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Old 19-10-2010, 14:43   #1
Michael
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A Game Study: Media Psychology Meets Need for Speed: Shift

Hi,

so by the time I start writing this it's been about two weeks since I finished my diploma thesis in media psychology, and I'd like to give you a short summary of the paper. Why? Well, because without Infel8 and the WRClient a major part of the thesis wouldn't have been possible, so I would like to help promoting the WRClient a little. Thank you again!

This text will not always be 100% correct in terms of scientific details and will be rather superficial, the exact details may eventually be provided in a journal article in the future (maybe with slightly enhanced results after more analysis of the data). And different from such scientific articles I don't mention the references here (the authors of theories, studies and so on), but if you are interested in some further reading I will edit them in.
So I hope it will be a bit entertaining: science and gaming.

But first: what was it all about? Presented as a play in three acts. If your bus departs in 5 minutes or something like that you may scroll to ACT III, that's where the wrecord-relevant action happens; but I highly recommend reading the whole text because there is much background-information about the experiment as a whole.

ACT I: To be or not to be Present.

The Theory

The thesis revolves around one specific phenomenon: the feeling of presence. Scientists have been arguing a lot until they roughly agreed upon a definition. Now there are still some other constructs which are closely related, but I think it's sufficiently defined what presence means. To feel present - for example in a game - means you completely forget that you are playing a game and feel present in the environment that is displayed in the medium. Or as well while watching a movie or reading a book accordingly. It is often described as an illusion of 'non-mediation' and the sense of being there. Ever played a game and completely forgot anything around you? Maybe until the phone was ringing or somebody told your name? Then I guess you know what presence is.
The theory I used for the thesis says that you first build a mental model of the situation you see on your computer screen and then eventually focus more on this situation on the screen than on your real environment. So you feel present in the game.
Presence is influenced by various factors of the medium, for example how big the screen is or how well your regular outer world is blocked out. These and other properties of a medium are related to immersiveness, which is one of the major technological influences on presence.
But the user influences it as well, one thing that may happen is that youre hardly interested in the topic of a movie and therefore dont really pay attention to it. Maybe a guy will hardly feel present while watching a romantic drama movie, maybe unlike the crying woman next to him. When watching an action movie the situation may be a bit different.

The Question

So, if the medium influences the feeling of presence, what happens if a highly immersive medium is used, like a game using 3D-shutter-glasses? The glasses deliver some (fake) spatial information that can't be found on the regular screen. More spatial information (like things flying towards you or other things that look like you will run into them any moment) should mean a more detailed mental model of the situation, which finally means more and easier presence. In sum: 3D-glasses should make people feel more present.

To test this assumption, we (thats me and my two advisors at the university) let people play a game. I think you already guessed it was Need for Speed: Shift.

The Material

Why NFS:Shift? First of all, it should be a racing game because you can control quite easily what happens: follow the track again and again, it's repeatable in a very natural way. Apart from that, the game of our choice should be quite new and good looking, and it should work fine with the 3D-glasses without too much ghosting or other artifacts. So after I did some testing the choice was easy at the time we planned the experiment. As hardware we used an upper-middle-class gaming pc (i5-750 and GTX280) with force feedback wheel, a 5.1 surround system and the 3D-Vision glasses, of course. I am really happy that some friendly people helped me out with some equipment, after all it's not easy to get all the tech-stuff you want when you're still a student.
But now: what did we have the poor people do in the experiment?

The Experiment

Well, it wasn't that bad after all: a quick-race without opponents on Silverstone National in a 911 GT2, six laps training and then six laps time trial. The track and the car were the same for all the subjects, of course. We decided to use an easy track and relatively easy to handle car so as many people as possible could get decent results in the race. Most important was that people shouldn't crash: as you can imagine, a crash could mean a break in your presence experience, but certainly it gets frustrating when it happens more often. The pros may be yawning now, but after all we didn't want to test pros only. Maybe in the future...
After the session they answered a questionnaire which measured various aspects of presence.
One important thing is still missing in the description: an experiment means different experimental conditions. That's why half of the people played with 3D-glasses on and half of the people played the game the traditional way. So in the end we could compare the groups and see if there were differences.

The Results

I skip the statistical analysis, so after lots of calculating and statistics there were results, and they left me puzzled: there was literally no effect in the questionnaire data (and I would have bet my pc that there would be one I'm glad I didn't). Don't get me wrong: that doesn't mean necessarily that no effect exists, especially considering that almost anyone was like 'Wow great' when they put on the glasses. But it didn't show up in the questionnaire data. Why? I don't really know, but I certainly want to find out. Possible reasons may be that people just didn't report exactly what they were experiencing during the game: it's hard to tell in detail how they create their answer in the questionnaire. Or the screen wasn't big enough to allow the third dimension to truly unfold its immersiveness. Or the 3D-effect was too small compared to the whole setting (already good looking game, surround sound and force feedback). Like I said, I don't know why, yet. But there still is a nice batch of data that waits to be analyzed, maybe some new insights can be gained there.

