Author Archives: João Costa

Control your Game-Self: Effects of Controller Type on Enjoyment, Motivation and Personality in Game



Birk, M., Mandryk, R.L. 2013. Control Your Game-Self: Effects of Controller Type on Enjoyment, Motivation, and Personality in Game. In CHI ’13: Proceedings of the 31st international conference on Human factors in computing systems, Paris, France. To appear.


This paper presents a study in which the authors want to understand whether the choice of a game controller has impact on the player’s personality during play. For this, they used different controllers in conjunction with questionnaires (PENS, IMI and PANAS-X) to explain the Player Experience (PX) in terms of enjoyment, motivation and player perceived personality.

Their results show that the controller choice affects player enjoyment and motivation to play, as well as how the player’s needs satisfaction is met within gameplay and how they perceive themselves.


The authors’ Related Work section on Player Experience (PX) evaluation mentions some of the old and new methods of evaluating the user’s experience. Nevertheless, the mention to psychophysiological methods of evaluation of PX lacks referencing of other recent research that are relevant in context to the paper’s direction because this is a growing field with considerable novel research.

Moving forward into related work in the field of psychology, the authors give a thorough description of what inspired them for this study. They begin with the Self Determination Theory (SDT), its sub theory of Cognitive Evaluation Theory (CET), and how it is possible to use the Player Experience of Needs Satisfaction (PENS) to assess the components of SDT and CET on an experience.

The authors also provide insight on another theory called the Self-Discrepancy Theory. This theory is based on the assumption that people compare themselves to so called self-guides. These self-guides represent three domains of self: actual-self (the attributes we actually possess), ideal-self (the attributes we ideally want to possess) and the ought-self (the attributes we believe we should have). A common way to assess these self-guides is to use the five factor model of personality, commonly referred as the Big Five.

Extraversion (E) Tendency to be energetic, outgoing and assertive. People who score high tend to be involved in social activities rather than spending time alone.
Agreeableness (A) Tendency to be friendly, caring and conflict avoiding. People who score high prefer co-operation to competition.
Conscientiousness (C) Tendency to show self discipline, act dutifully, and aim for achievement. People who score high plan activities rather than engaging in spontaneity. Tend to be organized and dependable.
Neuroticism (N) Tendency to be nervous, sensitive and emotionally unstable. People who score high respond poorly to environmental stress and are likely to experience stress and frustration.
Openness to Experience (O) Tendency to be intellectually curious, think abstractly, and to explore. People who score high are likely to try something new rather than sticking to old beliefs and tradition.

These Big Five personality traits have been successfully used to predict the player type, preferred genre and motivation to play, all of which can be used to understand the level of enjoyment of a game. What is particularly useful of the Self-Discrepancy theory is that it considers the difference between self-guides. Past research has shown that game enjoyment affected by the discrepancy between actual-self and ideal-self.

The authors designed a simple 3D game where the user was flying inside of a tornado in a ship and the goal was to collect spinning items. The items would show up in waves, and collecting enough items speeds the player’s ship to the next wave. Three different controller types were used: Traditional – Microsoft XBox GamePad, Positional – Sony PlayStation Move, Gestural – Microsoft Kinect.

The study involved the participation of 78 students, with a within-participants design, who had to fill a questionnaire about their actual-self, ideal-self and current affective state before playing the game with each of the three different controller types. After each controller condition, 5 minutes, players completed questionnaires assessing their experience of the game and of themselves within the game. Game enjoyment was measured with Positive Affect and Negative Affect Schedule-Expanded (PANAS-X), as well as with Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI). Need Satisfaction was evaluated using the Player Experience of Need Satisfaction Scale (PENS), while Personality was assessed with the Big Five Inventory (BFI).

The authors found how the controller choice influences our needs satisfaction differently. They found that the Game-self (the actual self in the context of game play) changed significantly with the use of a different controller, where they say, after a hefty chunk of statistics, that the GamePad increases Neuroticism, whereas the Kinnect enhances Agreeableness. To put it in practical terms, imagine you are designing a game where your character starts frail and gets stronger with the course of time while also having to overcome obstacles (e.g. Deus Ex). The game designer’s intention might be of transmitting the fragility of the main character, and the use of a GamePad might be the ideal choice for this sort of game because Neuroticism makes those obstacles a notch harder. Or, in a game designed as a social icebreaker, the Kinect might be the choice for controller since it improves Agreeableness. The key focal point is to match the player’s actual-self with the ideal-self that the game controller permeates (personality affordances).

In my opinion, the results presented are incredibly thorough and deep in statistics. However, they were perhaps a bit too deep to the point that it makes the understanding of the paper a bit cloudy and convoluted.

Second, the paper is interesting because it tries to tie together several psychology theories under one common purpose (in the related work section). Nevertheless, perhaps because there is so much going on throughout the study, and because so many keywords are the same or similar, it makes it harder to understand the exact purpose of the study, which should have been clearly explained earlier along the paper. I only got there half-way through the experiment description.

Third, in their discussion, the authors only mention the GamePad and the Kinect, but never mention their third controller type, PlayStation Move. In the end, they take some interesting conclusions about the GamePad and Kinect controllers specifically, but what about all the other remaining controllers? It would have been nice to read a result about not the specific controller type in relation to the personality affordances that it allows, but more on these same affordances in relation to the task mapping that the controller has.

Image credits: Side Pose Of Man Playing Videogame –

Just Missing the Jackpot: Why I am never going to a Casino again.



