I chose the following paper due to my personal interest in the topic of competitive vs. cooperative gameplay. As someone who was an avid gamer in the past, I believe I have a fair bit of experience and insight into the differences between these two types of games, as well as some ideas on how players behave based on which type of game they are playing. I was curious as to what sorts of conclusions the authors had found, as well what evidence supported their hypotheses.
Chanel, G., Matias Kivikangas, J., & Ravaja, N. (2012). Physiological compliance for social gaming analysis: cooperative versus competitive play. Interacting with Computers. British Informatics Society Limited. Retrieved from http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S095354381200046X. DOI: 10.1016/j.intcom.2012.04.012
This article examines the relationship between video game players’ self-reported social presence and their physiological compliance, i.e. the frequency at which players interact with each other at a physiological level. It simultaneously attempts to distinguish cooperative and competitive gameplay, and determine how physiological compliance differs between the two types of games. The authors hypothesized and then found evidence to support the theories that physiological compliance was linked with competitive game, as well as positively correlated with social presence. Their experiment used 21 pairs of participants, who were asked to play Bomberman with each other in either a competitive or cooperative fashion. Participants’ physiological responses to the game were measured with sensors, and they also completed a Game Experience Questionnaire (GEQ) to determine their empathy, positive/negative affect, and other elements of their social presence.
My personal interest in this study was focused primarily on the differences between competitive vs. cooperative gameplay. When I saw that the proposed game to be used in the experiment was Bomberman, I was particularly disappointed. As someone who is familiar with the series, I believe that this was a poor choice of game for the study. While the paper acknowledges that the choice of only one game was a limitation of their study, it does not justify why they chose only one game, and why that game was Bomberman. It seems like a very arbitrary choice, particularly since the game has several gameplay elements that may confound the study. For example, two players on the same team in a game of Bomberman typically do not need to interact with each other; in fact, the nature of the game is such that a player would want to minimize their proximity to their ally, and instead put their effort into destroying their enemies. It is not particularly surprising that the study found a higher level of physiological compliance for competitive gameplay, given that their ‘cooperative’ gameplay was not significantly different than a single player experience.
This is a screenshot from Hudson Soft’s Bomberman 2 (one of the older games in the series). Notice that each team member (of teams black and white) begins far away from their ally. It’s possible that the game can end with two team members never even encountering each other.
On a more positive note, I appreciated how the article made it fairly straightforward for someone (such as myself) who is unfamiliar with physiological analysis to understand the relevance of certain measures. Although the abundant use of abbreviations was a bit overwhelming at first, I soon became familiar with several of the relevant muscles, such as the ZM, OO, and CS. Still, it was somewhat frustrating to have to backtrack through the paper to find the names and descriptions of certain terms that I did not know. I felt at several times that the paper could simply have referred to the participants’ tendencies to smile or frown rather than “asynchronous CS activity.” However, I do understand that my opinion may not be shared by others who are well-versed in the study of human-computer interaction.
In contrast with the paper’s tendencies to use unfamiliar terminology, it seemed like many of the paper’s conclusions were incredibly straightforward or even obvious. For example, it is not particularly new or exciting to learn that synchronous smiling among two individuals is associated with more positive empathy. The paper also used location (at home vs. at the laboratory) as a secondary measure of the study, despite not discussing its relevance in the introduction. It is not adequately explained why the location was varied, but the lack of differences between home play and laboratory play imply ‘ecological validity of laboratory measures.’ Still, this seems rather unnecessary and is not a particularly interesting aspect of the study.
The choice of game is my number one issue with the study; I would be greatly interested in seeing a similar study done with a game that is more appropriate. The first hypothesis of the paper suggests that Bomberman’s cooperative mode may not lead to ‘rich interactions’, so why not choose a game that is more likely to? There was no mention of any reason that the study could not make use of two games: one for playing competitively, and one for playing cooperatively. In addition, there is also no clear distinction between what makes a game cooperative and what makes a game competitive. Two players may be playing on the same team, but perhaps competing with each other for a high score. The paper discusses the effects of common stimuli on compliance, and suggests that ‘physiological profiles will synchronize’ when two participants must accomplish the same movements simultaneously. It is my experience that Bomberman does not feature this type of gameplay, and there are likely to be other games that better represent cooperative gameplay. These sorts of intricacies should have more consideration than they are given in this study.
One of the mini-games in Nintendo’s Mario Party is called Desert Dash. Two teams of two players each must synchronize their movements to progress to the end of the stage. This is the sort of cooperative gameplay that may be preferable to Bomberman’s.
While I initially was quite interested in this paper, I have come to realize that there are a substantial number of flaws that were not immediately apparent. After reading statements such as increased negative social interactions during cooperative play being ‘not really plausible’, the paper’s content became rather questionable. I hope that in the future there will be more studies that cover similar subject matter using different methods which accommodate for such confounds as the choice of game used in the study.