Thursday, May 31, 2012

Relating Cognitive Models of Computer Games to User Evaluations of Entertainment --Piselli, Claypool, Doyle

Relating Cognitive Models of Computer Games to User Evaluations of Entertainment By Paolo Piselli, Mark Claypool, and James Doyle I think I have convinced my poor teacher that I hate any papers that aren't conducted according to rigorous scientific measures. It's not true, I swear! I'm just reluctant to take anything at face value without well reasoned support.  Can you blame me?

When I was little, my relatives still weren't sure whether DnD was evil or not, and my mom instructed me not to tell any of them, I was interested in it. Also, computer games didn't even have the reasonable-entertainment-pastime status that they have now. I grew up to strongly dislike opinions that have no depth. That is, anything that must be taken as truth, without examination.

 I demand depth from writers. If you think your opinion is important enough that you are going to share it with me, then you better have thought about it and you better be able to talk about your thoughts. Why? Easy. If you can't talk about it, you didn't actually think. You just guessed.

I repeat. If you cannot talk to me about your thoughts, then clearly you must not have had any. You guessed. You made a quick decision, left or right, red or blue, tall or short, with a snap of your fingers. It doesn't even matter if you have been espousing your opinion for years, or even if you feel very strongly about your choice, that just means your stomach guessed for you and then you stuck to your guns.

Guesses are a necessary part of how we get through life, and even a well reasoned argument contains countless guesses and assumptions. But if your entire opinion is one big guess, and you are off sharing it with the world and trying to persuade others to agree with you, that means you randomly selected answer C on the test of life. You may be right. You may be wrong. But you are passing off a shot in the dark guess as Princeton Review studying material. Worse, you are telling me I'm wrong when I actually sat down and went through the hard work of studying for that test.

 I don't necessarily prefer dry scientific papers. They are usually very limited in what they can talk about, they can't address interesting issues like ethics or culture. The things they can actually research, observe, or prove is actually quite limited. But I appreciate the level of structure and detail with which they document the author's intellectual processes.

 As for the assigned reading, I agree with the authors conclusion and find it interesting. I think their reasoning process had massive holes in it and that it doesn't support their conclusion as well as they might like. But I love the fact that they talked about their thought process and reasoning in detail. Now I can replicate the same scenario in my head, and reach my own conclusions.

 The authors did an experiment to try and understand cognitive arousal in relation to perception of enjoyment, but I feel they approached the issue incorrectly, and I wonder if perhaps they changed their tinting a great deal after they found no correlation between their initial data sets. To me, the authors did not test cognitive arousal, they tested memory. And possibly proved Norman right about spatial mapping. From the start of the paper they said they expected an inverted U curve to describe the relationship between cognitive arousal and enjoyment...

But they only tested two levels of cognitive arousal. Suspicious. I don't think you can plot a curve with two points...

 Furthermore, the two levels required the recognition and recall of four and eight elements respectively. But if I remember my intro to design classes correctly, it's a rather well established fact that humans can really only recall five to seven pieces of information at a time. To me, the drop in performance they observed in the eight element level just proved that eight elements is indeed too many for the average human to recall. Maybe they initially set out knowing this? But the why only two levels?

The game they built was a boxing game. In the four element game, there were two punches, left and right, and two kicks, left and right. The buttons to control these were located in the corners of the num pad, meaning they spatially correlated with the four corners of the human body. Yet the eight element task could not benefit from this form of mapping. Is it any wonder performance decreased?

To me, cognitive complexity requires an understanding of a great many different mechanisms and rules, not the ability to remember what on screen animations require you to push which buttons. There is a reason we call these memory games, and not anything else. I had assumed cognitive complexity was controlling all of the widely disparate functional elements accessible from the drivers seat of a car, and required multi step problem solving. A mental model that is more than one step deep.

In any event, their data and conclusions were still relevant and interesting, provided you tint your lenses a bit to account for how you feel about their methods.  They found their U curve in the relationship between degree of success and enjoyment, and the sweet spot that they describe is wholly relevant and permits a great many extra-games theories to be applied to games.

I also observed that players who played the complex variant rated the game much higher when it was complete than they did while playing it, or than the simple variant players rated it at the end. Achievement and completion are very relevant to us! So there you have it. I felt the authors used some flawed mental steps, but since they described them with such care and detail, I was able to draw my own conclusions and ended up agreeing with their final outcome. I also understand now where the holes in their research might be, and where further research may be necessary. It was a good paper, for all that it was dry.

 Still I cannot help but reflect on the fact that it actually said very little that one could not guess, or that is not already reasonably well known by designers. This is a weakness of most areas of scientific research, which is of course why I stated earlier that I hardly confine my reading pleasure to research papers. Regardless it serves as proof of what we once could only claim to know, and I shall add it to my library of citations. B+

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