Dixon, M. J., MacLaren, V., Jarick, M., Fugelsang, J. A., & Harrigan, K. A. (2012). The frustrating effects of just missing the jackpot: slot machine near-misses trigger large skin conductance responses, but no post-reinforcement pauses. Journal of Gambling Studies, 1-14.


Near-misses in slot machines resemble jackpot wins but fall short by just one symbol (I for one like to think as near-hits, not near-misses). What is curious about these near-misses is that previous research has shown that they are behaviourally reinforcing, despite the lack of monetary reward.

The authors investigated the pleasing properties of these near-misses, in comparisson to regular wins and losses, by measuring the time between spins called Post-Reinforcement Pause (PRP), while also gathering Skin Conductance Response (SCR) data. For this matter, they recruited players with different gambling backgrounds and had them play slot machine sessions.

The results indicate that near-misses with jackpot symbols on the first two reels exhibit a significantly larger SCR than losses, while also exhibiting a significantly smaller PRP. This pattern suggests that these near-miss moments are highly frustrating outcomes that stimulate appetitive components of our body and, thus, promote gambling.


A near-miss is when the outcome of the slot machine resembles a jackpot win, but falls short for one symbol. A classic near-miss would be two red 7s on the payline and the third 7 just above or below the line. These events, the near-misses, ar important because of their psychological and psychophysiological influence on the player. They have been reported, by previous research, to be perceived as misconstrued wins and to foster continued gambling by promoting extended play. To quote the paper, “if these excessive gamblers become physiologically aroused when they win or nearly win, then in their minds they are not constantly losing but constantly nearly winning”.

It is this cognitive misinterpretation (or misrepresentation) that is related to the illusion of control. After all, you are always so close to winning (and not constantly losing). For certain gamblers, this illusion is so powerful that a near-miss is seen as a reflection of their skill that enables them to get very close to the jackpot.

Clark [1] investigated conducted this research on near-misses in slightly different conditions with a two-reel slot machine simulator: near-miss symbols were either randomly selected by the computer or player selected. The participants who had the illusory control over the near-miss symbol rated their chances of winning to be significantly higher than those who did not have control over the to-match symbol. Moreover, participants reported near-misses to be as even more unpleasant than regular loses, being associated with greater urges to continue playing.

In the same study, Clark had participants undergo functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while playing their slot machine simulator. Their results indicated that, for non-problem gamblers, the areas activated by wins were distinct from the areas activated by near-misses. However, for problem gamblers, wins and near-misses activated overlapping areas of the brain. This indicated that near-misses activate brain structures that are widely known to be part of a subcortical system that mediates behavioural reinforcement.

Although being unpleasant outcomes, near-misses were shown to activate areas of the brain associated with reward, a puzzling result caused by our non-homogenous mesolimbic system. This system has, at least, two components: the consummatory reward component, responsible for the subjective ‘liking’ of exciting enjoyment; and the appetitive component, responsible for generating the anticipatory ‘wanting’ of opportunities that lead to satisfaction of needs. In another study also conducted by Clark et. al., [2], using the same two-reel simulator, psychophysiological responses were sought after, using SCR. In this study, near-misses led to higher SCRs than full losses, but only when the gambler chose the to-be-matched symbol, which goes in line with the illusion of control that these events enable on the player.

Previous studies also cited looking upon the Post-Response Pauses (PRP) on different outcomes, showing that the PRP increased with the magnitude of the win. The bigger the win, the longer the pause. This constituted one of the authors’ hypotheses, which is that large PRPs for pleasurable outcomes and no PRPs for frustrating outcomes should be identifiable. The authors also sought to demonstrate that SCR amplitute would also scale with the win size. If near-misses are misclassified as wins, then they should stimulate the consummatory reward component of our body, and consequently have longer PRPs than regular loses. Also, if near-misses are interpreted as frustrating loses, then the consummatory reward component should not be activated, because we do not like the outcome, and the PRP duration following near-misses should be shorter than for regular loses  (or have the same duration at most).

The method adopted by the authors consisted in testing 122 players in total for both skin conductance response and post-response pauses when playing on a slot machine simulator (recruited from The participants were assessed in regards to their Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI), constituting a diversified population of non-problem gamblers, at risk, and problem gamblers. The slot machine simulator used was tailored to accurately represent the characteristics of a real slot machine, playing a winning song of fixed length for all the wins while exhibiting flashing symbols when such event happens. When the player loses, however, no jingle or flashing symbols are present. All the other aspects of a real slot machine are simulated in this software like bet size, spin outcome displays and others. Participants played a series of 12 experimental blocks of 40 spins each, divided in two experiments.

PRP increased, for winning outcomes, as the credit value increased. Nevertheless, the PRP duration for classic  near-misses was shorter than the one present in loses, reflecting the undesirable or ‘unpleasant’ effect of these events (more unpleasant than loses).

The authors also found that not just the PRP, but also the SCR, scales with the credit size of the win, which goes in line with their hypothesis.

Lastly, the authors also obtained a peculiar result. Classic near-misses, where the jackpot symbol misses the last reel by being one position above or below, have a higher SCR than losses and non-classic near-misses. It is also visible that the order in which the jackpot symbols land on the payline is crucial, visible by the different SCR between both near-miss types. In the non-classic near-miss, both PRP and SCR resemble those of a loss. This combination of large SCRs but short PRP supported the authors’ hypothesis that near-misses are interpreted as frustrating losses rather than misconstrued wins.

If near-misses are frustrating losses, they can increase the propensity to keep playing, fostering gambling, by activating the appetitive component of the mesolimbic reward system, perpetuating the impression that the next win is imminent, thus playing a key role in the addictive behaviour of compulsive gambling.


