I’m currently upscaling my knowledge about different qualitative methods approaches, and one of the approaches that I read extensively about and have now tried out is qualitative data analysis using codes applied in a software designed for such coding (in my case, Dedoose…largely because of the free trial month).
What seemed clear just from reading about this kind of methodology, and what became clear from my analysis is that the scope of the work is potentially quite large. I could have kept coding and working with the data for weeks longer, but because the data in question was only gathered for the purpose of this exercise, I decided to make sure that I dedicated an appropriate amount of time to the work and got what I could out of the exercise in that reasonable amount of time.
A few notes about the data: I asked my Monday Night RPG group if I could record one of our playsessions, code the data, and then write a blog post about it. With their permission, I recorded a 2.5 hour session and then chose a 25 minute section for transcription. I anonymized the data by using the character names rather than the player names in the transcript.
What I learned can probably be summarized thusly (no, not actually):
1. Transcription is awful and I wish I could pay someone else to do it.
2. Coding is a rabbit-hole from which one must plan a careful return. There are so many lenses I could have held up to the data.
3. Writing memos connected to the data helps to clarify just what lens you were using – both for yourself and others.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, our Monday night roleplaying group, as it exists now, contains an equal amount of male-identified and female-identified core members (when I say core, I mean those who attend weekly), with currently no “core” non-binary members, but with occasional guests. I understand that this is fairly unusual. With that knowledge as a starting point (and unsure where else to start, or how one ought to begin coding), I started to code the speakers as male-identified or female-identified. I also coded for the topic of conversation. I did a comparative analysis across codes and excerpts to see what patterns seemed to be emerging.
The section that I chose for analysis was a problem-solving activity involving decoding a journal entry. Not accounting for the lengths of contributions, the female-identified players spoke up 185 distinct times, where as the male-identified players spoke up a total of 99 times. Overall, the group usually spoke up to think aloud through the problem together, comparing notes and helping the group through the problem. Some players may have been more silent than usual as they tried to work on the problem separately. Female players were more likely to speak up in affirmation or support of their fellow players and their achievements towards solving the problem. Male players were more likely to question where the female players were drawing their conclusions from (perhaps because they were working the problem separately and not necessarily following the conversation).
Perhaps due to the problem-solving task that was put before them, in this excerpt the players did not act clearly “in-character” at any point. The only references to the setting and characters in this transcript were jokes related to anachronisms and game rules, as well as the contents of the journal itself.
Overall, I think I’m beginning to get the hang of this technique, but, as is also evident from the literature, my skills will evolve the more that I use this technique. In terms of my own game making practice, I could see this kind of analysis potentially being useful for analyzing focus group-type and other similarly-sustained conversations about my games. I don’t think this is something that I would use on shorter questionnaires or on shorter comments about my games. It is definitely something that works well when comparing different interviews together.
I want to thank my RPG group for being such good sports and letting me record them, given that my last post was about “accidentally” doing research while running Fate Accelerated for them last week. Thanks, folk!