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Game Studies - Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games

Mia Consalvo

Mia Consalvo is a visiting associate professor in the Comparative Media Studies program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames and is co-editor of the Handbook of Internet Studies. Her current research interests include the role of Japan in the development of the game industry, social and casual games, and women players.

Nathan Dutton

School of Telecommunications Ohio University Athens, OH 45701

Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games

by Mia Consalvo, Nathan Dutton

Abstract: Although the study of digital games is steadily increasing, there has been little or no effort to develop a method for the qualitative, critical analysis of games as "texts" (broadly defined). This paper creates a template for such analyses by developing and explaining four areas that game researchers should consider when studying a game: Object Inventory, Interface Study, Interaction Map, and Gameplay Log. Through the use of an extended example (The Sims and three of its expansion packs: Livin' Large, House Party and Hot Date) as well as examples from different styles and genres of games, the case is made for employing these four areas or components as a (developing) methodology for the critical analysis of one or many digital games.

Game analysis: Developing a methodological toolkit for the qualitative study of games

What does it mean to "study" a videogame? How could one analyze the "text" of a game, to understand the message (or multiple messages) that it contains? Some scholars would argue that games are not texts at all and certainly cannot be understood through media studies methods such as textual or ideological analysis (Juul, 2000). That critique has been made with each new media form and, with each, newer or altered modes of analysis have appeared, such as the virtual ethnographies of IRC and computer-mediated discourse analysis (Herring, 2004; Poster, 2002). Scholars studying these media have acknowledged that the tools of analysis must continually be modified, in subtle and occasionally radical ways. But even though the study of digital games[1] is taking off, and we are seeing ideological and textual studies of individual games as well as genres of games, little has been done to actively develop a methodological system for the qualitative, critical analysis of the form.

Previous empirical work in the area of game studies has taken two main approaches-either studies of the audience for games (the players) or critiques of the games themselves. Researchers interested in game players have conducted experiments (Sherry, Curtis & Sparks, 2003); distributed surveys (Media Analysis Laboratory, 1998; Sherry, Lucas, Rechtsteiner, Brooks & Wilson, 2001); performed indepth interviews with game players (Oksman, 2002; Schott and Horrell, 2000; Yates and Littleton, 2001) and analyzed the "log files" that record all chat between the players in online multiplayer games (Wright, Boria & Breidenbach, 2002). Other researchers have addressed the "text" of digital games-seeking to determine its contents in regards to issues such as levels of violence and aggression (Kinder, 1991; Provenzo, 1991); portrayals of minorities (Ow, 2000); ideological assumptions operating in the game (Friedman, 1995; Fuller and Jenkins, 1995; Miklaucic, 2001; Poblocki, 2002) and, most often, representations of women in games (Banks, 1998; Heintz-Knowles and Henderson, 2002; Kennedy, 2002; Kinder, 1991; Okorafor and Davenport, 2001; Provenzo, 1991).

Some studies of game content rely on content analyses that explicitly code for such items as avatar appearance or actions within the game (Heintz-Knowles and Henderson, 2002; Okorafor & Davenport, 2001), but the more qualitative studies have been less forthcoming about how games were studied, other than the assumption that they were played and carefully thought about by the author. For example, Helen Kennedy (2002) conducts an excellent analysis of the quasi-feminist character Lara Croft from the popular Tomb Raider (Eidos Interactive, 1996) series, but she does not detail how her analysis was conducted, other than to explain the moves and appearance of Croft. Likewise, Tanya Krzywinska's (2003) analysis of the extended Buffy-verse found in the videogame Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fox Interactive, 2002) as well as the television show of the same name makes sharp insights into how the game and the show offer and extend different versions of "agency" to the player/ viewer, but there is no explicit statement about how that analysis was begun or conducted.

Scholars such as Aarseth (2003), Brooker (2001) and Konzack (2002) have noted the lack of methodologies of critical analysis, and begun to address the need, yet they do not systematically lay out elements in a game that can help a researcher with the specifics of analysis. Brooker's case study of the game Jetman provides an early template for analysis, looking at the elements of institution, authorship, character and narrative, genre and socio-political connotations and remakes (2001). Yet his study does not lay out why these elements were chosen as opposed to other components (such as the game world or the explicit notion of gameplay), and he appears more interested in exploring one game than creating a method that is applicable to other games.