I enjoyed the deep literature review, particularly the section where some biology and biochemistry come into play. I loved the granularity which the authors went through to explain this addictive behaviour, starting with the simple gesture of pulling the lever, going down to having a mesolimbic reward system that can be triggered by frustration.

I also found the main research topic to be interesting since the authors’ went after an interesting dichotomy, or loop-hole, in the literature. They found good results that ground the fact that near-misses do foster gambling and that are a dangerous thing.

Further References

  1. Clark, L., Lawrence, A. J., Astley-Jones, F., & Gray, N. (2009). Gambling near-misses enhance motivation to gamble and recruit win-related brain circuitry.Neuron61(3), 481-490.
  2. Clark, L., Crooks, B., Clarke, R., Aitken, M. R., & Dunn, B. D. (2012). Physiological responses to near-miss outcomes and personal control during simulated gambling. Journal of Gambling Studies28(1), 123-137.

Tangible interaction in tabletop games


Reference Information

Bakker, S., Vorstenbosch, D., van den Hoven, E., Hollemans, G., & Bergman, T. (2007, June). Tangible interaction in tabletop games: studying iconic and symbolic play pieces. In Proceedings of the international conference on Advances in computer entertainment technology (pp. 163-170). ACM.


This paper describes a study on the role of game tokens (tangible objects) in the process of learning the game mechanics of a tabletop game.

The research group focused on digital tabletop games while using two sets of objects for this study: i) a set of iconic tokens, which are representative of the meaning of the token in question; and ii) symbolic tokens, which are an abstract representation of the component of interest. They conducted a thorough study with 30 participants, in which they looked after which of these two types of tabletop tokens conveys a better understanding of their role in the game, the game itself, as well as which creates a better game experience in terms of fun.

In the end, their statistical results were deemed as not being relevant, although, from the data that was gathered from the questionnaires, the participants demonstrated a clear preference for iconic tokens, reporting that they had felt more fun while using such game pieces.


The authors begin by describing the advantages of having digital tabletop games in opposition to playing them on the traditional (and well-succeeded)  cardboard medium. The progress of computers and the advances in Human-Computer Interaction have allowed, and will further allow, to explore new ways of conveying information to us, humans, in more natural ways. One such example is the advent of digital tabletops, that combine the digital world with physical interaction. These tables can detect physical objects users interact with, making these tables an ideal candidate for playing digital board games. One other advantage of such computing devices is that it allows for multiple people to gather around it and interact with it at the same time, just like what is possible in the traditional medium.

Following this brief explanation of what digital tabletops are capable, the authors take a glance at how the players of digital tabletop games can interact with them. It was mentioned that some of these interactive tables allow the use of objects which are detectable upon interaction. Physical objects that are tangible and graspable by the players is very important because it bridges the gap of interaction in a way that is more natural when playing tabletop games, rather than dragging sprites across a screen.

These tangible objects, just like in regular board games, can either have a symbolic or iconic design. An example of an iconic tangible object is a cannon or soldier token when playing a game of Risk. This sort of object is immediately recognized by the player, despite his level of experience. By opposition, a symbolic token, and considering the same example from above, would be replacing the cannon by a wooden cube and the soldier by a plastic disk. Upon looking at such tokens, it is not immediately clear to the player which is which and what is its intended purpose.

In order to study the differences between the use of iconic and symbolic tangible play pieces, the authors developed and implemented a game called Weathergods, a game set in the Arabic savannah, for two to four players.

A draught is threatening the harvests, and each player plays as a camel rider from his own village in a quest for gold that will be spent as tribute to the gods. The first player to buy all the offerings, in the correct order, is declared the winner of the game. The game board  displays a map that is divided into 128 square tiles where the camel riders can move across. For this game, three different classes of tangible play pieces for interaction were provided, in both iconic and symbolic versions: camel rider, bandit and detector. 

The camel rider represents the first piece and shows the location of the player on the game board. The second play piece, the bandit, steals money from players. There is only one bandit on the board which can be used by every players, a concept similar to the thief available in the game Settlers of Catan. The third play piece is the detector. The function of this token is to reveal hidden gold. Each player has a detector and can place this piece on one of the tiles near his camel rider. If gold is hidden underneath that tile, the crystal ball in the detector will show a yellow light, only visible to the player handling the detector at that moment.

Tangible play pieces used in the game Weathergods.

Tangible play pieces used in the game Weathergods.

The authors sought after identifying the impact in the gameplay that having play pieces with different representations might cause. It focused on the actual difference in game experience, divided into three categories; the understanding of the game, the understanding of the play pieces used in the game and the fun experienced during the game. For this matter, the participants played the game together with two experimenters. After 10 minutes of play (test 1), the play pieces were replaced by the other available version (test 2). Half of the study population started with the iconic pieces, switching to symbolic pieces later on, while the other half began playing with symbolic pieces first. The participants were not given an entire explanation of the game in order to get better results. After the first play session (10 minutes), the participants filled a questionnaire with questions regarding the topics already mentioned. They then played for another 10 minutes playing with the other play pieces, being interviewed after this second play session about the same topics.

In order to interpret the results for understanding of the play pieces, scores were calculated for each participant. The participants were evaluated  during each condition by being asked to name the functions of the play pieces. Each correct function was worth 1 point, or 0.5 if only the representation was known. To understand whether the participants had learned between test 1 and test 2, the scores on each test were calculated. If a participant had an increase of score from test 1 to test 2, the authors assumed that the increase of score (naturally) reflected increased learning of the role of the play pieces. Despite the fact that, participants who were tested by playing the game with iconic pieces first scored higher learning scores than those who played in reverse, a t-test for statistical correlation revealed that this result was not significant ( t = 5.06, df = 28, p < 0.001).

