Video game values: Human–computer...
Video game values: Human���computer interaction and games Pippin Barr a,*, James Noble a, Robert Biddle b a Computer Science Department, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand b Human-Oriented Technology Lab, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada Available online 2 October 2006 Abstract Current human���computer interaction (HCI) research into video games rarely considers how they are different from other forms of software. This leads to research that, while useful concerning standard issues of interface design, does not address the nature of video games as games specifically. Unlike most software, video games are not made to support external, user-defined tasks, but instead define their own activities for players to engage in. We argue that video games contain systems of values which players perceive and adopt, and which shape the play of the game. A focus on video game values promotes a holistic view of video games as software, media, and as games specifically, which leads to a genuine video game HCI. �� 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. Keywords: Video games Value Play Activity theory Semiotics Computer games 1. Introduction Video games are an extremely influential form of com- puter software. They earn enormous amounts of money, generate heated controversy and debate, and their players pour huge amounts of time and effort into them: they are permeating everyday life. This level of popular importance has led to a steadily increasing interest from the academic community in understanding how games work, what they do, and what they could do. Human���computer interaction (HCI) has a key role to play in researching video games, but progress has been somewhat limited. In this paper we use the popular game studies term ������vid- eo game������ to include all forms of games played with a com- puter, be it a PC, console system, or handheld device. At a simplistic level, it is obvious that video games are within the domain of HCI: they are software, running on comput- ers, used by people via an interface. Despite this, video games are not the same as the traditional focus of HCI: productivity applications which focus on the facilitation of user-defined tasks. Given that most HCI knowledge is based on the study of this kind of software, we need new approaches. Games, for example, tend to dictate tasks to players, often specifically making them di���cult to accomplish. We argue that a central feature of video games is that they contain value systems: networks of related values which shape gameplay. In the world of video games, there are generally ������correct������ or ������right������ ways to go about things. This is a simple concept but holds a great deal of complex- ity when further examined. If a value is thought of as reflecting a preference for some particular form of con- duct, then the user-interface of a video game, which medi- ates all conduct in the game world, is heavily implicated both in the construction and expression of these value systems. We propose that the study of video game interfaces can be strongly anchored in an understanding of values and value systems and the ways they relate to gameplay. To do this we foreground the importance of both a grounding in established theories of conduct and gameplay as well as a detailed examination of real video games using qualitative methods. In the following sections we present the current 0953-5438/$ - see front matter �� 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.intcom.2006.08.008 * Corresponding author. Tel.: +6443841884. E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (P. Barr), email@example.com (J. Noble), firstname.lastname@example.org (R. Biddle). www.elsevier.com/locate/intcom Interacting with Computers 19 (2007) 180���195
status of the HCI understanding of video games before presenting our own approach, based on the concept of vid- eo game values. 2. Video game HCI 2.1. Video games are popular media It is now an accepted fact that video games are an important and influential form of software. Players of these games invest vast amounts of time in them, with many role- playing games requiring upwards of eighty hours to complete. This level of popularity is reflected in the economic suc- cess of games. Individual games such as Halo 2 (Microsoft Game Studios, 2004) earn phenomenal amounts of money ($125 million on its first day (Becker, 2004)) and the indus- try in general has made over seven billion dollars in each of the past two years (Entertainment Software Association, 2004, 2005): video games are big business. Indeed, even inside games themselves, considerable amounts of money is changing hands. In 2001, Norrath, the game world of Everquest (Sony Online Entertainment, 1999), was estimat- ed to have the 77th largest economy in the real world, based on assessments of buying and selling of virtual items and avatars in online auction houses such as eBay (Castro- nova, 2001). Video games are not only popular and economically successful, they are becoming more and more a part of gen- eral cultural awareness. Huge numbers of devoted blogs cover the