_International Week: Thoughts and Conclusions

_The international week 2022 hosted by FH JOANNEUM was an interesting event. I attended Luis Daniel Martínez Álvarez workshop (#9) called “Aesthetic Echoes of Terror: Construction of the sound Atmospheres of the Uncanny Valley for Videogames and Cinema”. I tried to gather as many thoughts as possible here in this post.

I will start with a short summary of the workshop; the lecturer was Danny from Mexico, and his profession is sound design combined with storytelling – mainly scary stories. He gave us a deep dive in how and why specific sonic patterns appear frightening to us, and how to fabricate such experiences. It was a fascinating topic with even better insights, even for a person like me, which has little experience with sound design. We then went on and collectively wrote a little horror story inspired by our deepest fears; the result was “No-Scream//Nose-Cream”. It’s about a hellish clown, which steals noses while the whole world is falling into the hands of ice cream zombies. Sounds like a weird, and that’s because how it was created: We took a piece of paper, and everybody wrote one sentence and then handed the paper to the next person, to continue the story from this point. This approach created this fever dream of a story within two passes.

After that was done, we then collected a vast array of different sounds of noises in the city, grabbed a Zoom-Recorder and ventured into the city to record said noises. We spent the whole first Day in the city, listening to various sound emitters and recorded those. The goal was to generate a composition for our scary story with these sounds, and so we searched up different places with different atmospheres (like a church) and collected enough sound samples to accommodate every detail of our story.

As I mentioned before, I’m not a sound designer – although I enlisted for this specific workshop because of my previous occupations; game design and cinema enthusiast. The attentive reader might remember that I recently wrote a blog post about how some colleagues and me did an attempt on creating a horror game in unity. So, it was an easy decision for me, what workshop to attend when I read the possible options. I wanted to learn more about the soundscapes of the horror genre and how they are made, and I was not dissatisfied.

But one little hiccup which me (an interaction designer) and a colleague (a media designer) faced, was the fact that we were both a little out of our fields here. So, as we now had all our sounds together, we had to quickly learn an audio software (through an excellent crash curse by Danny) and get to composing – something none of both of us ever did. The tasks for this week were to create two compositions; one for our story and one where we did the score for a little 60 second snippet of a horror movie/series/etc of our choice.

We were both thrown into cold water in a workshop with no prior knowledge of its topics, having no clue of composing and trying to figure out baby steps in this field. Naturally, the sound designers did a task which took as nearly two Days in under 10 minutes and it the results sounded amazing. This was kind of demoralizing to be honest, but it was nice to see what can be achieved when you profile in this topic. To not be completely emotionally destroyed we settled on the taking-part-medal, and just played and experimented around with the sounds, and although our lacking skill had interesting outcomes. Although we had little to no experience, we had great fun and really enjoyed ourselves. Turns out, it’s not always about being good in something from the get-go, but it’s about committing and having fun on the way.

All in All, it was an interesting and wonderful experience and I want to commit some special words to our lecturer, Danny – a wonderful and friendly guy from Mexico who studied music and composition. He knew a great deal about his topics and had great fun in relaying all those information to us; but I think what made the week such a success for our group was his inviting and open personality. If I could rate Danny as a lecturer, I’d give him a 10/10 – it was an absolute blast.

_Accessibility in Horzion Forbidden West

_Horizon Forbidden West is apparently considered one of the new contenders for best Accessibility in Games for the year 2022; and since I had the opportunity to get my hands onto that game, I’d say it’s time for a little case study of my own. Also, this game runs on the same Engine which made DEATH STRANDING possible, but a different Studio. Since I kind of already evaluated this other game, I was curious how they did it, giving the fact that DEATH STRANDING didn’t do that well. When I booted it Horizon for the first time, I immediately noticed one of the big points in the main menu – ACCESSIBILITY – and I was curious, which and how good their Accessibility measures & efforts were.

I took a quick gander over their accessibility options and was generally impressed by their efforts in the first moments. Scrolling through the different modifications, I headed to the menu points I always search up every time I start a new game, to language and subtitles. Generally, am I interested in which languages (audio/video) that game is available and how the default subtitles are set up.