The questionnaire filled in between play sessions was used to assess the level of understanding of the game from the players. If certain key words or sentences were mentioned in the answers of the players, they were awarded greater of fewer points, thus adopting a similar scoring mechanism than the one previously mentioned. Once more, the participants from the first condition scored higher, but no significant correlation was found (t = 0.91, df = 28, n.s.).

The final result described by the authors is the level of fun during the game, which was assessed with the aforementioned questionnaire as well, by adopting again the same sort of scoring mechanism. The means of both groups did not differ much in regards to scores, and,  after conducting a t-test for independent groups, the result was revealed to be not significant (t = 0.61, df = 27 , n.s.), which indicates that both groups have experienced the game as equally fun, regardless of the understanding of the play pieces and the game itself.

Nevertheless, despite most of the results being indicated as not statistically significant, the authors gathered the personal opinions of the players from the interviews conducted after both play sessions. These interviews revealed that participants, as a whole, found the most fun when playing the game with iconic play pieces, even thought the statistical results showed that both groups had the same level of fun. When asked about preference, the majority of the participants also stated that they preferred to play the game with the iconic tokens rather than their symbolic counterpart, particularly because these play pieces were compatible with the game’s theme.

The discussed reasons for change in this study are mostly the fact that the sessions were timed, hence the slower players did not experience the same events during the play sessions as faster players, and the fact that frequent players were not equally divided between the two groups. As it is predictable, upon conducting a t-test over the average scores of understanding of the game for frequent players and non-frequent players, the more seasoned players scored higher in understanding, a fact that was concluded as statistically significant.


The authors conclude that both study groups understood the play pieces and the game in an equal manner, despite the play pieces with which they played first. The experience, understanding and fun of the game is not influenced by the appearance of the play pieces. What the authors found remarkable was that, participants from group 1 (iconic play pieces first) scored higher both in the talk-aloud questions about the role of pieces, as well as in the questionnaire, when compared to group 2 participants, revealing that there is a higher understanding of the game if you play with more representative tokens first. To me, this is no real surprise, because this is what generally happens when you are first trying to understand how the game works. All the pictures, tokens and game mechanics details are new to you, so once you get used to them (after a play session), you are already accustomed or attuned to them, not really needing an accurate visual representation of what the token is supposed to be or do.

In my opinion, it is a bit sad that all the results revealed to be statistically insignificant, other than the fact that iconic play pieces were perceived as being more fun to play with and were the choice of preference. Nevertheless, what this tells us, in my view with the game designer hat is that, when you design a good game mechanic, the visuals are only but a mere accessory. This is visible to some extent in other types of games like the trend of indie games, where visuals can be deliberately crude, while the experience can still overthrow some of the best AAA titles.

Starcraft from the Stands: Understanding the Game Spectator


Reference Information

Cheung, G., & Huang, J. (2011, May). Starcraft from the stands: understanding the game spectator. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 763-772). ACM.


Spectating video games is becoming a frequent activity, particularly in the case of the popular Real Time Strategy game Starcraft 2. However, who are really the spectators that assist to the online battles of this game?

The paper describes a case study, based on collected materials from online sources, that aims to answer the following questions: i) Who are the spectators and why do they spectate?; ii) How do different stakeholders affect the spectator experience?; iii) What makes spectating a game enjoyable?

As a result of their research, the authors propose several spectator types or personas, as well as their place in the ecosystem created by the parts involved in the whole experience. They conclude that, rather than just presenting the highest amount of information to the spectator as possible, it is more important to allow the stakeholders, players and commentators, to be able to decide how and when should they uncover the information that the spectators crave for.


The paper begins with a description of what a spectator is in the view of previous literature, which is said to be someone who can be just as immersed in the game reality as the players who have a direct hand in the outcome of the game. Spectators often are people who have adopted the values of the game-world, its intricacies and lingo. Nevertheless, there can be spectators who are not as well lectured about the game as others, and those are said to be outside the magic circle of the game.ID-1009868 A well known case of the success of spectating a sports event is the gladiatorial times of the Roman civilization, where, albeit the players often had their lives at stake, the crowd was ever zealous. This is described by Johan Huizinga’s work as a “shift” of competitive impulse from “protagonist to spectator” [1], and something that can be witnessed every day in major sports events like soccer or hockey matches.

These are the spectators inside the magic circle, those who master the art of “yelling at players, telling them what to do”, who know all the ins and outs of the game. It is possible, however, to have spectators who are outside this magic circle. Those who do not understand the values of the game presented, and those who do not adopt the values of play that the game has, are considered to be outside spectators. A family member who happens upon a game already in progress, who looks at the pieces in the board, watching them move, lacks understanding of the game and thus is an outside spectator. One example presented as a player who is an outside spectator is the “griefer” players, who understand the game but do not adopt its values, seeking to undermine the experience of other players (typically by killing them in the game).

The authors then describe sports spectating and its similarities to video game spectating. The reasons for spectating sports, or video games, seem to be the same: stress relief, achievement, aesthetics, social skills and family skills. Sports events are one of the last social outlets in the urban environments (that do not directly involve consuming ridiculous amounts of “ethanolic” beverages), often contributing to the alleviation of loneliness. Commentators also have a strong presence in both sports and video games matches. They affect the spectator experience, generally due to their commenting styles. Research indicates that spectators find matches more enjoyable, exciting, involving and interesting when the commentary depicts the players as enemies, rather than friends or neutral parties [2].

