Finding of the week #264

Between Realism and Magic

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 power of magic that can turn a realistic simulation into a more convenient experience by bending a few rules for a short amount of time.

Simulation games aim at the realistic representation of real world knowledge and activities. They utilize equations and facts describing the knowledge to achieve an accurate simulation. Simultaneously, they provide interaction possibilities allowing for a manipulation of the simulation’s outcomes. As a result, players can interact with the game and practice the encoded knowledge’s application. For instance, a racing game allows a player to drive virtual racing cars that follow the underlying principles thus giving players the impressions of controlling an actual car.

However, often time becomes a critical issue for some of simulation contents as they normally take place over a long period of time. For instance, it takes a spacecraft several days to reach the Moon or a ship to cross the Atlantic ocean. As a result, players would need play the game for the same amount of time to really experience a realistic simulation. Aside from requiring a huge time commitment, it would also result in a lot of downtime and boring gameplay. Players would be required to wait for events to occur and quickly start to become bored by the game.

This problem can be demished with the power of game design that adds interaction techniques allowing for actions that are not possible in the real world. For instance, travel interaction techniques enable players to teleport themselves to distant locations thus greatly reducing the travel trime. Similarly, other techniques implement a time control function allowing for an increase or decrease of the simulation time. As a result, players can sail across the Atlantic ocean within a couple of minutes while still underlying the physical principles.

Although those „magical“ interactions reduce the overall realism of a simulation, they provide a convenient method to only focus on critical phases of the simulated knowledge. In the end, it is up to the users if they like to utilize magical power to bend some physical principles or if they prefer an ultra realistic simulation. In conclusion, computer games allow us to walk between magic and realism without reducing the accuracy of the simulation.

Finding of the week #263

Input Devices and Immersion

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 input devices affect the experienced immersion and presence of simulations and virtual environments in general.

Input devices are critical for the immersive effects of a computer game. Aside from allowing players to efficiently play a game, they can also mimic control devices used in the real world thus achieving a higher degree of realism. For instance, playing a racing simulation using a steering wheel can cause a higher degree of immersion than controlling the virtual racing cars with a keyboard. In addition, using devices that simulate the real world results in a higher naturalness and a higher believability of the simulation.

This requirement is even more important in the case of Immersive Virtual Reality (IVR) that visually excludes a player from the real world and gives the impression of being fully immersed in the virtual environment. IVR often, especially when combined with a simulation of a player’s virtual body, achieves a higher degree of presence than normal desktop simulations. Presence is the feeling of actually being directly inside of the virtual environment and being a part of it. This feeling also depends on the believability of the simulation and the degree to which the control devices feel natural to the users.

So far, I mostly was a bit put off by the current control devices of the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift as they basically are ergonomically formed game-pads. Often, they felt a bit bulky to me and resulted in some minor irritations that reduced a bit the immersive effects of the IVR simulations. Recently, I had the opportunity to try out some new input devices: the Manus VR tracking gloves. These gloves feature orientation sensors and analog sensors measuring the degree to which a user’s fingers are bent. This way, the Manus VR gloves allow for a tracking of the player’s hands and a virtual simulation of them and their current gesture.

As I tried the gloves for the very first time, I was very impressed as it really felt natural to me to interact with the virtual environment. A first test scene allowed me to grab and throw objects, to adjust levers, and to open and close drawers. Finally, I was no longer required to carry around bulky control devices. Instead, I could interact with the virtual environment like I would do in the real world: simply manipulating objects with my hands. To me, this was an unprecedented feeling and great immersive experience.

However, this experience also revealed another important requirement for completely believable input devices: haptic feedback. While it felt very believable to grab an object, it was still a bit irritating to have no object in my hands. I had to perform all of these interactions with the help of visual feedback that indicated when I successfully grabbed an object.

In conclusion, by providing more natural input devices, the immersive effects of virtual environments can greatly be improved. This especially is important when the IVR simulations provide a virtual body that represents the user inside of the virtual environments.

Finding of the week #262

Hard Work and Chances of Success

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 addictive aspects of playing computer games due to the lack of clear rules in the real world that create a guaranteed chance of success.

When playing a computer game, many players work towards a self-determined goal in a highly motivated way. Computer games are based on well-defined rules, constantly challenge a player with new goals that increase in their difficulty, provide immediate feedback about a player’s progression and finally reward them with meaningful rewards. Hence, computer games fulfill the requirements for flow which represents a very rewarding state of mind. While being in the state of flow, a player is completely immersed in the gameplay and derives joy from it.