Straight of the bat, the default subtitles are quite hard to read – small, white, and mostly on bright backgrounds. You can though, change them quite easily to a slightly larger version with also a black background – but there is still room for improvement.

Staying with graphic settings; in the game there is a mechanic called “using the Focus”, meaning that you can press a button to enable an ‘virtual’ overlay in the game world to highlight important objects or crucial information. In this universe, the “Focus” is a little apparatus which sits on your temple (close to your ear, where all your four skull bones join) and projects some sort of augmented reality view into your sight. This is a nice concept, but poorly executed in my opinion. What it does, is it brings a pinkish overlay – which is not changeable from the get-go – to everything in the game world to show said information. In the end, it has small and hard to see icons and often it takes me more time to differentiate what is important or just pinkish noise accidently misinterpreted by my eyes as crucial data. In the first game there was this option after finishing the game to unlock new styles for said focus, so you could change the colour schemes to your liking – or to better say, needs. Such an accessibility option should not be locked away behind the barrier of ‘finishing the game’.

While talking about the functions of the game mechanic Focus, one other use of it while combat – or should I say strictly before engaging/combat, that’s what bothers me – is to plot our plan to engage and attack your enemies. You look at their walking patters, their strengths and weaknesses, the works. But this is inherently where the problem; often you are faced with a vast array of different foes, which all have different ways to be brought down efficiently. So, you often must, in the middle of stressful combat, enter the focus view to see the enemies’ weaknesses. This context info is there to make it easier for you, but ultimately it either annoys you the get a hold of this information, you struggle to get a quick glance, or it rips you completely out of the fight/immersion; because you pressed the touch bar fast enough to open your enemy database overlay menu. Now you can, in all silence and peace read everything up to your hearts content about a specific enemy, just to press the touch bar again and are maybe, quite possibly, be overwhelmed by all the action what was going on and you kind of forgot about it. Such information is just not easily available, but it should be.

Even before you even engage in a fight, often you enter the hostile premises in stealth mode – the enemies are completely oblivious to your presence. To hold up this fragile status quo, you use the environment to conceal your movements, while you close in on them to get the first strike. You sneak around in some read flora, which is conveniently sprinkled generously around the whole map – but the only way the game communicates to you, that you are now in fact considered ‘in stealth’ is through a soft and gentle rumbling of the controller while you traverse said reddish plants. There is no other visual indicator (e.g., an icon or else) except your character crouching in the bushes and some faint and distant rustling noises from the grass, which gets also easily drowned out by all the other sounds. So, now you often are not sure where you are being in stealth begins and where it ends, leading to some little hiccups in your predatory path to your victim and they may see you approaching. The way of how haptic feedback is generally used in this game is interesting and enjoyable, but for some folks it might be to much of a barrier to enjoy the game properly.

Some of the input patterns in the game can be very complex, and cannot be made easier, for example it took me quite a long time to get a grasp of their grappling hook jump boost mechanic, which needs serval factors to get a satisfying result. You need to be in reach of a grappling point, jump, smash the x-button to connect to the point, and while you are pulled towards it, start smashing the o-button to use your momentum to boost yourself to higher heights. Once I figured it out, it works quite well for me, but I can’t imagine not everyone gets that far with it. Also, while in close combat, there are several combos with varying uses to overpower you enemies – they offer some interesting telegraphing points to show you when exactly to press an attack button, but in the end, in the heat of combat it boils down to you just repeatedly smashing both attack buttons interchangeably and hoping for the best. There is room for some people to perfect this craft for sure, but some will stay on smashing level – but it also works out to have fun with the game.

But not to say they didn’t offer the opportunity to automate some input tasks; I’ve spotted the opportunity to enable the automatic deployment of your parachute while falling great hights – a welcome and handy option. It spares you from demoralisation of jumping of some cliff accidently and then loosing your progress to an untimely death caused by gravitational pull on your existence and the following impact force. Talking about loosing your progress, this is a part they got exactly right; they often and on smart points set very well designed autosaves, so your progress isn’t that lost all together. They track and keep most of your picked up items (except story items), your map discoveries and so on. While also browsing some of the settings, I even discovered another nice accessibility/quality of life option – the possibility to turn off all tinnitus sounds. For some people, the constant sound of ‘phiiiiiiiii……’ while you battle against the enormous machines with their metric ton of explosions in this game can get really tiresome, so this helps a great deal I’d say.

