Monday, 26 October 2015

CHIPLAY 2015: London, UK

At the beginning of the month CHI Play took place in London, and I think I've just about recovered :-) The papers should be accessible to the public for a whole year from here so make sure to check them out. Anna Cox and Paul Cairns chaired the conference, while I served as local arrangements chair - while there were probably a few challenging moments along the way, it was all worth it in the end. I also learnt an awful lot and promise to never take conference organisation for granted again!

The conference kicked off the workshops on Sunday, where I helped run "The false dichotomy between positive and negative affect in gameplay", co-organised with Max Birk, Regan Mandryk and Dan Johnson. The workshop came out a discussion we had earlier in the year at CHI2015 about the lack of nuance around the concept of negative affect within gameplay experiences. We had a great mix of participants and some intense discussions about why we engage in gameplay we don't always enjoy and how the gameplay experience is often about a mix of emotion - whether this results from engaging in darker themes and/or overcoming failure and frustration. And we got through an awful lot of post-its (below) :-) We're hoping to continue developing ideas around this theme but in the meantime you can find the submissions to the workshop here - thanks to Sharon Steinemann, Elisa Mekler, Stefan Rank, Carina Westling and Fraser Allison for their thoughtful contributions!

At the main conference, in the pretty impressive venue "The Light at Euston", I presented our paper Removing the HUD: The impact of non-diegetic game elements and expertise on player involvement (Iacovides, I., Cox, A., Kennedy, R., Cairns, P., and Jennett, C.). There has been some previous work on looking at game interfaces and diegesis but not a lot of empirical work examining exactly how different types of elements actually influence the player experience. If you're not sure about the distinction between diegetic/non-diegetic check out this very helpful video :-) Our findings suggest that the removal of non-diegetic elements, such as the heads-up display (which usually isn't part of the game world), was able to influence immersion in expert players through increasing their cognitive involvement i.e. attention and sense of control.We only looked a single-player FPS game though so there is lots of scope to extend work in this area to look at particular types of non-diegetic/diegetic game elements and how they influence involvement across a whole whole range of contexts.

(photo from @elisamekler)
The session I was in at the start of the conference had really interesting talks from Dan about how different types of social play relate to wellbeing, Max on how self-esteem relates to gameplay experiences, while Alena Denisova presented work which found that the placebo effect also applies to games - if you tell people that the game they are playing has adaptive AI (even though it doesn't), they find the game more immersive as a result...  There were so many great talks over the course of the conference, some of the others I particularly enjoyed included Tom Cole making a distinction between functional and emotional challenge in games, David Zendle presenting research which suggested - despite media concerns - that higher graphical fidelity actually decreases players access to aggressive concepts while amore abstract version of the same game increased access; Peta Wyeth discussing flow during individual and cooperative gameplay (when playing the very cute Droppit - see below); Vero Vanden Abeele reminding us that not all games are equal and quality matters in game-based assessment; Jason Bowey talk about the ways in which leaderboards can be manipulated to influence the player experience (positively and negatively); Mike Sheinin discussabout fatigue and skill development in the rather fun small based exertion game Jelly Pollo; while I think Alexandra Samper-Martinez and colleagues at the University of Lincoln have carried out the longest social network game ethnography (3 years) that I'm aware of! I was also impressed by Pryce Davis who was presenting a paper he wasn't actually an author on because his colleagues couldn't make it - the research led to some interesting insights on games that teach programming to young students and employing gender oriented cultural forms

In addition, I was intrigued by the work Fraser presented on how players respond to different types of voice interaction - the fact that some uses of voice command in games are more diegetic e.g. shouting "charge!" when playing Ryse: Son of Rome and others less so e.g. shouting "show map" at the screen in Tomb Raider, may be one way to explain why players preferred some forms of voice interaction over others. Admittedly this doesn't apply to all the examples mentioned e.g. Fifa14, but there could be scope here to think more about what roles players take on - and perhaps jump between - in each of these games in relation to how they interpret the commands they are giving. 

Another particular highlight for me was Sharon's talk on increasing donating behaviour through a game for change.The work focused on Darfur is Dying and looked at how presentation mode (text, text with pictures, game) and level of interactivity (no-interaction e.g. reading or recording, interaction e.g. text with choices, gameplay) influenced donating behaviour. They found that while there were no differences for presentation mode, the interactive gameplay version was most likely to increase donations. I liked this work partly because it provides evidence that can games for change can make a difference compared to other media but also because the authors found that appreciation (rather than enjoyment) mediated donation behaviour. So while participants did enjoy the interactive conditions more, the increased donations were due to how thought-provoking or meaningful they found they experience. This seems to build on a growing area of serious experience in games, something which we contributed to earlier in the year. It's a direction I'm keen to explore more so I'll be making sure to look at the scales they used and keep an eye out for future work!

(photo from @MattWood)

In addition, we had a great mix of excellent keynote speakers who covered a range of topics. The conference started with Mark Barlet from AbleGamers who provided lots of insight into the experiences of disablied gamers and how games can help improve quality of life. He also pointed a the Includification site as a useful resource for game designers. On the second day, Yvonne Rogers from UCLIC  gave a great overview of the work she has been involved in which adopts a playful approach, often involving physical computing systems such as the VoxBox questionnaire system (above), to engage people and communities in different ways. Jo Twist from Ukie then ended the conference with an overview of the state of the UK games industry - it's great to know someone who is as passionate as she is about games is a champion for the industry. Speaking of which, we also had some really good industry talks and I particularly appreciated how Heather Stark from Kinran who not only engaged with the conference throughout by asking thoughtful questions but in her presentation reflected on the relationship between academia and industry, as well on the liminal zone between experience design and product management.

 (photo from @Spotless)

On top of all that, it wouldn't have been right if we didn't have some actual games to play at the conference and this year we were spoilt for choice! At the Light, one of our sponsors, Spotless ran a game competition where people needed to achieve the highest score in the Super MarioWorld on an old school NES (above) for different prizes, while Microsoft set up a comfortable play area for attendees to play a range of Xbox One titles during the breaks. We also had further games as part of the Come out and play track, including Sacred Harvest, where you use the Playstation Move controller to appease the gods in various rituals, and Taphobos, which is described as "an immersive coffin experience" i.e. it's a two player games that involves one of you putting on an Occulus Rift and getting in an actual coffin...

(photo from @pingualoty)

There was also the evening reception at Senate House (above), which hosted both the work-in-progress posters and the student game design competition entries. Charlene and I managed to get around most of the games, which were just as impressive as last year :-) CHI Plague ran throughout the conference where, through QR code scans, teams of "earthlings" and "aliens" competed to protect their ranks by forming social connections at the conference. Some of the other entries I particularly enjoyed were Matsya (a simple yet beautiful game inspired by the Hindu Flood Myth) who won runner-up, Alaska Steve (where you use the Occulus Rift to look ahead and neutralise obstacles in the environment before the main character gets to them) and Talk about Sex (a multiplayer mobile phone game that encourages young people - and quite a few academics! - to engage in discussions around sex and intimacy). The very entertaining Beam Me 'Round Scottie won first place, as well as the people's choice award (below) - it's a two player game where one of you controls the main character, a captain on a Star Trek style away mission and the second is the engineer helps you out by supporting you (e.g. providing a shield wall to protect from attacks).  In terms of the posters, I wish I'd had more time to go round and see more of them but I did have particularly good discussion with Carlos Mauricio Castaño Diaz about his work on how hypothetico-deductive reasoning skills develops in MOBAs. I think there are some potential parallels here with previous studies we've done on player strategies, while in general it's great to see more research that looks at how people learn through play. 

All in all, the conference and the reception were a lot of fun and it was great to find out about so much interesting work that is going on in the area. Thanks to Anna, Paul and all the organisers for making it a fantastic conference - I'm already looking forward to CHIPLAY 2016 in Austin next year :-)

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

CHI 2015: Seoul, South Korea

Last week I was in Seoul for CHI 2015, where overall UCLIC had a really good year and some great talks. With respect to my own work, I presented my paper with Anna Cox on "Moving Beyond Fun: Evaluating Serious Experience in Digital Games" on how we evaluated the games that were entered into our persuasive game design competition for students. Not much work has been done around this sort of thing, so we developed a method that involved expert judging, play-testing with interviews and post-play emails to establish which of the entries was most likely to lead to reflection on human error and blame culture within the context of healthcare. In the paper we argue that our methods allowed for a consideration of domain relevance and potential to lead to reflection (expert judging), gameplay experience and engagement with competition themes (play-testing and interviews) and longer term resonance (follow-up emails). While you can find the games entered into the competition here, the winner, Nurse's Dilemma serves as a great example of how a one-off uncomfortable gaming experience can lead to reflection on previously taken for granted assumptions about responsibility and blame within healthcare. 

I also went to the workshop on diverse perspectives on players which was a great opportunity to talk about player research, methods in the area (including case studies), and challenges the area is facing, such as ecological validity, conceptions of gameplay, plus the need to operationalise key terms and to agree on definitions! We ended up drawing a road map of our discussions - see pic below, where we really did end up with karaoke :-)

There were quite a few games sessions at CHI, though I was a little annoyed that one of them clashed with the session I was in, plus I missed the alt.chi talk on Games Against Health but I guess that just means there is more to add to my reading list! I'm also going to have to add the work-in-progress paper It Was Sad But Still Good: Gratifications of Emotionally Moving Game Experiences by Julia Ayumi Bopp and colleagues as it sounds intriguing. Of the talks I did go to, there was a lot of interesting work presented including Alena Denisova on 1st vs. 3rd person perspectives and immersion, Rodrigo Vicencio-Moreira on techniques for player balancing in FPS games, Daniel Johnson and Lennart Nacke on characteristics of MOBA gameplay, Peta Wyeth on differences between playing cooperative games with avatars (people) and agents (AI characters) and Sauvik Das on comparing linear and open world game structures.

I particularly enjoyed Melodie Vidal's talk about The Royal Corgi, a game that uses eye tracking as a mechanic (see video below). Basically, you play a character in medieval England who wants to gain favour in the royal court by becoming a trainer to the King's corgi and you have to convince other characters in the game that you are worthy of the job - and where you look will matter as some want you to look them in the eye (but not at their wife) and others expect deference and a lowered gaze... The idea seemed quite novel, where eye tracking was able offer an additional channel of communication and I was particularly interested in some of the strong reactions the game provoked.

Chris Preist also gave a really good talk on using gameplay as an extrinsic motivator for learning, in this case as a way to encourage teenagers to revise for their Mathematics GCSE exams. They adopted an approach based on free-to-play games in a game that was like Clash of Clans where instead of having to make micro-payments to get resources and speed up the game, the students had to take a revision test. The students were allowed to play the game when they liked over three weeks and the findings indicated that those in the game condition improved significantly more those in the quiz only and control conditions - plus, the game condition students spent more time on the revision quiz than the quiz only group. Further, the qualitative data suggested it was at the expense of their normal gaming time. While there are some potential issues to consider - it could be argued that revision is not the same as having to learn new content, and it's not clear whether an intrinsic game could lead to larger learning gains or whether this approach would sustain revision over longer periods of time (see below) - but all in all it came across as a relatively simple way to get students to do more revision, which, in the authors words, is already "associated with the extrinsic motivation of passing an exam"!

With respect to the rest of the conference, the game competition has got me thinking a lot more about reflection so I made sure to go along to other talks that I thought might be relevant. Some of the highlights include Geraldine Fitzpatrick considering reflection in relation to food waste and highlighting the emotional dimension of the process (something which I'm not sure if always discussed), Eric Baumer introducing conceptual dimension of reflective informatics (relating to breakdown, inquiry, and transformation), and Jeffrey Bardzell highlighting how research through design can contribute to knowledge (through invoking experiences rather than representing reality). I'm getting quite intrigued by critical design but I do feel like I haven't quite got my head around it yet, so while I missed the talk, so I've put Pierce et al's paper on Expanding and Refining Design and Criticality in HCI on my reading list as well. 

I also enjoyed Ben Kirman and Shaun Lawson's talk that presented the quantification of pets as a case study that, through speculative design fiction, was essentially a critique of the quantified tracking movement. Besides getting a man in a dog suit to walk on stage, they presented a number of speculative design fictions, such as a dog collar that can tell you whether your dog is happy or sad and a way to track cat movements in gardens through their microchips (see for more details!), which they presented to focus groups consisting of pet owners an animal behaviour experts. While the owners mostly really liked the ideas behind the designs as they wanted to understand their pets more, the experts raised important concerns about the scientific basis of these technologies and how they might actually undermine the bond between animals and humans - particularly since that bond at least partially relies on human beings being able to interpret complex animal behaviour. So there was lots of food for thought here in relation to both trying to quantify pretty much everything but also in terms of using design fictions within research. 

To close the conference we had Psy as the final keynote speaker but while he gave a rather humble, honest and engaging talk about the explosion of Gangnam Style, and the conference centre was in the Gangnam district, I'm not entirely sure it had much to do with HCI... In general though CHI gave me lots to think about (and to read up on!) and Seoul was a great city to visit - I'm glad I made sure I had a little extra time to explore :-)

 View from the National Museum of Korea

Monday, 12 January 2015

PhD Journal Articles

I'm pleased to announce I now have two more papers published on my PhD research. The first article, "Game-Play Breakdowns and Breakthroughs: Exploring the Relationship Between Action, Understanding and Involvement" is in Human Computer Interaction and focuses on the case studies I carried out how they resulted in a theory of the relationship between learning and involvement within the context of games. The theory is represented as a set of 14 claims that relate to: micro and macro involvement; breakdowns and breakthroughs in action, understanding and involvement; progress; and agency, meaning and compelling game-play. In particular, the paper emphasises the ways in which players experience learning via breakthroughs in understanding, where involvement is increased when the player feels responsible for progress. We also argue that supporting the relationship between learning and involvement is vital for ensuring the success of commercial and educational games. (You can also find out a bit more about the methods I used in my 2013 DiGRA journal paper: "Making sense of game-play: How can we examine learning and involvement").

The second article, "The Gaming Involvement and Informal Learning Framework" is in Simulation & Gaming and provides a good overview of the three studies I carried out in and also presents the GIIL framework as the culmination of all my findings. Essentially, the framework is able to account for both how and what people learn from gaming while also highlighting the influence of player identity. Further, the iterative relationship between identity, involvement and learning is emphasised: the more strongly someone identifies themselves as a gamer, the greater their micro and macro-level involvement and the more likely they are to learn from their gaming experiences. This is represented in the figure below (taken from my PhD thesis and also reprinted within the article).

Technically these articles are still in press but both journals have put them up online before print. It's great to have them out there and see all that hard work come together :-)