Augmented Empathy: VR/AR’s Impact on Gamers

Game psychologists are looking to a relatively new gaming medium to explore the effects of in-game experiences on the real lives of gamers: virtual and augmented reality. According to the Virtual Reality Society, virtual reality gaming is “where a person can experience being in a three-dimensional environment and interact with that environment during a game.” In contrast, augmented reality gaming is “the integration of game visual and audio content with the user’s environment in real time. … While virtual reality games require specialized VR headsets, only some augmented reality systems use them.”

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What these two forms of new gaming have in common is the integration of the gamer into immersive storytelling. Rather than watching the effects of gameplay choices play out on a flat screen using a controller, the gamer becomes the controller and experiences the impact of their in-game decisions in real time.

In the case of augmented reality, gamers can even experience the impacts of their decisions on their real environment through a camera. This leads to a sensation gamers call TINAG, or “This Is Not A Game,” in which one of the main goals of the game is to deny and disguise the fact that it is even a game at all (Virtual Reality Society).

Because of the real-world, real-time feel, gamers often feel there are higher stakes to their in-game decisions. Game psychologists argue that “VR experiences can impact the empathy of their users and immediately translate to positive real world behavior.” One example of this comes from a study done on VR gamers who were instructed to cut down a virtual tree. After cutting down this tree in the game, the gamers used an average of 20% less paper in real life.

Another study suggests that the more a gamer immerses in the environment of the game, the more likely they are for in-game choices to affect their empathy outside of the game. For example, when a gamer picks and customizes an avatar, they often bring traits from their real life into their game life. This causes them to identify more strongly with their in-game persona and blur the line that separates gaming from real life.

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AR and VR games are the final frontier in eliminating that line completely. When your in-game character is no longer distinguishable from your true self, your choices in and outside of gameplay affect one another inherently.

The implications of this empathy-building through gaming are massive. Some game psychologists argue that it is the moral responsibility of AR/VR game developers to consider the empathic development of their gamers when creating storylines, often with a focus on empathy for other persons, animal rights, and the environment.

Whether or not you believe the onus of creating a more empathetic generation falls on game developers, the impact of these AR/VR games on the emotional development of gamers is undeniable and will likely only grow as the technology flourishes.

Kathleen Shea

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563214003999
https://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-games/what-is-vr-gaming.html
https://venturebeat.com/2018/09/24/augmented-reality-can-foster-empathy-and-games-can-take-advantage/
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563217305381

I Really Hope Mobile Gaming is Not the Future

I usually have a short attention span with games. Unless something really snags my attention early on, I leave it after a few hours of playing. Because of that, console or computer games can be a big commitment for me. I do my research, I watch game play videos, I read reviews, all to make sure that I wont be sinking $30-$60 on a product that I’m going to put down a few days after buying it. the hectic schedule of college doesn’t make this process easier, but it’s my tried and true way of finding games that I enjoy.

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Copyright Clash of Clans

Enter my issue with mobile gaming. I loved it when it started. I could drop a small fee of often $.99 or a bit more and have access to some classic concepts and games like Angry Birds or a pocket-sized Civilization game. It was easy to get a quick gaming fix between classes or while “on the go.” I also didn’t feel such a threat of not falling in love with a game either, as the costs are so small that it really doesn’t matter, and it’s pretty easy for me to rationalize spending a buck on even five hours of entertainment.

This all changed with the invention of “free” games like Clash of Clans, Mobile Strike, and Game of War that seem to dominate in grossed money and advertisements. I got in to some of these games pretty enthusiastically. It didn’t cost anything to try, and I loved some of the strategic concepts and settings of the games. I mean just look at this ridiculous commercial for Game of War. The budget for something like this from a mobile game is absurd.

 

All these games have the same problems though. They’re just barely fun enough to keep people interested, and they all involve waiting as the main way of playing the game. Upgrading buildings and units eventually takes weeks! However, players can pay real money in order to speed up this process, often separating the players in to two groups: one’s who don’t care enough to pay, and those who do. What’s even more troubling is that they seem to play in to people’s addictive personalities. Playing these games feels like a trip to a slot machine in some ways, with the frequent level ups, random rewards, and “check-ins” that reward you simply for playing the game repetitively.