Lately, they even rolled out a big update to the game, adding new modes and features. Maybe, there also were some improvements to accessibility – but I got to check it out again. All in all, I’d say it there was an attempt on inclusiveness as far as I am concerned, but not as a deep dive as some other games (e.g., TLOU: PII) have already achieved.

One interesting Idea or Theory I stumbled upon while reading randomly through various accessibility reports was, that each attempt to create more immersion in games somehow keeps adding more and more barriers for others – like adding a highly sophisticated system for locating game objects through sound. A cool feature for everybody who can hear, but as soon you start to rely on this technology for you game design, it could get inaccessible for some people with hearing problems.

As a concluding insight I’d say, an opportunity for me to use all these rather specific and far spread knowledge about approaches to Universal design in Games and other coherencies in this industry would be to work as an UX/UI consultant for games. I’d see myself doing that and I am growing quite fond of that idea – but to digging deeper into this concept is for another time.

_Literature & Resources

  1. https://blog.playstation.com/2022/02/10/accessibility-features-in-horizon-forbidden-west/
  2. https://caniplaythat.com/2022/02/14/horizon-forbidden-west-accessibility-review-can-i-play-that/
  3. https://gamerant.com/horizon-forbidden-west-accessibility-features-good/

Zusammenfassung Design & Research 1 & 2

Die letzten zwei Semester habe ich mich mit dem Potenzial von Videospielen für den medizinischen Bereich beschäftigt. Nachdem ich zunächst nur zusammengefasst habe, welche Arten von Videospielen es in diesem Bereich bereits gibt, habe ich versucht herauszufinden, wieso sie sich eigentlich dafür eignen

Das Videospiele mehr als nur dem Spielspaß dienen, ist bereits bekannt. Das eigentliche Potenzial ist allerdings noch nicht bei der Mehrheit der Gesellschaft angelangt. Es gibt weiterhin Menschen, die Gamer als sehr speziellen Kreis sehen und das Gaming ablehnen.

Das Ziel eines Spiels ist es meistens, Probleme zu lösen. Diese freiwillige Aktivität kann genutzt werden, um medizinisches Personal auszubilden oder aber Krankheiten zu kommunizieren oder gar zu behandeln.

Besonders interessant finde ich den Einsatz von Videospielen im psychotherapeutischen Kontext. Dort kann die Distanz zur Realität gewahrt werden, während Patienten sich aktiv mit ihren Problemen auseinandersetzen. Außerdem können Videospiele leicht die psychischen Grundbedürfnisse befriedigen, während sie gleichzeitig eine Pause vom Alltag darstellen. Es besteht die Möglichkeit, dass Health Games als Ergänzung zu klassischen psychotherapeutischen Sitzungen dienen oder den Einstieg und die Zeit bis zur Therapie erleichtern könnten.

Nachdem ich über das emotionale Verhältnis zu Videospielen bereits ein wenig erarbeitet habe, habe ich das Buch “Kooperation und Kompetition im Videospiel der Einfluss sozialer Interdependenz auf Stimmung und prosoziales Verhalten” von Tim Wulf bei der Bibliothek angefragt, welches ich im kommenden Semester bearbeiten möchte. So will ich zunächst eine gute Basis für Interviews und Gespräche mit ExpertInnen bilden. Im Wintersemester möchte ich Gespräche mit Game-ExpertInnen wie Maja Pivec und Robert Glashüttner führen, sowie Interviews für PsychologInnen und TherapeutInnen vorbereiten. Hierdurch erhoffe ich mir neue Erkenntnisse, weitere Rechercheinspiration und eine ausführliche Ergänzung zu meiner Recherchearbeit. Im Zuge der Masterarbeit sollen insbesondere die Erkenntnisse aus der Psychologie zur Ausarbeitung eines Health Games als Werkstück beitragen.

Zudem möchte ich herausfinden, welche Videospiele von GamerInnen bereits als entspannend, emotional entlastend oder ähnliches beschrieben werden und diese analysieren, um die Vorlieben der Zielgruppe zu beleuchten.