As a result of this, the flow-inducing aspects of computer games motivate players to work hard towards their self-determined goals inside of the virtual environments. Also, the flow-inducing aspects are one of the reasons why computer games can appear more interesting than the reality. In contrast to the real world, computer games immediately inform a player about the outcomes of the own actions. Thus, the gameplay starts to feel more rewarding than any activity in the real world as a player’s actions are immediately recognized.

However, a player’s motivation to work hard towards a self-determined goal inside of a computer game can also be based on the fact that anything that exists in a virtual environment can be achieved. The reason for this is that computer games are based on clear rules that define what is possible and what is not. As soon as something is possible inside of a virtual world–even when the chances of success are very low–then it is possible. It might take some time until a player is lucky enough, but in the end it is possible when enough effort is put into the gameplay as it is guaranteed by the game’s rules.

This results in a strong difference to the real world where even more (rewarding) things are possible but no guaranteed chance of success exists. This lack of clear rules that create a chance of being able to successfully complete a self-determined goal can be very discouraging for most of us. Hence, computer games present a way to escape the disappointing aspects of the real life as shifting our attention towards them at least gives us the chance to achieve anything we want.

However, at the same time, computer games can also encourage us to work hard towards our goals by creating a state of mind that anything is possible. When we manage to take the motivation that anything is possible when we only work hard enough to the real world, we might be able to create some kind of guaranteed chance of success. We just need to believe in ourselves.

Finding of the week #261

Mobile Games?

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 Fallout Shelter, the first mobile game that really caught my interest.

So far, I neglected mobile games as they often seemed not advanced enough to really provide me with some challenging gameplay. Mobile games are video games that are specifically designed to be played on smartphones or tablets. In contrast to desktop computer games, mobile games are designed to be played for a few minutes only. For instance, most players enjoy mobile games while waiting for a particular event, such as the arrival of a friend or the end of a bus ride, or to have a quick break at work.

Thus, the gameplay of mobile games is designed to require only simple and quick interactions. The interactions can be executed by merely touching a mobile device’s display or turning the entire device to trigger some readings of other sensors. Also, the gamplay allows for an interruption at any time to avoid frustration when the player has to stop the gameplay.

While mobile games still can be very entertaining and immerse players in the resulting gameplay due to flow-inducing properties, they never have been of interest to me as I enjoy challinging computer games that require advance problem-analyses and decision-making. Additionally, I enjoy simulation or first-person computer games that require additional input techniques that can not be achieved with a smartphone’s interactive display.

However, during a recent car ride back home, I watched a friend playing an interesting mobile game that quickly gained my attention: Fallout Shelter. The goal of the game is to construct an underground shelter that protects inhabitants from the radiation of a post nuclear war wasteland. For this purpose, the player can build new facilities, assign inhabitants to work there, complete quests and gather resources that are needed by the inhabitants. The really interesting part about the game is that the inhabitants have skills affecting their performance, can gain experience points and reach new levels making them stronger, and can equip special item that even further affect their performance. In this way, Fallout Shelter challenges players with some limited micromanagement that I personally enjoy when playing complex strategy games on my regular gaming machine.

In conclusion, although this game still shows the usual limitations of a mobile game, i.e., being designed to be played for only a few minutes at a time, it is the first mobile game that really interests me and changed a bit my attitude towards this special video game type. Hopefully, mobile games will continue to increase in complexity to allow for some advanced decision making as achieved by games like XCOM 2 or RimWorld.

Finding of the week #260

The End of an Era

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 first official break from raiding in World of Warcraft.

World of Warcraft (WoW) is a part of my life since its release in the beginning of 2005. Despite some periods of reduced interest in the game, I never really stopped playing it and more or less completed every aspect of this vast narrative. The fascination for this game really started as I joined my very first raid as this was just an awesome experience.

At this time, raids consisted of 40 players who were collaboratively playing together in order to exhaust the challenges of a particular raid instance. Being only used to smaller five to ten player groups, it was an unprecedented feeling of being part of something that big. Also, once we managed to defeat a new encounter, it really felt as if we accomplished something meaningful as everyone was focussing very hard on this particular goal. This fascination sticked with me for the rest of my raiding career in WoW and kept me motivated throughout the years to continue playing the game.

Now, 12 years after having played WoW for the very first time, this motivation has more or less vanished. Of course, I still enjoy the collaborative aspects of the game, but unfortunately its core gameplay has not changed since its release. In addition, WoW went through several transformations implemented with the releases of the various expansion packs extending the vast narrative by a new story arch. Unfortunately, after turning WoW into a more fun and action packed game with the previous expansion, the current expansion went into the opposite direction and turned the game back into a heavy grinding game. Players were basically required to log in every day in order to gain experience points ultimately making their primary weapons stronger and more powerful. In addition, WoW currently reuses its content a lot thus making it rather boring to tackle the same instance again to experience a new difficulty level.