Konzack's intent is to create a typology for computer game analysis, and he presents seven "layers" of a game that must be analyzed; although, in his own analysis he does not address them all. The layers include hardware, program code, functionality, gameplay, meaning, referentiality and socio-culture (2002, pp. 91-98). While the attempt to create a structure for game analysis is valuable, layers such as "gameplay" conflate many elements (for example, positions; resources; space; time; goal; obstacles; knowledge and rewards/ penalties) and little is offered in the way of suggestions for how to analyze these particular elements.

Finally, Aarseth (2003) recognizes the limitations of Konzack's broad typology and attempts to provide a narrower focus. He argues that there are three main ways of gaining knowledge about a game: "we can study the design, rules and mechanics of the game ... we can observe others play, or read their reports and reviews ... we can play the game ourselves" (p.3). Yet rather than offering more specifics, Aarseth ends by backing away from concrete suggestions to argue that "in gathering information about the game, we should use as many sources as possible. Playing is essential, but should be combined with other sources if at all possible ... The analysis should also contain reflection on the sources used; where they come from, what could have been included, why did we select the ones we did, etc" (p.7). Aarseth's main point is thus not to elucidate a concrete methodology, but to argue that game researchers must play games,[2] and also gather as much information about the game as possible from other sources.

So while these articles point to the need for developing a qualitative methodology for game analysis, they do not provide as much help as they could in getting researchers to that concrete method. We attempt to remedy this situation by creating a preliminary template for critical/ textual game analysis.[3] This template is meant to serve as one way (likely among others) for game analysts to approach games in a way that is systematic but not rigidly so. We illustrate how the method works in two ways: 1) we draw on different styles and forms of games to point out how each element of the template can be adapted through use and 2) we apply all areas of the template to one game, to see (for example) how sexuality is expressed in The Sims (Electronic Arts, 2000) and three of its expansion packs (Livin' Large (2001), House Party (2000), and Hot Date (2001)). In doing so we begin the work of developing a framework for scholars interested in how to analyze games as important cultural artefacts that can reveal social, political, and other insights about contemporary life.

So is simply playing a game, similar to watching a film, the proper method? Clearly not, as Aarseth and Konzack are careful to point out-at minimum the game must be played by the researcher, but we argue that this playing must be augmented by careful analysis of the various components of the game itself. There are many elements to contemporary digital games that contribute to the experience of playing; some of which are immediately vital to the player, and some of which are not. For example, most games have avatars that can be controlled and that have appearances that might be alterable (or not) by the player; games have (more and less) sophisticated interfaces, including onscreen menus, radars and life/ health gauges, as well as nested menus and information screens that the player can call up; games may give the player choices of dialogue, direction or potential actions that likely change over time; and games may contain a simple or intricate system of objects that are central to playing and winning the game. As of yet, there has been no clear and careful elaboration of a systematic method for examining how these various elements operate singly and in conjunction to constitute the "text" of a game, and what the larger significance of that game might then be.

Here we outline and develop a template for the qualitative, critical analysis of games as broadly figured "texts." In so doing, we will make some distinctions between elements that may seem arbitrary or artificial, but at this beginning stage we believe it is necessary to draw lines somewhere, even if they are later recast in different ways. To that end, we offer four areas of analysis that should be explored if a researcher is to properly study a game: Object Inventory, Interface Study, Interaction Map and Gameplay Log. Each area offers its own information about the game, and can certainly be studied on its own, but greater insights can be gained when information from each area is combined, yielding a more thorough, consistent analysis. Each tackles a specific part of a game and contributes to the overall analysis. These areas represent the components of a game most relevant for play and encompass static and dynamic, changeable and unchangeable aspects of the game. Using these areas, researchers can develop research questions that look at ideological assumptions operating in a game, or determine if certain theories can best help explain a game or series of games. The areas also allow for comparison across games, to help researchers start to identify larger patterns in games and/ or genres.

