Finding of the week #282

Distracting Interfaces

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 communicating all information directly inside of the virtual worlds in the case of a simulation game. Adding an additional visual information layer above the simulation reduces a player’s acceptance.

Simulation games target a realistic simulation of a specific activity, e.g., driving a race car or flying an aircraft. They encode real world principles in their game mechanics to achieve similar requirements to the real world activity and to provide an authentic visualization of the gameplay. Also, encoding the underlying principles is important to accurately simulate the effects of a player’s actions. In the end, simulation games target the provision of the illusion to actually perform the presented activity.

Aside from encoding the underlying principles, an effective simulation game requires well-designed interaction techniques and a believable user interface. Interaction techniques seem more natural and work best when they achieve a high degree of authenticity. This, of course, also depends on the available hardware. For instance, controlling vehicles only using a keyboard will not be as natural as using a steering wheel or a joystick. Thus, to yield a high believability, it is important to implement techniques that closely mirror the real world interaction techniques.

Providing a believable user interface mostly is straightforward as designers merely have to remodel the cockpits of the simulated vehicle. In this way, important information, such as speed, remaining fuel, and altitude, are communicated in the same way as in the real world. Such an integrated interface that provides information directly inside of the 3D virtual environment is called a diegetic interface. These interfaces seem more natural as they avoid providing an additional visual layer, i.e., a non-diegetic interface, on top of the actual information.

The GPS interface (lower right corner) is layered on top of the simulation. This breaks the immersion and reduces the believability.

This also is critical for information and menus providing access to further gameplay elements. While finding and implementing methods to integrate these elements in a diegetic way might be more complex, it reduces a player’s irritation and enhances the believability of the simulation.

For instance, Euro Truck Simulator 2 requires players to activate a non-diegetic GPS interface to find information about the remaining distance, the destination, and the status of the on-going contract. This causes a high degree of distraction as this GPS then is layered on top of a truck’s cockpit. As a result, the immersion of sitting inside the cockpit is reduced. A better solution would be to communicate these information by directly integrating the GPS into the cockpits. This would still provide access to all relevant elements while avoiding a negative effect on the believability.

In conclusion, providing diegetic interfaces enhances a user’s acceptance of the simulation. The provided information are then a part of the game and not communicated via an extra layer that does not exist in the real world.

Finding of the week #281

Summer Gaming

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 show us how capable the human body is when the gameplay takes place under challenging conditions.

Playing computer games is a very demanding activity. Depending on the genre of the game, players are challenged to make fast decisions, to immediately react to events, to monitor several task-relevant information at once, and to generally stay focussed. These requirements are also found in highly demanding professions like airplane pilots and rescuers working in any kind of emergency response service.

While gaming takes place in a safe environment allowing for an experimental learning as even death is reversible, the real world professions provide no room for errors. As a result, a constant training and frequent assessment of one’s performance is critical to ensure a high degree of safety. This especially becomes crucial when the environmental conditions strongly divert from the norm. In such a case, it often is very impressive to realize what the human body is capable of.

Although not working in one of these professions, I can observe this phenomenon every year during the summer. With the ongoing climate change, each new summer is more demanding than the last one. This year, the summer only took a few breaks since May. Hence, I am challenged to create Let’s Play videos under very hot conditions (36 C and more) for quite some time. Still, I am all the time surprised that I manage to correctly analyze the gaming action and simultaneously provide a decent commentary.

This can be explained with gaming flow, a state of mind when the player is completely immersed in the gameplay. While being in flow, the awareness for the surrounding world and even the own body is directed towards the gaming action. As a result, the demanding heat is no longer recognized as a disturbing factor.

More importantly, this observation shows that the human body can even work under very challenging conditions when we are in the right mindset and fully focussed on a specific activity.

Finding of the week #280

Gamified Workflow

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 a traditional workflow can be optimized by following the game desing principles of well-defined goals and immediate feedback.