_Making Sound playable

One could summarize the paper by Christopher Ariza with ‘using a controller as interface for live music performances’ – how it works, what benefits and limitations there are. A controller, in the paper often referred as ‘Dual-Analog Gamepad’ is originally designed as a gaming peripheral/interface, for consoles and computers. But some folks figured it out back then, that all its inputs also could be interpreted by a computer as MIDI signals and subsequently used to map certain sounds or modifiers to these inputs – thus generating music by making inputs to the buttons on the controller. This not even limited to one instrument or soundscape alone, because there are various buttons left on the device, some could be used to alternate between different instruments which have either different constraints on using or are just controlled completely different from others. Since there is also the possibility to create complex interaction patterns, like to simultaneous button presses, the amount of immediately available instruments vastly increases.

This whole approach isn’t not the newest invention, the concept of repurposing any digital interfaces to transfer their various interactions into inputs to a machine to generate anything, yet it’s not being seen everywhere though. In most live musical performances, theses ‘input methods’ are very rare – although they could greatly enhance the audience’s perception of the artist; meaning that they don’t only interact with their laptop and just use ‘conventional’ input methods, like mouse and keyboard. As the paper correctly stated, it would create the impression that the artist actually ‘plays an instrument’ and have profiled in its use.

Coming back to the paper, it mostly focuses on explaining existing interface mappings for controllers, but the goal of this paper is mainly to promote the use and experimentation of literally ‘playing’ with a controller to create new experiences in music making.

What me struck me as most interesting, since the paper is now roughly ten years old, there have been numerous improvements and advances made in controller technology. So, if someone now would harness the various sensors, input and feedback methods of a newest generation controller – like the PlayStation5 DualSense Controller – the possibilities would be mind boggling.

To reiterate, what this little piece of plastic and electronics can do:

  • 16 discrete buttons
  • 2 Thumb sticks (essentially Joysticks) which also can be pressed
  • Adaptive triggers for haptic feedback (creating various resistance experiences when pressing the triggers), which also can differentiate various strengths of button presses
  • (Also, pressable, like a button) Touchpad which can track up to 2 fingers very precise and differentiate between certain various button press locations, like left and right
  • Vibration motors for haptic feedback (precision rumble sensations)
  • Acceleration sensor
  • Gyro sensor
  • LED light panel capable of displaying a lot of covers
  • Built in Speaker
  • Built in Microphone
  • Headphone Jack
  • Bluetooth Connectivity (to Apple products it is even optimized out of the box)

So, it’s quite a list of things of what a new generation controller can do. For example, I thought of changing the different instruments by dividing the Touchpad in segments and touching different segments of said Touchpad could correspond to activating different instruments. Adding to that, the current state of the instrument selection could be represented through a corresponding colour trough the LED panel – adding insult to injury, the successful switch to another instrument could be communicated trough a short rumbling of the controller, like a little shockwave; to give more haptic feedback to the change in instruments. Also, since the Touchpad can detect touch/swipe inputs, an interaction like scratching done by DJ’s could be emulated. There is one example, where a game uses the Touchpad to detect inputs for a guitar playing minigame – in TLOU Part II. You choose a chord (from a radial menu of presets) via the Thumb stick, and then strike individual strings or all of them via the Touchpad to get a sound.

Staying on the topic of the LED panel, communicating different events or states with light and even sound directly could be used to tell the rhythm, or the Haptic feedback with Vibration or adaptive triggers could be used to indicate rhythm and enable precision timing. Coming back to the various ways of haptic feedback, with the precision vibrations or rumblings, either the current beat timing could be felt like a little bass drum – or even wilder, whatever sound has been currently created with the controller, the beats vibration pattern could be used to make the newly made music ‘tactile’ and add an interesting layer of immersion/feedback experience.

To address the other options of input methods which take advantage of the different sensors, like the Gyro sensor to map movements to music, similar to the theremin or the Accel sensor to map events, like a change in tempo, drop, etc. The option to use the speakers as output in extreme situations could also be very helpful – but maybe just for something small like a metronome – but the headphone capability of the controller could come in handy at every opportunity.

