Descriptive Vignette

In this course you are asked to write vignettes to describe your experiences playing games every week. 
A vignette, is a common way in ethnography to select meaningful parts from the field notes you kept during a period of fieldwork and turn that into a still descriptive text that can serve as a ‘basis’ for theoretical or methodological reflection. It is a small, yet detailed story or anecdote which tells the reader of your experiences, observations and thoughts. It is also often used in game-studies research, as well as in research-through design practices. As it really is an anchor for further analysis and reflection in your writing (or to some it is reflection), it needs to be precise (cf. thick description), yet appealing and to the point.  For examples see the corresponding section in Brightspace. 

Vignettes should focus on the game you were asked to play this week but can refer to various elements of this experience: 

  • Gameplay 
  • Discussions with group members, people in other groups, staff, peers and others related to the game; 
  • Lecture content; 
  • Media coverage and popular cultural constructions relating to the game;  

Vignettes should try to be: 

  • Personal (reflecting your own views on the game and/or the topic of the week) 
  • Reflective (displaying critical scrutiny and thought – do you agree with ideas or not – why?) 
  • Precise and packed with meaning (to unpack) 
  • Evaluative (offering insights into how you see issues relating to the game) 

Loosely based on the anthropological practice of keeping field notes, each vignette should aim for a minimum of 300 words, but we encourage you to use more words if required. Think about how to use lecture material, reading, discussions and practice experiences and how these may have influenced or changed your preconceived ideas and opinions about games and play. Describe what you do. But also ask yourself what your feelings and opinions about different elements of the course are, and note these down, before exploring these ideas and opinions in relation to broader ideas including the academic reading. Try to be creative and playful: if it helps your thinking and argument add images, pictures, sketch maps, drawings or other material that helps you to think about the issues on the course or to help you to express your ideas. This is an opportunity to personalize your academic writing and to be playful and creative.  

See also: Ellis, Adams, Bochner, 2011’s “Autoethnography: An Overview” 

Examples of vignettes:

We are at DreamHack Winter 2009 – a massive LAN party – and making our way to our seats for the weekend, lugging our computers with us in a somewhat motley mix of Ikea bags, a suitcase, and assorted backpacks. The panorama in the main hall is extraterrestrial. The view of the room falls into the hands of the light cables, brought and strung up by the players’, that if linked together would light up the leaning tower of Pisa. Joyful civil order combined with the heady humming of powerful PC’s dominate the human soundscape. A pulsing drumbeat pounds down from the stage. There’s not a Mac in sight. As we walk the minutes it takes from entering the main hall to our seats in row. (Taylor and Witkowski, 2010)  


Sunday mid-morning: I mowed down a couple strolling through the cemetery today. It was at a turn, one of those dreaded turns where you don’t know what’s on the other side, a cyclist, an Alsatian roaming on a retractable leash, a “stroller mafia” mob (groups of new parents with prams moving in convoy which “clog” urban space in distinctive ways). I was running full speed – well, probably more like 80% – but with 70 kilos of swiftness on my side. And when I swung myself into the opening of that cemetery portico, an older couple shirked away in shock (like I was the crazed Zombie out to get them!), faces contorted, bodies stiff but reacting. The energy driving me hard into that turn was spurred on by a Zombie Chase. I bulldozed apart their handholding and, luckily, they split to either side of me. I got the hell out of there as the beeping took a sudden increase in urgency from the momentary loss of speed. A shout of “Sorry!” trailed over my shoulder as I stretched myself out towards a familiar straight and unfettered path, trying to find my stride again. (Witkowski 2013)  


I am going to play Civilization VI for the first time since its release. I have downloaded the game and now click on the play button in my Steam library, anticipating that the game will soon start. Instead the text ‘Loading. . . Please wait’ appears on my computer screen. Taking advantage of this moment, I think about the last time I played Civilization and feel a bit uneasy since it has been almost 10 years since I last engaged with games like this and examined them as postcolonial practices. Will I still understand the basic principles? Will play-researching this new version bring any new insights? (Lammes and de Smale 2018)


“The Romans, at least the ones we know about, did not really like to come to the Netherlands at all. In fact, one of them, Tacitus, wrote something along the lines of : ‘This is a land rough in its surface, rigorous in its climate, cheerless to every one who views it, except for someone who was born there.‘”

The young girl sitting next to me at the computer looks affronted. She clearly does not agree with the spirit of the text I just quoted to her.

“That guy doesn’t know anything!”, she fumes. “He clearly never visited Katwijk during the summer!”

She is right, of course, Tacitus never visited Katwijk, a little known place called Lugdunum Batavorum at the literal end of the road in 150 AD, but now a town popular for its beaches and also the home of this girl. I still try to do my best to explain to her that the landscape of the Netherlands was a bit more wild and less welcoming back then.

“These Romans just did not know how to have fun,” she replies, “but I’ll build them something that shows them how fun this place can be.”

She asks to be teleported from the fort we are building to the coast. Fifteen minutes later she has built a lovely, little hut, right there on the beach. (Mol 2020)