In each of the following sections we describe the parts of a game each methodological tool covers, some beginning questions the researcher could ask and each tool's larger significance to the overall analysis. We use a few examples to demonstrate how different games could be analyzed, and we conclude each section with a brief analysis of how The Sims and its expansion packs were analyzed using each technique.[4] In this case we focus our analysis on how sexuality is created and expressed in the game. The analysis itself comes from a larger study but is here condensed to focus on the methodological approach.

Object Inventory

Playing a single digital game on a home console or PC can now encompass upwards of hundreds of hours of play. During that time, the player is often encouraged to collect various objects that are used to enhance the avatar or gameplay, to help in solving puzzles, or to aid in ultimately "winning" the game. For example, in console roleplaying games such as the Final Fantasy series, players collect a virtual mega-pharmacy of healing potions, elixirs and ability enhancers, in order to keep their avatars healthy during extended battles. Indeed, the only limit is that players cannot have more than 99 of any one item in their possession-encumbrance is not an issue, and neither is the practical problem of hauling the stuff around. Objects can also be collected to help solve puzzles, as in the adventure game The Longest Journey (Funcom, 2000), where the protagonist, "April Ryan," must be aware enough to pick up an old rubber glove from a wastebasket in order to solve a puzzle that occurs days later and in a different location.

A useful way for researchers to understand the role that objects can play in a game is to create an object inventory that catalogues all known objects that can be found, bought, stolen or created, and produce a detailed list or spreadsheet that lists various properties of each item. It is likely that the categories for items will vary with each game or game genre (first-person shooters will have more weapons, while farming simulations such as Harvest Moon (Natsume, 1990) will have more seed collections), so the researcher should engage in a pilot study of the inventory, determining through trial and error the characteristics of the objects that need to be detailed (see Table 1 for the object inventory sheet used for study of The Sims). Common categorizations that researchers could begin with include:

  • Whether objects are single or multi use
  • The interaction options for objects: do they have one use (and what is it)?
  • Do objects have multiple uses (and what are they)?
  • Do those uses change over time?
  • The object's cost
  • A general description of the object.

Creating such an inventory can help the researcher ask larger questions about the game such as: What role or importance do objects have in the game? Is the player encouraged to collect "stuff" for the sake of having it, or is there utility in most objects? What can be inferred about the economic structure of the game from the pricing of objects, their relative scarcity or abundance? Are objects valued more than people or interactions in the game? These are only a few of the questions that can arise from considering the objects.

For example, the popular Nintendo series Pokémon encourages players to collect as many monsters possible, either by capturing them, winning them in battles, or trading with friends. In the game, communication is seen as a way to enhance trade, as the ultimate goal is a complete collection of monsters (seen here as objects), rather than the more traditional roleplaying game goal of "saving the world."

Likewise, consider what the object inventory of The Sims can tell us about the game and its style of gameplay. An important part of The Sims is building houses and furnishing them. To start, players must furnish each house with the bare essentials of living-including a bed, refrigerator, toilet, shower, stove and the like. After making sure that Sims can keep their basic needs filled, players can slowly fill the houses with telephones, televisions, stereos, artwork and items for career advancement such as bookcases for study. In the game and three expansion packs, players can purchase more than 400 items for use in their Sims' homes, each ranging in price from 10 to 15,000 "Simoleans" (Sim currency). Those objects have been carefully designed to fulfil various Sim needs, and an analysis of a subset can be helpful in understanding the construction and maintenance of Sim sexuality.

Most objects in the game are single use or have no direct use, such as showers that can only accommodate one Sim at a time, or an artificial plant that cannot be interacted with at all. Yet 21 percent of objects are directly multi-use, meaning a variable number of Sims can be directed to engage with the object or "join" other Sims engaging with the object. Objects can then play a role in Sim socializing, and the potential for (and engagement in) romance. A total of 46 objects enable romantic interactions (11 percent of all objects) and, more importantly, all of those objects support romantic interactions that are gay, lesbian, bisexual and/ or heterosexual. For example, objects such as the "Niagara Love Tub" are limited to any two adult Sims regardless of gender, and once Sims are in the tub together, options become "Wash," "Play," "Cuddle" and "Kiss." The only limitation is that if the two Sims' relationship scores are not high enough, the targeted Sim will reject the advances of the initiating Sim (see Figure 1).

