Finding of the week #287

Scientific Let’s Plays

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 Let’s Plays as a potential platform to discuss and to present scientific results. At least, as long as they are related to virtual environments and game research.

Communicating scientific results to an audience that goes beyond the scientific community often is a challenging process. Commonly, scientific results address a very specific and complex aspect of a research field that in itself already is difficult to comprehend. To understand and appreciate outcomes of a study, one has to be an expert with an advanced preexisting knowledge of the discussed topic.

As a result, when communicating these results to a different audience, they have to be embedded in a larger context and to be provided in a way that uses common terms. Also, the presentation and discussion is facilitated when examples are provided that visualize the contexts. These visualizations then help to understand and to connect the underlying principles with the newly gained information.

Luckily, I am in a very good position of being a computer game researcher and a Let’s Play (LP) video creator at the same time. This combination allows me to easily discuss my scientific results with a broader audience and to immediately provide audiovisual examples of the context. By creating LPs, I am already using the environment I research. In this way, my scientific presentations are automatically embedded in an audiovisual simulation I can manipulate and control. For instance, when talking about the different types of game mechanics, I can directly showcase the underlying principles by executing some game mechanics and providing an oral explanation.

Recently, I tried this approach to not only communicate my recent scientific results to a broader audience, but also to create video-based presentations one can access on demand. For this purpose, I played the open-world computer game Minecraft which represents an ideal stage for those advanced discussions. It provides players with a more or less freedom within the boundaries of the gameplay thus acting as an empty canvas.

While presenting the scientific results was not so much of a problem, dealing with actual statistics is a bit more difficult as I cannot simply display them during the gameplay. Also, the gameplay itself causes here and there a bit of a distraction, but it is possible that these distractions result in a higher entertainment level when watching these scientific LPs. Instead of purely receiving information, viewers can enjoy some actual gameplay thus achieving some kind of edutainment.

I strongly believe that this format can be very interesting for a broader audience. It automatically includes audiovisual examples, provides an empty canvas to discuss difficult topics, and achieves a high motivation to continue watching.

Finding of the week #285

A natural and plausible world

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 what characteristics are needed to render a virtual environment to a vivid and exciting place.

Computer games create exciting and unique virtual worlds. Depending of the game, the worlds are either linear levels, limited open world maps or infinite procedurally generated worlds. The naturalness and plausibility of these virtual worlds depends on the degree to which the virtual world autonomously reacts to a player or generates random events.

For the player to feel accepted and being a part of a virtual environment, it is important to design it in a way that reacts to a player’s actions. Also, a player has to be able to initiate and control events inside of these environments. For achieving a world that feels natural and not static, the environment has to provide events that are not a result of a player’s actions. However, to be effective, these events have to be plausible and logical based on a player’s previous experiences or real world knowledge. Then, the virtual environments start to become vivid as players can observe events everywhere around like in reality.

The Universim

This is a thing I just observed as I started to play The Universim. This game puts the player in control of an entire little planet that is inhabitated by a small civilization. The goal of the player, who is a god to the little virtual people, is to control and to help them thrive by interacting with them. However, the little virtual creatures also live their lifes on their own and start building little houses and gathering resources. As a result of this, the virtual planet is perceived as a vivid environment that would also continue to exist and to grow without the player. It has a bit the fascination of watching an aquarium that also represents a bounded little world.

I’m already excited to continue observing my little planet and discovering even more little secrets … !

Finding of the week #284

Orwell – Simulating Surveillance

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 effects of a simulated surveillance. It is very interesting to reveal dark secrets about fictive persons but it als raises a question about data security.

The internet is a great and important tool these days. Users can retrieve information about a certain fact, buy things from all around the world, enjoy fascinating movies as well as photographs, and connect with other people. However, every time we upload new information to the internet, we leave behind traces revealing our personal life. In addition, some privacy settings might get changed by service providers or a bug occurs in the platform. Suddenly, the entire world has access to previously hidden data.

One merely has to follow a person’s social media profiles and perform some targeted search requests using google to find these information. Then, by connecting the dots, it is possible to create a comprehensible profile when enough data was uploaded. While this rarely is done with harmful intentions, it can also reveal information that should not be publicily available.

Orwell

Another dangerous scenario is when a government uses the internet to implement a surveillance of the nation’s citizens. In such a case, some missleading statements on a social media platform might already lead to wrong assumptions and even to further investigations. Recently, I started playing Orwell which discusses this problem.

The player is put into the role of an investigator who is searching on the internet for clues and information about a fictive nation’s citizens after a potential terror attack. Clicking through the fictive websites, invading a user’s private chats and uploading information to the „Orwell“ database gave me a pretty bad feeling. After uploading them, they were used to generate a comprehensive profile and were interpreted in order to find connections to additional information sources.

Can I be traced in a similar way? Do intelligence agencies‘ databases already feature a profile about myself? Although I just played the first 30 minutes of Orwell, it made me realize how much we reveal about ourselves by utilizing the internet.

In the end, Orwell is a very interesting game that challenges a player with ethical problems thus training ethical decision making. Despite these ethical questions, the game still immerses a player and evokes a certain desire to continue the surveillance. One cannot deny a dark interest in finding out more about the fictive citizens.

Finding of the week #283

More than 20 years later …

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 technological differences of a 22-year computer game. The graphics look old, but the gameplay itself can still be successful today.

Currently, I am watching a Tomb Raider (1996) Let’s Play. It brings back great memories of playing this game back in the days and being totally amazed by the game’s atmosphere. Everything seemed so realistic and novel to other games I played at this time. Thus, I always was highly immersed in the gameplay and kept it in a very good memory.

Now, more than 20 years later, the game looks quite old in comparison to current state-of-the-art games. Of course, this is not a surprise. One can easily spot design decision that most likely were made to achieve a higher performance or simply were not possible back in the days. Amongst other things, the view distance was limited, 3D objects were represented with 2D graphics that always face towards the player, and the entire virtual environment looks relatively simple.

Despite those graphical and performance related limitations, the gameplay itself would still work very well today. Most game mechanics are still used these days in similar action-adventure games challenging a player with puzzles and short fights. Exploring environments full of traps, solving puzzles by finding objects as well as activating devices, and discovering hidden secrets. As a result, by just watching the videos, I got immersed in the gameplay and forgot about the visual limitations, again.

Realizing this was a very interesting observation to me. It is another example for the change in the perceived realism of state-of-the-art technologies. We always experience current technologies as very exciting and realistic and rarely recognize the change. The technological advancements are a procedural process. However, when suddenly looking back into the past, we suddenly recognize how much things have changed.

I’m excited to see what will be possible in 22 years from now on!

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.