One Researcher’s Approach for Studying Her Own Game Play Experiences

Video game research is thriving, with new studies and their results announced daily. In most cases, researchers have a group of participants to work with, or a list of survey respondents. For one PhD candidate, this posed a problem. Sonja Sapach hoped to document her own game play experiences into her dissertation research, but she lacked an existing framework for that sort of research.

But while there may not be a formal research methodology to support Sapach’s plans, there is a perfectly suitable framework right here in the gaming world: the classic Let’s Play. By filming and narrating her game play experiences, she argues for First Person Scholar, she’s been able to design a usable methodological toolkit.

My dissertation research involves conducting an autoethnographic study that seeks to explore how video games and gaming culture work to resolve alienation at both an individual and a social level. For example, as a bullied and extremely introverted child, I was able to create social connections and build confidence through the discussion of NES games like Super Mario Bros. 3. It was through the shared knowledge and experiences of the games that I was able to overcome my fear, hopelessness, and isolation, allowing me to develop friendships as well as a sense of self.

In order to accomplish my research goals, I have been utilizing the Let’s Play format of recording myself playing various video games from my childhood in order to trigger memories that will better allow me to understand the profound impact that gaming culture had on the resolution of my own alienation. Basically, I choose games that I have a close personal connection with and allow myself to verbalize memories (both positive and negative) while recording my facial reactions, tone of voice, key game events, and any other relevant data. I have completed the transcription of 25 hours of video which includes not only my words, but also my reactions such as pauses, expressions of emotion, stutters, and sudden changes in tone. I am currently in the data analysis phase (a detailed description of which will be outlined in future work). Thus far, the analysis of my videos and transcriptions has allowed me to piece together key moments in my ‘gaming life’, allowing me to reconstruct and accurately describe my memories in order to answer my research questions.


Sapach acknowledges that she’s far from the first researcher to use the Let’s Play format, but most if not all of her predecessors have analysed other’s game play experiences, not their own. Researching one’s own gaming is a less popular (but fascinating) approach.

If you’re interested in how you could plan a methodology for similar research, Sapach’s essay for First Person Scholar explores the limitations and benefits of her setup, with cautions and suggestions for anyone who might follow in her footsteps.

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