Sims' romantic activities make objects queer through use. "Love Tubs" and "Love Seats" only recognize "love"-unmarked or unlimited by gender or race. The rules of the game (the codes) are designed to ignore sex in almost all instances, and thus keep sexual orientation unmarked, unbinding sexuality from specifically sexed bodies. To conclude, objects can play an important role in Sim social interactions; however, a majority of objects are single use or have no direct use at all, suggesting that objects are overall less important to Sim relationships than Sim-to-Sim interaction. But all objects can "inspire" romantic interactions that support gay, lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual interactions.

Interface Study

As games get more complicated, game designers put more effort into designing game interfaces that players can easily understand and use. Brenda Laurel (1990) has written extensively on the importance of interface design, and game reviewers often make a point of condemning unnecessarily complex interfaces that do no more than confuse the player. For our purposes, the interface can be defined as any on-screen information that provides the player with information concerning the life, health, location or status of the character(s), as well as battle or action menus, nested menus that control options such as advancement grids or weapon selections, or additional screens that give the player more control over manipulating elements of gameplay (see Figure 2).

For example, the game Buffy the Vampire Slayer features onscreen gauges monitoring Buffy's health and "Slayer Power," and has further screens that let a player change or modify Buffy's weapons, reread a mission objective or start a new game with a different difficulty setting. Likewise, Final Fantasy X (Square Co., Ltd, 2001) lets the player "level up" or advance each character through a "sphere grid" that controls which skills characters will learn. What is important about the interface, from the researcher's point of view, is the information and choices that are offered to the player, as well as the information and choices that are withheld. Examining the interface (and going beyond elegance of design or ease of use) lets researchers determine how free players are to experiment with options within a game. Alternately, it can help us see what information is privileged (is a running "score" always present onscreen-indicating its importance? How is "life" or "health" represented?) and what information is absent or difficult to find. Examining the interface also exposes the consequences of choices, such as developing a character along one skill path but not another; and also helps determine what the game developers have deemed essential (as well as non-essential) aspects of gameplay.

Games that fall under the categories of simulation, world builders and real-time strategy games are usually designed with careful attention paid to the interface. The game Anno 1503: The New World (Electronic Arts, 2003), for example, lets players colonize large islands and small continents and build civilizations. A careful examination of the interface reveals clues about the ideological assumptions of the game. For example, citizens remain "unhappy" with a player's rule unless they are provided with the basics (food and clothing) as well as more "exotic" items such as tobacco and spices. Unless those needs are met, citizens will not be content, and a player's job is made more difficult. Likewise, the interface reveals that citizens' needs grow more complex over time, so once they are provided with the above-mentioned items, they start demanding pubs, a church and, eventually, silk clothes. Each of those particular demands reveals biases and default ideas about what is considered "progress" and what are the true "needs" of a citizen in a new world.

In The Sims, one interface in particular is very important for studying how sexuality is expressed in the game-the Character Creation Screen. When creating a Sim, a player has many choices to make, including sex, shade (skin colour), age (child or adult), personality traits and head and body appearances (see Figure 3). Character/ avatar creation is a central component of gameplay in The Sims, and with each new expansion pack, the addition of more "heads" and "bodies" is an important selling point.

In the Character Creation Screen there is no button or check-off box for sexual orientation-it is not a core part of identity as are gender and shade (neither of which can be changed during gameplay). Sexual orientation and sexuality are highly variable, allowing players to ignore sexuality at the start, decide to have their Sims go one way and change their minds as the game goes on. Sims can be nonsexual, bisexual, homosexual or heterosexual; however, suggesting that Sims can "be" any sexuality is somewhat misleading. Sims do not have "innate" sexuality based on either sex or genetics. Sexuality is defined through a Sim's activity, and that activity is variable by design. Choices relating to sexuality and sexual orientation are conspicuously absent in Sim character creation-thus examination of one game interface yields critical information about how sexuality is coded and expressed in The Sims.