All in all, utilizing a modern age controller like the DualSense controller could really open up new and various other ways to make and literally ‘play’ music.

_Literature & Resources

Sicht einer Therapeutin: Ein Interview

Die Sicht von MedizinerInnen auf das Thema wird vermutlich unterschiedlich ausfallen. Eventuell wäre es angebracht eine Umfrage in spezifischen Fachkreisen zur Anwendung von Videospielen in der Medizin zu machen. Um einen ersten Einblick zu erhalten, möchte ich ein Interview der Xbox Wire DACH Redaktion mit der Psychologin Jessica Kathmann untersuchen und zusammenfassen.

Kathmann beginnt mit der These, dass ihre Patienten sich Spiele aussuchen, die sie in einer bestimmten Weise widerspiegeln. Manche spielen Stories, die etwas mit ihnen persönlich zu tun haben, andere kompensieren mit ihnen, was ihnen im realen Alltag fehlt. So konnte Kathmann bereits häufig eine Gesprächsbasis aufbauen und sich den wahren Problemen langsam nähern. Die Wahl der Spiele sei zwar emotionsbedingt, jedoch nutze sie die Spiele nicht als Werkzeug, um Emotionen hervorzurufen (1).

 „Einer psychologischen Theorie nach müssen für psychisches Wohlbefinden drei Grundbedürfnisse befriedigt sein: Autonomie, Kompetenz und soziale Eingebundenheit.“

Xbox Wire DACH Redaktion; Interview mit Kathmann, Jessica (2021)

Neben körperlichen Grundbedürfnissen gibt es auch psychische Grundbedürfnisse. Kathmann nennt hier Autonomie, Kompetenz und soziale Eingebundenheit. Es gibt jedoch verschiedene Theorien zu psychologischen Grundbedürfnissen, so zum Beispiel nach Grawe, welcher vier Grundbedürfnisse beschreibt: Bindung, Kontrolle/Selbstbestimmung, Selbstwert und Lust/Unlust (2).

Videospiele können ebendiese Bedürfnisse durch zum Beispiel Handlungsfreiheit und Mehrspieler- und Onlinemodi befriedigen. Außerdem bieten Spiele eine Pause vom Alltag, sodass der Spieler Abstand von Problemen im Alltag gewinnen kann und diese anders bewertet, als in der akuten Situation (1). Hier wird die Distanz zur Realität aus meinem vorherigen Beitrag aufgegriffen.

Weiterhin beschreibt Kathmann einige positive Effekte auf Spieler. So nennt sie das spielen „Identitätsarbeit“, da das ausprobieren und entwickeln der eigenen Persönlichkeit ermöglicht wird. Außerdem werden Aktionen, im Gegensatz zur Realität, mit direktem Feedback belohnt (1).

Die Psychologin nutzt Videospiele innerhalb ihrer Therapien als Zugangsmöglichkeit zum Patienten. Es lassen sich häufig Parallelen erkennen, die den Einstieg in die Therapie erleichtern können. Ein wichtiger Aspekt beim spielen selbst sei die Selbstreflexion, um ein gesundes Spielverhalten zu erhalten, „denn es ist gar nicht so einfach, herauszufinden, was genau ein Spiel in uns auslöst“. Doch die bewusste und kontrollierte Nutzung von Videospielen ist wichtig, um der Spielsucht nicht zu verfallen. Denn durch das verstanden, gesehen und unterstützt fühlen kann eine solche bei unkontrolliertem Spielen leicht entstehen. (1).

Mit ihrer Aussage, dass bei jedem Menschen ein anderes Videospiel positive Effekte herbeiführen kann, unterstützt sie außerdem das Prinzip der persönlichen Relevanz.

Zusammengefasst lässt sich an dieser Stelle sagen, dass Videospiele aus Kathmanns Sicht Potenzial haben, zumindest für die mentale Gesundheit. Dieses Potenzial sieht sie jedoch in allen Videospielen, für jeden individuell, und nicht nur in solchen, die als Health Games deklariert sind und zu medizinischen entwickelt wurden.

