Researching gaming practices with teenagers: ethics and challenges


This article discusses the ethical challenges and concerns that should be considered while studying the teenager's gaming practices. The innovative approach combines the use of focus groups and gaming interviews, which is especially relevant for studying how young people perceive and construct their own identities through video games, considering the intersectionality between gender and social class. A gaming interview consists in interviewing the teenagers while they are playing video games in their natural and everyday environment, that is to say at home, in the manner and at the time that they usually play (Shaw, 2015). The use of gaming interviews allows studying the practices of teenagers in an environment that is as day-to-day as possible, avoiding the drawbacks of observation in a laboratory.

The identity formation is especially important during adolescence when teenagers are most motivated to forge new social groupings and to negotiate alternatives to given cultural meanings (Livingstone, 2002). Besides, the youth market is one of the key target markets for video games (Newzoo, 2020). The current study scrutinizes how teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18 construct a gamer identity through their daily gaming practices.

The research is done in Barcelona because it is a socially stratified city (Blanco&Nel, 2018). So far, eight focus groups have been carried out in four schools, located in two districts with different sociodemographic characteristics and different funding sources (public versus semi-private). From 48 participants, eight were selected to be interviewed while playing. The entire process was done after obtaining the informed consent of the schools, the minors and their families.

Through this research, we can observe in first person the teenager's environment: the distribution of gaming devices in the home, as well as the participation, involvement and intervention of the family, all of which are shaping the gaming habitus
of the teenager. This research takes habitus
to refer to thought structures, style and interpretation of class (Bourdieu, 1979) that are involved in the construction of the gamer identity and the gaming culture.

The potentiality of this research is that it uses both a collective methodology (focus groups) and an individual one (gaming interviews), and also implies two crucial institutions: school and family. These are relevant to understand identity construction through the leading entertainment industry in Spain since 2015.

Owing to these implications, the researcher has to have in mind the possible harm and social issues that can emerge. This is because harm can be contextual, even more, when axes, such as gender, social class, and family setting, are explored in conjunction. Furthermore, it is necessary to be aware of the potential unexpected participants who could intervene during the gaming interviews at the teens' homes but who are not included initially in the research. Therefore, the research requires an ongoing process of revision and adaptation.

To conclude, this article sheds light on the ethical decision-making concerning the collection of participants’ data, the use of that data, and the participants' viewpoints that must be considered throughout the whole process of the study.