Games that Change Behaviour

Playing games can effect and even alter the way a player thinks and behaves. Previous research on behaviour and games has found that games can enhance our ability to focus and think strategically; however, it’s also known that there are serious potential negative effects, such as the line of research that considers how game influences addictive behaviours. Researchers in Theme 5 addressed gaps in the literature on behaviour and games and aimed to better understand the science behind how the game experience changes people’s behaviour with regard to motivation, cognition, and performance. Ultimately, IMMERSe Theme 5 set out to answer:

Can game experience change people's behaviour for better or worse?

The research team of Games that Change Behaviour was led by Kevin Harrigan at the University of Waterloo. Dr. Harrigan is the head of the Gambling Research Group at UW and has been a team leader on several projects related to slot machine design as part of that group. He manages a team of faculty, post-doctoral fellows, and students to carry out this research. He has also been involved in many outreach activities to help change public policy regarding slot game design. Through the IMMERSe network, his team continued and enhanced the existing research on games addiction, particularly the facets of player experience that contribute to harmful behaviours.

Within this domain, a common game genre under study was slot machine games. In a 2013 study, IMMERSe researchers Harrigan, MacLaren, Brown, Dixon, and Livingstone investigated the effect of multi-line and single-line slot machine gameplay on player cognition. In a multi-line slot machine a player is able to adjust the number of pay lines and the amount they bet per line, a choice that equates to an increase in the frequency of legitimate wins and ‘losses disguised as wins’ while decreasing frequency of ‘big wins.’ Players of multi-line slot machines experience a less varied gambling experience and the choices they are afforded help to perpetuate an illusion of control. The multi-line slot design may promote distorted player cognitions with regard to their perceived skill as a player and their ability to predict the occurrence of wins. It also has an influence on their outward behavior. For instance, slot machines players engage for longer periods on machines that use sound (Harrigan et al).







IMMERSe researchers also turned to more contemporary video games in their exploration of behaviour and addiction. In interviews conducted by The New Yorker, The Daily Mail, and The University Herald, Lennart Nacke, Associate Professor and Director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo, relates his research on first person shooter games. He contends that there are a number of characteristics that contribute to player immersion: the fidelity of the game, the speed of decision making, and the violence. “This deviation from our regular life, the visceral situations we don’t normally have make first-person shooters particularly compelling… Our brain craves this kind of interaction; our brain wants to be stimulated. We miss this adrenaline-generating decision-making” (qtd. in Konnikova).

Player motivation was another recurring question across research in this theme. An extensive range of personalities play games and they do so for a range of different reasons; in “BrainHex: A neurobiological gamer typology survey,” researchers used the BrainHex model, a model developed for the project, to study player satisfaction and their unique motivations for gameplay. The attitude of players was examined using a framework of seven different player archetypes: Seeker, Survivor, Daredevil, Mastermind, Conqueror, Socializer, and Achiever. Results of BrainHex were examined alongside contemporary personality tests, such as the Myers Briggs, to see if there was a relationship. The study found several different trends, most notably, a connection between an interest in digital games and a preference for introversion (Nacke, Bateman, & Mandryk). More importantly, however, BrainHex provided a neurobiology informed tool for designing gameplay and understanding player motivations.

Through an examination of research in Games that Change Behaviour, it is possible to glean several, valuable insights. In the field of player satisfaction modeling, for instance, typologies of player preferences can provide a basis for developing more marketable and personalized game experiences (Nacke et al). The use of seemingly innocuous gameplay modalities, such as game sound, also have the capacity to shape player cognition and physicality. There is no single contributing factor to player behaviour. Rather, it is the result of a series of complex interactions, each of which deeply shape it.

To learn more about the rest of the research in this theme, click on the button below.

Harrigan, Kevin, et al. “Games of chance or masters of illusion: multiline slots design may promote cognitive distortions.” Journal of International Gambling Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, 2014.

Konnikova Maria “Why Gamers can’t stop playing First Person Shooters” The New Yorker. Nov. 25, 2013.

Nacke, et al. “BrainHex: A neurobiological gamer typology survey,” Entertainment Computing, vol. 5, np. 1, 2014, pp 55-62.