Published on March 3, 2014
WHO’S THAT BEHIND THE SCREEN? A player-focused perspective to understanding video game research and design Bowman, N.D. 6 March University of Utah Media and Interaction Lab
ABSTRACT The past 15 years of social science research have seen an explosion in curiosity surrounding video games as a legitimate object of study – a medium that traces its roots back to at least the 1950s. While early research on games tended to quixotically focus on the anti-social effects of video games on users, emerging perspectives consider myriad uses and functions of video games as a psychological, communicative, and social tools. Much of this diversity can be attributed to a renewed focus on the player, with scholars working to understand the experience of the “squishy bits” behind the computer screen. Drawing from a variety of original studies, the presentation will translate player-focused media research to a diverse audience of designers, programmers and researchers. Topics covered include the mechanics of cognitive skill and game challenge, psychology of audience effects, habitual and (morally) intuitive decision-making, the social nature of player-avatar relationships, and the overall complexity of entertainment experiences as “more than just games.”
WHO AM I?
BABY COWBOY Organism Stimulus Response
TOPICS • Mechanics of cognitive skill and game challenge • Psychology of audience effects • Habitual and (morally) intuitive decisionmaking, • Social nature of player-avatar relationships • Games as “meaningful carrots”
COGNITIVE SKILL • Games as cognitive puzzles
COGNITIVE SKILL • In video game, skill is based on our ability to control the interactivity (form + content) • One such control is our cognitive abilities (a few) cognitive skills found to correlate w/ game performance: 2D mental rotation 3D mental rotation Moving targeting Fixed targeting Eye-hand coordination Fine motor skill Word completion
GAMES AND COGNITIVE SKILL @JenovaChen • We tap our skills when we want to attain or sustain a state of flow… • …but other “things” can also impact skill
GAMES AND COGNITIVE SKILL
AUDIENCE EFFECTS • SFT is a behavioral approach linking arousal to performance – Triplett (1898) found that cyclists were faster around others (~30s) – Zajonc (1960) found that audience stimulate arousal in many organisms (Blatta orientalis)
AUDIENCE EFFECTS Drive theory specifies the relationship between drive and response in predicting performance: E = f (H x D)
AUDIENCE EFFECTS • Audience sparks drive, increasing our habits/skill response… • …but, what do these look like in a video game environment?
AUDIENCE EFFECTS When playing in front of an audience, easy games became easier… …but hard games didn’t change at all!
AUDIENCE EFFECTS • And sometimes, we might even want an audience because they make us feel included
University of Utah HABITUAL AND (MORALLY) INTUITIVE DECISION-MAKING
DECISION-MAKING • How virtual is virtual? – Media used in habit training – Our minds don’t separate “actual” and “virtual”
DECISION-MAKING β T Sig. Walking not dominant lifestyle activity Step one Step one Video game skill -.264 -1.72 .093 Video game skill Body shame .165 1.07 Body.289 shame F(2,47) = 3.78 p = .030 R2 = .139 Step two Step two Video game skill -.189 -1.24 .221 Video game skill Body shame .218 1.45 Body.154 shame Experimental condition -.285 Experimental condition -2.21 .039 (0 = waypoint, 1 = freeplay) (0 = waypoint, 1 = freeplay) F(3,46) = 4.50 p = .039 ΔR2 = .077 Walking as dominant lifestyle activity -.382 .338 -3.05 2.71 F(2,47) = 12.6 p < .001 R2 = .348 .004 .010 -.387 .326 -.109 -3.08 2.59 -.919 .003 .013 .363 F(4,46) = .844 p = .363 ΔR2 = .012 Walkers relied on their dominant habit, while non-walkers let the game guide them!
DECISION-MAKING • Our decisions can also be informed by our moral intuitions, such as our concern for: All of this can be read in more detail at www.moralfoundations.org
DECISION-MAKING Intuitive Morality • Innate moral foundations • “evolutionary ethics” • Focus on culture and character • Moral dumbfounding • Morality considered on encounter Rational Morality • Tabular rasa approach • “quandary ethics” • Focus on actions and scenarios • Cognitive (moral) reasoning • Morality constantly monitored
DECISION-MAKING Sig. ∆ High vs. Low Non-random (high salience) Random (low salience) Digital Immigrants Yes (.002) Yes (21%) Yes (47%) US Adolescents Digital Natives German Adolescents No (.118) No (54%) Yes (41%) German Elderly Yes (<.001) Yes (24%) No (77%) US Elderly Yes (<.001) Yes (12%) Yes* (39%)
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS • Player is the “squishy thing” • Avatar is “an interactive, social representation of a user” (Meadows, 2008) • Relationship is “valenced connection between two people agents where each party influences the other” (as cited in Banks, 2013)
Object Me Symbiote Other
Avatar as Object Avatar as Me Avatar as Symbiote Avatar as Social Other Identification Low High Mid Low Suspension of disbelief Low Mid Mid High Sense of Control High Mid Mid Low Sense of care/ responsibility Low Mid Mid High
PLAYER-AVATAR RELATIONSHIPS • Entertainment is – Enjoyment: Pleasure of Control – Meaningfulness: Pleasure of Cognition • Self-differentiation seems key to stimulating authentic meaningfulness Authentic emotional intimacy requires selfdifferentiation (Bowen,1978)
“MEANINGFUL CARROTS”? “I can think of a fun game or movie and a sad, tragic or meaningful film, but a meaningful game experience? Its [sic] like asking me to recall a meaningful carrot.” ~ Reviewer 2
“MEANINGFUL CARROTS”? “…games have said goodbye to the tired alien invasions and over-the-top fantasy stories so often found in video games. Instead, they peer into the dark reaches of the very real human heart to deliver stories that are thrilling, chilling and utterly absorbing” ~ Winda Benedetti @WindaBenedetti
@waltdwilliams “MEANINGFUL CARROTS”? @jesseschell “Are we going to have a Shakespeare of games? A game that was told so perfectly, and so well, that 200 years later people will insist we play it exactly as it was?“ ~ Jesse Schell (2013) “When you’re using action as a tool, it’s easy to disassociate from what that action is…with a shooter, that action is killing another person.” ~ Walt Williams (2013)
“MEANINGFUL CARROTS”? “When players recall meaningful gaming experiences, they reported on how those storylines helped them feel a sense of poignancy and insightfulness as they were able to related to the story content”
FOR MORE INFORMATION • Nick Bowman, Ph.D. [CV] Twitter (@bowmanspartan) Skype (nicholasdbowman) firstname.lastname@example.org Media and Interaction Lab
COLLABORATORS • • • • • • • • Ryan Rogers Rene Weber Ron Tamborini John Sherry Frank Biocca Rachel Kowert Elizabeth Cohen Jaime Banks • • • • • • • • Ryan Lange Amanda Lange Sven Joeckel Leyla Dogruel Mary Beth Oliver Brett Sherrick Julia Woolley Mun-Young Chung