Finding of the week #278

Different Player Types but One Community

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the skewed view some viewers might have on the contents of Let’s Play videos: they like to see that the gameplay follows their own approach to the game.

Creating and publishing Let’s Play videos (LPs) not only is a creative activity, but also a way to share own gaming experiences with a world-wide community. Also, LPs allow a player to track the own gameplay and document decisions which can be very interesting for later evaluations in the case of a computer game that requires a lot of decision-making.

Aside from simply sharing the own gameplay with a large audience, LPs also provide the opportunity to discuss approaches and solutions with the audience. Depending on the genre of the game and the frequency with which new episodes are released, viewers can also provide suggestions thus actively helping the player or collaboratively developing vast builds.

However, the content creator also has to be very careful how to approach and treat the viewers and their suggestions, respectively. Vice-versa, viewers also need to understand that the content creators might have a different approach to the game and might not necessarily want to play it in the most efficient way. Instead, it is more about just playing the game as it is without optimizing everything like a player who is enjoying the game without recording it.

As a content creator, it is important to tell a good story with the gameplay which can also include a lot of wrong decisions. These wrong decisions can lead to a more entertaining LP series as things are suddenly way more complex or result in more funny moments. In addition, while the underlying idea of offering help is much appreciated, content creators might want to experience the game themselves without being guided by their viewers. Being guided can drastically reduce the entertaining aspects of a game when a player likes to make own experiences and learn form them.

In conclusion, the content creator is just a regular computer game player who likes to simultaneously entertain others with their gameplay. This, however, also includes that, unless they ask for it, they like to explore the game on their own without being directed by their viewers. Viewers, on the other hand, might already have a more in-depth experience with the game and like to provide help to the content creator to see them succeed. In this process, they might accidentally overlook the fact that it’s not necessarily about efficiency but simply fun.

Finding of the week #277

Achieving the right mindset

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how computer games can help us to recall acquired knowledge and to improve the mental models that store it.

When acquiring new knowledge, we compile mental models for it. These mental models are complex mental representations that allow for an internal visualization. Mental models are situation specific and, as a result of this, the knowledge training is especially effective when it creates similar requirements to the targeted application of the knowledge. This is important as mental models allow for a training transfer from the training environment to the actual application of the knowledge.

Computer games have a high potential to achieve such a knowledge training as they can simulate any learning content and create similar requirements to a real world application. However, the degree of realism also depends on the used input devices and the overall environment in which the simulation is experienced.

Aside from achieving an effective knowledge training, computer games can help us to retain acquired knowledge and to update the respective mental models. This is achieved by simulating the targeted knowledge in such a way that, despite not reaching a high degree realism, the mental models are still used to solve presented problems. In this way, users are required to apply their mental models for problem-solving thus recalling the stored information. In addition, computer games visualize the knowledge’s application thus improving the mental models by further visualizations.

For instance, a flight simulation computer game requires all principles of flight during the gameplay. Players can apply relevant knowledge by practicing flight maneuvers, radio navigation, and standardized approaches. As a result, although not being in a real cockpit, pilots can challenge themselves to apply their flight skills and to recall them. Thus, the gameplay results in a deliberate practice that ultimately leads to a completely automated or pattern-driven application of the knowledge, e.g., the flight skills.

In conclusion, computer games not only allow players to acquire and practice new knowledge, they also have the potential to require knowledge in a simplified way. This requirement still activates a player’s mental model thus improving it. As a result, although not being able to practice the knowledge in a real world application, users are able to automate their knowledge and gain expertise with its application. Hence, they are still prepared when they have to apply this knowledge in a real world context.

Finding of the week #276

Provide some basic guidance

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the importance of clearly stating a player’s goals to provide a guideline during a playthrough.

Some weeks ago, I started playing Eco that challenges a player with the task to save the world from a threatening meteor. This task requires the player to gather resources and to research new technologies. However, the more advanced the technologies become, the higher is their impact on the ecology. Thus, Eco demonstrates how the player’s activities lead to a potential pollution of the environment and, as a result of this, players might learn to be more thoughtful about their actions and activities in the real world.

