Game design involves the delicate balance of many variables, including the balance of tradeoffs between elements such as gameplay and story (consider for example the ludology vs. narratology debates: see Frasca (1999) and Eskelinen (2001)). Serious and educational game designers have additional tradeoffs to consider, as games serving these purposes often become less 'fun' as weighty goals are given more explicit attention. However, many well-received games have been developed that manage to balance competing design decisions, resulting in a game that is both addicting to play yet serves long-term functional gratifications: whether those be learning a concept, socializing, or just having fun.
In this chapter, we will examine the communicative behavior among gamers and discuss how gaming activities and the environment shape the communicative process, moving game players from n00bs (gamer label of noobs, or newbies) to l33ts1 (elite players). Specifically we will examine how gamers playing collaboratively will develop an increasingly implicit communicative style that will allow for more efficient collaborative behavior. A side effect of developing an implicit, context-bound communicative style, however, is that the gamers’ communicative behavior will become increasingly difficult to process by others not involved directly in the game2. Consequently gamers can find themselves becoming part of a somewhat closed culture, or l33tsp33k1 (‘elite’ player ‘speak’), simultaneously united by and isolated by those able to “talk the talk.”
A qualitative case study examining learning within games will be used to provide illustrations of this phenomenon. The study took place in a high-school setting wherein pairs of students were asked to play a number of sessions of PC-based computer games. A video record of students engaged in collaborative gameplay was collected, as the students played Civilization IV, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3, and Making History: The Calm & the Storm. These video records were then transcribed and analyzed to observe the development of 'gamer talk,' or game-specific and dyad-specific communicative behavior that emerged as the learners became more familiar with the games and their learning partners.
As previously stated, game designers have many sensitive design decisions to make in order to balance various gameplay elements; tradeoffs must be considered so that the overall objectives of the game are best supported. The present analysis should be of use to game designers, as the terminology provided by the game designers serves as the starting point for gamers’ communication about the game. References to in-game activity and sequences of actions are often ready labeled in game literature and canon. However, over-designing can inhibit the development of game-specific cultures, as games might become too inflexible: yielding environments where the investment of identity (e.g., Gee, 2003) and community-building activities are less likely to occur.
To lay the groundwork for an examination of the transcripts, it will be necessary to provide some background as to the forces that influence the use of explicit or implicit communicative behavior across various circumstances. This background begins with influences from situated cognition and ethnomethodology. Then a discussion of the cooperative nature of communication (Clark, 1996) will be offered, with particular emphasis on Grice’s theory of conversational implicature. The concept of common ground – particularly within the gaming framework (Monk, 2003) – will be addressed along with the process of grounding. Searle’s (1975) ideas about speech acts will also be discussed. These explanations for variance in implicit and explicit communicative behavior will motivate analyses of the study transcripts from a specific situated gaming environment (Lave & Wenger, 1991) to illustrate how gamers’ communicative behavior becomes increasingly context dependent, efficient, and more difficult to process by those not directly involved in the game. Implications for both game designers and teachers (curriculum designers) will be offered to describe strategies for content creation and implementation that yield efficient community building and penetrable game cultures for new game players.