Interactions and Gameplay Mechanics
Theme 1, Interactions and Gameplay Mechanics, considers how game systems interact with the player experience and effect immersion. Traditionally, gameplay mechanics have consisted of 2D display systems and hand-held controllers. Late 20th century games up to the present reflect a move toward more experimental game mechanic designs. Developers have been integrating more complex systems, experimenting with delivery devices, smart tables, distributed or shared displays, 3D, and S3D experiences to enhance interactions. Research in Theme 1 explores the influences that these technologies have on player experience—how it shapes gameplay, encourages new modes of interaction, and contributes to immersion.
Questions explored in theme one speculate about these technologies in relation to the player experience:
How do new interfaces, technologies or interaction devices influence the player's experience? What modes of interaction do different game technologies afford, and how do these change the player's experience?
Research in Interaction and Gameplay Mechanics was coordinated by Dr. Jacques Carette, the leader of the Gaming Scalability Environment (G-ScalE) lab at McMaster University. Dr. Carette led a research team in a series of projects related to the impact of game interfaces and platforms – known as the “delivery device” – of various game types. Researchers in this theme looked at emerging devices and techniques like smart tables, shared displays, and 2D and 3D/3SD game experiences.
A seminal work of Theme 1 is Drachen, Mirza-Babaei, and Nacke's book "Games User Research." Written and edited by members of the Games User Research Special Interest Group, this book provides an in-depth look at the science of understanding and analyzing game user experience. Readers gain insight into different approaches for optimizing and testing player experience in games and learn the specific considerations and requirements for conducting game user research. The authors outline various research methodologies for conducting Games User Research and outline benefits and downfalls of each based on specific use cases (Drachen et al. 1-11).
In regards to immersion, games user research was previously understudied. IMMERSe research in theme 1 addressed this gap in the literature with many studies that look at nuances of interactions between games and players. For example, it is well known that players often seek out games for an immersive experience, but IMMERSe research went further and explored how design elements of games contribute to the overall experience, and what the potential implications are for social interaction, learning, addiction, sales, and the overall play experience.
In their paper “Diagetic vs. Non-Diagetic Game Displays,” IMMERSe researchers Margaree Peacocke, Robert J. Teather, and Jacques Carette, examined the concept of player immersion within the context of first person shooter games—a genre of video game that positions the player as a shooter in a proportional world-map to give them an immersive, personal experience. The authors developed a study that would measure the effect of communication systems in FPS video games, including representations of the player health-bar, ammunition count, or current weapon. They looked at how these communications systems differed when they were diagetic – meaning the communications appeared to be directly in the game world – compared to when they were non-diagetic – conversely, when they were apart from the game world such as when they existed in the heads up display bar (Peacocke et al). The results of the study were realized in a follow up paper “Evaluating the Effectiveness of HUD and Diagetic Ammo Displays in First Person Shooter Games.” Participants were asked to play a first person shooter game developed for the purposes of the study that used either diagetic or non-diagetic game displays. The results of the study suggested that players performed better and were more immersed when playing a game with diagetic game-displays (Peacocke et al. 8).
Although this topic fits well within the domains of games user research, there are many aspects of game mechanics and player interaction that benefit from research in the humanities. For instance, in Jennifer Whitson’s essay “Foucault’s Fitbit: Governance and Gamification” she takes a more philosophical approach to the study of games. In her text, Whitson looks at Fitbit in relation to Foucault, examining the complications of a game in which the subject of surveillance (and of gamification) is the player themselves. Through feedback mechanisms such as leaderboards, damage meters, and point systems, Whitson contends that gamification systems like “Fitbit” create a structure that allows users to willingly govern and regulate themselves in the pursuit of self-improvement. She contends that there is an inherent tension in uniting play and governance in this way, as games are built upon a precedent for player autonomy: to push against and reshape the boundaries they encounter (Whitson 339-358).
Whitson, Jennifer. “Foucault’s Fitbit: Governance and Gamification.” The Gameful World—Approaches, Issues, Applications, edited by Steffen Walz and Sebastian Detarding, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2014, pp. 339-358.
Drachen, Anders, et al. “Introduction to Games User Research.” Games User Research, Oxford University Press, 2018, pp. 1-11.
Peacocke, Margaree, et al. Diagetic vs. Non-Diagetic Game Displays. McMaster University.
Peacocke, Margaree, et al. “Evaluating the Effectiveness of HUDs and Diegetic Ammo Displays in First-person Shooter Games.” Proceedings of the 7th IEEE Consumer Electronics Society Games, Entertainment, Media Conference - IEEE-GEM 2015, pp. 1-8.