The Placebo Effect in Gaming

Published: October 13, 2015 7:10 PM /


Don't Starve

Last week at the CHI PLAY conference in London, video game researchers Dr Paul Cairns and Alena Denisova revealed an interesting new study into how the "features" within a game influence the enjoyment we perceive. Cairns, who recently researched what it means to be immersed in games,"People have a preconception that a little round white pill that doesn’t taste nice will have a certain effect on their physiology." He continues, "It’s changing your perceptions of the world around you in some profound way."

To support this theory, the researchers asked 21 people to play through two rounds of the Klei Entertainment game Don't Starve, a survival adventure game in which your main objective is to collect objects to survive the night. In one of the two rounds, the test subjects were told that the map was randomly generated using the game's engine. In the second round, they were told the game was using an "adaptive AI" that adapted based on skill and speed. (Those who have played Don't Starve will remember that the game is randomly generated every time you play).

Don't Starve

The results showed that gamers thought that the second round, with "adaptive AI", was both "immersive and entertaining." Saying that the second round had a more challenging, or easier, skill level dependent on how they performed. One testee said, "It reduces the time of exploring the map, which makes the game more enjoyable.” The research group published their full findings here  results, however the team present at CHI PLAY advise game developers to be aware of the Placebo effect when testing and marketing future games. It is worthwhile to note that although all the subjects included gave similar responses, the size of the study was still very small at only 21 people.

CHI PLAY is an annual event held in London for researchers and professionals across all areas of play, games and human-computer interaction. It is held to highlight significant research on games and the ways they are played. You can find more coverage here.

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