Thursday, 23 June 2011

Game - Farm Blitz

This game was shortlisted at the Games for Change festival in 2011 in the Direct Impact category. Apparently this is for "Games targeted at specific audiences with proven outcomes." The game is apparently targeted at low-income adults, and takes inspiration from Bejewelled and Farmville to try and instill good saving habits in the players.

I really want to see the evidence for the proven outcomes. For me it was intensely patronising, and not particularly difficult or fun. The instruction screens seemed to last forever, and every other screen was reminding you to 'get rid of your bunnies of debt' and 'buy trees as savings'.

I suspect I'm not their target audience (although as a PhD student I am certainly a low-income adult!), as these are not new or novel ideas for me. Maybe if it hasn't occurred to you that clearing your debt before you save is a good plan it might be handy to play around seeing what happens if you don't. Maybe.

I felt this was a game that had little to do with the mechanics of earning money - but was all about what you do with it once you have it. The game mechanic of matching crops to earn money just felt a bit wedged in for me. Perhaps I'm wrong. And I'm not sure what I'd do instead. The overly-long instruction process that didn't let me do anything was just so frustrating that by the time the game started I was already pre-disposed to rubbish it! I'd love to see what Jim makes of this one...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Book - Women's role in economic development - Chapter 2, 3 and 4

Boserup, E. (1970). Womenʼs Role in Economic Development (1989th ed., p. 283). Earthscan Publications Limited.

Chapter 2: The Economics of Polygamy
Polygamy is apparently widespread in Africa, and is related to the economic conditions. Men with several wives can cultivate more land, produce more food for the household and can achieve higher status. This seems to be based on more wives = more children (particularly sons) = more labour! Sometimes more wives means more money, or sometimes the husband uses it as a way to increase his leisure time.

Apparently in shifting cultivation patterns, women bring in more than they cost. Particularly true as husbands do not provide them with everything they need, but they have to provide for themselves from their income. They can earn from agriculture, trade or crafts.

Men tend to be older than their wives, and they have to pay the bride's family. I don't think we'll include this in the game. There is a pecking order amongst the wives (in order of acquisition!).

Chapter 3 - Loss of Status under European Rule
Not relevant for our game.

Chapter 4 - The Casual Worker
Minimal amount of paid agricultural work, but women will take it if available (particularly if husband isn't paying for all of their clothes etc). African women play a small part in cash crops particularly from large plantations, but traditionally play a large part in food crops.

Book - Women's role in economic development - Chapter 1

Boserup, E. (1970). Womenʼs Role in Economic Development (1989 ed., p. 283). Earthscan Publications Limited.

This book was recommended by Christine Okali at our meeting with her on 13th June. The first section of four chapters looks at rural village life, and is therefore most relevant for our game in the immediate future. The book covers the role of women across Africa, Asia, India and occasionally South America, so I have tried to pick out the relevant bits for us!

Chapter 1: Male and Female Farming Systems
Although preparation of food is nearly universally a female task, there are a few different versions of food production systems:

  • Food production is exclusively done by women. (Female farming)
  • Food production is predominantly done by women, with some help from men. (Female farming)
  • Food production is predominantly done by men, with some help from women. (Male farming)

Available info from 1970 suggests that in sub-Saharan Africa the middle option is most common. The pattern of farming is predominantly a shifting cultivation (John does keep saying this is in the process of changing due to businesses buying large chunks of land, but I think this is probably the model we'll start with). So every year some fields get cleared and used from scratch, and some where the fertility is dropping will be abandoned and left.

Clearing the fields, cutting down trees etc is men's work. Traditionally, all of the weeding, harvesting etc is women's work. Particularly light tasks - such as guarding domestic animals or scaring wild birds/animals away from the crops - is left to children and old people of either gender.

The system of farming (mostly male, mostly female) can shift over time. This mostly seems to be caused by changes in population density and in farming techniques. If the population increases more land needs to be taken into cultivation, so there are fewer trees to fell each year and less cover for hunting (which are men's work). However, the fields are more intensively cultivated (less fallow time) so the men may be needed to help prepare them more thoroughly than in low-population shifting cultivation. The flip side of increasing population is that men leave the villages looking for work, which actually results in the percentage of agricultural work done by the women increasing.

Older men can stop working because they can leave it to their younger wives and children, while older women tend to be widows who have to fend for themselves so keep working. More boys go to school than girls, so girls spend more time in the fields. More men leave the village looking for work.

Very few cultivator families in Africa use hired labour apparently.

A note for later in our game - introducing ploughing massively reduces weeding and women's work until harvest, but ploughing is men's work and requires much more effort to clear the field of obstacles before ploughing can occur. Irrigation massively increases weeding, plus men have to dig irrigation ditches, lift water from wells/canals, and repair the terraces and bunds.

