Understanding the contentious relationship between video game play and video game narrative
Dr. Nick Bowman from West Virginia University’s Department of Communication Studies discussed how modern video games carefully tread the line between enjoyment and appreciation. He argued that the emotions in games can fuel appreciation and the core game play elements drive enjoyment. Because of this duality, Nick asked can designers produce a meaningful game by appealing to gamers’ emotions without sacrificing game play?
Nick’s question is a fascinating one because he bases his suppositions on limited capacity models (e.g., LC4MP). Specifically, he argues that interactivity is intrinsically cognitively demanding because it taxes cognitive, behavioral, and affective systems. Simultaneously, narrative demands resources for it be impactful. For example, when playing a Batman video game players experience a tug-of-war between the narrative world of the game (i.e., Gotham city) and the ludic systems at play (e.g., game rules, levels systems, button combinations). In other words, gamers implicitly attempt to bring together the experience of being Batman and playing as Batman. Although the concept seems simple, it’s unclear if it’s possible to marry enjoyment and appreciation. Further, it’s not certain that a balance is even desirable.
What’s more, modern game design complicates this equation. It’s arguable that modern designers yearn for games that forgo fantastic–and perhaps cliche–narratives for games that provoke powerful emotions using settings increasingly grounded in reality.
In part, I feel like this vein of scientific curiosity aims to address what makes good art. At some level, art must immediately engage yet retain some iota of complexity to capture and keep one’s interest. For example, movies must avoid being too base or people will label it crass, boring, or empty; yet, the movie can’t be overly cerebral or people will label it as pretentious. Perhaps games are suffering some growing pains due to their evolution away from high scores toward elevating experiences.
Below is the introduction to a blog post I wrote on video game violence. Both Gamasutra and Motivate Play published it earlier this year.
Media violence research waxes and wanes like many other research topics. Focusing events train the collective gaze of the world on single point. When Facebook changes how it shares our information, we discuss our tenuous grip on privacy. When Twitter aids in the coordination of a revolution, we discuss the awesome power of social networking. Similarly, when violent tragedies occur involving youth, many look toward the research surrounding violent media—video games in particular. Unfortunately, this body of research often elicits more confusion than clarity.
One of the central questions at hand is if violent video games cause elevated levels of aggression. A great deal of research suggests that…
Overall, I found the study on death/raiding to be the most interesting. Jeffrey performed a 4 month study of two raiding clans looking at combat logs, chat logs, and interview data. He found raiding, in general, was a difficult practice, as big bosses often wipe players out. Despite this, raiding parties have a high tolerance for failure. In other words, players die repeatedly when trying to defeat a big boss but it doesn’t slow them down. Interestingly, although there are large clan differences in the way they approach raiding, the design of WoW induces a leveling of performance that forces successful battles to occur within a specific time frame and balances the rhythm of battle (5 minutes of fighting with 15 minutes of downtime).
Dimensional underpinnings of responses to blood, brutality, and politics
Today, Bridget Rubenking of IU Telecom presented the preliminary findings from her dissertation research on disgust. As a topic, disgust is somewhat paradoxical–it’s an emotional response of repulsion toward noxious stimuli. Despite this, people often purposely select disgusting material as entertainment (e.g., gory movies such as Saw).
To further understand what disgusts people from a dynamic perspective, Bridget presented messages that emphasized either core disgusts (e.g., body envelope violations) or socio-moral disgust (e.g., racism). Self-reported responses indicate that socio-moral disgust is more negative and that political affiliation predicts numerous responses within this category.
Her future work will analyze the physiological responses to these messages as another indicator of disgust as an emotion.
Social norms as a game mechanic?
Travis Ross, also a student from IU Telecom, gave the second talk at today’s T600. Like Bridget, he presented preliminary data on his dissertation research. Essentially, Travis investigated how social norms could act as a game mechanic. Using a custom-made game environment, he tested descritptive and injunctive norms with and without sanctions using either a selfish or cooperative prime. One star finding was that sanctioning forced groups to act cooperatively, even when that group was primed to act selfishly.
While all norms helped guide behavior, injunctive norms were stronger than descriptive and sanctions were better than no sanctions. In sum, it appears that norms can guide people toward a specific outcome.