Finding of the week #71

What keeps you playing?

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 ambiguity of still playing World of Warcraft. The core of the game has not really changed since its release, but players are still vested users of this virtual world.

Once in a while I start to think about the fact that I am still playing World of Warcraft (WoW). I started playing this game just after the release of it and I really never made a very long break or stepped away from it. This is especially strange to me, because the basic game concept has not changed since the release. Normally, once I have beaten a game and exhausted all the ways of playing it, I step away from it and stop playing it completely. However, this is completely different with WoW.

As a MMORPG, WoW is designed to last over a very long period. In this case, the developers are releasing new content on a regular basis to keep the players busy. Additionally, WoW allows the players to progress through the game with their own avatar and even when the current content is finished, the player can still continue exploring the world with the own avatar. WoW players are even developing a strong attachment to their characters and the avatars become to a certain degree a virtual replica of the players. Furthermore, the players can even become friends inside the virtual world of WoW and start to have a social bondings inside this game. This creates an additional retention mechanism, because the players like to stay connected with their friends as they would do in their real life.

This social bonding and the personal attachment to the own avatar are possibly also my very own reasons to still play this game. Apart from these two features, the challenge of completing the raid instance content is also keeping me interested in the game. However, as I already noted at the beginning of this article, the core gameplay has not been changed since the release. This results in the fact that the fun of participating in raids or even playing the game is diminished over time because the gameplay starts to get redundant.

During my time of playing WoW I saw many people quit the game. Some of them stopped playing because they were not able anymore to participate as much in the game as they desired. Their jobs or their complete real lifes have changed and so they decided to quit the game.
Others stopped because their friends also stopped playing. These players lost their social bondings inside the game and thus lost one of the most important reasons to continue playing.
The last fraction stopped playing because of the lack of innovation. These players were still integrated into a social group and were to my knowledge also happy with their virtual appearances. However, they lost interest in playing the game because it has not changed since the release.

As I was thinking about this topic, I came up the following question: „Where is the turning point at which the personal bindings towards the own virtual life are not strong enough anymore to compensate the lack of innovation?“

Finding of the week #70

Getting the attention

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 different ways of self-education and how computer games can enhance this process.

Education and learning need a lot of attention and also a lot of concentration. Like with any other message, if the audience does not pay attention to the speaker or the deliverer of the content, then the chances are pretty slim that anyone will take anything away from the facts just being presented. Furthermore, it is not only about the attention itself: the medium being used to deliver the message is important as well.

Reading a long and precise text about a certain fact can be really educating and can offer all the information needed to develop an in-depth understanding of the topic. Unfortunately, reading such a long text can be also quite challenging because the reader needs to stay focussed in order to finish reading the whole text.
A completely different way to present important facts about a certain topic is to generate animations or infographics. These media offer a completely different approach because the message is delivered together with a visual representation helping to understand the presented facts. On the flipside, this approach can not provide all the information needed to develop an in-depth understanding.

However, infographics and animations can also offer a good starting point for further research. After understanding the presented knowledge, consumers can get interested in the topic and can start to learn more about it. This first impulse can also help to stay focussed while reading a complicated article, because the reader then has a pictures in mind and can directly relate the freshly gained information to that picture.

This approach can be also used in computer games. Computer games are ideal to offer a good first impression of a certain topic because they can easily offer a good visual representation. Furthermore, the visual representation can be enhanced with an interactivity which allows the users to discover some facts on their own. Additionally, compared to other animations or infographics, computer games can also offer additional information and allow players to expand their knowledge without switching the medium. Depending on the genre of the game, different computer game mechanics are available to present additional knowledge directly in the game. Role-playing games often offer some additional insights into the narration of the game over virtual books a player can discover and read. Simulation games can implement some kind of a library where players can read additional text about the topic of the game.
Moreover, computer games are designed to make fun. In this case, the players are entertained while they are learning new facts about a certain topic. This combination of entertainment and education might be the most important advantage over the regular approach of reading texts and infographics. While enjoying their time, the players are paying more attention to what is going on around them and their increased involvement in the learning process due to the interactivity of games can help the players to internalize the presented knowledge.

Finally, if the players think that presented knowledge is really interesting, they might start to learn more about this topic to enhance their first understanding developed by playing the game. Additionally, they can then use the game as a test-bed to test out their freshly gained knowledge which would give them in return a direct feedback about their learning outcome. Moreover, a player can stumble upon an interesting fact during the own research. In a best case scenario, the learner then can switch to the game and try out the fact and observe the outcomes. This can be even enhanced if the players can perform better in the game when they do have an in-depth understanding of the topic presented in the game.

As a conclusion, using computer games to present knowledge about a certain topic can enhance the learning outcome of the players. Moreover, when the players are thinking that the game content is interesting, they might start to look up more information about this particular topic. This self-education could be then even enhanced by allowing the players to perform better in the game, when they do have an in-depth knowledge about the mechanics presented in the game.

Finding of the week #69

Precise communication

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 method to practice precise communication skills by playing computer games.

The European Space Agency (ESA) pushlished a debriefing video of last year’s underground training course „CAVES“. In this video participants of this course explained the connections between the exploration of a cave and doing a spacewalk.

