At this weeks lab meeting we discussed the following paper, as suggested by Ellie:

Lim, S., & Reeves, B. (2010). Computer agents versus avatars: Responses to interactive game characters controlled by a computer or other player. International journal of human-computer studies, 68(1), 57-68.

Judith led the session, and gave a brief overview of the paper before opening up the discussion. The paper set out to examine how perceived co-player agency and competitive vs cooperative game activities influence player engagement. The authors used physiological and self-report measures to examine the following hypotheses:

  • H1. Players will exhibit greater physiological arousal when their co-player’s character is an avatar rather than an agent.
  • H2. Players will exhibit greater physiological arousal when they are engaged in a competitive gaming task rather than in a cooperative task.

There were many positive aspects about this paper, and there was general agreement that it was well-written and clearly structured. Many of us appreciated the inclusion of a table which explicitly summarised the hypotheses, research questions and corresponding results. The experimental results supported both hypotheses. We found the results very interesting, and the paper sparked off ideas for future work in the area. Judith and Jim discussed the possibility of conducting a similar experiment with children who have autistic spectrum conditions, an idea which Ellie had raised when drawing the paper to people’s attention. Given that the study focusses on perceived agency there are many questions around theory of mind and social interaction which could be addressed in future work.

There were a number of questions which occurred to members of the group after reading the paper. We were unsure whether the competitive and cooperative tasks were well-matched, and thought it might have been a better comparison if an action-based collaborative task was used. Additionally, the short time period of 2 minutes raised questions about whether differences would level-off over a slightly longer period. We weren’t sure whether the trading activity was likely to bring examples of truly collaborative behaviour, particularly given the short-term nature of the task and resulting lack of wider significance of outcomes. We would also have liked to know more some of the self-assessment measures, such as the way the Self-Assessment Manikin was used, and how co-player likeability was measured. So, we came away with unresolved questions, but we all agreed that it was a highly interesting paper, and that there was much merit in the work.