So this was one part of the study: to assess how the use of 3D-glasses influences the measure of presence. The remaining parts two and three followed a more exploratory approach because there was just little or no theory available at this time. So the story is continued in:

ACT II: Show me Your Hands.

The second part's topic is the relation between the so called digit ratio and the feeling of presence. The digit ratio is the length of the index finger (the second finger) divided by the length of the fourth finger (therefore abbreviated 2D:4D). When using your favorite search engine you can find 300+ serious studies about digit ratio and its relation to a number of other variables such as sporting performance or spatial ability, and this study here investigates if there is a relation to presence.
Scientists suppose that the growth of the fingers is influenced by the amount of certain hormones that are present before birth. In general, more prenatal testosterone should lead to a fourth finger which is longer than the second finger which results in a lower digit ratio. That's why men in general tend to have a little bit lower digit ratios than women. Because it is not of central importance to the topic WRClient, I'll just say the result: there is a weak relation between the digit ratio and the presence experience. Subjects with a lower digit ratio showed a tendency towards more presence. It barely failed to be statistically significant, but because there were relatively few people in the experiment this is nevertheless a surprising result (in general the fewer people you have the harder it is to find an effect). You could explain it in a evolutionary context, but since this is as far as I know the first result regarding presence, one should probably try to replicate the finding in another study just to be sure.
But now the climax:

ACT III: In the Blink of an Eye.

This is finally what I suppose to be the coolest part: everyone does it all the time and you are doing it while youre reading this text: blinking. Several times a minute you close your eyes and don't see anything for about 0.4 seconds, but you don't even notice it. Last year, scientists described the fact that people blink at certain spots in movies, especially when there was nothing 'important' to see. You could almost call it a kind of selective blinking. So I was curious: do people show a similar blinking behavior when playing a racing game? There are times when it is important not to miss anything (turns, chicanes and so on) and there are times when the driving is more relaxed.
But first, several steps had to be made to get some data:

(1) Recording the Blinks

Here we used electrodes to get an electrooculogram (EOG): basically electric activity is measured, amplified, digitalized and shown as a line in a graph. When the person blinks the line rises and drops very fast, so you can identify blinks in the recorded data. Each blink is labeled with a marker for its start-time and all the markers are exported to a data file.
We applied electrodes to half of the subjects, so we could compare if the electrodes interfere with the presence measure.

(2) Recording the Racing

So this is where the WRClient enters the stage, and I can't thank Infel8 enough for his friendly help! As you know, the WRClient saves the car-telemetry including time and position of the car. In order to use it, Infel8 made it possible for me to get this data into another program. And this help was always so quick that even during the crunch time of the experiment there were no problems when a new WRClient version was released. I think that's quite an incredible support for someone Infel8 didn't even know, and it's all based on a fan project! As you can see, to help promoting the WRClient-project is the very least I can do.

After the telemetry of the race was saved and processed, there were two separate files for each person: one with time-coded blinks and one with time and position of the car. Remember, question is if people blink more during unimportant times of the race and less during important ones, which means we need the position on the track where a person blinks. In order to get that, it was necessary to...

(3) Synchronize the Data

The idea was to use a sync-signal which could be recorded in both data files. We ended up using the hand-brake because it is recorded in telemetry but is not that important for the race. So the hand-brake was bound to a keyboard key which was pressed by me after the race started. But how to get the handbrake into the EOG-data? Luckily the EOG-amplifier has a special port for such purposes which can be triggered by signals from an LPT/parallel port. So I added a PCI-to-LPT-adapter to the pc (who has a parallel port these days?) and used the software AutoIt to intercept the keypress for 'hand-brake' and change the voltage on the LPT port. Since I'm not exactly a programming expert it took me a couple of days just to get AutoIt to do what I wanted, but yeah I did it myself! So finally we've got two data sets with a common trigger signal. They were merged into one file and the respective data could be synced by a simple subtraction: finally we have the positions of blinks!

The Results

Again, some further analysis will be made and may yield more or slightly different results, but the main question can be answered: people do blink less during the important parts of the race, i.e. the turns. But not as was expected in the entire turn, but just before and in the first half of the turns. It is after the apex where they begin to blink more often. That makes sense: the critical stadium is before you enter the turn, it is determined here if you even can go through the turn without a crash.
This finding is in line with the previous results from blinking in movies. Again, this is just the beginning: the study could show that there is something, but the important question is why it is there. Hopefully that will be investigated in further studies.

Epilogue

So this should give you a general overview concerning the topic and the results: about presence, digit ratio and blinking. If you would like to know more I can answer directly or edit the text to give more information.
And finally I would like to thank again the people who participated in the study, the people who helped me with equipment and advice, and first and foremost Infel8 with his WRClient

And now feel free to ask and comment!

Last edited by Michael; 17-11-2010 at 15:18.
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Old 17-11-2010, 15:38   #2
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Радует, что WRClient пригодился кому-то ))
Pleases that WRClient was useful to someone))
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Old 22-11-2010, 10:15   #3
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