Radu Luchian(ov): Portfolio: Commentary
Game Enjoyment

Part of a discussion with Todd Bentley of ... University, Australia.

14 May 2002

Todd: I too am addicted to games,

Radu: Really? Nice meting you, then!

Todd: and read many reviews on gamespy and gamasutra.

Radu: Actually I guess you know there are many other gaming sites suitable for research in the why and how of game enjoyment.

Todd: I am not even going to attempt to figure out what actually makes people enjoy them completely - I think that is too big a task, even for a PhD, especially when my background is ergonomics and not psychology.

Radu: Hmmm... The psychology involved in gaming is indeed puzzling. But it would be nice to tackle, and I hope you can take a challenge? ;)

Todd: The survey was actually based on 3 'valid when developed' theories of why people do enjoy computer games (one theory from the 70's and applied to games in the early 90's, the others from mid 80's).

Radu: Even if these theories were valid then (I guess I could see the different 'drifts' from the general direction of each group of questions), gaming in itself has advanced, hardware makes many more things possible, people's expectations have changed, heck, there's a whole couple of generations out there who have grown up with computer games. Instead of checking up old theories, I'd try to piece them together and come up with a new one, that encompasses all three plus the new available data.

Todd: My aim was simply to see if these theories have any validity today, and if so can they be improved.

Radu: Yep. And the improvment part would be the only "new piece of knowledge" that your PhD has available for research. :)

Todd: I wasn't actually seeing if the games are usable or if usability creates enjoyment.

Radu: Aw. Too bad.

Todd: In fact, several articles have simply stated that usability detracts from gameplay - could you see a game that was efficient? It took little time to win (efficiency).

Radu: Don't read efficiency where it should't be found. But the user interface HAS to be efficient in order to be transparent enough and allow for better interaction. Remember selling tens or hundreds of individual items in stores in RPG games? Tedious. Or travelling for long distances with nothing to do? Or trying to use a non-descriptive online map, or one that interfered with the playing field? Or not getting feedback on your actions? I could spend ages recalling ways in which interfaces were unusable and made games stink.

Todd: Or It was easy to master (satisfaction -learnability) that does not seem fun to me.

Radu: No really? You prefer games in which you spend days just figuring out the interface or preparing a party for adventure? I doubt it. It's not about mastering, but about being able to USE it.

Todd: I have only seen one author who has found that a usable game is an enjoyable game, and that stance is widely criticised for the reasons I just stated.

Radu: Hmm... The games of the 70s were all geek's domain. As time passed and computers became mainstream, it became more and more necessary for games to be accessible. Just look at the top charts. You'll see usable games at the top and unusable ones at the bottom.

Todd: I am very interested in all the comments that have come in - that has been the one segment of 'data' that i have been reading as I get responses, and it is certainly interesting what people actually enjoy about games.

Radu: OK. Please send me a tally on those results once you finish collecting them :)

15 May 2002

Todd: First off - I hope you don't mind me e-mailing you

Radu: Not at all. As I said, I enjoy discussing games from any aspect.

Todd: - it is great to have a sounding board of someone else who is a game enthusiast and also has a research perspective, even if not in games

Radu: How do you know I didn't do research in gaming? ;) No, I didn't yet, but I'm planning to use a gaming environment to gather ecologically valid data about how people make decisions. See http://www.carleton.ca/~mrluchia/pas/rpg/warpe.html

(Hmmm... I tried this page now and it seems the student server is down... Try later.)

Todd: (I must say that your research area is beyond me - I can talk extensively about physiology, ergonomics, or HCI, but programming is an area I have little experience).

Radu: What do you think my area is? I didn't decide yet on a dissertation topic. And I'm interested in sooooo many things! (including physiology, HCI and programming :)

Todd: My advisors are great but as with most advisors these days they play few computer games (read: solitaire).

Radu: I'm lucky from that point of view. My advisor does play games, and has worked in the past on the cognitive aspects of gaming.

Todd: I beleive that the best way to think and develop ideas is to have your thoughts challenged.

