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: [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!