children playing computer game

Physical Contact and Video Gaming

As most of you know, I am heavily involved in gamification research. While I have to repeat over and over again that gamification is different from game design, I also have to admit that there are many similarities. So I read a lot of research on game design. One of the first things I did when I got to the HFES conference this year was to scan the program looking for any research on games, gamification, or game-based training.

And I found a really good one. This study by Rachel Cunningham and her colleagues at Embry-Riddle compared two very similar tablet-based games. Both games requires players to collaborate on the same tablet surface. So it was not remote collaboration, it was real-time co-located collaboration.

The importance of relatedness in collocated multiplayer video games should not be underestimated. Interpersonal relationships, which develop from social interactions that occur during gameplay, contribute to player motivation and meaningful and memorable experiences for the players. Results indicated those in the touch-based conditions scored higher on several measures of intrinsic motivation and impressions of their teammate.

The only difference was that one game required physical contact among the players’ hands and other one did not. This is a great example of an effectively controlled study. Granted, the games were different (they used Fingle and Flow Free). But they chose games that required the same basic finger movements so it was controlled very reasonably and yet still maintained fidelity of the games. Impressive methodology.

My Take

What I liked most about the study was in the results. Players in the game that required physical touch enjoyed playing more and put forth more effort than players in the similar game with no physical touching. But they also felt higher tension and had lower perceived choice scores. So there were tradeoffs of the touch.

But we have to keep in mind that the players were the typical undergrad volunteers. If the players were friends, it is conceivable that the touch would not have caused tension and could even have been a positive. Even romantic in the right social situations. The authors mentioned this a little when discussing the results, but I would have liked to see more.

In fact, they should have added this to the method – comparing groups of friends to groups of non-friends. It also would have been good to compare individuals who prefer physical contact in social contexts to those who don’t. I guess that is a study for another day.

Your Turn

What is your initial reaction to the study? Did you jump to the conclusion of “Touching! No Way!” Or were it “Touching! Cool!” We look forward to hearing about your experiences and insights.

Image Credit: StartupStockPhotos

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