Replacing preconceived accounts of digital games with experience of play: When parents went native in GTA IV

Gareth Schott, Jasper van Vught


Cautionary frameworks continue to dominate evaluations of games within political contexts, obstructing consideration of the specific conditions and experiences offered by particular game texts. This paper challenges this tendency of prior government-instigated research to promote viewpoints that are not textually evaluative or play-derived when reporting on perceptions of games possessed by the public. Instead, it prioritizes Dovey and Kennedy’s (2006) argument that ‘we cannot have recourse solely to [games] textual characteristics; we have to pay particular attention to the moment of its enactment as it is played.’ More concretely, this paper describes research sparked by the NZ Classification Office’s interest in exploring ‘the extent to which the public’s perception of causal links between game playing and various social ills’ might be ‘moderated or even undermined by [knowledge of] how players actually respond to and negotiate their way through the content and characteristics of the medium’ (OFLC 2009, 24). Using both game-play observation and in-depth interviews, we concluded that the participants’ preconceptions of Grand Theft Auto IV (Rockstar North, 2008) were drastically reevaluated after experience playing the game, shifting attitudes and beliefs as to how games should be regulated.

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