Last week, Karl Bergström defended his Ph.D. thesis at Gothenburg university. The thesis is called ‘Playing for togetherness: Designing for interaction rituals through gaming”, and as the title implies it is focussed on how games foster social interaction in groups. I was in the grading committee, which means that you have to read the thesis in advance, and in the case of Karl’s thesis that was well spent time.
This thesis is a ‘collection thesis’, which is commonly the case with Swedish Ph.D. thesises. It contains six published articles in a wide distribution of venues (the DIGRA conference, MindTrek, Nordic DIGRA, and Interactive Digital Storytelling), so it makes sense to get hold of the actual thesis. As all collection theses, it also contains a rather long introduction. The introduction introduces the idea, that the sense of togetherness created by games can be explained by games being ‘interaction rituals’, a notion taken from Irving Goffman and Collins. Although the argument in the introduction is rather convincing, it is not entirely clear that the individual articles in the thesis support this argument. This is not surprising, as the articles were written way before the introduction, and the idea of using Goffman as an overaching theory was not there when the articles were written. Clearly, much more can be done – and should be done – with this idea before we can conclude that Karl is right in analysing games this way.
The individual articles are a bit diverse. Several use game design patterns as their main form of analysis, and unfortunately this push the articles into a presentation style that is a bit tedious to follow, even though all present interesting analysis and arguments. What makes this thesis particularly interesting is that Karl picks his game examples from digital and non-digital games alike, and that he (especially in the latter articles) often use table-top roleplaying examples. The articles are quite dense – there is a lot of information in each article. Unfortunately, this means that the arguments sometimes end up a bit unsupported, and that the methods through which Karl arrives at a particular analysis or classification sometimes is rather obscure. I believe this comes from the vast experience that Karl brought into his Ph.D. studies. It is possible that Karl has ended up writing down more or less what he already knew when accepted into the Ph.D. program!
To conclude, if you are interested in learning more about how multiplayer games create a sense of togetherness, and the possible frictions towards this, be sure to pick up a copy of this thesis!