The paper continues describing the conducted study, giving a brief overview about what Starcraft 2 is, what are its spectating technologies and why use it as a study platform. Their method consisted of grounded theory, which started in the collection of online material such as videos, blog posts, comments and others. The data was open coded, in an iterative fashion, by using basic descriptive categories that were procedurally reviewed and refined.

After sifting through all the data, several types of spectator, or Personas, were identified, as well as their interconnections, when possible. They were described as follows:

Spectator Type Description Place in the Ecosystem
The Bystander Uninformed – Little understanding of the game mechanics. Lacks knowledge for explaining the meaning of what is happening.Uninvested – Played Starcraft many years ago, and now rediscovered the successor, triggering his return to the game.  –
The Curious  Focuses on knowledge gaps about the game. As long as there is something incomprehensible, he will spectate.  –
The Inspired  After spectating, they are eager to play the game themselves, sometimes trying the strategies they had just witnessed. Enthusiasm directed at the game itself. Do not require much information to feel inspired.  –
The Pupil  Wants to understand the game and the techniques of the players. Differs from the Inspired because they often spectate content with richer amounts of detailed information, so that they can understand the impact on their strategies.  Look towards Commentators. Commentators detail the strategies that the Pupil absorb.
The Unsatisfied  Sees spectating as a weaker substitute for the activity he would rather do. This spectator would rather be playing the game than to spectate it.
The Entertained  Those who find satisfaction in watching the game, without the stress of playing it. Similar to someone who watches a movie, as a purely entertaining activity.  –
The Assistant  Those who seek to act as assistants, giving advice to someone who plays beside them. Act like a second pair of eyes, reminding the player of actions, or as a partner who can feed snacks to the player for example.  –
The Commentator  Convey excitement and emotion around the game. Different casting styles just like shown in previous studies ensure better results with the crowd, in terms of excitement.  Labor to shape the experience for their consumers (all the spectators)
The Crowd  The crowd ensures for group hebaviours in itself, just like in traditional sporting events.  Engages with Commentators. Make their own analysis and predictions within the group.

There are plenty spectator types, but what really makes spectating enjoyable? From the gathered data, the authors understood that spectators appreciate aspects such as the spectacle of the battles and graphics, the user interface and how the game allowed them to perceive the action, tactics and units in competitive play. On top of that, they report a finding that they say to be intrinsic to Starcraft but less common in other games, a concept called Information Asymmetry. This no more than the facts that are known to either party, or none, during the match.

Information Example
Unknown to Spectator  Attack strategy of the player.
Unknown to Player  Position of enemy units.
Unknown to both  Outcome of a close battle.

This asymmetry helps to build the tension for the spectator in several situations. These can be when the spectator wants to watch a strategy of his favourite player to be executed flawlessly, enjoying a display of skill. The fact that what the player will do is unknown to the spectator is what builds up the tension for the Pupil or Curious spectators, and this constitutes the first case of asymmetry.

The second case is when no information is known by any party, which happens nearly in every game. This may be due to chance or skill and is a source of excitement for both players and spectators, because it builds up the tension until the unknown gets to be revealed.

ID-10058060The final case of information asymmetry is when the spectator has information about the game that is unknown to the player. Like in the now popular Texas Hold’em poker tournaments shown on TV, the spectator can tell who is bluffing and who is not because he has access to the hands of each player, while players can only see their own cards. In Starcraft, this translates into knowing the consequences of some actions that the players might take, like carrying a transport ship full of troops to a zone where the enemy has his defensive line. The spectator keeps on his toes because he has the understanding of the impact that the loss of the transport ship will represent to the player and to the game.

Information Asymmetry is also a valuable tool in the hands of Commentators. In Starcraft 2, one can not see the play map all at once. The camera is focused on a part of the map chosen by the Commentator, who can keep changing it with mouse clicks or scrolls. That said, a Commentator can omit showing or revealing certain facts like where the enemy units lie in wait, or even the fact that the enemy has units, just to add up to the already present tension, leading to suspense.

A spectator, after reading through all the findings, is typically informed and invested, and is someone who can be mapped inside or outside of the magic circle of the game according to these two variables. The more informed and invested he is, and the more there is to understand about the game, the deeper he is in the magic circle, fact which is confirmed by the Pupil persona. Another finding denotes two attitudes towards playing versus watching. For some, playing is the preferred activity, while for others, spectating fuels a desire to play. As a conclusion note, the authors state that games should be designed to give as much information to the spectator as possible. Notwithstanding, games need to reveal just enough information for the spectator for him to understand what is happening. Too much information might act as the dreaded “spoilers” of TV series or movies, collapsing the desired game suspense that the spectator sought after, provided by Information Asymmetry.


Structure wise, some sentences seemed misplaced, or seemed to have some grammar errors. Nonetheless, it was extremely curious to see the various types of spectators documented in this paper. Looking back to some discussions with friends, I can vividly recall the views and standpoints of some of them in regards to some spectated matches. It is fun to see how, after about 5 years, I can fit them into these precise categories described in the paper.

What is most interesting to me is that these spectator categories might not just apply to video games, but also to board games (or other games perhaps). Often, when I watch a video review of a board game, or some more complex video where an entire game is plaid, I feel Inspired by the game (and generally have to spend a couple of dollars the weekend after). Some other spectators might not feel Inspired and might rather feel Unsatisfied or just Bystanding.

