Ioanna Iacovides - Investigating game-play

Investigating game-play:
Are breakdowns in action and
understanding detrimental to
Jo Iacovides
Academic interest
• Games are intrinsically motivating
– Challenge, control, curiosity and fantasy (Malone, 1981;
Malone & Lepper, 1987)
• Potential for learning (Gee, 2004; 2007)
– Active learning, scaffolding, affinity groups etc.
• Games + education = engaged students?
– However, the use of games in education is not always
successful (e.g. O’Neil et al., 2006)
– Need for further empirical evidence concerning how
and what people learn from their involvement with
games (Squire, 2008; Oliver & Carr, 2009)
Informal learning (Vavoula et al., 2005)
Engagement and motivation
• The Player Involvement Model (Calleja, 2011)
• Micro involvement
– Engagement experienced during game-play
• Macro involvement
– Longer term motivations for play
– The activities which occur around play e.g.
reading game magazines, looking up a
My research (Iacovides, 2012)
• How do motivation, engagement and informal
learning relate to each other within the
context of gaming?
• Outline of research
– Phase 1: Email interviews
– Phase 2: Case studies
– Phase 3: Wider survey
Phase 2: Case studies
• Multiple case study approach (Yin, 2009)
• Focusing on game-play and wider activities to
– How do learning and involvement come
together in practice?
• Participants (age 23-59; M = 5, F = 4)
– Eight cases
– Recruited from previous email interview study
– Mix of gamers and more casual players
• Preliminary interview
• Two game-play sessions
– Player and researcher game choice
– Observation
– Collection of physiological data
– Post-play cued interview
• Diaries over three week period
– Final diary interview (Elliot, 1997)
Lab setup
Examining play
• Problems/challenges that occur during play
• Breakdowns as a source of learning
– Activity theory and contradictions (Oliver &
Pelletier, 2006)
• Different levels of breakdown
– Breakdowns and contradictions (Barr, 2007)
• Different types of breakdown
– Breakdowns in interaction and illusion in terms of
how they relate to flow (Ryan & Siegel, 2007)
Defining breakdowns & breakthroughs
• Definitions provided by Sharples (2009)
– Breakdowns are “observable critical incidents
where a learner is struggling with the
technology, asking for help, or appears to be
labouring under a clear misunderstanding”
– Breakthroughs are “observable critical incidents
which appear to be initiating productive, new
forms of learning or important conceptual
change” (p. 10)
• Extended to apply to a game-play context
Game-play breakdowns & breakthroughs
• Occur on three related levels
– Action: unsuccessful vs. successful
implementation of strategies
– Understanding: unsure about what to do
or where to go vs. solving a problem
– Involvement: boredom or frustration vs.
positive engagement
• Examined video, diaries and transcripts for
critical instances
Physiological data
• Emotion (e.g. Mandryk & Atkins, 2007)
– Galvanic skin response (GSR) as indicator of
– Heart rate (HR) as indicator of positive and
negative emotion (valence)
– Electromyography (EMG) as indicator of valence
• Over the brow = negative (frowning)
• Over the cheek = positive (smiling)
• Identifying critical instances? (Hazlett, 2008)
– Non-expert approach
Coding the data
Utility of the physiological data
• The physiological data did not prove useful in
relation to identifying critical instances
involving breakdowns and breakthroughs
(Iacovides et al., 2013)
• This was due to:
– Movement artefacts
– Lack of consistent patterns
– Difficulty of pinpointing stimuli (risk of trying to “make”
the data fit with gameplay)
– The impact of observation
The effect of observation
• Amy (28) and Mario Kart
– Multiple action breakdowns: “If I’d been on my
own, I might have just got annoyed”
– But: “I guess you kind of go, well I’m not going to
get annoyed, so, I may as well just find it
amusing. As an alternative emotional response to
the stupidness that is this game”
• Physiological reactions are indicators of a
complex emotional reaction to playing a
game and knowing someone else is watching
Analysing the data
• Evaluating claims based on previous research:
1. Breakdowns in action and understanding are
not detrimental to involvement
2. Player involvement increases through action
and understanding breakthroughs
3. Progress requires breakthroughs in
4. A loss of agency leads to a breakdown in
• Assessing the evidence for examples and
1. Breakdowns in action and understanding
are not detrimental to involvement
2. Player involvement increases through
action and understanding breakthroughs
Kameo: Katy (23)
Kameo: defeating the glass jawed boss
• Action breakdowns:
– numerous strategies fail e.g. uppercuts
• Action & understanding breakthroughs:
– figures out the correct combination of attacks
• Action breakthrough:
– defeats the boss
• Involvement breakthrough:
– “Gotcha!”
– Wonders “what’s going to happen next?”
3. Progress requires breakthroughs in
Little Big Planet 2: Natasha (31) & William (32)
Little Big Planet 2: Skate to Victory
• Action breakdowns/breakthroughs:
– carrying out different actions e.g. using jetpacks
• Understanding breakdown (William):
– “What are we actually meant to do?”