Im Interview wird ein Podcast der Psychologin und der Mental Health Game Jam aufgegriffen, welche ich im folgenden Beitrag ergänzend zu diesem genauer beleuchten möchte.

(1) https://news.xbox.com/de-de/2021/05/31/mental-health-in-gaming-interview-jessica-kathmann/

(2) https://www.klaus-grawe-institut.ch/blog/1205/

Virtual Exhibitions

Radiohead: Kid A Mnesia Exhibition

Kid A Mnesia Exhibition is a virtual Radiohead art museum featuring music from the two albums Kid A and Amnesiac. The game was released in 2021 and it can be downloaded for free on Epic Games for macOS, Windows and PlayStation 5. Although the exploration game doesn’t use virtual or augmented reality, I want to write about it because I think it is a great example of virtual exhibitions.

The journey starts in a forest. You don’t get any instructions about where you are or where to go. So you just wander through the forest until you find the entrance to the exhibition. When you enter the exhibition, the style of the game changes. From now on, you can explore the different rooms of the exhibitions with different artworks or installations while listening to music of Radiohead. For example, there is one room with lots of televisions on the wall on them, which displays are always changing. In this room, you here a unnerving yet familiar version of “The National Anthem”. In another room, there is paper all over the floor, which starts to fly away and reconstruct the room. There are also several hidden interactions, which can be discovered for example when you step on a specific object. Also, you are not the only visitor of the exhibition. There are other creatures walking through the exhibition as well. On many creatures you can see the smile with the pointy teeth from Radioheads logo.

Although you can only walk around and zoom in/out, it is very entertaining. There are little details hidden in the exhibition and you to take a closer look to encounter them. The rooms, installations and artworks are changing over time, so it would not be a good idea to rush through the rooms. Although the exhibition is a bit creepy, you can find beauty in every room. The game is definitely worth a try, even for people who aren’t the biggest Radiohead fan.

Emotionale Distanz und Nähe in Videospielen

Im letzten Beitrag wird die Distanz des Spielers zum Geschehen im Spiel als nützlich für Health Games dargestellt. Doch wie genau entsteht diese Distanz und lässt sie sich beeinflussen?

Das Max-Planck-Institut hat 2009 eine Studie zum Thema “Reality=Relevance?” veröffentlicht. Die meisten Menschen genießen das bewusste ‚Abschalten‘ vom Alltag durch Medien wie Filme oder Videospiele. Hierzu gibt es verschiedene Gründe, auf die ich jedoch in einem separaten Beitrag eingehen möchte. Die Studie untersucht, ob der Mensch Realität und Fiktion anhand der persönlichen Relevanz unterscheidet.

Bei den Untersuchungen durch Magnetresonanztomographie stellte sich heraus, dass bei fiktionalen Charakteren (in der Studie wird beispielsweise Cinderella genannt) andere Gehirnareale aktiv sind als bei realen Personen. Menschen wie zum Beispiel Politiker (mittlere Relevanz) und Familienmitglieder (hohe Relevanz), aktivierten die Gehirnregionen, welche für persönlich relevante Erfahrungen und Kenntnisse zuständig sind. (1)

Die Wahrnehmung von Personen oder Situationen ist bekannterweise individuell. So entstehen auch unterschiedliche Konzepte im Unterbewusstsein, welche der Mensch mit ebendiesen Dingen verbindet. Eine weitere Erkenntnis der Studie ist, dass diese Konzepte Einfluss auf die persönliche Relevanz haben. Je detaillierter und verständlicher diese Konzepte sind, desto höher ist die persönliche Relevanz und das damit einhergehende Realitätsverständnis. (1,2)

Ein Beispiel:

„For instance, parents reported that their 4-year old children consider fictional characters that are associated with specific regular events in one’s life, such as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, to be more real than fictional characters that are not related to real-life events, such as dragons, fairies and monsters”

Abraham, Von Cramon (2009): S.4

Die persönliche Relevanz ist demnach individuell. So kann Mensch einen Videospielcharakter, mit dem er sich zeitintensiv und ausführlich beschäftigt hat, als relevanter empfinden als einen Talkshowmoderator, den er noch nie gesehen hat. (1)

Die wahrgenommene Realität hängt demnach mit der persönlichen Relevanz zusammen. An dieser Stelle könnten Health Games anknüpfen, indem sie durch das Spielerlebnis gezielt persönlich relevante Themen ansprechen. So wäre es zu erklären, dass Patienten die benötigte Nähe zum Geschehen empfinden und trotzdem eine Distanz wahren können.