Interaction Map

If the Object Inventory and Interface Study seem static, more dynamic material is at the heart of interaction mapping. This micro-method involves examining the choices that the player is offered in regards to interaction-not with objects, but with other player characters, and/ or with Non-Player Characters (NPCs) (see Figure 4). At this point, the analysis becomes more difficult. The expansive, changeable nature of gameplay in many titles, it may make it impossible (or just implausible) to consider recording or finding (and analyzing) every possible interaction with which the player is presented.

Some game researchers make this point in order to dismiss game-centred analysis, or any sort of ideological analysis of games. Likewise, critics of early literary hypertext efforts were unsure if they could properly analyze the texts, due to their ever-shifting "almost complete" presentation. However, the same critique has been levelled against textual analysis of any sort, in that the possible "range of meanings" in a text may never be pinned down, even though with more traditional texts it is felt that the researcher has access to the "entire" text in question.[5]

Bracketing those concerns for the moment, consider how interaction mapping could occur. Here the researcher would record (either physically through some kind of recording technology, or manually through pen-and-paper notes) dialogue of note that occurs in the game. Well-defined research questions help the researcher identify dialogue/ choices of interest and focus in on those. It is likely that the game will need to be played more than once, so that the researcher can consider the game as a whole and can determine if earlier (unremarkable) dialogue/ options/ choices were actually important enough to include. Also, replaying the game is necessary to explore alternate branches of exploration, dialogue, choices, etc.

Some questions the researcher could ask include:

  • Are interactions limited (is there only one or two responses offered to answer a question)?
  • Do interactions change over time (as Sims get to know one another, and like one another, are more choices for interaction are offered)?
  • What is the range of interaction?
  • Are NPCs present, and what dialogue options are offered to them? Can they be interacted with? How? How variable are their interactions?

These sorts of questions can help the researcher understand if there is much freedom allowed to the player to help shape the game's direction. If all interaction options result in the same thing (no matter whether a character says she likes the prince or not, they will be married at the end of the game), the game is less open to letting players explore options, rather than if different interaction options can result in very different conclusions to the game.

Additionally, through a careful study of the interactions offered-as well as not offered-in the game, the researcher can determine if traditional stereotypes, such as romance being expected to be heterosexual are being perpetuated, or women being shown solely in need of rescue. Such findings help the researcher also determine how the character/ object mix functions-so for example, one can determine if objects are a central concern in a game or, instead, if interaction is central (because it has so many more options available). The overall "story" of the game can be discerned here, if there is one, in order to raise questions about narrative or the ideological implications of the plot.

Related to the concern about story, the dialogue of the game Buffy could be studied and compared to the dialogue found in the television show of the same name, to determine how faithfully the game extends the "universe" of the original story. That could include studying which characters appear in the game and what their dialogue consists of, as well as whether it is "in character" as compared to the television show. Likewise, the story of the game could be studied, to see if it deviates in important ways from the traditional good versus evil theme of the show, as well as how it handles the show's genre-challenging conventions.

To evaluate how Sims deal with social interactions, including friendships and romances, it is important to understand a few elements of gameplay. All Sims have a "social" meter that when, fully green, means that a Sim is perfectly satisfied with its current sociability. A lower social meter means the Sim is getting lonely and should engage in social interaction, such as talking on the telephone with friends or inviting others over to the house, going downtown or talking with other members of the household (if there are any). Sims must also negotiate the various relationships they develop, and this information is reflected in two relationship scores-one for daily interactions, and one for lifetime interactions (prior to the Hot Date update, there was only one score) for each Sim.

Sims must be friends before romantic feelings can be reciprocated-and only after friendship is established can Sims engage in more intimate (or sexual) relations, defined by the game as flirting, kissing, and leaping into each others' arms romantically. The majority of Sim interactions, however, revolve around friendly options. When sexual interactions are chosen and are successful, a Sim "romance" appears to begin (see Figure 5). Sim romances go beyond the bounds of matrimony, even beyond bounds of gender and race.