As a final remark, I disagree with what the authors say in regards to Information Asymmetry being something really strong in Starcraft 2 but not really common in other games. I differ in the sense that, most of the online first person shooters do allow for spectating, and, although their spectating tools might not be as strong as the ones that Starcraft 2 has, these games also provide this asymmetry in a strong way. No player is aware of the position of others, neither the spectator knows the strategy of the players. To me, this is not a mater of exclusivity to Starcraft 2, but rather a mater of other games not having such powerful spectating tools, and this is what gives Starcraft 2 the edge on Information Asymmetry.


  1. Huizinga, J. (1938). Homo ludens: proeve fleener bepaling van het spel-element der cultuur. Haarlem: Tjeenk Willink.
  2. Bryant, J., Brown, D., Comisky, P. W., & Zillmann, D. (1982). Sports and spectators: Commentary and appreciation. Journal of Communication32(1), 109-119.

Image Credits

Chores or Fun?

tokensReference Information

Xu, Y., Barba, E., Radu, I., Gandy, M., & MacIntyre, B. (2011). Chores are fun: Understanding social play in board games for digital tabletop game design. In Think Design Play: The fifth international conference of the Digital Research Association (DIGRA) (Vol. 16).


When playing board games, players often have to undertake various tasks in regards to keeping the game in its correct state after making their own plays. These tasks are what this study looks at, in an attempt to understand the relevant social behaviours that might be born from such interactions. The outcome of this study, the nuances of several observed social behaviours, proves that tabletop game design can be further improved to better transmit the experience of playing a real board game and its social components.

The authors work on Tabletop Handheld Augmented Reality (THAR) games research. Their scope with this study was to understand what social behaviours or interactions emerge during play sessions of various board games, so that the game design decisions for games in other types of media, tabletop games for instance, can be taken in a more informed and conscious way. For this purpose, the study consisted of video recording several play sessions of four different board games (Puerto Rico, Heroscape, Flux, Ingenious), while also registering the social play that took place between the players. Five different interaction categories where identified: (i) Chores; (ii) Reflection on gameplay; (iii) Strategies; (iv) Out-of-game; (v) Game itself. The paper focused primarily in the Chores type of interaction, as it was the most promising and interesting result.

The study concludes by exemplifying how can THAR games be improved with the results that were gathered from this study, while making a parallelism with sociology theories to further reinforce the quality and applicability of the findings.


The paper begins with a brief Related Work section, perhaps because this research topic  is yet to be thoroughly investigated. First, since the research group works deeply with technology-dependent games, an introduction to work in the field of tabletop games is made. Tabletop games draw a hefty chunk of inspiration from board games, both in their physicality, by gathering players around a virtual game board with virtual tokens, and in their sociability, leveraging players to interact with each other as if they were playing a regular board game (Mandryk and Maranan, 2002). Moreover, tabletop games have been developed with great resemblance to board games, allowing the same types of physical interactions, with the particular nuance that represented tokens might have a slightly different spatial representation (Baker et. al. 2007) due to the lack of a third dimension on a screen.

The authors also take a quick glance at how co-location is important for social play. The presence of all players around a common interaction device, a game board or a game controller, while watching someone else play is important because it increases the emergence of social interactions, be them speech, gestures or others. From these interactions, two categories can be derived: Internal or stimulated social interactions, which are the one which are directly tied to the gameplay, and external or natural social interactions, which relate to the existing world roles that people carry or project into their gameplay. In the particular case of this study, the internal interactions were studied and analysed using the Interaction Ritual theory (Collins, 2004) which looks at the ingredients and outcomes of successful social interactions, despite the platform of interaction (in this case, games).

Like described above, four different games were used to gather video recordings and personal notes on the social interactions of players. The study made sure that all the players played the different games, which raised the problem of identifying the same social reactions from different players in the same games, i.e., although two players might become frustrated, their frustration manifestations might look or feel different.

Upon analyzing the data, five different internal social interaction categories emerged:  (i) Chores; (ii) Reflection on gameplay; (iii) Strategies; (iv) Out-of-game; (v) Game itself. Since the research group works with tabletop games and handheld games, they focused on the first interaction category.

Chores are all the tasks that players see as extremely boring while playing a game. These can be to replenish tokens, update score markers, clean-up the board, shuffling cards, reading cards, etc. They are basically all the game state maintenance actions that must be taken several times during a play session. Naturally, such tasks are identifiable as perfect candidates for automation, something which digital games excel at. That way, the game could became more fluid since it has the tedious tasks streamlined, removing the time where the player could feel bored. What is interesting to see is that, according to the findings of the authors, Chores is the category in which most of the social interactions take place. These tedious tasks slowed the pace of the game and created time that players wanted to fill with other activities, showing evidence of greater co-presence within the group, which in turn heightened the awareness of others’ actions.

For me, this is extremely interesting and fun to read as part of research results. As a board gamer myself, I find this dichotomy to be intriguing because, what happens during most of the play sessions is that, chores seem to make players deeply bored, even myself! But now, if I look into the past, perhaps some of the greatest jokes and laughs took place during this hiatus period of chores, often fitting external jokes about some of the players into the game world.

The authors then provide findings in four sub-interactions within Chores that can be: interactions around object maneuvering, rule enforcement through social agreement, interactions and communications when waiting for someone to take a turn and collaborative learning about the rules.

