The Psychology of Avatars

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the relationship between people’s body language and their emotional state. Apparently smiling and using good posture can directly affect things like confidence and charisma. In slightly related news, The Psychology of Video Games blog posted some interesting research about how using different avatars in a digital environment can affect our behavior:

Researcher Nick Yee started his career by taking the precepts of social identity theory and using them to understand how people behave depending on the virtual avatars they assume. In one of his earliest experiments, Yee had experimental subjects don a wicked head-mounted display that let them perceive and move around in a simple virtual environment. There was just a virtual room, another virtual person controlled by someone else, and a virtual mirror. The mirror was important, because it obviously wasn’t a real mirror and the researcher could use it to show whatever “reflection” of the subjects’ avatars they wanted. In fact, Yee randomly showed subjects one of three types of reflections of their avatar: ugly, normal, and attractive.

What Yee was interested in was how this would affect how subjects interacted with the other person in the virtual room. After following directions to inspect their avatars in the mirror, subjects were asked to approach the room’s other occupant and chat with him or her. This other person was controlled by a research assistant and followed a simple script to get the conversation going, saying something like: “Tell me a bit about yourself.”

What the study revealed was how attractive a subject’s avatar was affected how he or she behaved. Relative to those with ugly avatars, people assigned attractive avatars both stood closer to the other person and disclosed more personal details about themselves to this stranger. Then, in a follow-up study using the same setup, Yee found that people using taller avatars were more assertive and confident when they engaged in a simple negotiation exercise. …Like in the real world, we first make an observation about our avatar, infer something about our character, and then continue to act according to our perceived expectations. We needn’t make a conscious decision to do it.

All of which got me thinking about whether this kind of psychology could be tied to things like consumer confidence, winning football games, and why most people weren’t any good with Odd Job on Goldeneye.

(Via Psychology of Video Games)

How Does In-Game Audio Affect Players?

Audio expert Raymond Usher (Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Crackdown) shares the results of a study in which players were monitored while playing three games with audio and without:

Reviewing group responses to all games it shows the audio group produced a high maximum heart rate and respiration rate for all games (heart rate Game 1: 84bpm, Game 2: 91bpm and Game 3: 90bpm; respiration rate Game 1: 25bpm, Game 2: 24 and Game 3: 27bpm). The no-audio group produced consistent maximum heart rate values over the three games (Game 1: 78bpm, Game 2: 77bpm and Game 3: 77bpm). The difference in heart rates between the groups shows the effect audio in games has on players.

It’s kind of a “duh” conclusion, but I’m interested in how they measured physical response rather than asking people to rationally explain things they don’t understand.


The Linear Calendar Helps You Focus On The Long Run

I’ve been getting really into the dodgy world of productivity and getting things done subject matter lately, which is probably why I’m so drawn to this bit of thinking that lead to the creation of the linear calendar,

“My older brother and I used to talk about the idea that it can be harmful to think of time as circular or cyclical (i.e. repeating days, weeks, years) as opposed to linear, because for us it tended to encourage a sort of complacency in thinking: ‘Well, this week wasn’t so great, but another one just like it is coming up,’” Johnson tells Co.Design. “But when we reminded ourselves to think of time with a linear instead of circular metaphor, each day or span of time felt a bit more precious, fleeting, and important to use well.”

(Via Co.Design)

Building narrative through game mechanics in Super Mario 3D Land

Super Mario 3D Land’s Director, Koichi Hayashida on building narrative through game mechanics:

KH: Well, I think it has a lot to do with the acquisition of a skill, which is something that often appears very similar to the way that a narrative can develop. So, if you take a single gameplay element, let’s think about the steps that happen.

First, you have to learn how to use that gameplay mechanic, and then the stage will offer you a slightly more complicated scenario in which you have to use it. And then the next step is something crazy happens that makes you think about it in a way you weren’t expecting. And then you get to demonstrate, finally, what sort of mastery you’ve gained over it.

It’s very similar to a narrative structure that you find in four-panel comics. Something that’s talked a lot about in Japanese manga, for example, is a phrase, kishoutenketsu, where you introduce a concept, and then in the next panel you develop the idea a little bit more; in the third panel there’s something of a change-up, and then in the fourth panel you have your conclusion.

So that’s sort of what we try to do with the way people relate to gameplay concepts in a single level. We provide that concept, let them develop their skills, and then the third step is something of a doozy that throws them for a loop, and makes them think of using it in a way they haven’t really before. And this is something that ends up giving the player a kind of narrative structure that they can relate to within a single level about how they’re using a game mechanic.

There’s been some talk at the office over the past couple weeks about the idea of building narrative coherence through UX. This seems like a pretty good example. Though getting people to participate in branded content is a bit different than getting people to play video games.



Good advice from Morgan Spurlock for anyone in planning or other kinds of co-creation

In Nerdist Podcast #191, Morgan Spurlock discusses the organic nature of putting together a documentary:

We start with an idea … and we spin the top. We have no idea what the final product’s going to be like. I know what A is, but I don’t know what Z is. And so your literally going along, bouncing around, it’s really organic.

And the brilliant advice he received from Eugene Jarecki on how to put a documentary together:

If the movie you end up with is the exact same movie you envisioned at the beginning, then you didn’t listen to anybody along the way.

He then goes on about starting with the movie that you think you’re going to make, and how as you get going, invariably someone is going to open a door that you never expected.

Seems like good thinking for any kind of co-creation.