Elements of Social Action: A Micro- Analytic Approach to the Study of Collaborative Behavior in Digital Games


In this paper we articulate an empirical approach to the study of social action in digitallymediated contexts. Our approach extends Carl Couch’s theory of cooperative action, which is based on a set of “elements of sociation”: acknowledged attentiveness, mutual responsiveness, congruent functional identities, shared focus, and social objective. Three additional elements of sociation, adapted from studies of jazz performance, are added to the list of elements that characterize coordinated action: a formal theory of task performance, an informal theory of task performance, and synchronicity of individual actions. Using audio-visual recordings of gameplay, the minutiae of social action were captured and subjected to repetitive, reflexive and collaborative analysis in order to identify these patterns, including their potential causes and consequences. We use data from two games—the single-player real-time strategy game Eufloria and the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft—to illustrate how gameplay can be dissected into such elemental units.