Shifting cultivation generally means no draught animals, little milk, and meat is supplied by either hunting or animals kept on natural pasture away from the crops.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Report - Ethical decision-making and internet research

Ess, C. (2002). Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee. Readings in virtual research ethics. Issues and controversies (p. 1). Retrieved June 16, 2011, from

The recommendations from the Association of Internet Researchers concerning the ethics of online research. The actual recommendations are pretty slim, but it has a lot of references (some of which I might follow up on), sample consent forms etc.

The first recommendation is to go back to the discipline the study is based in and consider the normal 'offline' approach used in that discipline. I would guess that would place me somewhere around sociology or communication studies. I think this is where Celia Pearce was mentioning feminist ethics as what she had based her study on - I need to go back and check, and also read up on what that framework is!

They also highlight the importance of understanding cultural differences. What are the ethical traditions/legal protections that the participants will be expecting? In fact, large chunks go back to understanding the arena the research is being performed in, and looking at what the participants will expect. They suggest checking both the public statements made about the arena (e.g. privacy statements, and I would guess the EULA would fall into this too), and also noting what mechanisms the system users utilise to indicate they expect things to be more private - e.g. moving to a private chatroom or (in the Rosenberg paper I read a couple of days ago) moving to IM rather than public chat.

They have some nice considerations that I can refer back to, and probably should aim to answer.

One interesting revelation is that the US and the EU have very different approaches to ethics, and these lead to different conclusions. The report basically says that the EU has very stringent laws protecting the privacy of the individual over that of business concerns. The US does the opposite, and protects the business concern over the individual. They call the EU approach deontological, while the US is more utilitarian.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Paper - Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs

Barratt, M. J., & Lenton, S. (2010). Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from

Paper talking about the recruitment and ongoing relationship with participants from online forums. Sensitive in this case because talking about drug use in forums that were not ostensibly about drug use (mostly about music), and due to the potentially illegal nature of the discussion.

They make the point that the potentially problematic aspects of the online environment (such as the anonymous nature of feedback, or the potential for the participant to just disappear without completing) could actually help where the subject was as sensitive as this. On-going discussion with the participant groups could help to shape the research in unexpected ways. Of course, this could still be a problem - the researcher doesn't have as much control over where the research/discussion goes.

Privacy is becoming a major theme here. In this case they decide to not even name the participating online groups. In fact, the majority didn't want to be named, but one group actively would have preferred it. Highlights how important it is to get to know the groups you want to work with. They also highlight that the perception of the group of how private their area is may not match the researcher's opinion.

Anonymising the data but quoting directly may not be good enough if the forum is indexed. A search will just trace it back to the group and the poster.

Interesting to note that most of the papers they reviewed skipped over the job of recruiting the participants in their methodology sections. I have a feeling it is quite often discussed in online world research, so that's an interesting distinction! Maybe it's to justify all the hours playing a game!

They highlight the potential problems with publicising findings before the research is published. In this case, they were aware that journalists were using the forums for stories and didn't want their research to wind up causing negative press for the groups. They ended up sharing their findings on separate, private sites, that reduced the follow up discussion from the communities. Not all projects suffer from that, but it's an interesting additional point about the problems of getting your work back out to the people who are interested.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Paper - The Duty to 'Play'

Reynolds, R., & Zwart, M. D. (2010). The Duty To “Play”: Ethics, EULAs and MMOs. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from

This paper breaks research into online worlds into three different categories:

  • world-design view, where the virtual world is created or altered specifically for the study which is conducted from the outside. 
  • avatar/in-world immersion view - the researcher is immersed as a participant. 
  • database view/backend analysis - researchers access the data generated by player interactions. 
That's quite useful. I think I'd be wanting to do some kind of mix of the first two. 

They then go on to focus on the in-world version, or primarily ethnographic study, focussing on three intersecting forces: 
  • The EULA or TOS agreed to be the researcher when they sign up to the MMOG. 
  • Normative ethical considerations of community participation. 
  • Established research norms as interpreted by the relevant ethics committee or IRB (Institutional Research Board).
I hadn't really thought about ethics committee approval for my research, but I guess I'll need it! 

Another interesting point to watch out for is an increased difficulty in getting participants if the researcher isn't properly 'embedded' in the game. Lack of levels etc. I hadn't considered that. 

It is useful to consider whether research does break the EULA. It seems in grey areas it is advised to talk to the game producers. You only really get into muddy waters if you intend to act 'outside the custom and practice of the MMO' - or either be a cheater or spoilsport (cheat is where you're playing, but outside the rules, spoilsport where you're outside the rules and you don't mean to play).

Looks like all the papers I've read on methodology so far point to at least spending some time playing the game for itself, to understand what questions to ask or where the lines are. This would be within the EULA, as even if the researcher is being paid they are still really just playing. It becomes a bit less clear when the player stops playing and starts conducting research, although I think you might be able to argue that plenty of players stop questing after a while and mostly socialise, that's still using in-game activities. 

Interesting angle, again, not one I'd thought of yet! 