(1) Abraham A, von Cramon DY (2009) Reality = Relevance? Insights from Spontaneous Modulations of the Brain’s Default Network when Telling Apart Reality from Fiction. PLoS ONE 4(3): e4741.

(2) https://www.derstandard.at/story/1237230167159/intuitive-trennung-von-phantasie-und-realitaet

Das Potenzial von Videospielen: Recherche Teil 2

Als ein Beispiel für Spiele, welche der Krankheitsbewältigung dienen, wird im Artikel der Titel Cafe Sunday von IJsfontein genannt. Dieses VR-Videospiel wurde entwickelt, um Menschen mit Depressionen, begleitet von ihren PsychotherapeutInnen, durch bestimme Situationen zu führen. Ziel ist es, durch das Design des Spiels, in möglichst vielen Patienten Gedankenspiralen auszulösen, um diese zu erkennen und in geschützter Umgebung zu behandeln. (1)

“Die Umsetzung des in der Therapie Gelernten in die Praxis stellt dabei einen wichtigen Teil der Therapie dar.”

(Thiele-Schwerz, Sauer, 2020, S. 370)

Die Nutzung des Spiels innerhalb einer Therapiesitzung bringt gleich mehrere Vorteile mit sich:
Einerseits ist es dem Patienten möglich, mit einer gewissen Distanz an bestimmte Alltagssituationen heranzugehen. Ziel einer kognitiven Verhaltenstherapie beispielsweise ist es, die eigenen, negativen Gedanken zu erkennen und langfristig durch positive Gedanken und daraus resultierende Verhaltensweisen zu ersetzen. ‘Cafe Sunday’ hilft Patienten durch diese Distanz zur virtuellen Welt die eigenen Gedanken besser zu beobachten ohne der, als gefährlich oder unangenehm empfundenen, Realität ausgesetzt zu sein. (1)

Der zweite Vorteil ist, dass die PsychotherapeutInnen die PatientInnen gezielt führen und begleiten können. So ist es ihnen möglich, die Situationen zu steuern und sie auf die Entwicklung des Patienten abzustimmen. (1)

Ein weiterer Aspekt ist, dass das Spiel sich der motivierenden Wirkung von Videospielen bedient. Wie bereits oben erwähnt, ist die Übung der gelernten Strategien essentiell für eine erfolgreiche Therapie. Das Medium bietet die Möglichkeit und ebenfalls die Anforderung, durch eigene Interaktionen das Erlebnis aktiv zu beeinflussen und zu durchleben. Diese grundsätzliche motivierende Eigenschaft von Videospielen gilt es gezielt für Health Games einzusetzen.

Es erfordert eine besondere Auseinandersetzung mit der Zielgruppe, um nicht ausschließlich ein Spiel zur Unterhaltung zu designen, sondern einen Mehrwert für die Gesundheit von Patienten zu erzielen. Im nächsten Eintrag beschäftige ich mich daher mit der Frage, welche (weiteren) Aspekte müssen für die Gestaltung eines Health Games beachtet werden?

  • (2) Thiele-Schwez, M.; Sauer, A. (2020). Wunderpille Games?! Mit digitalem Spiel gegen reale Krankheiten. In: Görgen, A.; Simond, S.: Krankheit in Digitalen Spielen: Interdisziplinäre Betrachtungen. Bielefeld: transcript 2020, S 367 – 386.

_Horror Games & Accessibility

_We recently started a small game called DECAY in UNITY, a horror-exploration game set in an abandoned bunker facility.