In the first two sub-interactions, the authors find that physical objects did (and do) facilitate interaction and tracking processes. Allowing the players to roll physical dice births exhagerated actions which create a higher level of shared mood within the group, like when purposefully toppling the king piece in a game of chess. Boardgames also created room for custom “house rules” because rule enforcement is not automatic. This leveraged players to agree to exceptions in the rules or to allow errors during play. Both these two sub-interactions externalize the tension among players and allow them to achieve the “synchronization of emotions” mentioned in the IR Theory, evidencing the success of the interaction facilitated by boardgames.

Another interesting finding  was that players are either performers or spectators when playing turn-based games, something which is natural to board games. The main conversation generally  occurred between two players, the performers, while all the others retreated to the role of spectators, who struggled to become the focus of attention. This very true in my experience, as I have played with many groups and there always seemed to be a segregation of smaller groups, specially if we are talking about acquaintances versus friends. What I also find frequent, and see reflected in the results found, is that one or two players are normally very pompous and really like to “be in the spotlight”, while others tend to be less expressive or make less ruckus. The consequence is that players often joke or discuss about the last plays, especially when taking a look at the last takes of the performer players. Being in the spotlight has its costs, reinforcing the co-location of players mentioned in the IR Theory.

The authors also found that board games promoted shared learning. The players who picked up the rules faster passed their understanding to other players while reinforcing their own learning. When there are other players around, who have bigger and deeper understanding of the rules, it is not needed to consult the manual from page one to one hundred. It was easier and more frequent for the players to just start playing and refer to the manual should they come across any strange situation or exception. This is also very true for me, and not just with board games. It is always more interactive and engaging to “piggy-back” on the knowledge of others when being co-located with them. I can think of the example of learning Dungeons and Dragons with my former dungeon master, as opposed to trying to learn it from the books themselves. Although the manuals might make a tremendous effort to detail and explain the rules clearly, it feels more rewarding to hear someone else guide you through the rules than reading a book for 2 hours and still not really getting all the details (this happened to me with a board game called Vinhos)!

The authors also talk about the other social interaction categories, but since they were not the focus of the discussion, they were not as detailed as the Chores category and drew smaller conclusions from them. Upon laying all the discoveries “on the table”, the authors frame their findings around the THAR games they develop, and how they could be specifically improved on some of their aspects. They account for the lack of physical tokens in tabletop games, the lack of room for social performance and dramatization that tabletop games do allow and stimulate, and the lack of flexibility for exceptions and house rules.


Since I have been a board gamer for quite some time, this read was quite captivating for me. I found that the reading was very light (no statistics) and, although it might have seemed as a “documentation of the obvious” about board games versus digital tabletop games, it is always important to publish this sort of findings. To quote one of my Professors in Portugal – “If no one publishes a paper about whether cars can have square wheels, there is no scientific documentation on such fact, thus being important to study this same fact and document it… even if it sounds silly.”.

The fact that Chores turned out to be the most socially relevant interaction in the whole study caught me by surprise, especially when it is backed by sociology theories that reinforce the importance of the interactions that take place during what is considered to be a boring period of play. As to the future of board games and/or digital tabletop games, I might have a biased opinion.

I love board games and, to me, board games will not be dethroned by digital tabletop games in regards to social interactions in a near future. I think that they will instead meld together into a hybrid sort of games, mostly like an augmented board game  much like the False Prophets game (Mandryk and Maranan, 2002). That way you will still have room for the theatrical way that some one rolls dice and SCREAMS from the top of their lungs when they critically hit that colossal giant in his Achilles heel which makes it fall and perish or the look of pure sheer anger when your move completely destroys the plans of your friends. Once the full recreation of the physical and social experiencse of board games is achieved (like when you throw your dice and everything on the board gets messy and everyone laughs or complains), then is when digital games will finally surpass board games, because the advantages of having a digital board with improved animations and graphics will unlock further game designs and better gaming experiences, while leaving room for the equally important social aspect of co-located gaming. 

Further References

  1. Mandryk, R. L., & Maranan, D. S. (2002, April). False prophets: exploring hybrid board/video games. In CHI’02 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 640-641). ACM.
  2. Bakker, S., Vorstenbosch, D., van den Hoven, E., Hollemans, G., & Bergman, T. (2007, June). Tangible interaction in tabletop games: studying iconic and symbolic play pieces. In Proceedings of the international conference on Advances in computer entertainment technology (pp. 163-170). ACM.
  3. Collins, R. (2004). Interaction ritual chains. Princeton university press.
  4. Nilsen, T., & Looser, J. (2005). Tankwar-Tabletop war gaming in augmented reality. In 2nd International Workshop on Pervasive Gaming Applications, PerGames (Vol. 5).

Mandatory Fun: Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work

Reference Information

Mollick, E., & Rothbard, N. (2012). Mandatory Fun: Gamification and the Impact of Games at Work. The Wharton School Research Paper, (22).


This paper presents a study on whether gamification can provide desirable benefits that improve the affective experience and the performance of employees at work, while also providing a further analysis and highlight of the role of consent in games.

To achieve their results, the authors of this paper designed a field experiment with the salespeople of a growing technology company, divided into three conditions where gamification and game aspects were either (a) entirely present, (b) not present and (c) partially present. In the first condition, participants were exposed to what the authors call a “Game” condition, where they were engaged in activities for which they were already incentivized for – closing deals with customers, while being exposed to basketball themed leaderboards and using basketball lingo to define terms like closing deals and cold calls. In condition (b) participants had no exposure to any gamification means, as they were the control group, while condition (c) participants were exposed to leaderboards without any basketball theme association. In each of these conditions, the participants were also exposed to a short survey at the start and at the end of the study on positive and negative affect, as well as to a small set of questions also at the end of their participation to assess their degree of consent to the game.