One of the training outcomes was to get used to precise communication methods. The cavers had a connection to the „mission control“ outside the cave to ask for additional advice during their exploration. In order to get the most useful answers, the explorers were required to ask questions as precise as possible to prevent any misunderstandings.

Normally, communicating as precise as possible is not very important in our daily life. Even in the case of a misunderstanding, it is mostly not a problem to solve the issue before bad things will happen. However, in critical situations, being able to communicate in a precise way can be essential to prevent an accident or other bad outcomes.

Unfortunately, only a few people get the chance to gain access to special training courses like ESA CAVES and our daily life does not really provide good chances to practice a precise communication unless we are in a situation where this skill is needed.

This is mostly true except for computer game players of cooperative multiplayer games: they do have the chance to practice their communication skills every time they are playing together. This is especially the case in games with a high group dynamic like the MMORPG World of Warcraft (WoW) [1]. Participating in raids, a special form of Player vs. Environment (PvE), can be a great source of learning to communicate in a precise way.

In a raiding environment, a group of players is trying to defeat a computer controlled „boss“ who is striking back with unique abilities. Apart from understanding the general boss mechanics, communication is a key factor during a „boss fight“. Certain situations require a quick decision. However, a good decision only can be made, if all the important information about the situation are available. In this case, the players need to call out only important information in a short and precise way in order to prevent any misunderstanding. The decision itself (mostly made by the leader of the group) needs to be also as precise as possible or the other players could get confused and do a wrong thing. This in return could result in a victory of the boss over the group.
Moreover, it is not only important to communicate in a precise way during the boss fight itself. It is also important to explain the tactics in an exact way or players might get confused and finally do a mistake because they have misunderstood a certain mechanic. This in return could result again in a bad outcome for the group.

As a conclusion of this article, multiplayer games can help players to develop their communication skills. This is not only achieved by the requirement of a good communication. Often the reason for a lost boss fight can be traced back to a certain issue with the communication before or during the boss fight. This feedback mechanism allows the players to learn from their mistakes and to improve their communication skills in a save training environment where only virtual avatars can get harmed. Additionally, the immersion of a computer game gives the requirement of a precise communication a certain dimension of importance so that it feels right to the players to improve their communication skills.

[1] Prax, Patrick (2010): Leadership Style in World of Warcraft Raid Guilds, in: Proceedings of DiGRA Nordic 2010.

Finding of the week #68

The joy of exploration

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 certain game mechanic used in a recently released game: muddy and difficult terrain. Finally, exploring has really become a challenge and requires the players to interact directly with the game world in order to discover new regions.

This article is mostly based on my very own observations and experiences. However, it still can be seen as some kind of guideline to implement the feature of exploration in a virtual game world.

Hiking through forests and mountainous regions is one of my hobbies. Reaching the top of a mountain and enjoying a beautiful view over the landscape after making my way through the timbered slopes is a great experience. Moreover, it can also become a little adventure under certain circumstances. A tree could have fallen down after a storm and is blocking the way or the way itself could be quite muddy after a rainy period. These and other obstacles can increase the joy of hiking, because they can wake the inner explorer up, who wants to find a new path.

The desire to explore does not only affect the way how I do enjoy hiking: it is also affected my computer game playstyle. In this case, I am mostly enjoying open-world games, where I am allowed to explore a huge virtual world on my own. It is interesting to find my own way through different regions and to climb up on tall mountains.

One of those games is the role-playing game Skyrim[1]. It is completely up to the players, where they want to go and which regions they want to explore. Additionally, the virtual landscape of Skyrim is rewarding an explorative playstyle with beautiful views, sceneries and sometimes hidden dungeons. The only disadvantage is, that it is rarely really challenging to explore the game world. In contrast to hiking in the real world, the player can ignore the underground and does not need to circumvent deep mud or find a way to climb over a tree. Those obstacles do have only decorative purposes.



The strange thing is, that I have not noticed the lack of those obstacles until I started playing Spintires[2], a recently released driving simulation game. In Spintires, the players can take control over several off-road vehicle. The game is not really an open-world game and has only one main goal to complete a map: deliver a certain amount of logs. However, this is not really a problem, because most of the joy comes from the fact that the terrain is really influencing the progress of the players. Rivers can be too deep and it is impossible to cross them. Additionally, the underground can be really muddy and the trucks can get stuck. Moreover, some parts of the levels are cloaked and are not shown on the map until the players reach a particular point in the world to reveal this region. This game mechanic challenges the players and encourages them to explore the virtual world to discover shortcuts and easier paths.



As a real world hiker, this complex virtual terrain has really increased my entertainment in exploring game worlds. It is suddenly important to think about the right path in order to proceed on. Furthermore, the game provides me with tools to deal with the difficult terrain: I am able to activate all wheel drive, differential lock or to use a winch. All in all, exploring is finally requiring me to deal with the terrain and not just to look out for hidden places.

After playing Spintires, I really like to have more games like this. It adds an additional realistic feeling to the game and it allows me to interact directly with the game world. Finally, exploring the game world has not only to be finding hidden places–now, it is also about finding a good way to move through the terrain and to deal with the environment.