Paper - Virtual World Research Ethics and the Private/Public Distinction

Rosenburg, A. (2010). Virtual World Research Ethics and the Private/Public Distinction. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from

The paper discusses a study in Second Life on the boundary between public and private within Second Life. This is relevant to the ethics of research because if something is public it does not need to be treated with the same level of care when reporting (e.g. anonymising, obtaining consent etc) as private discourse. In fact, the two assumptions that the study is based on are listed as that researchers shouldn't do any harm to anyone, and that the public/private boundary is important to avoid doing harm.

The author outlines two simplified extremes of view:  public is publicly accessible, or public is if perceived as public by the participants. The first argument makes all online interaction in MMOGs or virtual worlds public, as it could be accessed by anyone who wants to. However, the study shows that the people using the spaces had clear ideas of which parts of their environment and (interestingly) communication methods were more private than others.

The main thing I think I can take from this paper is that you need to know your environment before you can judge what would be considered 'crossing the line' with participants. There is still a struggle as well between being open with your participants that you are studying them, and missing parts of what they do because they modify their behaviour for the study.

Also the writer spent a year spending between 10 and 30 hours a week in Second Life. Where am I going to find that kind of time?!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Paper - Paralanguage and social perception in CMC

Lea, M., & Spears, R. (1992). Paralanguage and social perception in computer-mediated communication. Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 2(3), 321-341. doi: 10.1080/10919399209540190.

This paper was referenced by the another one I read in reference to the social identity/de-individuation (SIDE) model of CMC. Turns out there are earlier papers about that model that I should probably follow up on, but this paper does include some interesting findings that may help me to understand it!

They did two studies, the first of which looked at paralinguistic cues in e-mail and how they affected the perception of the communicators, and compared the use and interpretation of paralinguistic cues between novice and experienced users.

The second study got groups to take part in discussions via a text-only computer-conferencing system. The groups were given 4 different conditions: the group identity or the individual identity were highlighted (group salience), and they could see each other or they were in different rooms (de-individuation).

Looking at how they switch which identity is most salient could be useful. They did it in quite straight-forward ways, by manipulating the way the discussion was presented to the group. So group identity was pushed by being told they were being tested as a group, and the instructions referred to individuals as 'group members'. Each user was given a 'group membership number' to be identified by. In the individual identity groups, they were told they were being tested personally, and the instructions referred to 'participants'. Rather than a 'group membership number' they just had a 'participant number'.

They measured frequency of paralinguistic marks (ellipses, inverted commas, quotation marks, exclamation marks. Sequences/combinations double-weighted) and got people to rate each other on person-perception scales. The correlations between paralanguage use and perceived personal attributes were interesting. When subjects were in the same room as each other, the correlations don't really change regardless of the high or low group salience. In the condition where the participants couldn't see each other, high group salience gave positive correlation to the use of paralanguage, where as the low group salience gave a negative correlation. In other words, people who used paralanguage in a group were liked when everyone recognised themselves as part of a group, and disliked when people perceived themselves as individuals.

This paper extended work done in empirical studies from a social identity approach into the computer-mediated communication environment.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Chapter notes - Beyond initial interaction

1. Berger CR. Beyond Initial Interaction. In: Giles H, St. Clair R, eds. Language and Social Psychology. Basil Blackwell; 1979:122-144.

This chapter expands on the earlier work done on uncertainty reduction theory by looking at the strategies that people employ to get to know another.

The chapter starts by discussing the various reasons someone might increase the attention they pay to the behaviour of another in social situations. They outline three reasons:

  1. Incentives - the other person could reward them.
  2. Deviation - the other person is acting in a way that is not in keeping with the social norms. 
  3. Future interaction - the likelihood of meeting the person again. People do not care about the behaviour of others so much if they will never meet them again. 
Having decided it's worth getting to know someone, there are then eight strategies of three different types identified: 
  1. Passive strategies - the other person is observed but not interacted with. 
    1. Reactivity search - watch the other person interacting with others. 
    2. Social comparison - watch the other person interact with people you know.
    3. Disinhibition search - watch the other person in an environment where their guard is down. Access as a non-interactive observer to that kind of environment can be tricky!
  2. Active strategies - the other person is observed in situations that you have controlled to some degree, but still not interacted with directly, 
    1. Asking others about the target. This brings the danger that news of your inquiry could get back to the individual you're asking about. 
    2. Environmental structuring - set up a situation for the other person to negotiate. This sounds really intrusive and difficult, but could be as little as putting a range of magazines out on a table. 
  3. Interactive strategies - talk/interact with the other person.
    1. Verbal interrogation - ask the subject questions. There's a delicate balance between asking too many questions of too personal a nature in too short a space of time (and therefore prejudicing the other person against you) and not getting the information you need. 
    2. Self-disclosure - tell them about yourself. Most people reciprocate. 
    3. Deception detection - work out if the person is bragging, flattering or omitting information. 
These strategies focus on one individual learning about another, not necessarily mutual understanding. Also makes the point that discussing strategies does not identify the tactics used to employ these strategies, and there is no indication of which strategies would be adopted in which situations.