Why is it that Australians see playing footy on the weekend to be nothing sneer-worthy, but admitting to spending the odd afternoon playing World of Warcraft marks you as a bit of a weirdo? And why is it that so many Australians who wouldn't consider themselves gamers pass the time in the sardine-can-like confines of public transport propelling birds at green pigs?
These are the kinds of questions that Deakin University lecturer Chris Moore wants to answer – and he wants the public, and the gaming community in particular, to help him.
Moore, who lectures in media and communication at Deakin's School of Communication and Creative Arts, is using crowd-funding website Pozible to help fund research into why people play games. More specifically, what it is that people get out of games?
"We know from some quantitative analysis that's been done by Jeffrey Brand at Bond University about the changing rates of people playing, the change in gender – more women are playing – [and] that the age of gamers has grown up," Moore said.
"But what we don't know is what people actually get out of it. Not the motivation for playing – but what it is they value about their play."
Moore said that many of his students wouldn't self-identify as gamers, yet when he questioned them many admitted to playing games such as Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja on their mobile devices once a week or even daily. When asked what they get out of the game, students would often reply "I'm just wasting time," Moore said.
"I'm like – hang on. You're obviously valuing this experience to some degree. So what I'm interested in finding out how Australians value gameplay."
"Australians value sport and play quite heavily, but we still have this attitude that games are just a waste of time, that we don't actually produce anything," Moore said.
"My hypothesis is that we do create a lot when we play and that leads off into industry, education, health through changing our mood and changing the way we feel, but also in community. There are massive gamer-based communities in Australia, from FPS guilds, to Warcraft clans, to online forums.
"I'm interested in finding out what people value, what they believe, what they think about games as part of their media experience."
The lecturer said that the plan to employ crowdfunding had been in the work for a couple of years, and it was just coincidence that it coincided with wide-ranging cuts to university funding by the federal government.
"This is very much an experiment," Moore said. "It's not an attempt to replace established funding models for research."
For Moore, the appeal is not just an alternative avenue of funding for research – the team is only after a small amount, $5000, to pay for research assistants and conduct surveys – but also the participatory aspect of crowdfunding.
"That for me was the real attraction: To try this out to get people talking, to get people interested," Moore said.
Moore is also hoping that the research may lead to more in-depth studies of the discussions Australians have about games and gaming. His idea is to create 'PlayCache': A data repository that draws together conversations from social networks such as Facebook and Twitter that can be analysed to get a sense of these discussions.
The Pozible campaign runs until 7 June and is seeking $4,445. Donations start from $2 and are tax deducatable. More information and a link for contributing can be found at pozible.com/playcache.