However, despite this very interesting concept of the game, I encountered the problem that I suddenly felt lost. The game provides me with a broad variety of researchable technologies and activities to increase my quality of life inside of the game. Unfortunately, the current version of the game does not provide me with a clear list of things I have to achieve to make some progress. Also, many things and activities seem not well enough explained thus causing some confusion about the effects of my actions.

Farming in Eco

For instance, I created a small farm area, but there are no signs that my farming attempts are going into the right direction of if I need to provide additional infrastructure to grow my crops. As a result, I can merely guess that I need to somehow unlock new skills to have more abilities allowing for an improvement of my farming activities.

Things are even more complicated for the current skill tree that allows me to unlock and improve new actions inside of the game. However, as the structure of the skill tree seems rather confusing, I am frequently unsure, if my choices are going into the right direction.

Of course, there are plenty sources for further information on the internet, but as a player, I prefer to stay within in the boundaries of the game instead of switching to my web browser to research how I can achieve a particular thing inside of a game.

Personally, I enjoy games like Eco that provide a very complex simulation with a great amount of different variables that create a very dense world. However, as long as a player does not exactly know how things can be achieved, the gameplay of those complex games can be also quite frustrating.

In the end, Eco is still in development and many things will be improved over time. In this case, this is not an article about the issues of the game, but more an article discussing the lessons learned and the importance of of game design decisions that might be helpful for new game designers who like to create advanced virtual worlds.

Finding of the week #275

Posterized!

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the challenges and advantages of writing a poster paper about the corner stone of my PhD thesis: the theoretical model.

Now, a bit more than a week after I got the confirmation that all my papers got accepted, I start to slowly realize what a great achievement this is. Not only that I managed to get three papers ready in time, I also wrote them in such a good quality that they all seemed convincing enough to be accepted. Unfortunately, my theoretical model was not good or interesting enough to be accepted as a full paper and so I was challenged again to present my model in a different form.

As I was preparing the poster version of it, I realized two strange things. On the one hand, I could present all of the most relevant information in a very condensed form on two pages. That’s a thing I would have regarded as impossible as I wrote the initial full paper version of it. Of course, this was not an easy task as it required a lot of abbreviations to fit everything into the article: a comprehensive introduction, the model’s description, the central graphic representing my model, and the references. On the other hand, despite being able to fit the most important information on those two pages, it is very sad that all the other related work can be neglected to define my model.

However, neglecting the additional information comes to a high price: I think the poster version has lost a lot of the clarity and completeness of the full paper version. Also, it is very difficult to provide examples for certain elements of the framework, when there is no room for it. Of course, it was an interesting challenge as I was required to write very concise and only focus on the most important facts and elements. Also, I am happy that I can explain my model on at least two pages which seems to me like another achievement. But, despite all this scientific training, I still have some kind of artist inside of me who likes to present and tell a good story.

In the end, being able to finally publish my model in a poster form opens so many new possibilities as I finally can reference it in all my future publications. Also, when it comes to telling a story, I can at least present the entire story in my PhD thesis, if I do not get the chance to publish a full paper of my model in the near future. Suddenly, everything seems to be doable again.

Finding of the week #274

A Perceived Successful Failure

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how the success of our own sub-goals majorly affects the perceived outcome of the overall goal.

Our thoughts and feelings are weird when it comes to evaluating the results of the attempts to achieve our self-determined goals. Often, we value the results not based on the overall outcome but based on the success of the sub-component we are interested in the most.

For instance, consider a journey to a distant country that can include a visit of a specific and very beautiful place. Despite experiencing a great journey and enjoying many memorable events, not being able to reach the location we are dreaming of can have a significant impact on the overall travel experience. As a result, we of course value the entire journey as a fantastic experience, but feel a bit sad at the same time.