Computer games provide players with clear goals, constant feedback, and meaningful rewards thus achieving a flow-inducing gameplay. At the same time, these gameplay elements also provide players with information that rarely is available in the real world. As a result, playing computer games not only is an engaging activity, but often also more rewarding than most normal activities in the real life.

This is especially is a result of the clear game goals and immediate feedback that guides a player and helps to solve game tasks in a very efficient way. In the real world, we often are not sure what exactly we need to do to complete a task. In addition, while trying to complete a task, we rarely receive feedback indicating that we are on the right track. Instead, one is normally challenged to interpret a task and to subsequently try to solve it in a best possible way. Unfortunately, while progressing towards the task’s completion, an immediate feedback rarely is available. Also, sometimes tasks change without being propagated to everyone involved. As a result, one is constantly in some kind of limbo between doing the correct things or being on a wrong path.

In the end, our daily lifes feel boring in comparison to activities we can do inside of a computer game. However, by understanding these core principles, guidelines for an effective workflow can be generated.

  1. Provide smaller and well defined sub-tasks for a complex main task. This results in a better understanding of the personal goals.
  2. Provide immediate feedback after the completion of a sub-task. This allows for an early and constant assessment of the own performance and results in a higher self-confidence to be on the right way.
  3. Communicate changes in a clear and immediate way. This results in a fast and easy adjustment of the own priorities.

By following these simple guidelines, a traditional workflow can be optimized. This optimized workflow potentially leads to a higher satisfaction as everyone is aware of the own progress and easily can fokus on the set out goals.

Finding of the week #279

Completionist

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 a specific player type: the completionist. This player type likes to complete or discover every aspect of a computer game.

Every computer game has a specific and limited amount of content. A player can only experience what has been encoded in a game’s game mechanics during the development. Once all information have been revealed during the gameplay, a player has completed the entire game. The content can be a linear story, a selection of race tracks, a variety of puzzles, or a vast open world. In addition, a game can provide an avatar for the player that can be improved by gathering certain currencies, such as experience points, reputation, and skills, or some agents a player can control and improve.

For example, role-playing games like Skyrim allow for the creation of a player’s avatar that gains experience and skill points by interacting with the game world. These points then can be invested in new abilities and general character statistics like strength and endurance. Strategy games like XCOM 2 have a different approach an implement controlable agents that follow a player’s orders. Similar to a player’s avatar, these agents also have properties and skills that can be improved during the gameplay.

Of course, there are also some exceptions to the limited amount of content. Some games implement procedurally generated content that automatically generates new terrain features when a player reaches a certain threshold during the own exploration. However, despite providing and endless stream of new terrain, the environment still consists of a limited amount of building blocks that are just arranged in a different composition.

As a result, a player can reach a status of having completed the entire game when the entire world is explored, every skill has reached the maximum level, all quests are solved, and all agents have reached the highest rank. There is a special feeling about this 100% moment when everything has been achieved. This completionist moment can inspire players to keep playing a game for a very long time just to achieve 100% in every aspect of the game.

However, this of course also depends on the type of the player. Some players just like to experience the core gameplay, others like to experience everything without pushing it to the limits, and then there are the completionists who aim at this 100% moment. With the emergence of achievements, game designers tried to reward those players with specific achievements being rewarded for exploring every part of a virtual world or reaching the highest level in every stat. This of course might have inspired more players to invest the time and hence play the game for an increased amount of time, but it does not provide the same rewarding feeling. The reason for this lies in the fact that achievements are targeting an extrinsic motivation whereas being a completionist is an intrinsic motivation.

Personally, I always enjoyed trying to complete entire games and seeing/maximizing everything. The moment of having finished everything can be compared to an epic win. Suddenly, after having invested a lot of work, a moment is reached that everything is done. It is a feeling of having achieved something very important one has worked for over a very long time.

The fascinating thing about computer games is that they can motivate, inspire, and reward us in so many different ways. At the same time, they also tell us what kind of personality we have.

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.