Understanding player experience in social digital games : the role of social presence

B.J. Gajadhar

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Including others in a playful activity fundamentally changes the concept of play into social play. This thesis focuses on social play in digital gaming. Previous studies have revealed the crucial part of social interaction in play, as the intrinsic need to belong seems to be the core motivation for engaging in such activities. Besides interacting with the game and focusing on the game content, gamers are confronted with emotions, behaviours, opinions and performances of others that can easily be perceived when playing side by side (co-located co-play). However, the widespread penetration of the Internet also allows for social play without the restriction of co-players having to be in the same room (mediated co-play). In online co-play settings a smaller amount of social information can be exchanged compared to co-located co-play. These settings therefore differ in the way gamers can interact with each other, which has an influence on how digital gaming is experienced. Focus groups, contextual inquiries, and four experimental studies were employed to uncover which aspects of social play in digital gaming make mediated and co-located co-play feel different. The first study was conducted to explore the motivations of gamers to physically meet others to play digital games, compared to meeting them online. Based on interpersonal communications, focus groups and contextual inquiries, findings revealed that the appeal of co-located above online co-play results from the sociable, warm, sensitive, personal and intimate interactions that are possible when playing side-byside. Furthermore, co-located co-play offers the possibility to experience social fun before and after game play, which often is not afforded in online co-play. The first lab experiment was conducted to empirically demonstrate to what extent player experience is influenced by the way co-players are present; e.g. as a virtual (human controlled), mediated or co-located co-player. Results on self-reports indicated that playing sidebyside significantly adds to the enjoyment and involvement in games compared to playing against a virtual (i.e. computer controlled) or distant co-player. These results could be explained by introducing the concept of social presence, which is defined as the feeling of being together with another individual. Results demonstrated that social presence mediated the enjoyment in social play. In the second and third lab experiment the possibilities for verbal and non-verbal interaction were manipulated between coplayers in co-located co-play. One experiment investigated this for competitive play; a the other for collaborative play. Self-reports showed that interactions through auditory cues positively influenced player experience. Interestingly, the presence of visual cues of one’s co-player had no significant influence on play. Observation data of players confirmed that audio cues (e.g., talking, laughing) were far more often used than visual cues (e.g., eye contact, making gestures); visual cues were only used before and after play. Furthermore, we demonstrated that social presence – due to interaction by audio cues – mediates the enjoyment in social play. A final lab experiment was conducted to investigate the importance of the connection between players through the game for our results in the previous chapters. In this experiment players were colocated, but not always played together and/or were not always able to see each other’s scores. Results showed that a subjective shared experience increases the strength of the social connection between players, and positively affects feelings of social presence, enjoyment and involvement. Similar to the previous findings, social presence mediated the increase in feelings of enjoyment and involvement. In sum, our set of studies offered empirical support for when, why and how social interaction influences players’ experience in co-play settings. Furthermore, the results indicate the importance of social presence as a mediating factor of enjoyment and involvement in social play. This provides new theoretical insights for communication experiences in other media, and social presence in general. Furthermore, findings may be useful to game designers who may want to enhance players’ experiences in during digital play.
Originele taal-2Engels
KwalificatieDoctor in de Filosofie
Toekennende instantie
  • Industrial Engineering & Innovation Sciences
  • Midden, Cees J.H., Promotor
  • de Kort, Yvonne A.W. , Co-Promotor
  • IJsselsteijn, Wijnand A., Co-Promotor
Datum van toekenning26 mrt 2012
Plaats van publicatieEindhoven
Gedrukte ISBN's978-90-8891-391-4
StatusGepubliceerd - 2012

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