world of games, and even respected newspapers such as the Guardian devote space to video games on their websites. Games have become important enough to gener- ate fierce debates over issues such as violence (American Psychological Association, 2005) and the portrayal of sex (BBC News, 2005). The core of such controversy is the idea that games can reach out and affect players in their non-vir- tual lives. Approaching the potential effects of games from a more positive perspective are movements such as ������Seri- ous Games������ which seek to use video games to communi- cate social awareness messages to players (Woods, 2004). The game September 12th is an example of this, using the medium of an online Flash game to question the ������war on terror������ by suggesting it generates more terror- ism than it eliminates (Newsgaming.com, 2006). With a similar philosophy, video games are being brought into the world of education, with projects such as the Educa- tion Arcade seeking to demonstrate that games can be effective teaching and learning tools (Jenkins et al., 2003). An important element of these interests in video games comes from their treatment as media which can convey par- ticular kinds of information, whether it be educational or a kind of moral value. Although such an effect is discussed with regard to any new media, such as film, there is an impression that the interactivity of video games somehow gives them a potentially greater influence, leading us direct- ly to questions relevant to HCI research. 2.2. Video games are software: HCI Given that video games are obviously software with interfaces and users (players), it makes sense that we should study them from the perspective of Human���Computer Interaction (HCI). A key question, then, is whether video games are different enough from existing domains of HCI to warrant new approaches and thinking. One possible answer is that existing HCI techniques and theories are su���cient for the study of video games. In fact, this approach is rarely taken. An obvious idea would be to directly apply usability approaches, such as heuristic eval- uations (Nielsen, 1994) and cognitive walkthroughs (Whar- ton et al., 1994), to video games. Doing this will certainly bring to light usability issues in the interface, but only inso- far as they conform to standard HCI concepts of e���ciency, freedom from errors, learnability, and so on. Sauli Laitinen presents standard expert evaluations and user-testing of video games and predictably uncovers generic usability issues, such as concerns over the meaning of colours or the visibility of indicators (Laitinen, 2005). These are important concerns in the design of video game interfaces, but they do not constitute a specific video game HCI, presenting game interfaces in a one dimensional light. As regards heuristic evaluation in the traditional sense of Nielsen, Melissa Federoff (2002) has discussed how the heuristics might apply directly to the video game domain, but this description is only a sketch of possibilities. User-testing is somewhat more common, with studies such as that of Kavakli and Thorne (2002) on the effects of input devices on gameplay. Even a test as seemingly straightforward as this, however, must take into account game-specific concepts to determine what constitutes an ������effect.������ In this experiment, for example, it was necessary to determine what constituted an ������error������ in play, which required knowledge about the nature of the gameplay. Similarly, the tried and true HCI practice of designing and evaluating novel interfaces certainly has its place in video game HCI. User-interfaces from full body motion- detection with a floor sensor (Rekimoto and Wang, 2004) to control via a stream of urine (Maynes-Aminzade and Raffle, 2003) have been developed. Once again, however, any evaluation of such systems tends to require an under- standing of how the game works: understanding the success of a control system or interface for a game requires under- standing how it affects the gameplay. In other words, existing HCI techniques do not allow us to understand the ways video games are used as games. To consider the interactions which take place in video games requires an understanding of the kind of interaction: game- play. Games, for example, emphasise di���culty and chal- lenge, often do not provide easy opportunities to undo, and are intended to draw out the experience of their use, rather than making it e���cient. As such, there must always P. Barr et al. / Interacting with Computers 19 (2007) 180���195 181
