Byron Reeves at UW

Byron Reeves from Stanford’s Media X gave at talk at the LIFE center last week. Basically, he’s been doing research on people’s emotional responses to computer games, as measured in instants with electrodes or other biometric methods. His talk included a little bit of background on that research, but it also included general visions of how MMORPGs and games in general could change the way we work and learn.

His emotional response findings and other one-liner notes I took:

  • Players had higher response levels (meaning, I guess, more electricity was flowing around) when they thought the other character they were interacting with was played by a human. Players also had higher responses when they were given the history and narrative of a character if the character was computer controlled.
  • There’s a ton of things happening in on-screen interactions that are similar to off-screen interactions.
  • MMORPGs allow for agency–able to change the in-game state and affect other players. This is purely from a micro-level of causal actions. You do something and the world reacts (i.e., monsters die) or other players react. My biggest beef with this is that in a larger narrative sense, MMORPGs don’t do a very good job of giving players a sense of lasting change. Your decisions and actions (e.g., with quests) have absolutely no impact on how the game plays in the future, and, in fact, quests and factions are completely meaningless. So, in other words, what Byron is saying is good about MMORPGs, that we can affect the world, well… any good game would give immediate feedback on player actions…
  • The visuals of MMORPGs separate it from traditional D&D in that it “turns up the volume”–He didn’t mention this, but I think this might be due to less cognitive load in visualizing the world… more effort can be spent on making decisions. (but again, decisions as they currently are implemented in MMORPGs are completey superficial and the only current agency has to do with letting players decide which abilities and spells to cast in combat.)

One of the ideas he had was using MMORPGs as wrappers to real-world work. For example, in a game like Puzzle Pirates (coincidentally, I was wearing a PP T-shirt!) instead of doing mini-puzzle games while manning a ship to get the ship to move faster or have cannon loaded, players could handle calls while working in a call center. Then as calls were completey efficiently, the ship moved faster, etc. While not taking calls, players/workers still had the trappings of a MMORPG where they have an avatar who they could outfit and move around and interact with others at the call center… I thought this was a neat idea, but it’s very easy to see how, if implemented poorly, it could kill any fun PP has.Byron also gave a little background on things that are good about games. These were drawn from Beck & Wade and Yee:

  • competition (does this have to be versus other humans?)
  • failure is welcome–dopamine-like response in fail, fail, fail, success
  • risk
  • feedback–immediate feedback should be found in learning environments, too
  • trial & error is facilitated–ditto
  • there is an answer to any given situation
  • agency (see my comment above)
  • rules less important–I think he meant hierarchical rules and codes of conduct? Other kinds of rules, like social norms are important.
  • group action
  • bonds beyond cultural background

From that list he generated a list of what good games have:

  • self representation–kinda… His argument is weakened by the fact that in many MMORPGs you actually don’t get much ability to customize your look. CoH did it well, but WoW is tied to equipment indicators and right now sooo many people who are 60s look the same.
  • reputation–again, I think reputation should be based on actions and decisions and ethical choices more, time spent on PvP and grinding less–non-game rep is built through alliances and etiquette and shared experience
  • ranks/levels–problem in WoW in that everyone is level 60
  • feedback–sometimes it is ambiguous whether an action had an effect… or that it was more effective than a different action (dps vs. endurance fight, e.g.)
  • narrative–this goes against MMOG game mechanics in that people don’t feel compelled to actually spend time on the narrative
  • marketplace
  • rules
  • communication
  • assets–might sometimes be in opposition of self representation… players can choose race and sex but not body type or clothing
  • teams
  • time pressure
  • places to explore–led to a question about Bartle’s taxonomy… Is Byron saying that all players want places to explore? If just some players, does that mean that from the above list only some apply to a particular player? Or does every player have a bit of all the above? see my previous post about Bartle’s taxonomy.

Anyway, it was cool to see another person looking at MMORPGs from a completely different angle.