Baylor study analyzes role of modern gaming

Madden NFL 12
Madden NFL 12

By Candy Rendon

Are virtual sports more enticing to video gamers than actual athletics? Are the graphical elements in those games the reason for that?

Dr. Daniel Shafer, assistant professor in the department of communication studies, film and digital media division, and his team of graduate students ask these questions and more with their current video game study.

Ending this week, the study, which started four weeks ago, examine student responses to a specific genre of video games. With “Madden NFL 2012” and “NBA 2K11,” the research looks at the believability factor of sports video games.

Shafer says the students sign up for a research session voluntarily. They come to the lab, play a video game and then answer questions about their emotional reactions with the game as a whole.

The questionnaire measures players’ perceptions of how much suspense they felt, player perceptions of their own individual skill set at the game, to what degree they felt they had a sense of spatial presence (actually being in the game world) and social presence (being with other actual beings in the game) and their enjoyment of the game experience.

Shafer also said that gamers of all experience levels could have participated with the conducted research.

“The reason for this,” Shafer said, “is that A: a sufficiently large population of gamers is very difficult to find and B: we need pure reactions to games as well as reactions from experienced players.”

Waco resident and master’s candidate Jenna Ables is working with Shafer to help with the student volunteers. She said that games have advanced with time.

“Video game research is important to media studies as it encompasses many of the current trends that are happening in the current state of media,” Abels said. “Video games are influencing the way media consumers are interacting with TV, movies, the Internet and media in general.”

Whether the students participating are novice or expert players, the data supports enough information for Shafer and his team of graduate student conducting the lab work for observations. A more general phenomenon is likely to occur with a broad range of student gamers rather than as limited to experienced gamers.

Based on previous research done by Shafer in the past, the study is evaluating the following hypotheses (educated predictions):

Hypothesis 1: Players with a higher level of fanship for the sport they are playing will experience greater enjoyment than those with a lower level of fanship.

Hypothesis 2: Players who win the game will experience greater enjoyment than those who lose.

Hypothesis 3: Outcome will be a moderator between fanship and enjoyment.

Hypothesis 4: Perceived suspense will be a significant, positive predictor of enjoyment of a sports video game.

Hypothesis 5: Both spatial and social presence will be a significant, positive predictor of enjoyment of sports video games.

Shafer goes into the specific details about why his work with video game research studies is so important.

“A lot of people care about this stuff more than they might realize,” Shafer said. “More and more people are spending more of their time playing games, and the overwhelming question is, ‘Is that a bad thing or a good thing?’”

There is research and writing that supports both perspectives, but how do some of the students who participated in the study feel about it all?

“Today, I realized I don’t much care for ‘NBA 2K11,’” Houston sophomore Drew Kayle said. “But hopefully I was able to provide enough help. I can only assume that my hour spent with a controller in hand is a valuable resource towards pushing the limits of modern science.”

Shafer said games can be self-destructive, but on the other side they can provide users with endless possibilities for good as well.

“There is research that notes the dangers of game addiction,” Shafer said.

Games can be a testing ground for new and innovative problem-solving techniques. They can be used for team-building exercises. They can be used as teaching tools or they can just be a way to relieve some stress. Either way, Baylor has Shafer and his team of students to question the role one of the most popular forms of entertainment media today.