As a result of this, the gameplay was no longer really fun to me and I mostly continued playing the game to stick with my current raid group. However, after having missed an entire month of raiding due to other appointments or simply because I was too tired, I realized that I have not missed it at all. Thus, I finally decided to draw some consequences and take an official break from the game. Although it is the right decision, it feels weird as this is the first time I stopped raiding since the release of the game.

An era has come to an end …

Finding of the week #259

Inspiration and Motivation from Epic-Wins

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 epic-wins, especially when they are experienced after having demonstrated a strong endurance, can inspire us that everything is possible – even in the real world.

An epic-win can have many forms. In most of the cases, an epic-win is experienced when a computer game player or even a group of players manages to overcome a desperate situation during their gameplay. Another potential scenario for an epic-win is when a player manages to flawlessly solve a difficult situation thus experiencing a feeling that something extraordinary was accomplished. In the end, a player feels more powerful and ready to tackle the next difficult challenge after experiencing an epic-win as it lets players believe that everything is possible.

A different form of an epic-win is when a player finally achieves something in a game they were working towards for a very long time. This epic-win is even enhanced when the chances for a successful accomplishment of their goals are very low due to the underlying principles of the gameplay. For instance, a player’s goal could be a specific item that can only be found in a few places and to a very low percentage. Thus, the player is required to search for those places in the hope that they finally have some luck. When the player finally manages to collect that item or even obtains it in a very unlikely way, it feels like a super rewarding moment as the player demonstrated the own endurance.

Personally, I experienced such an epic-win the other day after finally finding a specific enchantment in Minecraft I was trying to get for quite some time. The most common way to get this enchantment is by simply fishing and hoping to catch enchanted books. This, however, is a very unspectacular activity in Minecraft as the player only is required to watch the bobber and press the right mouse button once it bounces. Hence, I only did this from time to time in the hope that I might end up catching such an enchanted book. Unfortunately, I was not that lucky and decided to explore a bit more my virtual world. During this expedition, I found a pyramid-a special feature in Minecraft-and, while I was exploring it, discovered a chest that contained the enchantment. In this very moment, I experienced a true epic-win as I was finally rewarded for my endurance even though I was not exactly searching for this book at that moment.

In conclusion, computer games always provide us with the chance of achieving something as long as it is possible in the game. Often, it just takes a lot of time and endurance, but, as it is possible, we keep on playing the game with the knowledge that one day we will achieve what we want to achieve. Hence, computer games can give us the motivation and confidence that we can accomplish anything, if we just try hard and long enough. If we can carry over this inspiration to the real world, computer games might be able to change the world or at least make us dream and give us hope.

Finding of the week #257

Dramatic Music in Calm Moments

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 a game’s soundtrack and the necessity to implement additional functions that check if a certain music theme has to be played.

A computer game’s music has a similar purpose to the soundtrack of a movie. It contributes to the game’s overall atmosphere and underlines key events of the gameplay. For instance, many stroy-based linear games implement an atmospheric background music that fits the overall setting of the game, but play more dramatic, energetic, and dominant music during a fight.

Depending on the style of the game, this also influences a player’s interactions with the game. During explorative gameplay that requires players to solve puzzles or to move from one spot to another, a player can interact with the game without any pressure. This more relaxed gameplay is supported by atmospheric background music. However, when a fight begins, one has to react quickly and accordingly in order to overcome the challenge. Thus, some more dramatic is played to emphasize the importance of the player’s gameplay and to induce some artificial pressure.

In addition, a change in the music theme can also provide players with hints about upcoming events, such as an encounter with a strong enemy, or an upcoming key moment in the game’s story. As a result of this, music is also used to guide the player through the story.

However, although music fulfills a similar purpose to a movie’s music, the implementation of theme changes is critical for the believability of the game’s atmosphere. In contrast to movies, a player can control the progression of the story by stopping at a certain spot to enjoy the scenery or taking a different approach than anticipated by the developers. This potentially can create unwanted effects that render the gameplay almost hilarious.

For instance, a player can trigger an event causing the music to change to a dramatic theme indicating the existence of enemies. However, when the player then decides to turn around because they want to check if there might be a different path, then they are continuously listening to the dramatic music without being in a fight. This potentially results in a very hilarious moment for the players as this music will not stop until they returned to the point where the story continues and the fight begins.

