Games in research: CAIS/ACSI 2012 wrap-up
Welcome to (the aftermath of) CAIS/ACSI 2012!
The Canadian Association for Information Science/L’Association canadienne des sciences de l’information held its annual conference at Wilfrid Laurier University as part of Canada’s yearly Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences on May 31-June 2. I wanted to write a post about it because there was exciting game research reports goin’ on – including a study of MMO gamers that I did with Caroline Whippey!
Wilfrid Laurier University is in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Most people don’t know that Waterloo is home to two universities as well as Research in Motion, makers of the Blackberry. In case you were curious, here’s what RIM’s headquarters looks like from the car, in the rain, across the intersection:
I stayed in Bricker Residence Hall on the Laurier campus, in a tiny room with a crappy bed that reminded my back that it’s not 18 years old anymore:
All in all, it was a very nice conference, if exhausting. Based on a flattering nomination from the president, I was elected vice president/president-elect of the organization! Despite my apparent popularity, I celebrated my undeniable introversion by spending Friday evening alone, except for a hilarious discussion I had with a group of guys in the mall’s music store about whether minds are magical. (Since my main in WoW is a mage, I obviously argued yes.)
Speaking of WoW – on to games research!
Other people’s games research at CAIS
There were three posters about games at CAIS. While I’d love to see more in future years, I was glad we had this much representation.
1. Caroline Whippey and Sarah Camm had a poster exploring what we use text for in video games. This question is interesting to me because I’m interested in the exact opposite: the stuff that isn’t text in video games. But in the end, we need the text, the graphics, the sounds, the music… all of it creates an immersive experience that feeds our overactive gamer brains and creates the non-linear spaces that I blogged about a few weeks ago. If we didn’t have 2000 types of inc media in our games, we’d feel bored and unstimulated, and we’d log to watch old Monty Python skits or something.
2. Andy Keenan, a PhD student in information science at the University of Toronto, presented his plans to do research on the effectiveness of gamification techniques outside of games. He wants to see whether incorporating things like points and badges into heating/cooling systems will make people conserve energy. I think we gamify our lives all the time… for example, if you promise yourself an hour in game after you finish your work for the day, isn’t that gamification?
3. Matthew Bouchard, also a PhD student in information science at the University of Toronto, is studying the concept of affordances in video game design. He’s using some of the simpler MMOs that you can play on your phone/do not use intense graphics as a case study in how game elements can be presented more simply. As someone with an extensive background in usability consulting and teaching, this is a topic I could rant about for hours. How does a new WoW player know that a yellow exclamation mark over an NPC’s head means you have to pick up a quest from them? If you’re new to a class, how does the tiny icon on your action bar remind you of what each ability does? Fascinating stuff.
I wish all three of these projects the best of luck.
My research at CAIS
Well, it’s not exclusively my research; it also belongs to Caroline, who worked with me as a research assistant this spring to complete the study. It’s part of my line of research into understanding what types of online resources would be best to help people access mental health information and support. You can listen to our presentation, and follow along with the slides, using the embedded items below. In case you want to tell us apart: Caroline spoke first, and I spoke second.
This presentation was an awesome, thought-provoking experience. Caroline wore a Horde t-shirt and I wore an Epic Purple Shirt; it was the first time I’ve ever worn a t-shirt for a professional presentation. At this conference, you are given 30 minutes for your talk, but you’re supposed to present for 20 minutes and leave 10 minutes for questions. I think we talked for 28 minutes and left 2 minutes for questions… but that was my fault.
I found that as I discussed the context and the results, I felt a need to provide extensive explanation. MMO gaming is such a specific context, and so foreign to the uninitiated. How do you tell a group of people that study participants enjoy a wide range of activities in game: from PvP, to crafting, to questing, to RP; when they don’t know what any of it means? This leads to the one question I was able to take at the end of the talk: they wondered if we are pushing a political agenda by studying gamers when we are gamers ourselves. You can hear my response to her question on the recording in Part 6 above, but essentially I said that (1) you have to at least understand gamers, if not BE a gamer, to study us/them effectively and (2) all of our results are 100% supported by responses from our interview participants. Can you imagine if a non-gamer tried to study gamers? We wouldn’t want to share anything, because they wouldn’t understand what we said, and we would feel like we were being studied under a microscope (or at least I would feel that way).
Despite the bewildered look on many audience members’ faces, I received many compliments on the talk throughout the conference. Andy and Matt (mentioned above) were, of course, completely on board with the work. I don’t expect that I’ll ever be able to convert every academic I meet into a gamer with my research, but I do hope that they will learn that games is a rich area for research in many fields.
Oh, and gamers are not violent, unemployed misfits. We’re quite the opposite, actually.
Fun, education, and games research were to be had at CAIS 2012… and I’m now the veep!
Ding! You’ve leveled up! Please see your local librarian for training.
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