– But Natasha helps him achieve a breakthrough by
pointing out the drawbridge
• Action breakthrough (William - moving the
cylinder)  Understanding breakthrough
(Natasha) “Maybe if we fill that thing with stuff, it
comes down”
4. A loss of agency leads to a breakdown in
Doctor Who – Natasha (31)
• Action breakdowns: controller problems mean she is not
able to act effectively within the game world
• Involvement breakdown: gets frustrated and quits
So far so good but lets look at some other
Endless Ocean 2: Nick (29)
Endless Ocean 2: “I just didn’t
find it interesting”
• Involvement breakdown:
– The game was "very slow and, yeah, boring I
guess, it wasn’t stimulating and I just didn’t find it
• Understanding & action breakdowns:
– Not paying attention to the narrative
– Trouble interpreting the map and navigating
– “I found it hard to concentrate on the game
because I wasn’t really enjoying it”
Indiana Jones 2: Linda (59)
Lego Indiana Jones 2: Changing characters
• Repeated action breakdowns:
– Lack of progress: “I'm thinking well, where can I
go now? I've done this before”
• Underlying understanding breakdown:
– “I need a character with a gun, I thought well
he's useless, he's only got a spanner”
• Involvement breakdown:
– “It's back here, it's in the hub and I was cross”
Refined conjectures
A lack of initial involvement will cause further
II. Involvement will be reduced when breakdowns
take too long to overcome or have major
consequences, e.g. a loss of progress.
III. Action and understanding breakdowns help to
maintain involvement when they lead to
IV. Involvement breakthroughs occur when
overcoming breakdowns leads to a sense of
Sam & Max – Matt (24)
Sam & Max: Knocking out Whizzer
• Partial understanding breakthrough:
– knows what to do but not how to do it
• Action breakdowns:
– Strategies fail e.g. trying to plant the cheese when
Whizzer isn’t looking
• Action breakthrough:
– clicks on the bathroom door
• Involvement breakdown:
– “that’s what kind of a bit annoyed me because it's like, you
know what you've got to do, it's just you've got to do it in
the way the game designer wants you to do it"
Refined conjectures
V. Progress requires action breakthroughs,
but not necessarily understanding.
VI.Action breakthroughs that occur without
understanding will be less satisfying.
Flower – Alex (41)
Flower: Navigating the canyon
• Action breakdowns:
– Missing petals “all of a sudden we’re too high,
and then woop, you can’t get any of those?”
• Understanding breakdown:
– "I’m not sure what’s me, I’m not sure what’s just
happening cos of the breezes"
• Involvement breakdown:
– "So, it, kind of was a pretty experience as an on
rails type thing, then that can be quite nice but, as
a game that’s not very satisfying."
Refined conjectures
VII.Recurring controller problems, that lead to
repeated action breakdowns, are an obstacle to
the expression of agency.
VIII.The experience of agency is necessary for
maintaining involvement.
IX.Agency is reduced if players feel their actions
do not have a meaningful impact within the
game world.
• Are action and understanding breakdowns
detrimental to involvement?
• Yes & no  The refined conjectures illustrate:
– Failure is a common, if not integral, component of
the game-play experience
– Involvement stems from experiencing cycles of
breakdown and breakthrough i.e. through
overcoming challenges
– However, when something interrupts the cycle,
involvement is negatively affected
• Game design
– Breakdown and breakthrough categories
– Designers need to support learning
– Players should feel responsible for their progress
• Educational contexts
– The desired learning should be presented in the
form of understanding breakthroughs that lead to
– Games cannot “make” someone interested in a
Limitations and further work
• Small sample size but can generalise to theory
(Yin, 2009)
– Statements do not represent a definitive theory of
learning and involvement
– Serve as a foundation for future research
• Scope to investigate:
– Different platforms e.g. mobile
– Multiplayer contexts e.g. online
– Player strategies e.g. casual vs. hardcore
Thank you!
Email: [email protected]
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Complete conjectures
1. Macro level expectations are informed by prior
experience, other players and the wider community.
2. Repeated micro involvement depends on expectations
being met, the promise of in-game rewards, and
external factors such as the price of the game.
3. The unpredictability of outcomes leads to meaningful
and compelling experiences only when the outcomes
are interpreted as fair and consistent.
4. Narrative and social context contribute to what makes a
game play experience meaningful and compelling.
Complete conjectures
5. A lack of initial involvement will cause further
6. Action and understanding breakdowns contribute to
involvement when they are overcome by breakthroughs.
7. However, involvement will be reduced when
breakdowns take too long to overcome or have major
consequences e.g. a loss of progress.
8. Additionally, an involvement breakdown will occur if
outcomes are not considered fair and consistent.
9. Involvement breakthroughs occur when overcoming
breakdowns lead to a sense of achievement.
Complete conjectures
10. Progress involves action breakthroughs, but not
necessarily understanding.
11. Action breakthroughs that occur without understanding
(i.e. through trial and error), will be less satisfying.
12. The experience of agency is necessary for maintaining
13. Reoccurring controller problems are an obstacle the
expression of agency.
14. Agency is reduced if players feel their actions do not
have a meaningful impact within the game world.

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