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American Culture Association

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Gameplay with(out) communication: How players use the messaging system in Zynga games

Robert N. Spicer (Millersville University of Pennsylvania)
Karl Babij (Rutgers University)

In 2012 the iPhone app Words with Friends (WwF) was one of the most popular games in the App Store. Tapping into that Zynga released a board game version with a television ad declaring, “everybody’s favorite social networking game just got more social.” The transition of this emerging media form of an app back into the old media form of a board game produces a strange moment for analysis that says something about game play and interaction. The ad, perhaps inadvertently, admits to the user that the interaction happening through the app is somehow a lesser sociability. The transition from digital media back to face-to-face is a transition back to getting “more social.” This research examines connections, interpersonal communication, and gameplay by looking at user attitudes about gameplay and conversation in WwF. Through a survey collecting quantitative and qualitative data this study asks WwF players about their attitudes toward the messaging system, how they use it, and how they respond to other players through it. It looks at if, and how, connections are made through a game that has replaced face-to-face interaction with texting. This is also an examination of how a player affects an opponent’s feelings through virtual conversations. Just as there are (spoken and unspoken) rules of communication in general, there are rules of communication in gameplay about how players interact with one another. This study examines how those rules translate into rules about communicating through the Words with Friends messaging system.

Presentation type: 
Scheduled on: 
Friday, November 8, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm

About the presenters

Robert N. Spicer

Robert N. Spicer earned his doctorate from the School of Communication & Information at Rutgers University and is an assistant professor of communication at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pa. His primary research interest is in political culture. His dissertation, “(Mis)Information wants to be free,” is a discourse analysis of deception in political campaigns. His secondary research interest is in new media. Spicer’s most recent article is When More Speech is not Enough, published by the Jefferson Journal of Science and Culture. He has a forthcoming article in Techne: Research in Philosophy and Technology.

Karl Babij

Karl Babij is a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University. He also teaches as an adjunct at West Chester University. He focuses in the field of video game and new media criticism and theory, with a particular emphasis on textual analysis. His work was recently presented at a UNESCO conference in Paris, as well as a chapter in a scholarly book regarding issues of control in video games.

Session information

Gaming: New Frontiers

Friday, November 8, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm (Bongo 2)


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