The individual and the group in console gaming (Voida et al., 2010)

Voida, A., Carpendale, S., & Greenberg, S. (2010). The individual and the group in console gaming. In Proceedings of the 2010 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work – CSCW ’10 (p. 371). Presented at the the 2010 ACM conference, Savannah, Georgia, USA. doi:10.1145/1718918.1718983

The authors conducted observations of group console play and analyzed play patterns in terms of two related continua: competitive-to-collaborative modes of gameplay and individual-to-group oriented gaming practices. This allowed for more insight into the relationships between console game design and group interactions. Moreover, the authors found that competitive games did not always engender individual-oriented practices, and likewise that collaborative games do not always equate to group-oriented practices. Also, beyond gameplay mechanics, even features like scoring design seemed to have a profound effect on group dynamics.

Competitive vs. Cooperative vs. Collaborative:

“Competitive games ‘require players to form strategies that directly oppose the other players in the game.’ Individual gamers must look out for their own self-interests in order to be successful in the game. In a cooperative game, players’ goals are not necessarily in direct opposition, but neither are their goals completely aligned [28]. In cooperative games, some value may be obtained from gamers working with one another; but because their goals may be different, not all players are guaranteed to benefit equally. More recently, a third category of gameplay has also been recognized: collaborative gameplay. In collaborative games, players share common goals and outcomes. All gamers either win or lose together. In this case, looking out for group interests instead of individual interests provides the greatest benefit to players.” (p. 371-2).

The authors consider a spectrum of modes of gameplay, instead of focusing on distinct modes (see also Zagal et al., 2006). This spectrum ranges from competitive games, which reward individual-oriented strategies, to collaborative games, which reward group-oriented strategies. Cooperative games exist on the spectrum between competitive and collaborative games, where gamers are rewarded for group-oriented strategies only when it is in their own self-interest.

Children’s use of computer and console games literature:

  • Ito observed group gaming events in an afterschool setting and reported individual-oriented practices around a game’s special effects. Children who had control of the mouse developed a self-centered infatuation with special effects, ignoring the needs of others in the group.
  • Stevens et al. conducted a study of the ways that children constructed their own learning environments around console games.
  • Ducheneaut et al.’s study of the massively multiplayer online game Star Wars Galaxy highlighted a number of its cooperative game mechanics (the game included combat designed to be too difficult to undertake alone.)

Game mechanics and modes of gameplay – competitive, cooperative, collaborative

Gaming practices – individual-oriented or more group-oriented (spectrum)

Notes on methodology:

Gaming environment sketch. Participants sketched their ideal group gaming environment, after the sketching task suggested by Sall and Grinter [20].

Focus group. Individuals participated in a semistructured focus group with other members of their gaming group. They were asked about their gaming environment sketches, motivations for getting together to play games, and gameplay preferences when gaming in various contexts.

12 groups were recruited, including 36 individuals, who gathered regularly to play console video games. Inter- and intra-generational gaming groups (youth, adults, elders) were represented: Youth participants ranged in age from 3 to 15; adult participants, from age 26 to 41; mature adult participants, from age 52 to 59; and elder participants, from age 68 to 84.


Group-interactions included:

  • Constructing Shared Awareness
  • Reinforcing Shared History
  • Sharing in Success and Failure
  • Engaging in Interdependence
  • Self-Sacrifice

Individual-interactions included:

  • Talking Trash/turf wars
  • Falling Prey to the Computer’s Holding Power

Shifting points between group and individual: The authors also observed a number of instances in which individuals wanted to play a more significant role in the gameplay. “These individuals spoke up repeatedly in an attempt to assert their value to the other members of the gaming group….Sometimes the individual’s contributions were acknowledged and sometimes they were ignored; the age and maturity of gamers seemed to influence how these advances were received. Nevertheless, patterns of individuals trying repeatedly to assert their value to the larger group continued over the course of gameplay” (p. 377-8).

They also identified two “pivot points” at which a group orientation intersected with an individual orientation: negotiating individual contributions to the group and reviewing scores. “These two pivot points suggest two key foci at which game designers might carefully consider the ways in which their decisions influence group dynamics during gameplay. We found it quite interesting that these two pivot points served as the bookends around what one might generally consider the gameplay experience. Negotiations about individual contributions to the group typically occurred during game setup and configuration while displays of scores typically occurred after the game had ended” (p. 379).


The construct of cohesion in studies of groups emerged as a way to help explain differences in group performance: The theoretical and intuitive hypothesis has been that [social and motivational forces between group members] create a bond, or cohesion, among the members of the group, and that the stronger the bond, the greater the productivity of the group. Researchers have not reached consensus about what kinds of forces create cohesion among groups. However, a number of different forces have been suggested, including (among others) the following:

  • An attraction to the other members of the group and/or a perception that one has a reciprocal influence on the group
  • The similar personality characteristics or perceived “fit” of other members of the group
  • The prestige of the group
  • A “basic allegiance to the group”
  • An “attack from outside or a common ‘cause’”
  • The shared or interdependent activities of the group

Traditionally, researchers have examined group cohesion in the context of work groups, therapeutic groups, living units, and sports teams. More recently, research has examined group cohesion in virtual teams. Although most researchers agree that the construct of cohesion is fundamentally important in studies of groups, there is considerable disagreement about how it should be defined and how it should be measured. We did not measure cohesion within the gaming groups in our study. Nevertheless, we suspect that the groups who participated in our study were more than likely already relatively cohesive, evidenced by the fact that they chose to gather together regularly to play console games. One of the forces that has been suggested as an influence on cohesion is shared activity, and all gamers in our study participated with their group in the shared activity of gaming. This perspective on cohesion also seems to resonate with Nardi and Harris’ claim that “a larger field of collaboration is constituted by engaging in the game.


Beal, D., Cohen, R., Burke, M. & McLendon, C. (2003). Cohesion and performance in groups: A meta-analytic clarification of construct relations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(6), 989–1004.

Zagal, J.P., Rick, J. & Hsi, I. (2006). Collaborative games: Lessons learned from board games. Simulation & Gaming, 37(1), 24–40.


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