ”All research starts in reality”, says Birte and continues: “A piano player does scale exercises to keep his fingers supple. As researchers we keep ourselves supple by constantly dealing with reality and analysing it. In this way we maintain our analytic skills.