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Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games

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Association for Computing Machinery


Online board-game sites are popular settings for group activity. However, unlike many kinds of group interaction, previous research has found that there is often little verbal conversation during games, which seems strange in a social situation. One reason that has been suggested for the lack of talk is that actions in the game are themselves communicative acts that can replace verbal utterances. There is little known, however, about how games can substitute for verbal conversation. In this paper we carry out a study exploring meaning and shared understanding through the moves of a board game. Participants played a board game and then retrospectively analysed the communicative meaning of each move; we analysed their responses as indicative of joint actions" in four layers of interaction. Our study shows that game moves can provide a great deal of communication, and that there are both similarities and differences to verbal conversations at each level. The physical layer, containing the board, is a foundation similar to that of people speaking the same language. The syntactic layer, consisting of the game rules, allows demonstration of expertise but is not noticed by players except in unusual circumstances. The strategic layer, consisting of competitive use of the syntactic rules, diverges considerably from a verbal conversation in terms of shared understanding, because players are actively attempting to avoid revealing their meaning. The personality layer allows players to make inferences about the other player as a person, just as in verbal communication. Our analysis provides new evidence that even simple turn-based games contain a great deal of interaction richness and subtlety, and that the different levels of communication should be considered by designers as a real and legitimate vehicle for social interaction."


McEwan, Gregor; Gutwin, Carl (2016): Chess as a Conversation: Artefact-Based Communication in Online Competitive Board Games. Proceedings of the 2016 ACM International Conference on Supporting Group Work. DOI: 10.1145/2957276.2957314. Association for Computing Machinery. pp. 21–30. Sanibel Island, Florida, USA