The dichotomous debate within Game Studies is more often then not, one between narratology and ludology, but lately, another – less formal – debate has come to mind. The one between gamers are researchers and non-gamers as researchers in the field of game studies. There are pros and cons from both perpespectives. A gamer who draws on their own experience can be biased in terms of their opinions based on their past and how they see games, and what they consider to be what ‘its all about’. This side of the debate often accompanies the ‘how can you study something if you’ve never experienced it’, and therefore tends to disregard research done by outsiders.
The other side of the of this coin – the non-gamer researcher, has its place as well, often claiming that their view is a fresh one – not tainted by experience, therefore seeing what the research for what it says, and not a form of reflexive analysis.
Both sides have valid pros and cons that can be read in any anthropological methods text can explain the intricacies of fieldwork, participant observation, autobiographical work and ‘going native’.
I admit, I belong, in many ways, to the first camp. I am a gamer first and researcher second. I research stems from my experience. My personal experience is always my starting point. But as a sociologist (i am told i can call myself that now that i have graduated!) what i am challenged with, what i struggle with every day in my work as an academic, is distancing myself as a player from thinking of myself as researcher. Yes, my experiences are rich ones to draw upon, but i need to keep it in context – that those experiences are points of departures, not the conclusion.
In game studies, i admit, when reading something from an author who played a game to get data, i often find myself saying ‘no, its not like that’ and their role as researcher is painfully obvious in terms of being someone who doesnt get the ‘inside’ of the game. But then, i have been challenged by other gamers (my partner included) as not being a “real” gamer … which puts my role of ‘player’ in question when i am using that experience as a researcher. But not being the same type of gamer as my partner does not discredit my experience playing the same game as him. It merely makes my experience different.
How does this tie into my gamer as researcher and researcher as gamer spiel? Well, my question is – who validates what a “real” gamer is? Whose experiences are “more valid” then others? And who decides? And what does this do to the black and white dichotomy of ‘non gamers’ and ‘gamers’ as researchers? A colleague recently had a similar discussion with a colleague of hers who was accused of not being a “gamer” but in her defence, talked about the games she did play back when… would this academic have to stop being interested in and working on research that pertains to anything past her personal experience?