Paper: Physiological compliance for social gaming analysis: Cooperative versus competitive play

Written by Michael Miljanovic


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.

Reference Information

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 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.

2 thoughts on “Paper: Physiological compliance for social gaming analysis: Cooperative versus competitive play

  1. Brittany Kondo

    It’s inconvenient that the authors did not adequately justify their choice of game, as this would also be one of my first questions when reading this paper. Since this is a recent paper, I’m curious to why they selected an older, classic game from the large number of existing games. I too, cannot understand the reason for varying experiment location. Re-locating to people’s homes requires effort from the experimenters, so failing to justify this variable is questionable. If they intended to evaluate the impact of environment on game play, perhaps it should have been a separate study?

    I skimmed the paper and found the participants were older than I expected. Following up with studies involving other age groups might be a good idea. Additionally, the existing friendships among paired participants could bias the results (playing against or with your friend, as opposed to a stranger)

    In addition to the game you suggested, I would be interested in seeing a similar study using motion sensing input such as the Kinect, where interaction is more natural, corresponding to real world actions. Specifically, in games where a “team” is clearly represented (e.g., playing a tennis game on the same or opposing team), the competitive and co-operative aspects of gameplay may be enhanced. However, this type of game will degrade the validity of certain physiological measures e.g., heart rate.

  2. Dan Buckstein

    Mike, great review and presentation. Sorry it took so long to post this comment but I thought about it immediately and it has been in my mind ever since.

    Your post and Brittany’s comment are very well-put. I agree with everything. What I really want to comment on is your choice of the more appropriate game: Mario Party. This was my third game on the N64 and is no doubt the bank of many of my childhood hours. I played that game for so long that soon after getting it I was able to crush the dreams of my challengers. Even when I was not able to win the game, I was consistently able to hold the title of mini game star.

    Enough of that – I probably wasn’t that good anyway. Although, with the time I have spent playing, I do have something to say about mini games. First, looking at the example used in the paper, Bomberman, the rounds are essentially equivalent to a Mario Party mini game. Mario Party would be a most excellent choice to follow up on this paper with because of the variety of both competitive and cooperative mini games available to the player. As the years went by and Nintendo fixed emergent issues in the first few Mario Party titles, crispier graphics and new and improved mini games were created to fit the theme of the new GameCube installment of Mario Party 4. Because this game is much fresher in my mind, the impact of its mini games is also more familiar to me than those of the original game. Mario Party 4 only has nine 2 vs. 2 mini games, few of which pack a punch. To one-up your Desert Dash example, my favourite is the one titled Dungeon Duos. This game would be best to demonstrate the cooperative elements of gameplay because it requires coordination between teammates yelling at each other for help in each puzzle in the map. However, when cooperation fails, Dungeon Duos ruins friendships. If you want to know what I’m talking about, play the game!

    As an improvement to that, consider a mini game which includes both cooperation AND competition: Cheep-Cheep Sweep. In this mini game, all four players, in teams of two, share the same screen and are required to sneak through a pond and gently collect fish, without scaring them away. However, nothing is stopping one player from stomping through the battlefield and screwing over an opponent while they try to scoop up a fish, scaring all the fish away, thus ushering the fish towards their own side. Furthermore, players can screw up their own teammates in the same manner! This is where knowing the mechanics of the mini game and sharing a common interest will definitely help. As a conclusion to this point, Cheep-Cheep Sweep also ruins friendships.

    I think the moral of this story is that Mario Party will either ruin friendships or create comrades. It would definitely be a powerhouse of a selection for this kind of study. You definitely have a base here for a follow-up. Good post, good pick.

    P.S. Disclaimer: I legitimately thought of this post and Dungeon Duos as you were giving your presentation. The content of this comment was not influenced by anyone else’s discovery of and interest in Mario Party 4; I’ve just been rather occupied. I’m just glad now that I have other people who agree with me :) Good job!

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