Radu: Yup. Dialogue is the ferment of imagination :)

Todd: I agree with many of your points - one of my goals is to determine which aspects of the 3 theories still apply, and what else needs to be added to them to create almost a 'heuristics for designing fun'.

Radu: Hurray to that! I'm here if you want to sound things off of someone :)

Todd: I am not exactly sure what form this will take, but I am thinking about it. This first study was more or less a pilot study - just to see if I have to start from scratch or not.

Radu: No need to start from scratch. You should use old theories, but make sure you discuss the fact that both computer games and their audiences have changed over the years. As with most cultural phenomena, the enjoyment of games evolves over time. So your heuristics should incorporate some sort of loophole for easy modification or updating.

Todd: Briefly looking at the data it looks like there are definite aspects that I can use, but some that are totally useless.

Radu: Hear, hear!

Todd: As for the psychology in gaming. I was (and still am) interested in it. Lots of stuff going on in this area - two of the best resources are at http://www.game-research.com and http://cmc.uib.no/gamestudies/ (not sure if you are interested in looking).

Radu: Of course I'm interested. Thank you. I knew about game-research, but not about the other one.

Todd: These are the scientific approach to games, and they tend to focus heavily on the psych aspect. I started reading up, and found that it was just out of my depth the theories that they are talking about etc.

Radu: Don't feel bad about it. From what I can tell, there are as many theories out there as there are psychologists. And when the psychologist is also a mathematician (and most game theorists are), the resulting models can be scary at the first glance. But they all can be "simplified" to a paragraph or so. Read the abstract and conclusions sections first :)

Todd: So I am looking at games from a more objective perspective - looking at what elements make them fun (instead of looking at how people cognitively interpret those elements as fun). Slight distinction, but large implications on how my thesis develops.

Radu: Yes, I see the distinction. Maybe I'm biased by my field, but I think that in order to get an accurate, generalizable treatment of the elements, one has to look at how these elements are interpreted. Otherwise you wind up just describing the sample population you're using as participants in your experiments/studies, with not much external validity.

Todd: I do agree with your statement re: usability stuff. In games there is a time and a place for usability. But there are other things that are outside the usability arena in games too - emotion, affective response etc (I need not say more knowing that Gitte is there, she is the person who introduced this area to me). Donald Norman just had an interview posted where he discusses this topic (see http://www.acm.org/ubiquity/interviews/d_norman_2.html) if interested.

I am interested in the affective side of computing.

Radu: Fine. I can't speak for others, but I am very frustrated when I don't understand how to use an interface. Take some flight simulators, for example. They turn the mouse controls upside down (so when you push the mouse up, the ship goes up, but the field of view goes down. Now, that's extremely counterintuitive and it takes a lot of re-training in order to learn it. Which re-training conflicts with the normal usage of the mouse in other applications.

Frustration is strongly affective. In my experience, it is brought about by an interface that malfunctions, is not responsive, offers low feedback or none at all, is too complicated, requires too much button-clicking or mouse chasing for functionality that's very often used, and so on.

And then there are the aesthetic qualities of the game...

Todd: As for the learnability aspect - I was not thinking about the time to prepare - could you imagine if you played a game where you knew exactly how to defeat each monster, or for a fighting game you easily learned how to perform all the moves? Without a challenge, and a challenge requires learning to overcome, then there is no game. However, if the challenge is too hard to overcome, then you have the reverse situation, same outcome.

Radu: Now, now. You're talking about strategy or the storyline. I never said anything about that. I want a game INTERFACE to be usable, and that does not mean they should make an obvious strategy for winning the game.

Strategy is a separate point, and gamer opinions are all over the spectrum between two limits: (1) I like role-playing, adventure, strategy and puzzles exactly because there's strategy involved. (2) Some other people like action/adventure or even worse, arcade, where there's no much strategy, and the only involvment is for good reflexes, keyboard-bashing, observation of the environment and episodic memory.

Each of these limits provides a different type of enjoyment. The first is cerebral, the satisfaction of finding the right solution, the second is physiological, generated by the adrenalin pumped in the bloodstream by the relentless action and the exciting sounds used by the developers.

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