Sims can marry and move in with other Sims endlessly-there is no lifeline vow, and divorce appears to be automatically granted with the next marriage. As seen here, then, examining how interaction occurs in a game such as The Sims can help us determine how sexuality is constructed in the game, as well as the (many) choices the game affords to individual players.

Gameplay Log

The final area that the researcher must consider is the most nebulous-the overall "world" of the game and the emergent gameplay that can come into being. Here again things are more dynamic than static, especially as the researcher is looking for the "unexpected" in gameplay (among other things) to see how (potentially) open the game is for players. It is then that the researcher studies such things as emergent behaviour or situations, the larger game world or system, and intertextuality as it is constituted with the game. The larger game world or system comprises such elements as the construction or deployment of save points or saving mechanisms in the game (see Figure 6), presentation of avatars in the world, and the overall "look and feel" of the complete world that the game constructs. Here, elements can be quite variable depending on the game and genre chosen for analysis. So for example, in the first-person shooter Halo (Bungie, 2001), there is no character avatar, while in The Sims the player is centrally involved in creating multiple character avatars to play. Likewise, games such as Anno 1503 allow the player to save any time she wishes through a simple keyboard command, while platform games such as Maximo: Ghosts to Glory (Capcom, 2002) require the player to complete a level before a save point can be reached, and even then it must be "purchased."

Perhaps the most interesting part of gameplay logging is the exploration of emergent aspects of the game. In that exploration, the researcher is less interested in the options offered to the player than in what can happen when the player does something the game maker did not intend-and with what result. These are not necessarily "bugs" that indicate a problem with the game, but the presence of "interesting accidents" that make a digital game more than watching a movie or playing a board game-something unexpected happens because of a player's choices. So for example, with the addition of expansion packs for The Sims, Sims can begin to "make moves" on each other independent of player input. As some players report, this can be very disturbing, especially if one has, for example, created a "mother" and "adult daughter" and the daughter starts expressing romantic interest in the mother.

Overall, the gameplay is critical to investigate and this investigation will take many forms, as games and genres vary. Some questions researchers could ask in this section include:

  • How does the game allow players to save their progress? Are there restrictions to the activity? How and why?
  • Is "saving" as a mechanism integrated somehow into the game world to provide coherence, or is some more obtrusive method offered?
  • Are there situations where avatars can "break the rules" of the game? How and why?
  • A re there situations that appear that the producers probably did not intend? What are they and how do they work?
  • Does the game make references to other media forms or other games? How do these intertextual references function?
  • How are avatars presented? How do they look? Walk? Sound? Move? Are these variables changeable? Are they stereotypical?
  • Does the game fit a certain genre? Does it defy its stated genre? How and why?

Asking these sorts of questions will help the researcher put together the "larger picture" of the game that might have been fragmented through analysis of discrete segments such as the interface, objects or interactions alone. Putting all of the elements together helps in creating a coherence for the analysis.

Probably the most publicized instance of emergent gameplay occurs in Grand Theft Auto 3 (Rockstar Games, 2001), where players (and the media) discovered the "hooker cheat" shortly after the game's release. The series of actions performed (the player picks up a prostitute in a car, has sex with her to regain health points, and then beats her up or kills her to get "his" money back) are not technically a cheat, as there is no code involved in the act, but are instead an emergent action-created when two separate actions (regaining health through sex with the prostitute; beating up a character for money) are put together in a way for which the producers claim no responsibility. Putting aside the moral questions involved, the implications of emergence for allowing the player greater freedom, and thus more interesting and challenging situations, are only just beginning.

In regards to The Sims, the above-mentioned incidents of unexpected and suddenly "gay inclined" characters are another good example of monitoring gameplay for interesting forms of emergence. That instance of emergence is important, because sexual orientation is such a key variable in the game, and remains such a contested issue in Western society. While the game does not force players to take certain actions, it does poke and prod-teasing players to think about sexual orientation and sexuality, how it is defined and expressed, exploring assumptions and challenging accepted practices. Although that possibility is not inevitable-players can make all their Sims nonsexual if they choose-it does show how sexuality is being deconstructed, reconfigured and opened up for questioning in the most popular computer game to date.

