Monday 20 February 2017

Black Box → Illuminating Experience: Beginning to Uncover How Video Game Players Transform Negative Emotions into Valued Experiences

Julia Bopp, Elisa Mekler and Klaus Opwis (University of Basel) conducted an exploratory study on video-game player experience. The authors explored emotionally moving experiences, noting how little research has been done on seemingly negative, but still valued, emotional experiences along with those characterized by mixed emotions. A total of 121 participants, of whom 23.1% were female, were recruited from various online gaming forums. Participants were asked to describe an “emotionally moving experience [they] had with a digital game” (p. 2998), and to make attributions as to its cause. They were then asked to rate the features of this experience, divided broadly into enjoyment, appreciation, emotion, and need-fulfillment. 
Sadness was prominent in these moving experiences, with sad emotions predicting a participant’s level of both appreciation and enjoyment of the experience. Appreciation is tied to an acknowledgement that there is some deeper meaning behind something. The researchers thus concluded that a part of players’ appreciation and enjoyment derives from feelings of sadness, as can be seen in one participant’s account of their experience: “‘Never has a video game presented the story of the hero, who sacrifices himself, this beautifully and this touching. I will never forget this moment!’” (p. 3001). These kinds of positive responses to sad situations are perhaps driven by players’ need to experience emotions. 
Another interesting result was the paradoxical role of loss of agency, or loss of direct control within a game. Agency was related to enjoyment and happiness, whereas loss of agency was associated with sadness. However, sadness was also a predictor of both enjoyment and appreciation. In one case of loss of agency, a participant reports having had “…to torture that guy. I really hated it and did not want to do it but the game didn’t leave the choice to me…It was really disturbing’” (p. 3002). However, Bopp and colleagues (2016) noted that for another participant, having no choice but to bury a brother makes for a highly emotional and vivid experience (p. 3003), which participants value. Thus, choosing to take away a player’s agency during a game should endeavor to strike a delicate balance between evoking just enough sadness to enhance appreciation and enjoyment, but not so much loss of control as to erode the happy affect and enjoyment borne of autonomy.

Posted by Krithika Sukumar.

* For a copy of the original article, please contact R. Mar (see profile for e-mail).

Bopp, J. A., Mekler, E. D., & Opwis, K. (2016). Negative Emotion, Positive Experience?
Emotionally Moving Moments in Digital Games. Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems. 2996-3006.

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