Saturday, May 28, 2005

Online Games

Next session Friday was home of the memorable quote "Up until this point, game research has been about violence in games." I will not cite the source, out of the journalists creed of protecting those who may be unaware of the consequences of their words, but it is sadly typical of the rest of the computer game issues discussed this day.

The first paper on this panel was Dmitri Williams with "Virtual Cultivation: online worlds, offline perceptions." He was presenting an attempt at using Gerbner's cultivation theory in games. His findings indicated that there is a certain cultivation offect of gaming, same as Gerbner found there was from television. However, the cultivation theory is quite contended in the United States, and so, of course, Williams' presentation was challenged along the same lines.

Personally, I enjoyed the presentation, as it did touch on some of the issues in media effects which I find more relevant than the more direct stimulus-oriented studies presented here.

"Beyond Shooter Games: How game environment, game type, and competitor influence presence, arousal and aggression" with Matthew S. Eastin, Robert Griffiths and Jeffrey Lerch was more along those lines. They explored the concept of "Presence" in computer games. Presence appears to be the degree to which a game will let the player feel he or she is present in the game, and this is, according to Eastin, a higher degree of virtual reality.

What I missed in this paper was an understanding of how "presence" as a concept limits them from finding similar issues in other studies. Several works on games discuss involvement, immersion and personal investment in games, without calling it presence. This leads to the concept being exclusive, rather than inclusive. I found this to be true of all the "presence" papers on this session, and the entire use of the "presence" concept.

And so the two next papers were, to me, flavoured by the same lack of a wider scope when it came to studying games. "Presence Reaction to Video Games: The impact of image quality and skill level" had the redeeming quality of looking at skills and considering that immersion might be a result of what the players actually did, and not just high quality graphics. The third "presence" paper was perhaps the one where the limiting quality of the concept was the most handicapping to the paper, as Ron Tamborini was talking about "The Role of presence in the experience of electronic games", and his main argument was "I have tried to tell you guys that this is important since 2000, and now you get it!" An argument like that is tempting, particularly to those of us who wrote about computer games back in the nineties, and have that feeling every time somebody new discover the virtual wheel, but it isn't really all that flattering when it is accompanied with a touch of ignorance of other studies discussing the same thing, just under a different names. So that was the first lesson of the day on how important it is to look up from the desk, and at least use google!

Fifth presnter on the panel was the ever correct and precise Nick Yee, and compared to the other discussions it was very nice to see a thoroughly researched paper not pretending to say anything about what kind of work other people did or did not do, just giving the facts and drawing some conclusion based on the numbers he had, not just dumping the numbers in the head of the innocent listener without a breakdown and some thoughts about what the results could possibly mean. The topic was "The demographics and derived experiences of users of massively multi-user online graphical environments," and if I download only one paper from this panel, it will be this one.

No comments: