Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Multi.player 2011 - "Learning in virtual environments" - Johanna Bertram

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Johanna Bertram (Knowledge Media Research Center Tübingen). Full title: "Learning in virtual environments: The role of social presence for virtual team training".

They designed some training for a police team, aiming to help co-ordinate helicopter, car and foot police. This isn't something they can practice in real life, as running the helicopter costs a lot and there is a lot of inconvenience for local people who want to know why the helicopter is around. It is important though, because helicopter pilots need to know how to best direct the ground crew, and the group on the ground need to understand what the helicopter pilots can or can't see and help them with. The virtual environment has the additional plus of allowing people to swap roles, without having to go through extensive retraining programs first!

They worked with experts to get some clear learning objectives, and to make sure they had the views they were giving the trainees correct. They actually initially had the views showing everything too clearly, which would have given a false impression of how much the helicopter crew could see and help. They also  use simulated speech if you are close enough to someone for that to be an option, and if not they used simulated radio.

They used social presence research to ensure that people felt they were operating as part of a team within the virtual environment. It looked like it would be an effective learning tool, but the only feedback she gave was that the trainees who played video games had fewer problems with it than those who didn't. It may be too early in the process to tell. Looked like quite a promising use of the technology though.

Multi.player 2011 - Yvonne de Kort keynote

Keynote presentation at multi.player 2011 from Yvonne de Kort (Eindhoven University of Technology). Full title: "How to win friends - gaming as a socially situated experience".

Started out by looking at the player experience of games, and found that the social context was key to the players' enjoyment but that this was ignored in most models. When they referred back to the motivation and needs models (e.g. Maslow) these always featured the social aspect, but this was not part of any game models/theories that were around.

They started looking at social presence. She mentioned Biocca 2003, which I think is a reference to "Towards a more robust theory and measure of social presence" and I should probably read.

They did a whole load of experiments to see what made people feel more or less together as they played. Interestingly they found hearing each other matters more than seeing each other. She referenced an Australian project called "Men's sheds: Men's needs" where they have found that men talk best shoulder to shoulder, when they are working on something, not face-to-face. Apparently collaborative games vs competitive makes no difference.

She said we clearly like to talk to each other, but we need a reason to start talking. So the men in their sheds can start talking about the work they are doing, and games for gamers can do the same thing. They found that if a variable affected the social presence of the other players, it affected both the enjoyment of the players and the engagement. We apparently win friends by sharing!

Multi.player 2011 - "No one-handed typing" - Ashley Brown

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Ashley Brown (University of Manchester). Full title: "No one-handed typing: An exploration of formal and social rules for erotic role playing in World of Warcraft".

I was interested in this talk from the angle of layering on social rules that are obviously extra to the rules designed by the creators of the game in order to play quite a different game. This was a guild that was set up to erotic role play, with forums to talk outside of the game.

Because erotic role play is clearly outside the EULA and characters cannot actually perform erotic acts within the game, apparently to outsiders this will tend to look like a tableau, with no obvious interaction happening. The players use private chat, and maneuver their characters into vaguely suggestive poses. Blizzard ignores it as long as it uses private chat, but are motivated to keep their 12 rating so keep a lid on the public stuff.

In a further demonstration of the balance between Blizzard and the players, apparently anything went in the ERP guild - provided a clear content warning was posted at the top - apart from anything that even vaguely smacked of paedophilia. Apparently that was because although Blizzard turned a blind eye to most things, they had come down hard on a guild that had allowed paedophilia stories, and expelled all the players. Again, Blizzard shape what's allowed while the players attempt to push those boundaries.

There was a clear difference between erotic role play and cybersex. Erotic role play is for the characters. Players justify it with saying you make your character fight, kill, hate etc, so this just explores the other half of the spectrum with your character. Cybersex is aimed at the players behind the character. Hence the 'no one-handed typing' title, which was actually a quote from one of the participants in the study. People who use the ERP site to get themselves off were breaking the magic circle of the play (spoilsports in Huizinga's terms), and not welcomed.

Fascinating talk from an unexpected angle. Also kept getting mentioned throughout the rest of the conference. Seemed like the only thing that can get games researchers jealous is researching sex and games together!

Multi.player 2011 - Mark Griffiths Keynote

Keynote presentation at multi.player 11 by Mark Griffiths (Nottingham Trent University). Full title: "Online gaming addiction: Does it really exist?".

Mark Griffiths started the presentation by warning us that he had three speeds: fast, very fast, and amphetamine speed. This one was amphetamine. I think a lot of us in the audience felt a bit pounded actually.

He was looking at what is addiction, does gaming addiction exist, and what are people addicted to. This particular talk focussed mostly on the first two. He had a set of criteria used to indicate addiction, and had a correlation between drug addiction and activity addiction.

There was a big point made that excessive time does not mean addiction. It could indicate a healthy obsession. His difference between addiction and healthy obsession was that a healthy obsession adds to life, whereas an addiction detracts.

Another interesting point is that since the cost of spending lots of time online has dropped, so to has the number of people who worry about internet addiction. That came up as a question on one of the panels too - someone was asking about a boy who was being treated for addiction to a game because he'd spent a large amount of money on it.

He was also quite prepared to admit that his opinions have changed over what length of time is excessive, particularly for children. Since becoming a parent he has realised how much free time they have and how easy it is for them to rack up a large number of hours playing computer games, without it detracting from anything else they have to do.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Multi.player 2011 - "Counter-striking the cheat" - Christoph Bareither

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Cristoph Bareithe (University of Tubingen). Full title: "Counter-striking the cheat: The impact of cheating on an online gaming culture."

Looking at the effect of cheating has on the gaming community. Apparently in Counter-Strike there are a couple of code hacks that are well-known, allowing the cheater to see through walls or aim automatically. It's pretty much impossible for any other player to know if anyone is using these cheats, so it's the possibility that someone is using these cheats that is potentially damaging to the game community. Individuals using these cheats actually just look really skillful to the other players, so it may be that you just come up against someone who is a lot better than you.

Basically if a kill usually indicates superiority/inferiority (he likened it to a goal in football, one side is automatically superior to the other once the goal has been scored), cheating can destabilise that sign. The kill may not indicate superiority, but cheating. Players will need to renegotiate what a kill means. 

Actually, he said it was often used to mitigate the pain of being inferior. So if someone just got shot, they can call the person who killed them a cheater to tell themselves they aren't that bad after all. Apparently it's also used to express awe at the other's skill (and occasionally sarcastically - he said he was rubbish at Counter-strike, and his clan-mates sometimes called him a cheater in contexts suggesting they were taking the mickey). An interesting subversion of the otherwise bad social stigma of cheating. 

Players also form strong clan structures, trusting their fellow clan-members not to cheat. They have to trust each other. Breaking that trust often causes the players to be ostracised by their online friends. 

I love that there is a cheater rehabilitation program! Apparently it includes writing essays about how much you regret your cheating ways. Awesome. 

There was also some interesting chat about 'othering' the cheater. Demonising them, saying "we are not like that". 

Multi.player 2011 - "Family and games" - Lina Eklund

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Lina Eklund (Stockholm University). Full title: "Family and games: digital game playing in the social context of the family."

Previous research shows that the social aspects of playing games are important to people, so this study was looking at digital game play within the family (including partners, siblings and parents) and how important it is to young people. Gaming can be both a source of conflict (between gamers and non-gamers) and of bonding (sharing the game experience).

I hadn't come across the idea of bonding social capital vs bridging social capital before, so that was interesting - although I'm sure it was presented as bonding capital being 'deep' relationships vs. bridging being rather shallow, as opposed to being between homogenous (bonding) and heterogeneous (bridging) groups. 

One thing that did come through was again the definition of gamer was self-selected. She said the study subjects were very 'reflexive' - and kept trying to use terms like hobby which have a more positive connotations than gamer. This would fit with social identity theory, and self-selecting a minority group that has a less positive self-image. 

Multi.player 2011 - Torill Mortensen Keynote

Keynote presentation at multi.player 2011 by Torill Mortensen (IT University of Copenhagen). Full title: "Phased out: Togetherness and parallel play in multi-user games". 

This talk focussed on the change in the social aspects of the game in WoW that had occurred due to the implementation of phasing. Phasing allows players who are at different stages in the game see different things at the same physical (physical? in-game?) location. Apparently previously the game felt slightly unsatisfactory, as the extreme effort that went into kills or completing quests never had any lasting effect on the game world - the killed monsters just respawned, and players had to bend their internal stories to fit this situation. Phasing changes that. 

Other benefits include adding some protection for the noobs (like me!) because experienced players can't see the areas in the same way that the noobs can and therefore can't attack them. It does also explain why I felt the world seemed a bit empty in my initial explorations. 

Apparently it is this inability to see characters at other levels that has had the biggest effect on the social side of the players - they can't interact in the same shared space any more, which puts a serious limitation on the amount of sharing players can do. It could also highlight one of the problems suggested in 'Alone together' as a reason why guilds fall apart - players who started out progressing at the same speed but fall behind at some point will no longer even be able to see their guildmates on screen. Quite odd. 

Interestingly, Torill did say there were cases where it added to the story of their characters. She gave the example of one particular area, where after completing the quest you hear screams of the dying. Her guildleader hadn't completed the quest, so couldn't hear the screams. It added to the impression of the character as haunted by their past! 

Ducheneaut, N. et al., 2006. “Alone together?” In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human Factors in computing systems - CHI ’06. New York, New York, USA: ACM Press, pp. 407-416. Available at: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1124772.1124834 [Accessed September 10, 2010].

Multi.player 2011 - "The social fabric of virtual life"

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Ruth Festl, Michael Scharkow and Thorsten Quandt (University of Hohenheim). Full title: "The social fabric of virtual life: Findings from a large-scale multi-level research project."

This was an amazing talk, just from the scale of the research they had done. They surveyed 50, 000 people in Germany to see how much time they spent playing games and what kinds of games they played. This was the preliminary results of those surveys, so much more analysis to do. From that 50, 000, they formed a panel of 5000, 4500 gamers and 500 non-gamers, who are going to get to repeat the question annually to get some idea of the changing situation. Those are just huge numbers. The funding must have been enormous. 

Apparently out of the 50,000 people, 25.2% were identified as gamers (although I don't seem to have written down what their criteria for a gamer was, if it was mentioned). Apparently that's lower than the figure given by the industry, but still quite large. They divided gaming situations into solo, online and co-located, which I think is quite a useful way of dividing them (particularly looking at the social aspects). They then created a lovely venn diagram with their gamer population divided by which types of game they played (out of the solo, online and co-located).

The biggest chunk of players sat in only three sectors (which of course I didn't write down). One large section (17% or so I think?) played games of all three types. They had nicknamed these the omnivores, and believed they were probably the 'hardcore' gamers. They had done further analysis of the age breakdown of these individuals, which was also interesting. 

Almost as an aside, they felt that the panic about how long people were spending playing games was an overreaction, especially if the values were compared to other media consumption (e.g. TV). Apparently the average for TV consumption is 7-8 hours per day, so gamers look quite good in comparison! (My question is do these people not work?!!)

Multi.player 2011 - "Party animal or dinner for one" - Rachel V. Kowert

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Rachel V. Kowert (University of York). Full title: "Party animal or dinner for one: Are online gamers socially inept?"

I found this talk fascinating. Rachel started from the stereotype of online gamers as being socially inept, and set out to try and prove it.

The literature has so far been inconclusive, with some papers finding that gamers are socially inept in comparison to non-gamers, others argue that some may be more socially savvy (given the amount of time spent interacting with a wide variety of different people). Still others found no conclusions. So it looks like this is an interesting area to work in.

They predicted that the lack of visual cues in the online world would result in an effect on the social skills of the gamers, which is an interesting suggestion. I wonder if that would mean that people who are used to playing lots of online games would therefore behave differently in online groups than playing offline. Maybe I should clarify my expectations around the players of our game?

She asked people to fill out the entire social skills inventory (SSI), which apparently has 90 questions. I should have a look at that, it may provide some interesting data (although pretty weighty for a maybe? and spendy!). She found that overall the gamers did have lower scores on the SSI, but not across all of the attributes so the stereotype of global social ineptitude is not supported. However, one of the sub-scales that did show significantly lower results was emotional sensitivity, suggesting that gamers struggle to interpret the body-language of other people.

In order to define whether someone was a gamer or not, she asked them. A simple and straightforward approach. I think that's a really interesting idea. She did list out in the future research question a suggestion that the gamers may just have been conforming to their perception of the stereotype in their responses (which are self-report, so could be subject to bias). I think that's a really interesting idea, particularly with the social identity stuff I've been looking at. I think you could do some really interesting stuff with asking them at the end of the survey, or along with how many hours, and see if there are any differences. I really should explore that further.

Multi.player 2011 - Richard Bartle Keynote

Presentation at multi.player 2011 by Richard Bartle. Keynote speaker, so no abstract in the handout.

Richard Bartle started out from a designer's viewpoint, looking at what people might want from games, because if we knew what they want we'd know what better meant and how to achieve better games.

He claims that the current genre of social games are barely social and barely games - barely social because you don't have any shared immersive space to socialise within the games (which means the communication happens outside of the game) and barely games because you can't win them. I guess that seems pretty reasonable, although in the case of games like Farmville where the communication takes place via Facebook, I would question where the game ends. Is Facebook (as the framework that the game is part of) a part of the game? I don't feel it's very social, yet it seem to be a good way to bug a lot of your friends so it does offer some interaction. As far as the winning goes, that harks back to Jesper Juul and how the classical model of a game has been tweaked. Is it possible to lose at Farmville? Can you win at Space Invaders? Only by beating an opponent or your previous scores I would guess. I may come back to this idea.

He went on to talk about his 4-type player model, only briefly discussing the extended 8-type version. He was basically talking about all the attempts to apply it that he'd seen, and how he felt they misused or misunderstood the model.

His model was developed with a very limited criteria in mind: it only applied to people who play for fun, not (for example) researchers or gold farmers who have very different motivations for playing. I guess that would also exclude professional players? This harks back to some of the problems with defining games - pro-players are often seen to break the model of games having no real-world outcomes.

Bartle also found fault with experimental design, where people had decided to look for his four player types and designed the experiment in such a way that only information that supported the theory would be captured. He said in these cases it wasn't surprising to find that the theory was supported, even if a different theory would actually have accounted for the differences better. That is a problem that Tuckman found in his 1977 review of the literature of social groups. Sociologists had a clear idea of what they were looking for and discounted information that didn't fit their theory.

A good warm-up act!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Game - Farm Blitz


This game was shortlisted at the Games for Change festival in 2011 in the Direct Impact category. Apparently this is for "Games targeted at specific audiences with proven outcomes." The game is apparently targeted at low-income adults, and takes inspiration from Bejewelled and Farmville to try and instill good saving habits in the players.

I really want to see the evidence for the proven outcomes. For me it was intensely patronising, and not particularly difficult or fun. The instruction screens seemed to last forever, and every other screen was reminding you to 'get rid of your bunnies of debt' and 'buy trees as savings'.

I suspect I'm not their target audience (although as a PhD student I am certainly a low-income adult!), as these are not new or novel ideas for me. Maybe if it hasn't occurred to you that clearing your debt before you save is a good plan it might be handy to play around seeing what happens if you don't. Maybe.

I felt this was a game that had little to do with the mechanics of earning money - but was all about what you do with it once you have it. The game mechanic of matching crops to earn money just felt a bit wedged in for me. Perhaps I'm wrong. And I'm not sure what I'd do instead. The overly-long instruction process that didn't let me do anything was just so frustrating that by the time the game started I was already pre-disposed to rubbish it! I'd love to see what Jim makes of this one...

Monday, 20 June 2011

Book - Women's role in economic development - Chapter 2, 3 and 4

Boserup, E. (1970). Womenʼs Role in Economic Development (1989th ed., p. 283). Earthscan Publications Limited.

Chapter 2: The Economics of Polygamy
Polygamy is apparently widespread in Africa, and is related to the economic conditions. Men with several wives can cultivate more land, produce more food for the household and can achieve higher status. This seems to be based on more wives = more children (particularly sons) = more labour! Sometimes more wives means more money, or sometimes the husband uses it as a way to increase his leisure time.

Apparently in shifting cultivation patterns, women bring in more than they cost. Particularly true as husbands do not provide them with everything they need, but they have to provide for themselves from their income. They can earn from agriculture, trade or crafts.

Men tend to be older than their wives, and they have to pay the bride's family. I don't think we'll include this in the game. There is a pecking order amongst the wives (in order of acquisition!).

Chapter 3 - Loss of Status under European Rule
Not relevant for our game.

Chapter 4 - The Casual Worker
Minimal amount of paid agricultural work, but women will take it if available (particularly if husband isn't paying for all of their clothes etc). African women play a small part in cash crops particularly from large plantations, but traditionally play a large part in food crops.

Book - Women's role in economic development - Chapter 1

Boserup, E. (1970). Womenʼs Role in Economic Development (1989 ed., p. 283). Earthscan Publications Limited.

This book was recommended by Christine Okali at our meeting with her on 13th June. The first section of four chapters looks at rural village life, and is therefore most relevant for our game in the immediate future. The book covers the role of women across Africa, Asia, India and occasionally South America, so I have tried to pick out the relevant bits for us!

Chapter 1: Male and Female Farming Systems
Although preparation of food is nearly universally a female task, there are a few different versions of food production systems:

  • Food production is exclusively done by women. (Female farming)
  • Food production is predominantly done by women, with some help from men. (Female farming)
  • Food production is predominantly done by men, with some help from women. (Male farming)

Available info from 1970 suggests that in sub-Saharan Africa the middle option is most common. The pattern of farming is predominantly a shifting cultivation (John does keep saying this is in the process of changing due to businesses buying large chunks of land, but I think this is probably the model we'll start with). So every year some fields get cleared and used from scratch, and some where the fertility is dropping will be abandoned and left.

Clearing the fields, cutting down trees etc is men's work. Traditionally, all of the weeding, harvesting etc is women's work. Particularly light tasks - such as guarding domestic animals or scaring wild birds/animals away from the crops - is left to children and old people of either gender.

The system of farming (mostly male, mostly female) can shift over time. This mostly seems to be caused by changes in population density and in farming techniques. If the population increases more land needs to be taken into cultivation, so there are fewer trees to fell each year and less cover for hunting (which are men's work). However, the fields are more intensively cultivated (less fallow time) so the men may be needed to help prepare them more thoroughly than in low-population shifting cultivation. The flip side of increasing population is that men leave the villages looking for work, which actually results in the percentage of agricultural work done by the women increasing.

Older men can stop working because they can leave it to their younger wives and children, while older women tend to be widows who have to fend for themselves so keep working. More boys go to school than girls, so girls spend more time in the fields. More men leave the village looking for work.

Very few cultivator families in Africa use hired labour apparently.

A note for later in our game - introducing ploughing massively reduces weeding and women's work until harvest, but ploughing is men's work and requires much more effort to clear the field of obstacles before ploughing can occur. Irrigation massively increases weeding, plus men have to dig irrigation ditches, lift water from wells/canals, and repair the terraces and bunds.

Shifting cultivation generally means no draught animals, little milk, and meat is supplied by either hunting or animals kept on natural pasture away from the crops.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Report - Ethical decision-making and internet research

Ess, C. (2002). Ethical decision-making and Internet research: Recommendations from the aoir ethics working committee. Readings in virtual research ethics. Issues and controversies (p. 1). Retrieved June 16, 2011, from www.aoir.org/reports/ethics.pdf.

The recommendations from the Association of Internet Researchers concerning the ethics of online research. The actual recommendations are pretty slim, but it has a lot of references (some of which I might follow up on), sample consent forms etc.

The first recommendation is to go back to the discipline the study is based in and consider the normal 'offline' approach used in that discipline. I would guess that would place me somewhere around sociology or communication studies. I think this is where Celia Pearce was mentioning feminist ethics as what she had based her study on - I need to go back and check, and also read up on what that framework is!

They also highlight the importance of understanding cultural differences. What are the ethical traditions/legal protections that the participants will be expecting? In fact, large chunks go back to understanding the arena the research is being performed in, and looking at what the participants will expect. They suggest checking both the public statements made about the arena (e.g. privacy statements, and I would guess the EULA would fall into this too), and also noting what mechanisms the system users utilise to indicate they expect things to be more private - e.g. moving to a private chatroom or (in the Rosenberg paper I read a couple of days ago) moving to IM rather than public chat.

They have some nice considerations that I can refer back to, and probably should aim to answer.

One interesting revelation is that the US and the EU have very different approaches to ethics, and these lead to different conclusions. The report basically says that the EU has very stringent laws protecting the privacy of the individual over that of business concerns. The US does the opposite, and protects the business concern over the individual. They call the EU approach deontological, while the US is more utilitarian.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Paper - Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs

Barratt, M. J., & Lenton, S. (2010). Beyond recruitment? Participatory online research with people who use drugs. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from http://ijire.net/issue_3.1/6_barratt_lenton.pdf.

Paper talking about the recruitment and ongoing relationship with participants from online forums. Sensitive in this case because talking about drug use in forums that were not ostensibly about drug use (mostly about music), and due to the potentially illegal nature of the discussion.

They make the point that the potentially problematic aspects of the online environment (such as the anonymous nature of feedback, or the potential for the participant to just disappear without completing) could actually help where the subject was as sensitive as this. On-going discussion with the participant groups could help to shape the research in unexpected ways. Of course, this could still be a problem - the researcher doesn't have as much control over where the research/discussion goes.

Privacy is becoming a major theme here. In this case they decide to not even name the participating online groups. In fact, the majority didn't want to be named, but one group actively would have preferred it. Highlights how important it is to get to know the groups you want to work with. They also highlight that the perception of the group of how private their area is may not match the researcher's opinion.

Anonymising the data but quoting directly may not be good enough if the forum is indexed. A search will just trace it back to the group and the poster.

Interesting to note that most of the papers they reviewed skipped over the job of recruiting the participants in their methodology sections. I have a feeling it is quite often discussed in online world research, so that's an interesting distinction! Maybe it's to justify all the hours playing a game!

They highlight the potential problems with publicising findings before the research is published. In this case, they were aware that journalists were using the forums for stories and didn't want their research to wind up causing negative press for the groups. They ended up sharing their findings on separate, private sites, that reduced the follow up discussion from the communities. Not all projects suffer from that, but it's an interesting additional point about the problems of getting your work back out to the people who are interested.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Paper - The Duty to 'Play'

Reynolds, R., & Zwart, M. D. (2010). The Duty To “Play”: Ethics, EULAs and MMOs. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from http://ijire.net/issue_3.1/5_Reynolds_deZwart.pdf.

This paper breaks research into online worlds into three different categories:

  • world-design view, where the virtual world is created or altered specifically for the study which is conducted from the outside. 
  • avatar/in-world immersion view - the researcher is immersed as a participant. 
  • database view/backend analysis - researchers access the data generated by player interactions. 
That's quite useful. I think I'd be wanting to do some kind of mix of the first two. 

They then go on to focus on the in-world version, or primarily ethnographic study, focussing on three intersecting forces: 
  • The EULA or TOS agreed to be the researcher when they sign up to the MMOG. 
  • Normative ethical considerations of community participation. 
  • Established research norms as interpreted by the relevant ethics committee or IRB (Institutional Research Board).
I hadn't really thought about ethics committee approval for my research, but I guess I'll need it! 

Another interesting point to watch out for is an increased difficulty in getting participants if the researcher isn't properly 'embedded' in the game. Lack of levels etc. I hadn't considered that. 

It is useful to consider whether research does break the EULA. It seems in grey areas it is advised to talk to the game producers. You only really get into muddy waters if you intend to act 'outside the custom and practice of the MMO' - or either be a cheater or spoilsport (cheat is where you're playing, but outside the rules, spoilsport where you're outside the rules and you don't mean to play).

Looks like all the papers I've read on methodology so far point to at least spending some time playing the game for itself, to understand what questions to ask or where the lines are. This would be within the EULA, as even if the researcher is being paid they are still really just playing. It becomes a bit less clear when the player stops playing and starts conducting research, although I think you might be able to argue that plenty of players stop questing after a while and mostly socialise, that's still using in-game activities. 

Interesting angle, again, not one I'd thought of yet! 

Paper - Virtual World Research Ethics and the Private/Public Distinction

Rosenburg, A. (2010). Virtual World Research Ethics and the Private/Public Distinction. International Journal of Internet Research Ethics, 3(1). Retrieved from http://ijire.net/issue_3.1/3_rosenberg.pdf.

The paper discusses a study in Second Life on the boundary between public and private within Second Life. This is relevant to the ethics of research because if something is public it does not need to be treated with the same level of care when reporting (e.g. anonymising, obtaining consent etc) as private discourse. In fact, the two assumptions that the study is based on are listed as that researchers shouldn't do any harm to anyone, and that the public/private boundary is important to avoid doing harm.

The author outlines two simplified extremes of view:  public is publicly accessible, or public is if perceived as public by the participants. The first argument makes all online interaction in MMOGs or virtual worlds public, as it could be accessed by anyone who wants to. However, the study shows that the people using the spaces had clear ideas of which parts of their environment and (interestingly) communication methods were more private than others.

The main thing I think I can take from this paper is that you need to know your environment before you can judge what would be considered 'crossing the line' with participants. There is still a struggle as well between being open with your participants that you are studying them, and missing parts of what they do because they modify their behaviour for the study.

Also the writer spent a year spending between 10 and 30 hours a week in Second Life. Where am I going to find that kind of time?!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Paper - Paralanguage and social perception in CMC

Lea, M., & Spears, R. (1992). Paralanguage and social perception in computer-mediated communication. Journal of Organizational Computing and Electronic Commerce, 2(3), 321-341. doi: 10.1080/10919399209540190.

This paper was referenced by the another one I read in reference to the social identity/de-individuation (SIDE) model of CMC. Turns out there are earlier papers about that model that I should probably follow up on, but this paper does include some interesting findings that may help me to understand it!

They did two studies, the first of which looked at paralinguistic cues in e-mail and how they affected the perception of the communicators, and compared the use and interpretation of paralinguistic cues between novice and experienced users.

The second study got groups to take part in discussions via a text-only computer-conferencing system. The groups were given 4 different conditions: the group identity or the individual identity were highlighted (group salience), and they could see each other or they were in different rooms (de-individuation).

Looking at how they switch which identity is most salient could be useful. They did it in quite straight-forward ways, by manipulating the way the discussion was presented to the group. So group identity was pushed by being told they were being tested as a group, and the instructions referred to individuals as 'group members'. Each user was given a 'group membership number' to be identified by. In the individual identity groups, they were told they were being tested personally, and the instructions referred to 'participants'. Rather than a 'group membership number' they just had a 'participant number'.

They measured frequency of paralinguistic marks (ellipses, inverted commas, quotation marks, exclamation marks. Sequences/combinations double-weighted) and got people to rate each other on person-perception scales. The correlations between paralanguage use and perceived personal attributes were interesting. When subjects were in the same room as each other, the correlations don't really change regardless of the high or low group salience. In the condition where the participants couldn't see each other, high group salience gave positive correlation to the use of paralanguage, where as the low group salience gave a negative correlation. In other words, people who used paralanguage in a group were liked when everyone recognised themselves as part of a group, and disliked when people perceived themselves as individuals.

This paper extended work done in empirical studies from a social identity approach into the computer-mediated communication environment.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Chapter notes - Beyond initial interaction

1. Berger CR. Beyond Initial Interaction. In: Giles H, St. Clair R, eds. Language and Social Psychology. Basil Blackwell; 1979:122-144.

This chapter expands on the earlier work done on uncertainty reduction theory by looking at the strategies that people employ to get to know another.

The chapter starts by discussing the various reasons someone might increase the attention they pay to the behaviour of another in social situations. They outline three reasons:

  1. Incentives - the other person could reward them.
  2. Deviation - the other person is acting in a way that is not in keeping with the social norms. 
  3. Future interaction - the likelihood of meeting the person again. People do not care about the behaviour of others so much if they will never meet them again. 
Having decided it's worth getting to know someone, there are then eight strategies of three different types identified: 
  1. Passive strategies - the other person is observed but not interacted with. 
    1. Reactivity search - watch the other person interacting with others. 
    2. Social comparison - watch the other person interact with people you know.
    3. Disinhibition search - watch the other person in an environment where their guard is down. Access as a non-interactive observer to that kind of environment can be tricky!
  2. Active strategies - the other person is observed in situations that you have controlled to some degree, but still not interacted with directly, 
    1. Asking others about the target. This brings the danger that news of your inquiry could get back to the individual you're asking about. 
    2. Environmental structuring - set up a situation for the other person to negotiate. This sounds really intrusive and difficult, but could be as little as putting a range of magazines out on a table. 
  3. Interactive strategies - talk/interact with the other person.
    1. Verbal interrogation - ask the subject questions. There's a delicate balance between asking too many questions of too personal a nature in too short a space of time (and therefore prejudicing the other person against you) and not getting the information you need. 
    2. Self-disclosure - tell them about yourself. Most people reciprocate. 
    3. Deception detection - work out if the person is bragging, flattering or omitting information. 
These strategies focus on one individual learning about another, not necessarily mutual understanding. Also makes the point that discussing strategies does not identify the tactics used to employ these strategies, and there is no indication of which strategies would be adopted in which situations. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Book - Cyberpl@y

Danet B. Cyberpl@y: Communicating Online. Berg Publishers; 2001:436.

Although a large chunk of this book is not relevant to the areas I'm looking at, it does have some nice descriptions and summaries of the ways that online communication differs from offline, and the ways that people have adapted their communication online to try and overcome some of these limitations.

 In the introduction she describes a continuum in online communication from 'speech-like' to 'writing like' (pg 16). While asynchronous communication like email is more like writing - allowing time to edit etc. - synchronous chat has more of the linguistic features of oral conversation - speed is of the essence, no editing.

Pages 17-19 provide 9 ways that users have adapted to digital writing:

  1. Multiple punctuation e.g. "Type back soon!!!!!!"
  2. Eccentric spelling e.g. "Type back sooooooooooooooooon."
  3. Capital letters e.g. "I'M REALLY ANGRY AT YOU!" 
  4. Asterisks for emphasis. 
  5. Written out laughter
  6. Descriptions of actions 
  7. Smileys
  8. Abbreviations
  9. All lower case
The last two are particularly aimed at speed, and the all lower case is interesting. It is not acceptable online to use all upper case, because it comes across as shouting. All lower case is more acceptable. Some of these conventions have been used in comics and graffiti - e.g. the all caps for shouting. 

Obviously one of the big differences between this an face-to-face communication is that the writer chooses specifically what they want to represent in the text, while the non-verbal clues in face-to-face communication tend to be involuntary to a degree. 

pg 11-12 online communication is "both doubly attenuated and doubly enhanced". Attenuated by the absence of non-verbal clues compared to speech, and by the 'loss of text as object' compared to writing. But enhanced by the ability to easily record/reexamine what you said (as compared to speech), and the increased sense of the conversational partner (interlocutor!) enhances it compared to writing. This is used to demonstrate that this truly is a different medium to both speech and writing, and therefore worthy of study!

Jumping on to the study of personal emails, pg 64 outlines some of the ethical issues of studying the emails which are intended to be private even if the content is not particularly personal. Danet worked around this by using anonymised versions of emails to her, and attempting to get permission where possible. I really need to read around the ethics of this, because looking at chat could be a mine-field. 

Paper - The Influence of the Avatar on Online Perceptions...

1. Nowak KL, Rauh C. The Influence of the Avatar on Online Perceptions of Anthropomorphism, Androgyny, Credibility, Homophily, and Attraction. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2005;11(1):153-178. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.tb00308.x [Accessed May 26, 2011].

Paper represents 'static' avatars - that don't move or represent person in realtime. Not unlike ours should be.
URT - mentions a 1997 paper. Is that related to online use? (Infante, Rancer & Womack, 1997).

Woot! "Different types of avatars have different effects on person perception." (Koda 1996; Nowak, 2004; Nowak & Biocca, 2003; Taylor, 2002).

Credibility, attraction and homophily important in communication process (McCroskey, Hamilton, & Weiner, 1974). Credibility one of the primary predictors for things like attitude change and trust.

Their findings on androgeny are all well and good, but I'm not sure they designed any androgenous yet anthropomorphic avatars. Not to mention I find this disturbing: "Interface designers who wish to elicit attraction in users might consider anthropomorphic, non-androgynouse, feminine, child characters for their interfaces." They found evidence that people choose avatars that are of similar gender and type - which in this case just means human - so postulate that means that they might also tend to choose other characteristics that are similar to their own. I'm not convinced that holds true. In my experience, there is a definite variance between avatars and people's actual appearance that is greater than can be explained by the options available.

I think this is interesting in relation to GR, because in our game the avatar is indicitive of the class of character the player is playing (e.g. man or woman) rather than the underlying gender of the player. It provides more insight into the goals of that player than it would in (for example) world of warcraft where the gender is a choice and the class (warrior, healer, etc) is the clue to the player's motivation.

Again, my problem with her paper is that I would not want any of the avatars she is testing to represent me in any game. In fact, if that were the range of characters, there's a good chance I would be put off playing. I could just about cope with figure f3 in that list.

Paper - The Effect of the Agency and Anthropomorphism on Usersʼ Sense of Telepresence, Copresence, and Social Presence in Virtual Environments.

1. Nowak KL, Biocca F. The Effect of the Agency and Anthropomorphism on Usersʼ Sense of Telepresence, Copresence, and Social Presence in Virtual Environments. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments. 2003;12(5):481-494. Available at: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/105474603322761289 [Accessed May 25, 2011].

Presence can be split into several dimensions including:
Telepresence - Feeling like you are 'there' in the media.
Copresence - Feeling that other people are there too.
Social presence - The extent to which you are able to 'access another's mind'.

Tested agents vs avatars, and no image, hi-anthropomorphic image, low-anthropomorphic image. I don't like the 'high-anthropomorphic' heads - they look odd. The low ones are kind of friendlier looking, even though they are only eyes and mouth. Sounds like (in the discussion) the participants agreed with me, calling them 'not very attractive' and 'funny looking'.

They found any image is better for immersion in the environment than no image.

There are some consequences of the choice of image, although this paper found that users felt more copresence, social presence and telepresence when someone used a less anthropomorphic image. That apparently contrasts with other studies (Koda 1996; Wexelblat 1997).

They note that teh reaction to the high-anthropomorphic images wasn't bad, just not as good as the low-anthropomorphic image. The similarity to the results with no image suggests that the users may be putting in some default anthropomorphic mental image when no picture is supplied.

I think I'll give a brief overview of avatar research, but not focus on it. There's too much!

Paper - Avatar-Mediated Networking

Bente G, Rüggenberg S, Krämer NC, Eschenburg F. Avatar-Mediated Networking: Increasing Social Presence and Interpersonal Trust in Net-Based Collaborations. Human Communication Research. 2008;34(2):287-318. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.00322.x [Accessed May 25, 2011].

Mostly using this paper as a source for other papers to read. Lots of interesting stuff in the background bit at the top:

"Non-verbal channels account for major socioemotional variance in human communication. Media-dependent loss of this information comes at the expense of interpersonal uncertainty" (Bente et al. <- I can't find this reference online anywhere.)

Tanis and Postmes (2007 Two faces of anonymity: Paradoxical effects of cues to
identity in CMC. Computers in Human Behavior, 23, 955-970.) "The key point here is not that all these theories are the same, the point is that despite their differences they subscribe to the same metatheory that the social effects of communication technology are caused by the disembodiment of interpersonal communication. (p. 957)"

"Choice of concrete virtual representative might have specific consequesce on its own because its physical appearance can influence impression formation and activate social stereotypes" (look up Nowak!, suggest Nowak et al 2005 as most recent referenced in this paper).

Avatars in a shared online environment have been shown to be more effective than video for co-locating. That's really interesting. Shared space, rather than the image of the person you're talking to. (I wonder if a projected image of the person you're talking to in a shared space would be more effective? Or if you combined that tech with the individual cameras with a room?)

Social presence (Lee 2004 Presence, explicated. Communication Theory, 14, 27–50. for overview). Apparently closely related to interpersonal trust. (Cyr Hassanein, Head & Ivanov 2007).

Two forms of trust (leading on from Lewis & Weigert): cognitive based trust (CBT) based on rational judgement of knowledge, competence & dependability. Also Affect-based trust (ABT) emotional bond, confidence that they will protect us and care for our welfare. Some evidence that CBT is easier to establish in virtual environments (Kanawattanachai & Yoo 2002), but ABT is important.

This paper finds that all channels (audio, video and avatar) do equally well in producing interpersonal results - and all significantly better than text chat only.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Paper - Computer-mediated communication effects on disclosure, impressions and interpersonal evaluations

1. Tidwell LC, Walther JB. Computer-Mediated Communication Effects on Disclosure, Impressions, and Interpersonal Evaluations: Getting to Know One Another a Bit at a Time. Human Communication Research. 2002;28(3):317-348. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-2958.2002.tb00811.x.

Useful paper describing 3 different theories of how people interact and an experiment to try to find out which might be right!

Social information processing (SIP) theory (Walther 1992) suggests that people adapt to a lack of nonverbal cues to the remaining cues available such as content and linguistic strategies. Also related to a hyperpersonal perspective of computer-mediated communication, which argues that in the absence of nonverbal cues people form deeper (not broader) impressions of each other, suggesting that detailed information is shared on a smaller range of areas.

Social identity and deindividaution (SIDE) theory (Lea & Spears, 1992) suggest that rather than a hyperpersonal perspective, the absence of nonverbal cues means that the person is reduced to forming impressions based on social categories of the communicators. This reduces the individual aspect, and increases the group image.

Uncertainty Reduction Theory (URT) (Berger & Calabrese, 1975) sounds pretty interesting. This paper suggests that it hasn't really been evaluated for online (computer-mediated) stuff, but this paper was published in 2002 so worth following up on that. 7 strategies people employ to reduce uncertainty about the people you deal with. I think it's worth following up on this.

The methodology seems really pretty labour-intensive and hardcore, but could be useful to bear in mind. They use a panel of three judges to encode the text they get back - I think that would be outside the scope of my work but useful to note that the lack of separate judges may introduce bias. Also the difficulty of trying to get the same number of phrases in face-to-face and computer-mediated situations. They allowed 4 times as much time for the email conversation as for the face to face one, and still the number of utterances in the face-to-face experiments was twice that of the online conversation. I guess length of utterance would be worth looking at, plus they were using an email system which may have had a little lag. Also the interface may have encouraged longer messages, rather than the short ones people type in Skype (for example).

They seem to find in favour of the hyperpersonal model for CMC - people asked more direct questions over email and found out more about each other, but on a comparatively limited range of subjects. It would be interesting to see if this finding has been ported to MMOGs yet, with their avatars and guilds and 3-d representations, or not.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Paper - From tree house to barracks

Williams D. From Tree House to Barracks: The Social Life of Guilds in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture. 2006;1(4):338-361. Available at: http://gac.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/1555412006292616 [Accessed March 25, 2011].

"However, the structure and rule set of the game world have a clear impact on what kinds of people play, what they do, and how and why they interact with one another."

Interesting paper on the social dynamics of guilds. The authors focussed on the player behaviour, attitudes and opinions to get at the meanings, social capital and networks that people formed in World of Warcraft.

There were two parts that I found extremely interesting (other than the above quote): methodology, and passing remarks to play style and guild behaviour.

The methodology used had three parts. They played the games, to understand what questions they needed to ask. They used bots to log data about who was online and for how long over a given period (which was necessary as they did not get any help from Blizzard) and surveys to try to understand teh different player and server types. They then did player interviews in-game to get opinions and explanations of behaviour. These were long interviews with an average time of 1 hour 39 minutes.

They used data gathered at each stage to inform the next stage in the methodology: an understanding of the game to know what to survey, then the results of the surveys to understand which players they wanted more information from. I think that is a useful approach to understand. The use of bots to gather log in duration and so on is also something I don't think I've seen in too many papers.

There is some kind of guild topography, explaining the difference between social, raid or pvp oriented guilds. They also give some size indicators, placing their boundaries between large, medium etc based on the surveying they did on group sizes within the game. I think there is soem correlation with business sizes, where they noted that larger guilds needed (by and large) more formal processes in place to keep the players happy.

"It is notable that people join, or in some cases, create guilds for their pragmatic or social needs. In some cases this is an issue of personal style; the player wanted to play with others of similar personality, real-life demographics or even sense of humor. Yet the most common reason to seek a particular guild type out was to accomplish game goals. This is a powerful case of the game mechanic influencing social decisions with unintended consequences."

They found that size of guild mattered, with smaller bonds focussed on social activities/bonds, and larger guilds focussed on game goals. That was not a hard rule, just an 'in general'. Large guilds are necessary for some game goals, so it may not be the player's individual preference to join a large guild, but important to access some of the game play.

(The treehouse to barracks relates to the group dynamic - informal like a group of kids in a treehouse or rigid hierarchy like a barracks.)

"Medium-sized guilds show the progression from the small, tightly knit groups to
the large, sometimes less personal ones. ... But with more members, there is a higher chance of a conflict in styles or ethics."

"While the purpose of guilds is to transcend the ephemeral nature of pick-up groups and questing parties, their longevity remains very much an issue. From earlier research (Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, & Moore, 2006), we know that about 21% of the guilds present on a WoW server at any given time disappear after a month. This high level of “churn” highlights the difficulties inherent in managing these entertainment communities: guilds appear to be fragile institutions.
Our interviews confirmed this fragility. For the vast majority of respondents, the guild they belonged to when we spoke with them was not their first guild. A lack of alignment between the player’s individual objectives and the guild’s objectives was often cited as an important reason for leaving a guild. As noted above, some merely used guilds as stepping stones and left, typically when the guild did not allow them to join the end- game raids. Other common sources of dissatisfaction were elitism, social distance, poor leadership, a lack of players at their level to play with, and the wrong level of seriousness (both too high and too low). Two players felt that women were a destructive influence on guilds because of their rarity and their potential to be sources of conflict. Pre-existing groups within guilds were often seen as problematic by newer members, especially if that group had played another game together beforehand."

Interesting things to investigate here about misalignment with original guilds. Also some interesting comments about what people didn't like about PUGs: different expectations with the other players about friendliness, sharing, leadership, roles.

Paper - Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks

1. Wenger E, Trayner B, Laat M de. Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework. kennisversneller.nl. Available at: http://www.kennisversneller.nl/Docs/Expertise/RdMC/2011 Rapporten/WEB_Rapport 18_Assessment framework_DEF.pdf [Accessed May 16, 2011].

I don't think this would be directly relevant to me, but the definition of a community vs a network is quite interesting, and the questions to ask to get at the learning value are also potentially useful. Might be a good jumping off point to think about survey questions to get at information I do need.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Chapter notes - Unwritten Rules

1. Sniderman S. Unwritten Rules. In: The Game Design Reader. MIT Press; 2006:476-502.

This starts with a definition of a game as 'a play activity that consists of an object (a goal or goals that the players are trying to accomplish) and constraints on the players' behaviour (what they must do and/or what they may not do in attempting to achieve the game's object).'

Some of the constraints are explicit (the perceived rules of the game - the sheet that comes with the board game for example), whilst others are not. The author claims that some of the non-explicit rules may actually be impossible to completely define. He uses the example of tic-tac-toe (naughts and crosses!), where the basic rules are pretty simple, but what about a time limit on turn length? If a time limit is specified, then you need to specify how that time limit is measured, and what can interrupt the timer. In fact, trying to write a rule about an explicit time limit draws attention to the fact that it is a potential problem, where most games of naughts and crosses don't have that problem.

The author says rather than explicit rules we have unwritten rules (or expectations) of what will happen and how we will play.

Game officials can also pull and push and make extra decisions about the "real" or written game rules. The author uses the example of a fire alarm interrupting a chess tournament - does the time spent evacuated out of the building stop the timer or not? It's probably not written into the tournament rules. He claims that part of the problem is the real world settings for games - no set of rules can comprehensively cover every eventuality for the kinds of things that real life can bring to a game.

He also examines the concept of 'playing fair'. A very hard concept to define, which he illustrates with a great story about trainers who tried to teach dolphins to play waterpolo: they got the idea of scoring, but when they tried to stop the opponents scoring it descended into all-out war, not just a game.

Two big problems are outlined: working out exactly when a game starts, and when a move really counts. Uses the example of his friendly tennis matches, where it seems there are lots of unstated tweaks to the rules depending on who's playing and what the venue is. The process of learning these nuances is hidden - we don't realise we're learning them - so it's not until someone new tries to join in that the players may realise what they've done/learnt.

Players often adapt and reframe many official rules, depending on circumstances. For example in a friendly tennis match you may not switch ends as often as the rules state, or use new balls so often. Players may also add rules (my example: 6 and out playing cricket at Roedean because of the busy road along the edge of the pitch, his example: chat topics in the different groups he played tennis with).

The author goes on to ask how we can play if we don't know the rules, and suggests that we can play "as if" we know all the rules. This is his difference between human and computer players. Then the chapter veers off into looking at monetary systems and whether we can ever know all of the rules for that etc.

Could be a very useful reference.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Paper - Schmoozing and Smiting

Ratan RA, Chung JE, Shen C, Williams D, Poole MS. Schmoozing and Smiting: Trust, Social Institutions, and Communication Patterns in an MMOG. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication. 2010;16(1):93-114. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1083-6101.2010.01534.x

(I actually got hold of the Word doc format from the Virtual Worlds Observatory, but they don't seem to want me to link directly.)

This is the second paper I've read that uses the same data gathering run. The other one was looking at gender roles, and I used it with the HCT reading group. The only author in common is D. Williams. They managed to get Sony to agree to let them have survey and behavioural data from Everquest, and also got Sony to create a special in-game item as an incentive to get players to fill out a 25 minute survey. Given the size of that opportunity (and how easy it must have been to negotiate) it doesn't surprise me that there is more than one paper as a result - but these are totally different! I would be interested to know how often that happens.

The authors were considering the levels of trust between players, and have a good review of recent changes in social behaviour (e.g. reduced engagement in civic/social events) and how they have changed the opportunities for trust. Prior research has shown that MMOG players list social reasons as important motivators for playing, so they wanted to explore if this social arena leads to new opportunities to trust.
(I need to follow up some of their references on trust and social institutions, particularly around the three major contributing features they outline.)

The paper considers the guild as a smaller social unit than the game itself, which in turn is a smaller unit than the internet at large. (Should also follow up some of their references on guilds!) They then look at trust by asking the players in the survey to rank whether guildmates, others in EQII, and others online "can be trusted" (on a 5-point scale). They did also ask a baseline question about how trusting individuals were ("Generally speaking, would you say that most people in everyday life can be trusted or that you can't be too careful in dealing with people?") They also used age and gender as controls.

They found that (as expected) they did support their hypotheses that players trust their guildmates most, then the other game players, and people online in general least. However, they found that the baseline question was the strongest predictor of the other levels of trust. I think that's interesting - how naturally trusting someone tends to be does show through in their online activities. The writers do seem to have just looked at the mean trust level - I'd like to see if people with lower baseline levels of trust had a smaller range of differences across the three classes, or if they still increased their level of trust by the same amount, just from a lower start point.

The other parts of this paper looked at mode of communication in relation to trust, and whether self-disclosure had any impact. They didn't have access to the content of messages, so had to rely on players accurately filling out the survey on how often they talked about personal matters. Having discussed (briefly) running a guild with a friend, they had rules in their guild that they were not supposed to discuss out-of-game details in raids at least. The paper finds that increased self-disclosure did relate to increased trust, so do guilds with rules similar to that actually risk shooting themselves in the foot as far as trusting each other go?

I was a bit worried when I read this paper that it might negate my line of attack, but I think it could be very useful while leaving me plenty of room to manoeuvre!

(Citation for gender paper: Williams D, Consalvo M, Caplan S, Yee N. Looking for Gender: Gender Roles and Behaviors Among Online Gamers. Journal of Communication. 2009;59(4):700-725. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2009.01453.x [Accessed August 29, 2010].)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

JUnit 4 (in Eclipse)

I'm sure this will be second nature in no time at all, but there are some fairly major differences between the way JUnit worked in version 3 compared to version 4, so I thought I'd write down what I've done and what I need to look into doing in the future.

In JUnit 4 you no longer have to extend any classes. The tests are identified by annotations. You do still need to import a load of JUnit classes to get the annotations and assertions right though.

So, I create my test classes in a test package that mirrors the name of the package under test with 'test' added to the end. I keep my test code in a second source file, called 'test' (to do this in Eclipse right-click on the project, go to properties, Java Build Path, Source, Add folder). My test classes are named after the class they are testing, again with the word 'Test' added to the end. This lets me reflect the same structure in the tests as the main code, so I can find things more easily.

If you are writing the tests after the class, you can choose which of the class methods you want to auto-generate code for. If you are writing the tests first, obviously this isn't available! I do a bit of both, depending on how good I'm feeling.

I haven't really been using anything other than that. To run the tests, I right-click on the test class in Eclipse, and choose Run as -> JUnit test. Eclipse then gives me a lovely interface that either shows a green bar if everything passes, or a red bar and a list of failures. Clicking on the failure takes me to the assertion that failed, so I can identify the exact test that failed. I haven't got into test suites yet, or using the @before or @after annotations.

One thing I think I do need to look into is the use of 'mock objects', particularly where my code is using SmartFox. My request handlers could do with testing, and I think this is the best way. At the moment I've limited myself to testing only my model, which is not great. It's a start, at least!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Paper - Trust as a Social Reality

1. Lewis JD, Weigert A. Trust as a Social Reality. Social Forces. 1985;63(4):967. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2578601?origin=crossref.

Paper on the topic of trust from a sociological viewpoint. Makes the point that trust is only possible between two people (or things) and therefore is not a characteristic of an individual. Trust goes beyond what is known and can be rationally concluded. It is a way to simplify the complexity of society, by removing possible outcomes to our actions that could not be removed by using solely rational means (and equally, distrust does the same thing with different outcomes).

If we knew everything about each other, trust would be unnecessary.  The trust in a relationship can change as the relationship continues.

The writers split trust into three dimensions: 'cognitive trust' (basing the choice to trust on 'good reasons'), 'emotional trust' (trusting someone is an emotional bond between participants) and 'behavioural trust' (the way we act when we trust). All three components feed into each other: i.e. if someone behaves as though they trust us, we are more likely to cognitively decide to trust them, and 'trust-implying actions' can help to feed the emotional part of the trust relationship.

Having split the concept of trust into three, trust is then split into types with one of these components dominant. They give examples of 'cognitive trust' being in nuclear arms reduction negotiation, or 'emotional trust' between lovers. The point is also made that most situations make trust a mix - e.g. emotional trust with no level of cognitive trust is blind faith, and the converse would be cold-blooded prediction.

The paper continues to discuss 'system trust', and how trust changes can be seen to have started the litigious  society. There is some discussion of whether the prisoner's dilemma game can really demonstrate trust, which is quite interesting.

I think it is worth following up on some of the bigger references in this paper: Luhmann, N "Trust and Power", and Bok, S "Lying" I reckon.

Monday, 14 March 2011


Glitch (http://glitch.com/) is a new MMOG that is still in the alpha stage, but looks like it could be right up my street. It's a new project by the team who started Flickr. The basic premise is that 11 giants are imagining this world, and the players are just tiny figments of their imagination. There is a fascinating interview with the guy who's creating it (Stewart Butterfield) on Gamasutra.  There's also a player-created wiki.

I think the interview is interesting because he has the same problems with Second Life and There.com as I do - what do you do when you're in there? At the same time, he doesn't like the way that in games like World of Warcraft you don't leave a lasting impression on the world - i.e. you kill something but you can go on the same raid to kill the same boss tomorrow. Glitch is an effort to create a world that is changed and responds to the players, and I think it's quite exciting.

I managed to get an alpha account, and had my first go playing last Thursday (the game is only periodically open at the moment). The focus is on building things and learning skills, but unlike other sandbox style games (e.g. Wurm) there are also quests, so there's an entry point. The quests are silly too. I had one where I had to use my emotional bear (after equipping it with lips) to kiss 5 other players, after eating garlic. So the quests show you how the equipment can be used, and encourage interaction - I had to chat to the people I was kissing, I really couldn't bring myself to just run up, kiss them and run away!

There are going to be multiple ways to group players from that interview, so not simply guilds/clans/villages. Some are going to be 'religious' cults, dedicated to one of the giants. He also mentions corporations. It will be really interesting to see what forms, and if there are any differences in character between the two types of groups.

I'm looking forward to seeing this one grow, and really pleased to be on board at the alpha stage.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Review - Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms

1. Ostrom E. Collective Action and the Evolution of Social Norms. Journal of Economic Perspectives. 2000;14(3):137-158. Available at: http://pubs.aeaweb.org/doi/abs/10.1257/jep.14.3.137.

Starts out by explaining (briefly) the "zero contribution thesis" and how this contradicts the evidence we see in real life. Other evidence has been gathered by running "public good experiments", which examine the willingness of players to overcome collective action problems. If everyone is a 'Rational Egoist' - e.g. out for most profit for themselves - it makes sense that they will never contribute to public good because the best outcome for them is that they don't contribute, but receive the good from all the other contributions. Of course, if everyone reaches that conclusion, noone contributes.

Over many runnings of public good games, the following seven findings have been found repeatedly:

  1. Subjects contribute between 40-60% of their resources in either one shot games or the first round of finite games. 
  2. Contributions decay downwards, but stay well above zero as the game continues.
  3. If subjects believe others are likely to cooperate, they are more likely to also cooperate.
  4. Learning the game better actually leads to more cooperation.
  5. Face-to-face communication increases cooperation. There is less cooperation when the communication is via computers. 
  6. Subjects will use personal resources to punish free-riders.
  7. The rate of contribution is affected by contextual factors. 
These finding can't be explained with the zero contribution thesis, where all actors are rational egoists. They can be explained by adding different types of actors (Ostrom calls them norm-users) to the model: "Conditional Cooperators" and "Willing Punishers". Conditional cooperators are willing to cooperate as long as they believe others will, and if enough people do they will continue to cooperate. They will tend to trust others, but if others are deemed to be free-riding they will get disappointed and stop contributing, which in turn means other conditional cooperators will also stop. Willing punishers will punish free-riders, either verbally or if available via other means. If reward mechanisms for people who cooperate are available, they may use those instead. 

She goes on to discuss the evolutionary argument for the development of these types. It gets really interesting to me where she says that if you knew the personality type of the people you are playing with, you could predict which is the best strategy every time and rational egoists would not be a favoured adaptation. However, if nothing is known about the other players, the best strategy is not to trust. So you need to know enough about the people you are dealing with to be able to judge them as trustworthy to cooperate. This would be more difficult online, and I would suggest that guilds are a way to find players to trust to cooperate with. 

There's a further section about the institutional rules having a potentially damaging effect on the evolution of good social norms (which also helps to dictate whether people will cooperate or not). There is a discussion of the field studies on public good and self-organised collective action e.g. fisheries. Could that feed in to game design at all? 

Need to follow up on finding out about trust I think, along with some more about this collective action stuff. 

Monday, 28 February 2011

Review - Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs

1. Johnson N, Xu C, Zhao Z, et al. Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by a common team dynamic. Physical Review E. 2009;79(6):1-11. Available at: http://link.aps.org/doi/10.1103/PhysRevE.79.066117.

This paper looks at building a simple model of how people decide to join or move between guilds or gangs, using membership data from World of Warcraft guilds and LA street gangs.

They attempt two types of model: where people choose to join groups where all members have the same attributes as them ('kinship') and where people choose to join groups where they complement the existing membership ('team formation'). The model that fitted the data most closely was the team formation model. I think that's extremely interesting, as I'm suggesting that guilds do form from players with similar playing styles, so perhaps this is a different angle. (By playing style I think I'm meaning subtle differences in emphasis, i.e. more emphasis on exploration vs raiding vs PvP etc.)

In addition to looking at both sets of data as a whole, they then divide the groups by 'ethnicity'. This is obvious in terms of the gangs, but for the WoW data they split it by server. This turns out to be a good fit because as it is not possible to change your ethnicity in real life, it is also difficult/expensive to move your character between servers in WoW. They find that although the model fits all the variations of ethnicity they need to tweak some of the constants slightly, suggesting that there are very subtle differences in behaviour not only between different gang ethnicities in LA (which might be expected - different backgrounds and cultural values) but also in between servers in WoW (same game, so what causes that?!).

Good analogy to job finding, and actually rather tallies with my empirical experience that teams tend to take on the character of their head (who does the hiring) while looking for members that complement the group skillset. Again, a difference between the two definitions of what people look for in a team - similar values, different skills.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Tragedies of the ludic commons - Jonas Heide Smith

1. Smith JH. Tragedies of the ludic commons - understanding cooperation in multiplayer games. Game Studies. 2007;7(1). Available at: http://gamestudies.org/0701/articles/smith.

An article that links player behaviour and dilemmas in online games into two new areas of research for me - collective action problems and social dilemmas. This is sort of what I've been looking for, because I think that research on multiplayer online society ought to have some grounding in research into offline societies, even if it's just to expose the differences between on and offline experiences.

The paper introduces the concepts of collective action and social dilemma, but then links the two for the remainder of the paper. He then discusses three aspects of multi-player gaming that he describes as 'conflict-heavy' and how they can be understood in terms of social dilemmas. The three areas he chooses are aligned with my interests: cheating, grief play and responsible participation.

Cheating he acknowledges is a slightly grey area in places. Defining some cheats is straightforward - hacking the client for example obviously contravenes the rules of the game. However, exploiting loopholes that the developer didn't expect is grey - the player has to guess at what is beyond allowed, and what the developer expected. Also the author states that if everyone is 'cheating' it may just be that they are all playing a different game (although mostly the games where everyone cheats are not wildly popular). The cheat is compared to the prisoner's dilemma, where the very best outcome for the player is to have everyone around them be playing fair while they cheat, but the best for the group as a whole (in terms of the game-playing experience) is if everyone is playing fair.

Grief play is defined as disruptive play that brings the player no or little personal gain. If the collective good is again seen to be the enjoyment of the experience, this can be seen to destroy that collective good.

Irresponsible participation is a tricky one. This is defined (in this article) by example - so if you know a raid is going to take upwards of an hour and you only have 40 minutes, you'll have to abandon and potentially wreck the raid party. Alternatively, gambling at one point in a game and putting yourself at such a disadvantage that you quit could take the enjoyment of beating you from your opponent. Difficult. I suspect these might be very personal calls on what is and isn't acceptable - would be interesting to follow up on that.

The article goes on to discuss the ways that these problems could be alleviated for the good of all, including code, cheat-blocker software etc. It gets most interesting for me when he starts to talk about guilds as a method of managing the great proportion of these issues. The guild rules and reputation allow the players to judge others - so you know that if you're playing with people from your guild they ought to have the same ideas about what is and isn't permissible (within the norms you are forming). So, if a guild is one where team kill is turned on, you know that and understand that risk and won't be so upset if one of your team shoots you (in theory). I think the grey areas and judgement calls (i.e. is it acceptable to concede the game early and deny the opponent the thrill of winning) is what the guild rules will probably centre on and clarify - it would be fascinating to check that.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Media Equation, Byron Reeves & Clifford Nass

The media equation (published 1996) states that “media equals real life” and is, the authors assert, a rule that governs how all of us interact with media. I guess most of us can imagine equating mediated and real life as something that we do occasionally when tired or stressed - shouting at the computer, for example - but the authors insist that it is ubiquitous - all of us do it, and do it often. To test their hypothesis that our interactions with computers, TV etc. are fundamentally social and natural, the authors started with social science research into human behaviour. They chose a range of findings, substituted “person” or “environment” with media to form a new hypothesis which was then tested in the same way as the original social science finding. For example, in investigating politeness, the authors came up with the following hypotheses:
  1. When a computer asks a user about itself, the user will give more positive responses than when a different computer asks the same questions.
  2. Because people are less honest when a computer asks about itself, the answers will be more homogenous than when a different computer asks the same questions.

Areas they investigated included manners (politeness, interpersonal distance, flattery, judgement), personality, emotion, social roles (including gender). In every case the authors found that their research backed the hypotheses.

They also found that it is true for all sorts of media – computers, interfaces, pictures, audio, video; it is true for all types of people (whatever their education or background – computer scientists included) and it isn’t dependent on the complexity, sophistication or “realism” of the media – very basic images or interfaces will elicit the same responses.

The authors are quick to point out that it’s not that we think computers are people, or that we think it reasonable to act as if they are – in a sense we can’t help doing it. (well, we can avoid it for a time but it requires a lot of effort and is difficult to sustain). And the reason behind these behaviours? According to the authors, evolution is the culprit – it simply hasn’t equipped us to deal with technology. Up until the technological era only humans exhibited rich social behaviours and all perceived objects were real objects, so we have evolved to respond to anything that appears to behave socially or seems to be a real object as if it actually is.

These findings have obvious implications for the design and evalution of media. If we design systems that mirror how social relationships and physical environments work, users will find using these systems intuitive, will more readily engage with the systems and find interaction more rewarding.