Currently, I feel a bit the same about my personal research. A bit more than a month ago, I submitted three papers to a particular conference. One of the three papers described my theoretical approach of my PhD thesis. Hence, getting this paper published is very critical for me. The chances for getting an acceptance for all of the three papers were quite high as my research is directly in the scope of this conference. Still, there was no guarantee for it.

Last Friday, the results of the review process got announced: all of my papers got accepted. However, my most important and most valuable paper was only accepted as a poster and not as a full paper. Of course, this is not a problem as it basically allows me to submit my theoretical approach somewhere else again and, as a result of this, to present my model in two publications.

However, my focus mainly was on the publication of my theoretical model. Thus, I also measure the success of the submission process based on the acceptance of this very paper. As a result, despite the fact that all of my papers got accepted, it feels like a „successful failure“.

Although this downgrade of my paper represents a major flaw in the perceived overall rate of success of my submissions, I slowly start to realize that I still managed to achieve all of my goals. All three papers got accepted and will be published. Two of them show that my theoretical model works. Guess I should be more happy …

Finding of the week #273

Eco – An Educational Game

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about Eco which makes environmental problems caused by a high degree of pollution to a central gameplay element. As a result, players directly experience how their own actions potentially lead to a destruction of a pristine environment.

Rising awareness for global problems that can arise due to too much pollution is an important and critical goal these days. For instance, the ongoing rapid climate change can be contributed to the man-made emission that drastically increased over the period of the last century. However, it often is difficult and easy to overlook how our actions and lifestyles are contributing to this global problem.

Therefore, it is critical to educate people about the global and ecological problems we are facing. In addition, it is very important to connect this education to their very own actions. In this way, the education would be even more effective as it potentially achieves a general understanding that everyone has to take actions. One possible solution to this problem could be to embed this ecological education in a computer game.

Eco

Just today, I bought the computer game Eco that tries to educate players about environmental problems by making them to a core aspect of the gameplay. At the beginning of Eco, each player starts in a pristine environment that faces a fatal fate: a meteor is approaching the player’s planet and will destroy it. Hence, players are challenged to find a way to save the world by researching new technologies that can stop the meteor.

This, however, comes at a high price because they need to gather resources from the world to achieve this goal. For this purpose, players can, amongst other things, chop down trees, farm crops and build advance mining system. At the same time, by interacting with the environment, they leave behind traces and potentially even change the entire environment. By chopping down every tree, habitats of specific animals might get destroyed which ultimately results in their extinction. Advanced mining systems produce polluted water which, when it is dumped into a river, can pollute an entire region. As a result, players are challenged to carefully think about how they will interact with the world to ultimately stop the meteor.

The game even is designed to be collaboratively played by larger groups of people. Hence, the game can be implemented in schools thus allowing for a more immersive discussion and education about ecological problems. The multiplayer aspect is combined with a political system where players can try to negotiate agreements that limit emissions and reduce pollutions.

By connecting the potential pollution of the virtual world to a player’s actions, Eco creates a special educative gameplay. While playing the game, players not only see the effects of polluting a pristine environment, but they also make the experience of being responsible for these problems. As a result of this, Eco helps to rise a global awareness and to start further discussions about our own actions and new technologies that can save our pale blue dot.

Finding of the week #272

Science, a very demanding place

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the demanding and partly even demotivating and frustrating scientific working environment.

Working in science can be a super exciting job. One gets in contact with the latest technologies and can try out new ideas that no one else has tried before. Also, it is about the possibility to ask questions which might not immediately lead to new directly applicable contributions. Instead, the findings might only raise more questions or inspire other scientists to try out a different approach. Alternatively, the results can be quite astonishing and ultimately present a solution to an old problem.

However, working in science can also be very demanding, demotivating and frustrating. On the one hand, conducting experiments and publishing the results greatly contributes to the overall demand and frustration. For instance, technical difficulties during an experiment can result in the loss of a huge amount of data. As a result of this, the overall results are less acurate than they would have been otherwise.

