The present study examines video documentation of some ways in which participants allocate blame for “untoward events” to co-present players in computer gaming. In such co-located gaming, players will communicate through whatever means available, relying on both on-screen communication (through chat as well as through avatar actions), as well as verbal and non-verbal offscreen communication. In blame sequences, an initial act of blaming provides a reason to locate a blameable event in the on-screen interaction just prior to the blame, thereby functioning as an instruction to “search” recent game-events for a cause of the blame. Blame elicits the scrutinizing of gameplay, and thereby for reflexively establishing at least one event (e.g. the death of a player’s avatar) as a potentially blameable offence. Foregrounding a player’s action constitutes a first step in establishing it as publicly blameable (a similar point is made by Mondada, 2009, in analyses of assessment sequences). Blame does not, however, once and for all decide the issue of who is at fault. Rather, blame is an interactional method for attributing responsibility, but at the same time as it is a move in a sequence of actions, where each one reflexively provides ground for understanding the next.
Playing computer games in co-located settings (such as internet cafés or LAN-parties) is not a quiet enterprise of silent contemplation. Players constantly talk to each other, about events in the game, about other players as well as on topics entirely unrelated to the playing of the game. A lot of talk concerns what is happening in the game (or what has happened), why this has happened and what can be done to make sure it will happen again (in the case of something favorable) or to ensure it will not (in the case of something detrimental to the progression of the game). In so doing, the players continuously interpret and formulate events in the game.
A striking aspect of these conversations, during game play and in-between individual gaming sessions, was that they are confrontational and harshly disaffiliative. The players use “foul” language laden with sexual connotations, name-calling, challenging each others’ competence and skill in the game as well as general intelligence and abilities. This is not to say that this is the only way that players talk to one another. Blame is a prevalent feature of the players’ interaction, but it is not the only way of handling untoward events. All the same—and in contrast to many other studies of cooperative work conducted in a variety of socio-technical systems — participants’ confrontations is a striking interactional feature of the activity.