Game mediated communication: Multiplayer games as the medium for computer based communication

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Date created: 
2005-05-31
Abstract: 

BACKGROUND As computer games have evolved over time many new features and game aspects have been introduced, such as the player-to-player communication of multiplayer games. Here, interaction between players can make up the major content of gameplay, shifting the burden of producing the plot away from the game designers to the players themselves. While there still has to be a degree of plot and narration also in a multiplayer game, much focus is on the communication activities of the players participating. Player-to-player communication may be divided into in-game communication and out-of-game communication, the latter often taking place in web based forums. Such out-of-game communication may include the buying and selling of desirable game items, as reported by Castronova: "Records at one web site show that on an ordinary weekday (Thursday, September 6, 2001), the total volume of successfully completed auctions (N-112) was about $9,200." (Castronova 2003). In-game communication can be subdivided into in-character and out-of-character communication, the former being performed in such a way that the atmosphere of the game is preserved. This can be a key aspect in many multiplayer games, and may leave a strong impression on the player. Also in action games with a modest number of players and a high degree of fast combat situations, player-to-player communication may be a key feature, as observed by Wright et al.: "The meaning of playing Counter-Strike is not merely embodied in the graphics or even the violent game play, but in the social mediations that go on between players through their talk with each other..." (Wright et al. 2002). With real time player-to-player communication in place, multiplayer games fulfill all criteria for being Networked Virtual Environments, as defined by Singhal and Zyda: "1) A shared sense of space, 2) A shared sense of presence, 3) A shared sense of time, 4) A way to communicate, and 5) A way to share" (Singhal and Zyda 1999). Also, if the communication is taken to include not only text but also sound, then crucial parts of the "Rich Interaction" outlined by Manninen can be implemented in multiplayer games (Manninen 2001, 383-398). Regarding the time spent in multiplayer game environments, a survey conducted by Egenfelt-Nielsen in 2002 showed that 46.94% played 12 hours or more per week (Egenfelt-Nielsen 2002). A study by Castronova shows that 31.5% of the players over 18 years of age devoted more time in a typical week to playing the online game EverQuest than they did to working (Castronova 2001). Sony Online Entertainment Inc. reports having sold over 2 million copies of EverQuest, experiencing over 118,000 simultaneous players during peak hours. (Sony 2004). RESEARCH QUESTION As in-game communication is a key issue in many multiplayer games, the aspect of computer mediated communication in general may be closely associated with those games. As such games are being played by large numbers of players, its possible that these games may be perceived by many as the natural place to perform computer based communication in general. The research issue addressed in this paper is to find out if computer based chatting is spontaneously associated with multiplayer games by some individuals, and, if so, the nature of these associations. METHODOLOGY Two studies were conducted through interviews with students in two cities in Sweden. The students, 10-15 years of age, were interviewed about their computer based communication activities. Whole school classes were interviewed, to ensure that not just students interested in computer related issues participated. As a key aspect was investigating spontaneous associations, the interviewer never mentioned computer games related issues. RESULTS AND CONCLUSIONS Results show that multiplayer games were spontaneously pinpointed by 16.83% of all students using computer based chat. Positive remarks dominated significantly, but some negative aspects were mentioned, such as difficulty chatting and playing simultaneously. Geograpical differences were minor, with the students in the capital city of Stockholm being slightly less frequent to associate computer based chatting with multiplayer games, 15.56% versus 17.89% in the smaller city of Umeå. The Umeå students associated computer based chat with multiplayer games to a somewhat higher degree when positive sides of chat was discussed, 14.28% compared to 11.11% of the students in Stockholm. Spontaneous association of computer based chatting with multiplayer games is just slightly more common among the younger students, 17.07% (age 10-12), as among the older ones, 16.67% (age 13-15). A larger difference is seen regarding positive versus negative issues of chatting. Among the younger students, only 2.44% mentioned multiplayer games when discussing negative aspects of computer based chat, while 5.00%, of the older students did this. Both these figures are low, however, compared to how often multiplayer games where brought up when discussing positive aspects of the chatting: by 14.63% of the younger students and 11.67% of the older students. Of the answers spontaneously mentioning multiplayer games, 76.47% came while discussing positive sides of computer chatting, and 23.53% while discussing negative aspects. Typical examples include: "Then you can play in teams, because you've got to talk then" (boy, grade 9), and "That you can warn your friend in Counter Strike" (boy, grade 6). Some answers describe situations where chatting is used to express strong feelings, like "That you can scream when you get shot" (boy, grade 7), and: "That they say swear words when they play" (girl, grade 9). The last quote above is one of relatively few negative-context associations of chat with games. Most of the negative associations that did occur related to the flow of game time, "It can stop the game" (boy, grade 4), or: "When you miss something because you chatted. In games i mean" (boy, grade 7). As has been pointed out in (Juul 2003), most action games have a 1:1 mapping between player time and the event time. Thus there is a need to manage simultaneous chatting and playing in order not to miss any of the gameplay. It is interesting to note that this is perceived as a problem by some, indicating that further development in this area might result in improved multiplayer games. REFERENCES Castronova, Edward. 2001. Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier. CESifo Working Paper No. 618. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/Delivery.cfm/SSRN_ID294828_code020114590.pdf... Castronova, Edward. 2003. On Virtual Economies. In Game Studies – the international journal of computer game research, volume 3, issue 2, December 2003. http://www.gamestudies.org/0302/castronova/ Egenfelt-Nielsen, Simon. 2002. Online gaming habits. In Game Research – the art, business and science of computer games. http://www.game-research.com/art_online_gaming.asp Juul, Jesper. 2003. Time to play – An examination of game temporality. In First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game. Edited by Wardrip-Fruin N and Harrigan P. MIT Press. Manninen, Tony. 2001. Rich interaction in the context of networked virtual environments – experiences gained from the multiplayer games domain. In Joint Proceedings of HCI 2001 and IHM 2001 Conference. Edited by Blanford A, Vanderdonckt J and Gray P. Springer-Verlag. Singhal, S., and Zyda, M. 1999. Networked virtual environments: Design and implementation, ACM Press. Sony. 2004. Square Enix to publish Sony Online Entertainment’s EverQuest® II in Japan. Press release from Sony Online Entertainment, May 11, 2004. http://sonyonline.com/corp/press_releases/051104_square_sony.html Wright, Talmadge, Eric Borgia and Paul Beridenbach. 2002. Creative player actions in FPS online video games – Playing Counter-Strike. In Game Studies – the international journal of computer game research, volume 2, issue 2, December 2002. http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/wright/

Description: 
Contact: Mats Wiklund, Stockholm University, matsw@dsv.su.se
Language: 
English
Document type: 
Conference presentation
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Copyright remains with the author
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