Games and Their Outcomes: Ethics Paperwork

Process Writing, Uncategorized

This semester, I’m doing a directed reading course called “Games and Their Outcomes” and it is largely centered around this question:
“How can we make claims about player experience?”

Or, on a more basic level, what are qualitative research techniques that can be said to be “rigorous” and allow us to back up our methods and say with some degree of confidence that we know what we know. The upshot of taking on this kind of course is that I’m upscaling my research methods (or in a lot of cases, learning that what I was already doing intuitively is a thing that qualitative researchers who want to be rigorous do).

The first assignment that I’ve completed is one that, fittingly, also comes at the beginning of many research projects: the ethics portion. I’ve completed drafts of ethics paperwork for the Speculative Play team which I’ve just joined (featuring Rilla Khaled, Pippin Barr, Christopher Moore, Brian Greenspan, Liane Decary-Chen, Agustina Isidori and, now, me!)

There isn’t too much to say about the paperwork itself (it was fairly straightforward), except that Ethics within a research framework, especially at a University, especially for the arts, is not perfectly designed to fit research-creation work. Having co-designed a game about consent, I know my way around the topic fairly well.

But proposing ethics around design and art projects where what might develop is unknown and might potentially spiral into something completely different is a particularly strange experience. In research-creation, you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to do before you do it – it’s the nature of the beast. Ideally, we would like to not have to submit ethics paperwork for every tiny project that we plan to do — that would waste both our time and the Office of Research Ethics’ people’s time, too. We want a flexible framework that respects people and our ethical responsibilities that isn’t too bogged down in the bureaucracy of the thing. It turns out that, that’s complicated.

I think that what was important about this assignment was learning to complete ethics paperwork of a similar kind to what I will actually need for my research. It was…demystifying. But I also kept bumping up against the limits of my knowledge — and the limits of what I could decide on my own from common sense. But, if we wait to submit the paperwork until we know exactly what the project will be, we may end up waiting on the ethics paperwork to actually be able to do the research, which may delay the research. Definitely not an ideal solution!

At time of writing, we are waiting to talk to the OOR ethics folk over the phone to see what we can do with our application that will allow for proper ethics but also won’t require us to submit an application for every small-scale project.