Another worst case scenario can occur when participants are required to show up for a repeated exposure to a stimulus and/or for a repeated measurement. In such a scenario, participants might think that missing one session is not that problematic and hence do not show up for a particular session. Unfortunately, this then results in the participant’s measurements being discarded during the analysis as the data was obtained under enqual conditions. As a result of this, participants not showing up can destroy an entire experiment and lastly greatly contribute to the frustration.

Finally, once an experiment was a success, the findings still have to survive the peer-review process. Naturally, being reject is part of the game, but often the reviewers do not provide a decent review. Instead, they merely write a few sentences and select the „reject“ option in the manuscript system. This, however, does not help the author nor does it improve the scientific quality.

On the other hand, the entire scientific system results in a very demanding, demotivating and frustrating environment. Many things and activities in science are limited to scientists who already got their PhDs. While this should ensure a good scientific quality and reduces the chances that a problem concerning the scientific approach of a project occurs, it also greatly restricts researchers without this degree.

This especially can be noticed when it comes to project management and human resources management. A PhD degree does not necessarily indicate a high competence in these management areas. Instead, it normally requires a special education that mainly targets management competencies which rarely is a part of regular research. Despite this special education requirement, project management often is assigned to post-docs due to the scientific hierarchy.

In the end, one often gets told that they cannot correctly assess a situation because they lack a PhD. As a result, this behavior causes a high degree of frustration as it simply shows that the own competencies are not validated or even treated as if they were irrelevant.

In conclusion, while working in science can be very interesting due to the various challenges, the system itself can easily destroy one’s interest and even raise the question if it is even worth subjecting oneself to this system just for the sake of answering scientific questions.

Finding of the week #271

Me the Truck Driver

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about how games can provide a different perspective that allows for the development of an understanding for specific problems that often seem very annoying.

Driving behind a large truck often is annoying as it feels like a huge loss of time due to their slow speeds. Things even tend to get worse when the road features a lot of turns or uphill parts that even further reduce a truck’s speed. The annoyance is a result of our own desire to drive at speeds we personally like. Thus, we feel unhappy and potentially even get angry when we are stuck behind such a slow vehicle.

Unfortunately, it is also very easy to forget about the vehicle’s technical characteristics that mainly account for the slow speeds. Trucks transport heavy loads that cannot be quickly accelerated. For the purpose of transporting the carfgo, a truck’s transmission often features twice as much gears as a normal car thus allowing the truck to gradually accelerate despite the heavy trailer. At the same time, decelerating and driving through narrow turns is also problematic due to the high momentum of a fully loaded truck.

Players can drive a variety of different trucks

Recently, I played Euro Truck Simulator 2 again. The gameplay of this simulation game not only is relaxing, but also informs players about the challenges of driving those heavy vehicles. The game puts players into the role of a truck driver who can accept various transport contracts. The contracts then require the user to transport specific goods from one European city to a different one. As a result, most of the gameplay is spend on country roads or highways which mostly results in a very relaxing experience.

Driving those virtual trucks provides similar challenges to driving a real world truck. A player has to learn to work with the low gear ratio of the trucks to successfully drive them along the roads. Also, the game challenges players to back into the unloading space which is a difficult training process in itself. Players need to develop an understanding for the techniques of controlling a trailer when driving backwards to successfully deliver their cargo.

Driving along a highway

In the end, despite not being super realistic, the game allows for an interesting change of perspective and educates players about the challenges of a truck driver. This in return could result in a reduced amount of frustration when the player is once again stuck behind a truck while driving. Also, the game allows to practice difficult parking maneuvers which can be beneficial for every car driver. It would be interesting to test if the practiced game truck driving knowledge can directly be transferred to the real world.

Finding of the week #270

The Fascination of Being Evil

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about the fascination of being evil and acting against the own principles inside of virtual worlds.

