The club is experiencing another week with only three players and, despite the short numbers, we play beyond the two hour session. It always seems like we will play one more game, and it feels like I hardly ever look up to the glass of the door to see if anyone else is coming. We appear fairly comfortable in this little setting for playing bridge, shuffling cards and dealing the pack into fours, between three, best we can. There is a little jostling of seats after the cards have been distributed to get a truer sense of four around the table. The absent ‘other’ is imagined sitting between or beside, depending on the strength of those cards.
We check over that we have an understanding of the scoring again, and I get the sense that a ‘double’, or two, may feature in the games ahead. A ‘double’ is used to score additional points, depending on whether the contract is defended or made. My understanding is that it is often made in combination with the strength of an individual’s hand and informed by the bidding pattern. Using this knowledge, a player can game the points to their advantage. For a new player, one less confident of bidding and hand ‘feel’, there is more of a sense of risk to this play.
During the dealing, we chat about healthy eating, choice of vegetables (if any) and the apparent incessant shrinking of chocolate bars – never have we paid so much for so little. Reminiscing occurs of dinner tables and diners, the absence of dietary tolerances and which treats can be associated with which relative or guest. It is notable that a certain fixation on cards dwindles at times, although resurges when that tricky ‘double’ is bid, and we just seem to blether [chat]. Again, this adds to the loss of time and the feeling that we can play one more game, with gentle referencing towards guidance or lessons scattered throughout the lesson. It actually feels a little less like lessons and more like play.
It is also difficult as a researcher to go into any depth of conversation content or the processes within play because the size of the group may compromise anonymity. Conversation content is mentioned because it is interesting to gauge any shifts between the focus on conventions and rules or feeling comfortable to blether and chat. Similarly, it is the pace and plays that can demonstrate confidence or understanding. It could, equally, show reluctance or the need for reassurance. These are all things that I feel when I am playing, however, in such a small group it is unfair to these are the experiences of others, who can be easily identifiable due to numbers.
Research is conducted with informed consent, the researcher being available for further elaboration if required, so the inclusion of anonymity means the removal of names, in an attempt to make willing participants unidentifiable from observations. The problem is twofold: at present, notes typed up might be known between the three people involved in these current sessions; and, in the future, anyone who has read the blog may be able to distinguish an identity by eliminating the roles of the researcher, supervisor and player. It is particularly problematic if anonymization is to protect participants from harm or embarrassment. Being frank and transparent about my own experiences of learning bridge, despite being a game difficult to master and one based, almost, entirely on mistakes, does not extend to, or justify, replication for other members of the club. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to leave the field until more participants returned, or be more explicit during informed consent about the dissemination of findings. A common technique is the use of pseudonyms in writing up to disguise or distort participants, however the sheer lack of members present makes this method questionable.
Take, for example, the use of an external source to help with playing bridge. It is really useful to bring the book or a print-off from a website to help inform the supervisor the source of this information and how it can be adopted into play. If you forget to bring this information, then there is pressure to know these details absolutely. It can be difficult to explain a convention of play that you think might be appropriate, and perform correctly with confidence. Usually it can be that the conditions of play were misread and, in fairness, the supervisor often intervenes with an alternative scenario of when such a convention might have be better suited. The important point is that in documenting these processes of learning. Who am I protecting from embarrassment and harm, and is this really necessary from an ethical perspective?
Anonymity does seem contrary to the enthusiasm of the participants at the beginning of the research. When the room was full with a large group eager to learn bridge, informed consent was signed with great interest about the project. At that moment it felt like there was acceptance and openness in the room, however, being more reflexive on process it is, perhaps, unfeasible to continue based on these memories, despite the signatures and enthusiasm shared. In terms of protecting participants, questions about responsibility may lay at the feet of the researcher, especially due to the significant decrease in members’ attendance. It is an ethical judgement because while learning, and playing, bridge does not feel like a risk, it might be an intrusion into the space and time reserved for blethering?