Therefore, it is also important, like with any other game mechanic, to anticipate any player behavior and to implement functions that change the music back to the previous theme or the general background music when a player takes a different route or starts to move away from the position where the next event would be triggered. Overall, music is an important part of each computer game and greatly affects a game’s atmosphere.

Finding of the week #255

Train Any Knowledge You Want

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 be used to learn any knowledge in a highly motivating way.

Acquiring new knowledge not only requires a learner to memorize and understand theoretical information, but also to gain experience with its explicit application. This often is achieved with repetitive training allowing for the experience of new problems that demand the application of the learning content. However, in many cases, repetitive training can become boring, is expensive or even dangerous. As a result, computer-based simulations are developed that allow learners to practive the knowledge in a safe environment.

Computer games are a special form of simulations as they not only encode a particular knowledge in their game mechanics but also allow for an adjustment of its abstractness. Computer games not necessarily need to simulate every detail of a knowledge and hence can present and demand it in a more intuitive way. This also is a critical element of making a game fun to play and highly intuitive. That way, players easily can gain experience with a particular knowledge on a meta level or focus on a particular aspect without being overwhelmed by its complexity.

However, like real training simulations, computer games can also encode all aspects, information and principles of a particular knowledge. Thus, they achieve an accurate simulation of it which potentially is enhanced with some additional rewarding gameplay elements increasing the motivational aspects of using the game for a knowledge training.

In conclusion, computer games can be utilized to demonstrate and to demand any knowledge. Moreover, they can also demonstrate the knowledge’s application in a meaningful way by embedding it in a narrative or using it as a means to solve puzzles. This potentially increases a learner’s motivation to tackle the virtual training exercises as the knowledge’s pure theoretical aspects are then hidden in the gameplay.

Finding of the week #254

The Joy of One-Button Games

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 even one-button games can show a high entertainment rating when the conditions for flow are met.

Recently, a colleague installed a very simple game on the Apple TV connected to the large monitor standing in our meeting room: Jump Drive. During the gameplay, players are challenged to navigate a constantly forward flying star ship through the map that features moving obstacles. At first, the obstacles challenged us with simple movement patterns. Over time, however, the patterns and amount of obstacles got more complex thus achieving a significant challenge. Ultimately, the goal of the game is to collect purple diamonds that are used to unlock new ships or new challenges.

Although the gameplay might sound relatively complex, it remains very simple as a user can merely activate the ship’s jump drive that rapidly propels it forward by pressing a button on the Apple TV remote control. Thus, players are challenged to time the activation well in order to gather the maximum amount of points without colliding with an obstacle. Also, this very limited gameplay already shows high flow inducing properties as players are constantly facing new challenges, receive immediate feedback and follow clear rules. As a result, this little game achieves a high entertainment value.

Naturally, Jump Drive is not a game that can be played over a longer period but it can cause a helpful distraction that increases one’s creativity during stressful or cognitive demanding times at work. Also, as we mostly play this game together with a couple of colleagues, a certain degree of competition and excitement arises. We are cheering for the active player when they have a run or try to find out who can survive the longest.

Ultimately, the simple computer game Jump Drive demonstrates the importance of flow inducing properties as this state of mind even turns a One-Button Game into a very exciting activity.

Finding of the week #253

Inspiration and Hope

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 inspire and give us hope which especially is helpful during rough times in our normal lifes.

Computer games, like any other medium, can inspire users and give them hope to believe in themselves. This can especially be helpful when they go through a rough time in their real lifes and need some motivation to continue finding a solution. However, in contrast to music or movies that only reach a listener or viewer in a direct and emotional way, computer games can also inspire players by challenging them to overcome dire situations or even save the entire world. Thus, games provide an incentive to actively take part in a meaningful process that often is much greater than the player’s role.

For instance, the games of the Mass Effect series put the player into the role of a star ship’s commander who is sent through the Milky Way galaxy to stop an aggressor from eradicating all organic civilizations. During this adventurous journey, the player often has to make important decisions that affect and change the game’s narration. In addition, the player meets a lot of virtual inhabitants of the galaxy that ask for help and thank the player in a very emotional way. As a result, the player not only changes the lifes of many others, but can also save all civilized life in the galaxy.

By playing a central role in such a meaningful process, players often start to feel powerful as they can change the world when they put enough effort into the gameplay. This motivating feeling is even enhanced as computer games induce flow by providing clear goals, immediate feedback and a constant stream of new challenges that increase in difficulty. In the end, players can get into the mood that anything is possible and nothing can stop them. This mood ultimately can give them hope to be able to solve their real problems and/or inspire them to tackle the problems in a very energic way or with a new approach.