_While we were hard at work building the game, we thought about implementing future, rather simple accessibility options; like making collectibles easier to see and find, adding an optional item counter to help you keep track of your needed collectibles and maybe some kind of colorblind mode (yet we weren’t sure how to implement such a feature in such a game with it making sense). But the easiest and nicest solution we came up with, besides a difficulty setting which would influence the time it would need for the game to result in a game over in certain moments, was the idea to optionally remove enemy encounters entirely from the game, so one could explore to their hearts content, since we poured a lot of love and detail into level itself, like little micro-narratives and so on. Finally, since the music can get creepy sometimes (as it should in a game like that) we considered if would be available to influence the game music, e.g., adjusting the volume or turning it off completely. Yet we are still on the fence on these topics, since we try to decide what is needed for our game to function in its core and what can be made more easily accessible.

_Literature & Resources

  1. DECAY by Max Müller and David Fesl

_Accessibility in Multiplayer games

_The thought came across my mind, how does accessibility handle in online and competitive games? In an MMO (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), how can these games accommodate accessibility features, just besides a colorblind setting or UI scaling? Turns out, there is a limit of accessibility in these games, because some issues just can’t be worked around.

Some examples, where some things can be addressed do exit though:

_Any customization, which do not add any unfair advantage to the game for some users. Like reconfiguring your controls, customizing colors or sizes of UI elements, or even change little details in the game, like in shooters, change the color of the reticle – like in APEX LEGENDS.

_Entry barriers on lower levels of play can be helpful in many games, like matchmaking of similar ranked players, say by level or skill. Yet the later, also known as SBMM (skill-based match making) often leads to more frustration than satisfaction with players due to it’s basic logic: if you play very good in some games in a row, the algorithm deems you more skillful and matches you with people which it thinks are equal to you now – yet you might have just gotten a lucky streak, and now you actually are being paired with players which are way more invested in the game and proceed to walk all over you for some rounds. Only for the algorithm to realize its misinterpretation of your skill level and putting you back to the rather less invested people – which you best again with ease and the cycle begins anew. The system might work in theory, but in the practical world its just an awful up and down rubber banding. Matching people by level often can go awry if the game allows an easy access to a new account, giving the opportunity to a frowned upon practice called ‘smurfing’. Here a player of a very high level of play creates a new account and abuses the system, which deems them as a new player, a beginner, and matches them with other – often real – beginners. This leads to the player absolutely destroying the fun for the beginners with the massive skill gap between the two parties and leaving the new one rather unsatisfied with their performance, which is immediately projected onto the game and the dissatisfaction with the game itself drives new players away.

_Other ways to lighten up entry barriers in games can be features which help players in lower levels of play but in higher levels of play turns out more than a burden and disadvantage. For example, aim assist, which helps new players acquire targets more easily by slightly adjusting their aim to stay or snap to targets can be beneficial to them, while in higher levels this slow, and less accurate method is easily bested and faster with a player manually aiming. Actually, in these high levels often the slight and trailing adjustments by the algorithm leads the players unintentionally loosing their aim on the target, because an adjustment which had to be done several milliseconds ago, which was already corrected and accounted for by the player comes way to late and results in an unwanted adjustment – ultimately losing the target for a brief moment. And this little moment can be defining in competitive gaming.

_Matchmaking isn’t a lost cause yet because players can be matched on other deciding factors. Like in GTA V, only players who chose to play with auto-aim on get paired together. Or in HALO REACH players with enabled voice communications will play together and in PUBG players who play in third person instead of first person will go against each other. This is because of a mechanic called ‘third person peeking’. If a player with third person view enabled hides behind cover, they can look over the cover with their camera, while their body stays hidden. An approaching enemy would not know that they have already been spotted, since the players camera is invisible to the enemy.

Some competitive games, which feature certain moments where a third person instead a first-person view, they activate a so called ‘anti-peek’ function – it hides every other dynamic gameobjects, which are currently not able to be seen from the point of the character which just switched to 3rd person (e.g., APEX LEGENDS when using emotes).

_To sum up, designing multiplayer games within the aspect of accessibility can be very hard, because sadly, some competitive games are made not to be easily accessible by everyone in their core, which isn’t their fault – it’s just in their nature, so to say. But every other factor besides these core mechanics, which can be made more accessible in this game is a step further and should be done without a second thought spent.

_Literature & Resources

  1. https://medium.com/potato/the-right-to-play-accessibility-in-gaming-a954b01023f