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9:49pm on Friday, 20th March, 2009:



I've been to lots of conferences over the years, and listened to lots of presentations. It's getting to the stage now that I hear ideas that I've heard several times before from other people, and I know how it's going to turn out.

Example: virtual worlds as "third spaces" sounds fine except that virtual worlds themselves have third spaces consequent on them.

Example: virtual worlds as flow experiences — except you can have flow experiences while already playing a virtual world.

I also hear the same research questions being asked with the same hidden implications. Example: researchers always want to know why fewer women play computer games than men, but they never want to know why more men play computer games than women. Would they ask why fewer women commit burglaries than men? Well no — we wouldn't want to encourage women to commit burglaries. The way the question with games is phrased, therefore, suggests we would want to encourage women to play games. This is not a position that a researcher should take, even if they believe it strongly. The researcher should be asking why different proportions of men and women play games: the encouragement or discouragement part is a separate issue.

There were several papers like this at the conference here in Magdeburg. I heard definitions of "immersion" from people who have clearly never been immersed higher than knee-level; I heard strong claims being made based on interviews with a handful of people; I saw basic flaws in methodology; I saw graphs that gave false pictures (hint: if you ask people to rate features on a scale of 1 to 4, the first unit of the resulting graph is misleading — scale it from 0 to 3). I've seen topics wrung dry of all passion because the speaker read their paper aloud (so as to avoid making errors in English) but paid for it in a lack of engagement with the audience.

I've also heard good papers. Some were in areas that I don't know much about (I've seen that Assassin's Creed promotion video several times and never picked up on any eroticism in it — I guess I must be overly insensitive to such things); some were in areas that I do know something about (the reliability of usage figures); some were in areas that I don't know much about but want to learn more of (how the way that young people use other media can be used to predict what computer game genres they will prefer).

I've also met enthusiastic people — some new and some familiar — and had interesting discussions over the ghastly stuff that comes out of those urns with pictures of coffee beans on them. There are people I look forward to meeting (someone — offer Souvik Mukherjee a postdoc position, he's wasted at Nottingham Trent) and people I never knew before that I want to meet again. This meeting of minds part of conferences is usually the highlight for me, and ultimately why I go to them.

It wasn't the highlight at this conference, though, fun though it was. No, this time it was a presentation.

Specifically, it was a paper by Monica Mayer of Bamberg University, who basically discovered my player types model all by herself coming from a completely different direction (psychology, as opposed to game design), and as a result can plug some of the holes that my own theory on its own left open. For example, I can explain how people change player types over an 18-month period, but not how they can change over a 3-hour session: she can. Also, although I know other people have had some success using my player types model for non-MMO games, I make no such claims myself because I can't explain why it might be so: she can.

What's particularly good from my point of view is that Mayer's work extends my theory without blowing great holes in it. The two are compatible enough that when she described how killer types fall into a cycle of self-effacement, it was almost exactly how I myself have described killers' feedback loop in the past. It was uncanny.

OK, so I'm biased, and I'm sure other people will have taken away entirely different things from the conference, but for me Monica Mayer's paper was worth the trip out here all by itself.

Hmm. Finding out how to pronounce Tanya Krzywinska's surname ran it a close second, though (it's"Kravinska").

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Copyright © 2009 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).