Research Ethics in Videogames

     Another difficult blog post, simply because I think it may be a bit early to think about ethics if we don’t have our research methodology nailed down, so I’ll run the issues that I have going on in my head instead (which will sort of touch on method anyways). 

I know that my assignment will require an ethics review, and I have a sneaking suspicion that it may even require a full ethics review process, because there is a reasonable chance that involvement in my research could get people into trouble. I will be investigating Authorship in video game content, and this includes the blurry areas where users hack or manipulate a game in order to generate their own view of how the game should function or be played. Quite often this is expressly forbidden in the Terms of Service, or worse subject to copyright laws. This could result in thousands of hours of hard work being subject to a take-down notice, or even legal action. By bringing examples of these projects to the forefront, I could potentially be outing producers of user generated content that would go unnoticed before my research. This may seem slightly dramatic because I am talking about videogames, but it is an issue that we must take seriously nonetheless. 

     Even if I only gather information from a survey (I doubt that will do much other than to learn about the basics, which has been covered quite extensively in existing research) I would need to anonymize my participants to insure no harm would come to them once the research was published or released. If my research focuses on an ethnography, or action research that embeds me within a group of modders I would be putting the group under increased scrutiny and would have to go to great lengths to anonymize them. My fear is that anonymizing may not be enough. There are quite a few games out there that provide the potential for user generated content, and many active communities as well, but if I chose a particularly active community I may run into a problem shared with researchers like Orlikewski (sadly the narrative behind this was learned from a course and I don’t have a direct source). Orlikewski is an organizational researcher that focuses on business processes and workflows, and had published a very important KMIM piece on what she called ‘a large accounting firm.’ She had insinuated it was one of the big 5 accounting firms in the United States, but kept the name of the firm anonymous because it involved their internal knowledge management system, which was not publicly talked about. Since the number of large accounting firms that could need this kind of system was quite small, it didn’t take long before inquisitive minds were able to figure out who the research was about. 

      If a similar situation were to occur in my research the least damaging result would be that I would burn my bridges and probably not be able to continue my research with them. If I am to pursue this research, I will have to make sure that my subjects are protected from any undue attention.



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One response to “Research Ethics in Videogames

  1. Research like this is definitely confusing with regard to ethics and methodology proposals. You stated: “I could potentially be outing producers of user generated content that would go unnoticed before my research.” This is something that you must focus all your attention on, as who in their right mind would give you accurate information that could negatively impact them in the future? I think that’s why when conducting field research, developing rapport with the human subjects before interviewing/surveying is a must.

    It’s crazy because in my undergrad I wrote many research proposals (I’ve taken many research study courses as well as methods courses), and they always seemed so simple to me. However, when you’re writing a proposal that you could potentially be sending to SSHRC, realistic methodologies and research interests have to be adapted.

    It’s a no wonder the University of Toronto (and many other academic and non-academic institutions at that), need their own research ethics boards. So much more goes into ethics than one foreseeable notices.

    Victoria Grant

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