I’m pretty good about not falling for these tricks, despite my personality type very much being the one that these sorts of games are meant to entice. It’s really concerning to see the top grossing app list dominated by these games, because we know that many people can rationalize paying $.99….but then do it a LOT more than once. With all this money being made, I can’t really blame the developers, but couldn’t these games at least be a little more…fun? Have a little more staying power? I’ve noticed myself literally spending a few weeks on one of these games before bouncing to another setting, another iteration of the same concept. It’s frustrating. There’s still a lot of great games being made for our phones and tablets, but I wonder how much creativity and brain power is going towards perpetuating these cheap imitations that capitalize on people’s impulsive behaviors. I hesitate to say that I want a game genre to die out, but I really think a lot of the potential for mobile gaming is being wasted on some of these base attempts to recreate an online gambling culture.

What do you think about “free” mobile gaming? Please leave a comment!

Where will gaming go next?

By Carly Vaughn

In what has to be the best idea ever, Nashville has a new classic-gaming-themed bar/restaurant called Two Bits. It’s right on Demonbreun Hill and I had no idea it was there until this weekend. As a concept, it’s one I’ve seen before. There’s a bar called Penn Social in Washington DC with a similar kind of idea, but that one is mostly focused on board games or games like shuffleboard or cornhole.

Two Bits has some really great classic arcade games, most notably Donkey Kong Jr. which I failed at miserably. There’s also a Ms. Pacman and a Space Invaders machine, along with some newer games like Mortal Kombat II (which I was great at). All of these games are free to play, so I got to try my hand at Donkey Kong Jr. over and over without having to feed in any quarters. But the best part were the old gaming systems they had hooked up to TVs hung over the booths in the back. They had an old N64 with Super Smash Brothers and it was amazing to play with friends like I had when I was younger.

Not only was this a really fun place to hang out and eat fried pickles, I think it speaks to the fact that gaming, even arcade gaming, is not an exclusive culture anymore. It’s being coopted by everyone from t-shirt designers to bars, and I wonder if the widening of the barrier to entry is kind of scary to anyone really engrossed in gaming culture. If developments like this mean that anyone has access to a game like Donkey Kong Jr., does that make its mastery less impressive? If bars let anyone play games like Super Mario Bros on NES, does that cheapen their cultural value?

We were talking about how there are no really literary gaming novels out there yet last class. But I think that’s going to change soon. As gaming becomes more mainstream and accessible, someone will write that Great American Gaming Novel we’re all waiting for. Until then, head over to Two Bits and enjoy the fruits that are already being harvested from gaming’s increased popularity.

Where My “Nerd Girls” At?

Professor Clayton asked a question on Thursday that has stuck with me. Are those of us who were excited about Nashville Comic Con, who are into gaming and sci-fi and fantasy, outliers in the Vanderbilt community?

I’d like to say no, outright. But in my last writing workshop we were critiquing a story that made me think of this class, and how I might answer this question, especially in regards to gender. There have already been some posts on female inclusion into the male dominated world of gaming, but I’d like to throw my opinion into the ring as well.

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The story was based around the Slender Man stabbing story in Wisconsin, and two high school aged couples that talk about video games, violence, and love. The majority of women in the class, the author included, spent a lot of time distancing themselves from the idea of gaming by saying things like “I really know nothing about it,” or “The only games I play are on the Wii.” There’s obviously nothing wrong with playing Wii, but it seemed like perhaps these women sensed a stigma around being both female and interested in gaming, a big part of “nerd culture”. The author’s female character that was into gaming was characterized as weak and subservient to her boyfriend, a kind of wimpy, clingy mess, who was only interested in gaming because her boyfriend was. I thought to myself: Is this really how other women perceive female gamers? That we’re only into gaming because we want to meet guys, or impress guys, or otherwise connect ourselves with men? Is this how men see us?

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I think that female gamers and Doctor Who watchers and comic book readers are not outliers in the Vanderbilt community. There are probably hundreds of women on campus that enjoy gaming and reading fantasy and watching sci-fi. But I think there is still a stigma in being a “nerd” girl, mostly because the interest in gaming and “nerd culture” is still rooted in masculinity, and women who claim interest are sometimes pegged as imposters. There’s even memes about it!

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So, no, I don’t think we are outliers, but I do think that there are many more women who would enjoy gaming if they felt safe to express that interest without being labeled as “fake geek girls”.