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Communication studies research team wins Chair’s Award at national convention

A screenshot of one of the spaces in the video game NBA 2K, which Jarya Outten ’21 studied as part of the team's research project.

Research by Furman Associate Professor of Communication Studies John A. McArthur ’02 and his student team of Cal Meachem ’20, Ryan DeLuca ’21, Jarya Outten ’21, Patrick Rice ’21  and Celena Taborn ’21 has been honored by the Game Studies Division of the National Communication Association.

Their presentation, “Exploring Play through Placemaking in Game Studies,” received the Chair’s Award, which recognizes research that makes the largest contribution to the advancement of research in game studies. The work is the result of an ongoing project in McArthur’s spring “Mobile Media, Space & Place” course.

Furman Associate Professor of Communication Studies John A. McArthur ’02
Furman Associate Professor of Communication Studies John A. McArthur ’02.

“I invited students in that class to do two research projects. One of them is a group content analysis where they look at digital conversations online, and we’ve presented that at Furman Engaged for years,” McArthur said. “This actually came out of the second project that we do, which is a textual analysis of a space or place that is augmented with digital technology.”

The unique circumstances created by COVID-19 restrictions also provided an opportunity to explore places where people could go when their options were severely limited.

“During the pandemic, I found that a lot of my students gravitated toward video games to try to find a place or space that was augmented with digital technology, because a lot of the spaces or places that they might visit were closed,” McArthur, also the department chair, said. “Looking at video games gave us a window into how space or place can be constructed in a digital environment.”

Each student focused on a specific place in a game of their choice as part of an analysis of how people occupy digital places. Meachem looked at Pokémon GO, which burst into prominence in 2016 with players all over the world using their phones to “find” digital Pokémons at physical locations in an augmented reality.

“If you’re not a frequent Pokémon player, you can be out on a walk on the town and not even realize you are standing right where players are battling and catching these Pokémon right in front of you,” Meachem says in the presentation. “But for those of you who do play the game, many real places across the world are now being shaped as digital places, thanks to Pokémon GO.”

Game studies isn’t McArthur’s specialty, but the worlds created by them are.

“I study space and place, and video games just happened to be a great space we could connect with this type of research, which is why I was excited to present to a group of scholars that had not researched using this method before,” he said. “I think our students are really doing some cutting-edge work in this particular genre, because the idea of bringing a humanities perspective from placemaking is new for this particular field. That was exciting for me.”

The research in this area is only beginning, both at Furman and across the world.

“This upcoming semester we are going to focus particularly on augmented realities inside of digital games so that we can see how space and place operate in a digital environment,” he said. “The great thing is that we have been intentionally working to enhance student research opportunities in communication studies, and this award recognizes one way that we in the humanities can engage in The Furman Advantage through research.”

The National Communication Association’s 2020 annual convention was held (virtually) in November. Watch the “Exploring Play through Placemaking in Game Studies” presentation below.

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