IIEMCA19: Hofstetter – Culture at the board

Hofstetter will present at IIEMCA2019, Jul.3-5 Mannheim.

Culture at the board: Non-lexical vocalizations and navigating the accountability of competition

In this paper, I examine the actions that constitute acceptable game play, in order to show an example of ‘gameplay culture’. How is it that players can both accept a move that has harmed them (as complete, as following the rules, as ‘clever’) and display their affective reaction to it? How can they ‘do upset’ without being seen as a poor loser at any given point? I propose that non-lexical vocalizations (NLVs) constitute a practice for achieving these gaming actions. By using tokens that are depictive rather than indexical (Dingemanse 2014), players can make relevant a different set of inferences than lexical reactions to events such as complaints or gloating. More broadly, players’ methods for reacting to events can help constitute those events as play through their defeasible (Sidnell 2012) qualities – specifically in being non-lexical and non-conventionalized.

The analysis is based on a corpus of 33 hours of board game play (147 NLV tokens). The NLVs share similarities with Goffman’s response cries in their sequential location, but have phonetic characteristics in line with affective displays (Reber 2012); the NLVs are prolonged (M=1.03 seconds), with dramatic pitch contour or pitch shift. I focus on NLVs that occur in response to a game event, such as having a piece ‘killed’. Although the reactions are treated as remorseful, seen in sympathy or celebration from competing players, they are never treated as meriting alteration of the event:

1  Kat:     That one.

2  Joh:     hAw:[#::h,]

3  Kat:                [I’m a]fraid so,

4                 (0.5)

5  Kat:     |Uh::m:,

6  kat:     |gaze @ cards*–>

Kat takes John’s piece, and John reactions with his first NLV (L2), which receives some mild sympathy, before Kat continues her turn (L5-6). In contrast, lexical components result in turns being treated as more serious complaints:

1  Joh:     Oh::: but that <<really>> fhucked me [uph.       ]

2  Ad:                                                                                    [tuh(h)uh]

((3 lines laughter))

6  Ad:      ithorry:,

7  Joh:     .hh No(h)o, (0.4) hhh This is what the game is <all: #abo(h)ut.>

Adam has just taken one of John’s pieces. John’s reaction includes a lexical component that may be an announcement or a complaint. Adam apologizes for his move, suggesting he takes John’s complaint more seriously (L6). John now accounts for having issued a turn that was treated as serious. In stating that the game is ‘all: #abo(h)ut’ such moves, John downgrades his initial action to an announcement rather than a complaint. Crucially, we see John accounting for having been treated as serious, which was not a difficulty with Kat. NLVs, then, make different inferences available, and appear less vulnerable to being treated as ‘serious’ complaints. In this practice, we see players making sense of competition as both a serious (beating others to win) and non-serious (play) endeavour, and we see one members’ method for managing gameplay culture.

Dingemanse, M. 2014. Making new ideophones in Siwu: Creative depiction in conversation. Pragmatics & Society, 5(3), 384-405.

Reber, E. 2012. Affectivity in interaction: Sound objects in English. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sidnell, J. 2012. Declaratives, questioning, defeasibility. ROLSI, 45(1), 53-60.