News: Researchers have been discussing their methods for scientifically analysing the notion of ‘fun’ in games – and the results of their studies are thought-provoking.
In a panel today at the Develop Conference, some really clever sciency research types have been talking about how they can measure the notion of “fun” in a game – and the interesting trends they’ve discovered by doing so.
Graham McAllister is the founder of Player Research, who provide insights into how people interact with games. “We put sensors on people’s bodies when they’re playing games,” he told the conference. He then measures people’s skin response, as people’s bodies change depending on their emotions. And then he interviews people to find out exactly what caused those changes.
Meanwhile, Robb Rutledge – a senior researcher for the Wellcome Trust – does some clever neuroscience to examine how the brain responds to rewards.
“A lot of different things happen in the brain,” he said. “As neuroscientists we do a lot of the same experiments that Graham does, and use the same sensors, but then we also take a look inside the brain.
“A lot of the stuff we focus on has to do with dopamine,” he continued. “We’ve known for a long time that it has to do with reward, but it’s hard to know what exactly it’s doing.” Rutledge uses several techniques to measure what’s happening in the brain. MRI scanning is the most useful: “It lets you tell where oxygen levels are higher in the brain, and you can do that in real time – so while someone’s playing a game, you can see where oxygen levels go,” he said.
And from their research, they’ve discovered some interesting stuff.
By using a simple gambling game and measuring participants in an MRI scanner, Rutledge has found that people have the most fun not when they’re winning the most money, but when the result most exceeds their expectations.
Meanwhile, McAllister tracked people’s reactions to a huge sample of games, and found that all of them share nine traits. One of them is fun. But the other eight, quite startlingly, are things that are generally considered to be barriers to that fun. These things seem to be common to all games.
From here, then, it’s going to be about looking into how these barriers can be removed. Because then, games could be more awesome than ever before.