The study concludes that games do increase the positive affect and performance at work when employees consent to them, and increase negative affect and weaken performance when consent is absent. The authors also concluded that employees who play games outside work have a higher degree of consent to games at work. and that partial gamification, when there are no mechanics that make it fun, worsens the results when compared to a condition absent of gamification.


This paper begins with an incredibly thorough contextualization of the place that games at work have in our society and in research. From the several studies presented as references, one can understand that there is no real need for incredibly complex game mechanics to motivate workers to perform more efficiently in their tasks while at the same time increasing the affect towards fellow colleagues or even towards their managers. Such is the example provided by Donald Roy’s “Banana Time” game, where all that was asked was that a banana was stolen from the lunchbox of one of the designated factory’s workers. Games at work are also presented as, from a worker’s perspective, a means to pass the time, something that reduces fatigue and an activity that promotes skill practice, while providing social and non-monetary rewards that would not be achievable otherwise.
In my personal opinion, these studies all boil down to the same question: Why shouldn’t games at work be a common practice? They are a healthy way to humanize the work environment, which is commonly known as not being the most friendly place on earth due to the competitive nature of work in modern society. To put it in the same words of the authors, work isn’t always fun, games are fun, so turning work into a game will make work fun and lead to happier employees.

Were it not a paper about gamification, it would not have a broad literature review of this field like the work of Sebastian Detering. The authors make the bridge between games at work and gamifitaion, and the psychology behind it, by introducing concepts from the Self-Determination Theory of Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (the intrinsic and extrinsic motivations that we all know) and the “yummi delicious” concept of Chocolate covered broccoli of Amy Bruckman – Hide non-motivating tasks under a layer of fun games.
But why go through all the trouble of implementing games at work by gamifying tasks? Let me tell you my story. I worked in a Software Engineering company, a huge one with about five thousand employees (I am not joking), with an extremely competitive environment. From the first week off you are supposed to know all the ins and outs of the whole software of a department, all the company’s structure and organization, among a huge list of cumbersome tasks that no newcomer is prepared for, while your managers are expect you to complete while they are “pointing a gun at you”. If you fail, you are out. To me, the biggest challenge was that there was definitely no intrinsic motivation to accomplish these tasks while someone is observing you in such a controlling and oppressive position, let alone the difficulty of understanding all the monolithic, non-commented code that was left for me to work on.
It was with a huge sarcastic grin that I read this part of the paper, because it proves that the managerial view that  games are for kids and that a workplace should never be either a place for fun or for forging new friendships with colleagues could not be more far from the truth.

And what is the consequence of disregarding the importance of the affective relations at work? Yet again, there is a broad review of the literature in the paper about how games at work are important as they have the key function of improving the positive affect people feel when they are at work. While gamification’s goal is not to make work more interesting in itself, it is indeed focused on improving the affective experiences that take place at work.

The paper touches another concept that it was new to me in the sense that I had never really researched on it, although I had thought of it as a consequence of gamifying work. If you are a manager of a company and you are gamifying the workplace of your employees, won’t they feel like these games are Mandatory Fun? Will not the game be felt as yet another imposed task on the work experience? Would it not make the work environment (even) more tense and deter the affective experiences that are generated? This is where the authors talk about consent to games. Games at work can indeed be seen as an obligatory experience, but there is an interesting reference in the paper that really caught my attention. There is a study of Michel Anteby on consent at an aeronautics plant. Anteby found that employees, after getting the permission of the managerial staff, used spare parts to create sculptures or pieces of art for themselves. On the other hand, the results were very different when the employees were told to do  sculptures or pieces of art for the managers. This dichotomy between being allowed to and being told to is particularly interesting, as it is clear that there is a different behavior when there is consent and when there is imposition. Finally, the authors hypothesize on the consent to games at work, formulating that employees that have had previous game experiences will more likely consent to workplace game experiences because they have not just accepted the importance of games, but have also embraced the sort of games that are used in gamification of work environments as researched by Mark Suchman.


Given the current on-going push for the gamification conference, this paper was actually an interesting and enjoyable read. It is a gold-mine for references since it is quite a long paper, with a good study that demonstrates that gamification is a powerful method when applied correctly. Its structure was really good since the literature review was ample, well written and very well articulated.

One additional bonus of this paper is that it overlaps my current study in punctuality which looks at gamification of work environments as well.

I feel that the movie Office Space is a great parallel way to visualize this paper, not in a sense that we should all become angry computer nerds at work, but rather in a what if sense. If the workplace nurtures a social, playful and collaborative environment, it will not end up like in the movie and everyone reaps great benefits, be them positive affect, increased productivity or overall happiness and enjoyment, instead of keeping the work isn’t fun motto in every employee’s life.

Further References

  1. Roy, D. F. (1959). ” Banana Time”: Job Satisfaction and Informal Interaction.Human organization18(4), 158-168.
  2. Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011, May). Gamification. using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts. In PART 2———–Proceedings of the 2011 annual conference extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems (pp. 2425-2428). ACM.
  3. Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2011). Self-determination theory. Handbook of theories of social psychology1, 416-433.
  4. Bruckman, A. (1999, March). Can educational be fun. In Game Developer’s Conference, San Jose, California.
  5. Anteby, M. (2008). Identity incentives as an engaging form of control: Revisiting leniencies in an aeronautic plant. Organization Science19(2), 202-220.
  6. Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of management review20(3), 571-610.

Image obtained from on July 02 2013, licensed under the Creative Commons License Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported. Credit goes to deviantart user kylexcraig.