Some games allow for an evil or dark gameplay. This is achieved by either presenting an evil subject, allowing for decision-making and/or providing players with a complete freedom to do what they desire. The first approach puts players into the role of a supervillain trying to turn the world into a darker place, a member of a gang or mafia family, or simply making illegal activities to an integral part of the gameplay. For instance, the games of the Grand Theft Auto series allow players to steal vehicles or attack other non-player characters (NPCs) for no good reason.

The second approach is implemented by providing the option to choose between different ways of reacting to a request from NPCs. Instead of automatically helping them, players then can also decide to ignore the request or even send the NPCs into a trap to ultimately loot their remains. Frequently, this method is combined with a narrative that changes based on a player’s decisions. For instance, in the Mass Effect games, a player can decide to let an NPC die instead of helping him. This then results in the outcome that the player will not have a second encounter with this NPC later on. Also, it changes the entire story and leads to a different ending. Moreover, this method lets a player experience ethical questions and challenges her morale-decision making ability.

Finally, open world games can be used to provide players with a complete freedom. This, however, also requires the implementation of specific player abilities allowing for the execution of evil activities inside of the virtual worlds. For instance, Skyrim allows players to break into the houses of NPCs to steal their belongings or to attack other NPCs and to play the game as an outlaw.

Personally, I find it very interesting to try out things that are completely against my own principles. Normally, like in the real world, I like to interact with the virtual worlds in a good way and try to help all the NPCs I encounter. However, from time to time, it is refreshing to simply experiment with actions and reactions that would occur when I channel my darker-inner-self. In the end, it is fascinating to be evil from time to time.

Finding of the week #269

Acquiring Skills of Writing

During my ongoing literature review I often discover interesting facts about things I’ve never thought about. Sometimes I can connect these facts with my own observations: The result is mostly a completely new idea why things are as they are. Maybe these ideas are new to you, too. Therefore I’ll share my new science based knowledge with you!

This week: This time, I think about my personal progress in practicing paper writing and discuss my latest submissions. Practicing scientific writing is like acquiring a new skill, it requires a lot of practice to really master it.

Last year, I submitted one of my key papers describing the underlying theory of my PhD thesis to a journal. Half a year of anxiety and impatience later, I received the decision from the journal: they rejected my paper. Unfortunately, the three reviewers were not as thorough as I expected after such a long waiting period. Only one of them provided an in-depth review that mainly focussed on a few things that were not even close to the central part of the paper. This, however, is not an uncommon thing, but seems to be a thing that happens on a frequent basis …

Now, about three months after the rejection of my paper, I submitted it again to a very promising and interesting conference last Thursday. I have to admit that the paper has definitely improved over the course of the last three months and follows a much cleaner structure by now. However, it did not improve due to the reviews from the initial journal submission (thanks again reviewers …), but from my personal skill training in writing papers. Over the course of the last 9 months, I learned a few more lessons that helped me improving my key paper.

In the end, learning to write (good) papers is like acquiring a new skill. It requires a lot of deliberate practice to really get a feeling for the writing process and to learn to keep sentences as simple as possible. Hopefully, I fulfilled all of these requirements in this paper submission as I really like to see my theory getting published. It would not only provide me with positive feedback about my research, but also allow me to finally start focussing on the thesis writing process. So keep your fingers crossed!

In addition to the great overhaul of my key paper, I also managed to write two additional papers and submit them to the same conference. All of the them focus on my main research goal: demonstrating how knowledge can be learned and trained using game mechanics. One paper presents the underlying concept, the next one focusses on the predictability of my theory, and the last one describes an actual application of my theory to design effective learning environments.

Now, the new waiting period begins. Hopefully, my key paper gets accepted and if at least one of the additional papers gets accepted, too, I will be a super happy scientist. It would prove that my research is valuable and accepted by the community.

In the meantime, I will continue to practice my writing skills as there is still one paper that needs some minor changes, a new experiment is starting next week, and the next big deadline is slowly appearing at the horizon. Let’s get back to work …