be an understanding of how the specific video game, and video games generally, actually work. Video game HCI, therefore, requires new ways of thinking and new tools for analysis purposefully developed for application to games, rather than to generic interfaces. 2.3. Video games are different: HCI and games now In fact, the majority of HCI literature on video games does explicitly focus on how games are different from the traditional domains of HCI, most often comparing them with productivity applications. A detailed discussion of the perceived contrast between video games and productiv- ity applications is offered by Pagulayan et al. (2003). We summarise their interaction-centric points here: 1. Games focus on the process of use (gameplay) rather than the results of that process. 2. The goals of games are usually defined and motivated within the game world, while the goals of productivity applications are generally defined outside the applica- tion, by the task. 3. Games actively encourage a variety of experiences, while productivity applications strive for consistency at all times. 4. Games impose constraints on the user, while productiv- ity applications seek to remove them. 5. The use of sounds and graphics in games is to convey moods and environments rather than functionality. 6. The degree of innovation in games tends to exceed that of productivity applications, both in content and control systems. Although the finer points of this discussion could be debated, Pagulayan et al. do characterise perceived unique aspects of video games fairly well and their discussion is echoed consistently in other places (Federoff, 2002 J��rgen- sen, 2004). Given this accepted level of difference, those interested in the conjunction of video games and HCI have often attempted to find more game-specific perspectives on the study of video games. One popular approach has been the development of heuristics to guide the design and evaluation of video games. Beginning with Thomas Malone���s (1980) influential heuristics for designing instructional video games, researchers have attempted to capture the nature of suc- cessful games in heuristic form. Many of these attempts, however, lack the rigour of Malone, who developed specific game prototypes using different elements of his theory and tested them with children (Malone, 1982). Instead, recent heuristics tend to be based on designer experience (Rouse, 2001), interviews with members of the game industry (Fed- eroff, 2002), or simply drawn from existing literature (Desurvire et al., 2004). In most cases, the heuristics are not actually applied or tested in any way, but are offered as a kind of instinctual knowledge ultimately derived from the game industry. Although most current testing of games tends to focus heavily on concerns over whether the user-interface is usable in the traditional sense, some attempts have been made to begin addressing how to evaluate games as games specifically. Perhaps the most impressive work comes from the Microsoft Playtest group, which has developed a sophisticated approach to video game evaluation for real, commercial games. This includes their philosophy of the important components of video game evaluation: fun, ease of use, challenge, and pace. Their methods include stan- dard user-testing as well as the group-specific ������rapid itera- tive testing and evaluation������ (Medlock et al., 2002). Their approach is most comprehensively discussed in the paper User-Centered Design in Games, where they detail their practice as well as discuss the nature of games and evalua- tion (Pagulayan et al., 2003). Also addressing commercial games, Carlo Fabricatore et al. (2002) have performed useful qualitative research, using grounded theory to draw out core gameplay concepts of the action genre of video games. Their work has identi- fied various interconnected elements along with suggested heuristics for design based on participants��� play and discus- sion of a large number of action games. Although the final analysis includes specific discussion of the role of the inter- face, it is treated purely as a source of information. Strangely, Fabricatore et al. do not list or discuss the spe- cific video games used in their study or consider them indi- vidually in any way. Beyond some isolated instances, the level of HCI-related evaluation and analysis of video games and their gameplay is limited, particularly as regards existing commercial games. What is certain, however, is that the HCI commu- nity is interested in expanding knowledge in the area of vid- eo games. Anker J��rgensen���s (2004) paper Marrying HCI/ usability and computer games is emblematic of this. J��rgen- sen calls both for better understanding of games in order to construct new usability and HCI approaches, and also to transfer knowledge gleaned from games to other forms of software. These are both common refrains, with many other researchers interested both in how to better under- stand game-specific HCI (Pagulayan et al., 2003 Lazzaro and Keeker, 2004) and also to address other software from a game-oriented perspective (Neal, 1990 Thomas and Macredie, 1994). 2.4. Video games are games, video games are media: introducing game studies Accepting that video games differ from standard pro- ductivity software is a useful first step, but detailed attempts to characterise this difference are all but non-exis- tent. In general, the closest HCI researchers have come to addressing video games as games is in referring to books by game developers such as Chris Crawford (Crawford, 1982) or Richard Rouse (Rouse, 2001) which contain advice based on experience in the game industry. While this knowledge is certainly valid and interesting, it is largely 182 P. Barr et al. / Interacting with Computers 19 (2007) 180���195