D. H. Hill Library Game Space User Observation

In February and March 2018, the NCSU Libraries conducted a series of space observations to learn more about patron use of the Game Space at the D. H. Hill Library, identify potential barriers to use, and determine ways to improve discoverability of our video game facilities and collections.

Overview

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that the Game Space is primarily used by an overwhelmingly male patron base, who favor game genres such as Action, First-Person Shooter, and Sports.  However, findings from industry research companies such as Quantic Foundry and the Entertainment Software Association suggest that women make up as much as 41% of gamers and that they prefer game genres such as Puzzle, Simulation, or Fantasy. 

Our hypothesis is that the current female and non-binary use of the Game Space falls short of statistics reflected in the wider gaming industry.  We also hypothesize that the overwhelming popularity of the Action, First-Person Shooter, and Sports game genres creates barriers to use for users who prefer other genres or who may not self-identify as gamers. 

This research aims to determine the validity of our hypotheses and whether the data collected illustrates gaps in our video game collections or ways in which the Game Space can be made more inclusive and easily accessible to video game enthusiasts of all skill sets and genres.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

  • Is there a gender divide in use of the Game Space?
  • Which of our video game consoles and game genres are most frequently used?
  • What improvements to the Game Space can be made based on observation of its use?

We conducted observations of the Game Space over three weeks, using the template below.

WHAT WE FOUND

  • Over three weeks, our observation counted a total of 153 users in the Game Space, with 130 users perceived as male, 13 perceived as female, and 10 users with no assigned gender.  (The selection of sampling periods for this observation is described below, under “How we did it”.)
  • Only five female users were observed as playing video games during the entire three-week observation period, in contrast to 87 male users playing games and two users with no gender recorded.
  • Male use of the space accounted for 85% of all activity throughout our observation period.  This confirms that our current usage distribution by gender varies from the usage distributions in the wider gaming industry.
  • The console with the highest rate of use was the PlayStation 4, which accounted for 42.9% of usage, followed by the Xbox One with 35.7%, the newly introduced Nintendo Switch with 21.4%.
  • The games observed most frequently were FIFA 18, The Legend of Zelda:  Breath of the Wild, and Bloodbourne.
  • A total of 61 games or genres were recorded, with Action/RPGs accounting for 31.1% of games, Sports as 27.9%, Fighting as 23%, First-Person Shooters as 13.1%, Platform Games as 3.3%, and Party Games as the remaining 1.6%.  These observations confirm that the games played within the Game Space align with genres preferred by males, and illustrate a lack of genres preferred by female and non-binary users.
  • While the majority of users in the space were either playing or watching video games, some users were observed in other activities, such as talking on the phone, reading, or using a laptop.

LIMITATIONS TO OBSERVATION

  • As this was an observation study, we did not have direct contact with users, which limits the data we can gather.  It is likely that some of the people observed watching gameplay may have been waiting for their turn.
  • Although gender exists beyond a binary, this observation method requires those gathering data to quickly assign a gender to those being observed; which is limited to a binary for the purpose of addressing gender equity within gaming.
  • The Nintendo Switch is a hand-held gaming console, so it is possible it is being used elsewhere in the library upon check-out.

RECOMMENATIONS AND CHANGES

The Libraries has an opportunity to make the Game Space and our gaming collections more inclusive and accessible.  Ways we could begin to do this include:

  • Increase signage, add quick-start console guides, and add a menu of games within the Game Space, to welcome users of all skill levels.
  • Consider how the overall environment of the room (lighting, furniture, proximity of console stations) affects user perceptions of the space.
  • Increase efforts to broaden our collection to include more titles in genres such as Simulation, Puzzles, and Fantasy.
  • Streamline discoverability of our gaming collection through the online catalog.
  • Market and curate our new gaming acquisitions to make it easier for users to try new genres or find lesser-known games that meet their interests.
  • Increase efforts to create programming and events related to gaming, with a focus on engaging with new users and a broader range of video games that encourage creativity, empathy, collaboration, and storytelling.
  • Consider a "welcome statement" for the Game Space.
How We Did It

We created an observation template to gather user data, based on the Learning Space Toolkit Observation Template.  The primary data gathered included the game console in use, what genre or game was being played, how patrons were participating; and their perceived gender.  A pilot of nine observation sessions in February indicated that the observation template worked well and that the Game Space was in use at various times throughout the day.

From there, we determined a second round of 33 scheduled observations over two weeks in March, at times chosen based on high-use patterns revealed by our regular head counts.  Data was gathered by unobtrusive observation only, so as to not disturb or influence patron use of the Game Space.  We ended up with 28 observations that recorded 137 patron interactions with the space, for a total of 37 observations and 153 total patron interactions.  Recognizable games were coded into succinct genres, based on their classification from the console company, while unknown games were directly coded into genres.

Team