When two worlds collide: Games and qualitative research

I’m trying my best to separate my professional and personal life. Mostly, due to working from home during the pandemic. My office is also my dining room, which is also my living room. Due to this, the divide between these two aspects of my life has become increasingly blurred. 

The last place I want to be thinking of working is while lying in bed at night trying to fall asleep. Unfortunately, that is exactly where I found myself thinking about it.

My personal life

Recently, I’ve started playing Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) with a friend from college, their partner, and her friends. Due to the pandemic, we play virtually using the virtual tabletop (VTT) Roll20. My character, Toonark, is a stunning bronze Dragonborn paladin. 

Toonark was forced to work in a mine until early adulthood. Having missed out on his entire childhood, he finds himself too innocent for his own good. Think of him like a cat. If conversations with NPCs take too long, or he loses interest, he wanders. He wanders around in bad places. Like in a dark cave, filled with poisonous spiders or a magical mansion, where rumours that apparitions wander the halls.  I am almost certain my party hates the trouble I get them into.

As I lay awake trying to fall asleep, I start looking at D&D stuff. The library in which I work has a great gaming collection. I remember seeing a cool book about storytelling in D&D called, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It. Unfortunately, I forgot what it was called, so I went to the library’s federated search tool Omni to see if I could find it. I ended up finding the book (I knew it had a clever title!) but something else caught my eye, a peer-reviewed article called, From Tabletop to Screen: Playing Dungeons and Dragons during COVID-19Fascinating! More on this in a moment. 

A young Toonark. Forced to mine since birth.

It’s funny where we find the connections between our professional and personal lives. 

My professional life

These past few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to sit in on a series of qualitative research methods sessions for a psychology class. I’m not an NVivo user, so my role in the class was to see how students in psychology are using this particularly powerful qualitative analysis tool.

One area that has spurred my interest within NVivo is its ability to scrape social media platforms using its web browser extension called NCapture

The problem with NCapture (well not really NCapture), the problem with scrapping social media platforms is that in most cases, the amount of information scrapped by these tools is set and controlled by the platform itself. Look at what Ncapture says about Twitter:

The number of Tweets that you can capture is determined by Twitter. The exact number may vary depending on the number of Tweets available, privacy settings of the posting user, and age of the Tweet. You might not be able to capture all of the Tweets you can see in your browser, or might receive more Tweets than you are expecting.

(NCapture website, source).

Although there are ways that researchers can try to minimize the uncertainty of the data they collect (I’m not a qualitative researcher, so I won’t talk about that here), the uncertainty of how Twitter allows one to scrape the data on their platform leaves much to be desired.

Having trouble sleeping? Read an academic journal about qualitative research and Dungeons and Dragons!

There has been a lot of talk about social media scrapping tools lately. So I found the next part of the story, a bit coincidental.

The next part of the story

So, you’ll remember from earlier, I was trying my best to fall asleep. I did what any good academic would do, I dug into the academic literature about D&D. Because as we all know, Academic writing is boring!

In this article, they talk about scrapping a popular social media site Reddit. The researchers were exploring information about transitioning from in-person D&D sessions to online sessions using virtual tabletop (VTT) software. Thomas Kyanko created a tool to extract data from Reddit https://reddit-downloader.tkyanko.me/  This tool takes a Reddit URL and converts it into a downloadable PDF format that can be imported into NVivo for qualitative coding.

I have included a few screenshots of how the data is displayed in Reddit and compared it to that of Kyanko’s downloading tool.

Reddit on the web.
Reddit downloaded using Kyanko’s tool.

We find answers to questions at the strangest times

It’s amazing where we find possible answers to questions we struggle with within our professional lives. The thought of scrapping Reddit for qualitative research data never crossed my mind. I don’t know why, I just never considered it. Dungeons and Dragons happened to be where I found the answer, while I was having trouble sleeping.

What are some of the platforms you have scrapped in your qualitative research? Twitter? Facebook? YouTube? Reddit? Let me know in the comments below.

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