Summary: Building a methodological toolkit for games

It is likely that as the field matures, analysis of games will segment, as we are already seeing to some degree with new calls for analysis of roleplaying games, as well as explorations of games in the "survival-horror" genre. But we believe that the method outlined above is broad enough to encompass analyses of games from different genres, while also allowing the researcher enough flexibility to account for the specifics of the game and genre under the microscope. Yet we fully expect that this methodology will be modified and, perhaps over time, will become more specialized for various genres in order to help understand their particular insights and elements.

But for now this methodological toolkit-interaction mapping, object inventory, interface study and logging gameplay-is offered as a starting point for researchers interested in studying digital games, as a way to make the research thorough, without losing those aspects of games-play and emergence-that make them the dynamic artefacts of culture that they are.


1 We use the term digital games to indicate computer games, console video games, arcade and handheld games, and other game hardware variations.

2 Although that conclusion may seem self-evident, many early studies of games were conducted by people that had either not played them, had only watched their children play them, played them in a cursory fashion, or played a game or two, but stuck to analyzing only mass appeal games such as Myst (2001, Broderbund) and Tomb Raider. Many contemporary game studies scholars argue that to truly understand games, a researcher must play them, just as a television scholar must actually watch television.

3 In this paper we have not explicitly examined any quantitative measures of game content, which can be useful in helping to understand the game as a whole. By qualitative we mean examining the connotative and denotative meanings, the context, and the intertextual meanings produced and implied.

4 The Sims (and its expansion packs) is a game in which players simulate a neighborhood. Players can build houses and create Sim families composed of multiple individuals. The player controls the Sim characters as they perform mundane daily activities-making friends, working, eating, taking showers, having fun, and getting the proper rest. The gameplay is open-ended, and the game is more about exploration and creativity than it is about finding some hidden solution or "winning" the game. The game allows players the chance to create worlds of their own choosing-worlds that can include "Sim" people of varying genders, races and sexual orientations who coexist without homophobia, racism, or sexism. Just how is that accomplished? How is sexuality created and expressed in the game? To answer these questions, more than 30 characters were created in various combinations of "families," at least a dozen houses were built, and more than 300 game "days" were played. In-game days are based on a 24-hour cycle, but time flow can be sped up or slowed down, depending on player preference and need. Thus, those 300 hours do not represent 300 "earth" days of play, but still a significant investment of time.

5 This raises even more questions, as the rising popularity of DVD editions of films and television shows/seasons with extra scenes, directors' commentaries, and other "bonus" material again questions where the text is considered "complete" and how broad an analysis should occur.


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Figure 1: The "Niagara Love Tub" is available for ยง7999, seats 2 Sims, and is for adult use only. Users can 'wash,' 'play,' 'cuddle,' 'talk,' and 'kiss' while in the tub.

Figure 2: The general player interface for The Sims allows players to easily determine the "needs" of each Sim, as seen here on the right side of the screenshot.

Figure 3: The character creation screen allows players to customize their Sim by personality, sex, shade, and age. Players can also create a biography for their Sim, as well as select from multiple head and body choices.

Figure 4: Sims can interact with other Sims in many ways that depend on their mood and familiarity with the intended. With later expansion packs, interactions became even more specialized, allowing such different versions of "hug" as "friendly" and "leap in arms."

Figure 5: Lola is about to give Addie flowers, and Addie is now interested romantically in Lola (as indicated by the heart above her head).

Figure 6: In Final Fantasy X, game progress can only be saved at a "save sphere," here shown to the left of the character Tidus. Although players learn to accept them as part of the game world, they do not fit as neatly into the world as save methods of previous Final Fantasy games.

Appendix 1: Object Inventory Sheet

Name of item



Interaction Options (list exactly)

Do interaction options change through gameplay (frequency of use; with different Sim combinations; when Sims in various moods)?

If so, explain how/why

Game version available in

Item single/multi use?

Multi use range

Types of interactions possible (romantic; friendly; collaborative; competitive; utility; others)

Interactions of a romantic nature? Y/N

If so, describe romantic interactions (RI)

Support hetero/homo/bisexual interactions? Y/n

If yes, describe, and differentially if needed

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