Game Research summit at ITU, 6 December

Playing the Field: An interdisciplinary game researchers’ summit

ITU; Dec. 6th, room: Aud. 3, 2nd floor.

14:00 Edward Castronova: “Why is this talk so boring?”
14:40 Bart Simon: “Digital Gaming and Local Practices of Social Imagination:
A Report from the Montreal GameCODE Project”
15:20 Coffee break, machine in 2D
15:40 Ian Bogost: “Platform Studies: computers and other neglected topics in
game research”
16:20 short break
16:30 Panel discussion: Where are “we” going? And how?

Soccer players are excellent game theorists

Turns out that penalty kick behaviour conforms beautifully with game theoretical predictions.

Economist Ignacio Palacios-Huerta of Brown University has studied thousands of penalty kicks. Penalty kicks are theoretically wonderful since they constitute 2-player zero-sum games where players have very few available strategies and where the outcome is decided immediately after the initial action.

Palacios-Huerta found that no strategy is inherently better. And that soccer players (as opposed to the typical lab subjects of behavioural game theory) manage to play truly randomly (the way they ought to if they are following basic game theory assumptions):

…professional players are found to be capable of behaving perfectly randomly. Their sequences neither exhibit negative or positive autocorrelation, and choices do not depend on one’s own previous play, on the opponent’s previous plays or on past outcomes.

According to the author, these results are close to unique, i.e. the observed behaviour (supporting the model) has not been seen in other experimental contexts.

The article is a fascinating example of how games (in our sense) and game theory (in the economist’s sense) may be reciprocally fruitful. Which was the larger point of Edward Castronova’s recent article Castronova, E. (2006). The Research Value of Large Games: Natural Experiments in Norrath and Camelot. Games and Culture, 1(2), 163-186.

Garrg makes the front page

An article (intro article) in today’s Politiken describes the development of real-world markets for virtual world items (and such) including statements from yours truly, Espen, Miguel, Edward Castronova and Julian Dibbell (website down).

Among the more noteworthy features, well-known orc warlock and my former WoW avatar Garrg lights up the very front page of today’s newspaper (see picture above).

PhD


Download Plans and Purposes: How videogame goals shape player behaviour (4.5MB PDF).

On 7 December 2006 I succesfully defended my PhD dissertation Plans and Purposes: How Video Games Shape Player Behavior. My main supervisor was Anker Helms Jørgensen and my co-supervisor was TL Taylor. The official opponents were Edward Castronova and Bart Simon.

The evaluation committee wrote:
“Jonas Heide Smith’s dissertation will provide PhD students around the world with a template for conducting theoretical and empirical analyses at a level of analytical reliability and utility that dwarfs the current literature.”

Table of contents

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 6
MOTIVATION AND CONTRIBUTION 8
A BRIEF NOTE ON PREVIOUS WORK 10
THE THEORY OF GAMES 11
APPROACH 14
FOCUS 16

CHAPTER 2: VISIONS OF THE PLAYER 21
THE PLAYER IN GAME STUDIES 21
FOUR MODELS OF THE PLAYER 23

CHAPTER 3: GAMES AND THE RATIONAL PLAYER MODEL 43
GAME CONFLICT AND BEHAVIOUR 44
AN INTRODUCTION TO VIDEO GAME CONFLICT 45
THE RATIONAL PLAYER MODEL REVISITED 57
IMPLICATIONS FOR VIDEO GAMES 64
GAME GOALS 66
GAME THEORY AND VIDEO GAMES 74
MODELLING GAMES 85
STRATEGICNESS 145

CHAPTER 4: PLAYER BEHAVIOUR 160
PREVIOUS STUDIES OF PLAYER BEHAVIOUR 161
THE STUDY: THREE GAMES, THREE PLAYER RELATIONSHIPS 179
DISCUSSION OF THE IN-GAME/OUT-OF-GAME SPLIT 227
SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION 235

CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND NEW PERSPECTIVES 240
FUTURE PERSPECTIVES 242
REFERENCES 245
VIDEO GAMES CITED 255

Dissertation abstract

Games shape player behaviour by presenting goals which players attempt to fulfil.
This is the most common “folk” theory of the relationship between game design and player behaviour. It is also one central to most game design literature and to much work within the game studies field.

In this dissertation, the simple idea that players try to win is explicated through a “Rational Player Model”, a tool for understanding the relationship between game goals and the behaviour of players who try to reach these goals. The model is discussed and applied in two capacities:

A) As a model for formal analysis which can used to understand and categorize certain aspects of games related to goals. Here, video games are studied through the lens of (economic) game theory in order to determine, for instance, the types of conflict dynamics the games will elicit given Rational Player assumptions.

B) As an ideal type of actual player behaviour. Here, the model is used to derive concrete predictions about video game player behaviour which are then compared to actual play in an empirical study of multiplayer console gaming. The dissertation finds that the Rational Player Model is one of four models of player behaviour common in the game studies/design literature and that it is the predominant model within game design. Also, the model is found to often operate at so deep a level as to be unstated. Applying the model analytically, video games are
categorized as competitive, semicooperative or cooperative and it is shown how the number of players influence a game’s conflict dynamics. This leads to an analysis of “strategicness” of different game types; a combined measure of the degree to which other players matter to the choices of the “rational” player and the range of these choices.

Finally, deriving behavioural predictions from the model and comparing these to data from a study on multiplayer console play, players are found to behave “rationally” within the gamespace itself while working to fulfil various social functions in their verbal interaction.

UPDATE: See also “My research” entries

Post-GDC

GDC 2005 has played itself out. It did so with great pomp, some fascinating talks, some entertaining talks, quite a bit of mingling, immodest amounts of high-quality coffee and a considerable number of visits to Lori’s.
Most distinctly the air was loaded with some trepidation over the coming console generation and particularly buzzing with energy during Will Wright’s “Spore” keynote (advocating a solution to next-gen woes in the form of player-generated content). See Jesper’s blog for more on this.


Oh, and here is Jesse Schell, Edward Castronova, and Jim Paul Gee discussing “What Researchers Can and Can’t Tell You About Your Games“. Castronova pitches his game design idea that will “enable social scientists to finally make studies with the precision of physicists” – yep, that’s more or less what he said.