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Game Testing And Research: The Body And The Mind
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Game Testing And Research: The Body And The Mind

April 7, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

Issues Related to, And Benefits of, Using Psychophysiological Measures

There are of other measures I could have covered, such as recording blood cortisol, pupil dilation, skin temperature, or eye tracking, but the measures I have covered are probably some of the most common ones used in psychophysiological research. Finally, though, I would like to just wrap up by summarizing the benefits and issues related to the use of psychophysiological measures.


Because I don't want to end on too much of a down note, I will start with the issues related to the use of psychophysiological measures. There are a few of these, and you may have picked them up already but they are worth repeating.

The first is problem of inference -- this is related to working out exactly what the psychophysiological measurement you have taken actually means. This is problematic because there is a many-to-one (or one-to-many) relationship between most cognitive states and physiological responses.

In other words, an increase in heart rate, for example, can be caused by many different factors and may not be related to gameplay experience at all. The upshot of this is that you, as the researcher, must infer what a psychophysiological measurement means.

This problem can be somewhat overcome by not using psychophysiological measurements in isolation. Rather, they should be used alongside subjective questionnaires and objective game data metrics.

For example, if you find an increase in heart rate, an increase in facial EMG in the cheeks, and an increase in ratings of fun on the Game Evaluation Questionnaire in response to your game mechanic, then you are on much stronger ground than if you had just one of those measures.

However, talk-as-you-play type subjective measures should obviously be avoided as they will produce artifacts in your data. This combination of measures also helps with detection of artifacts, by highlighting conflicts where players may be reporting that they are having fun, but psychological measures may not be reacting or are negative, which could indicate a potential measurement problem.

The next two issues are those of specificity and generality. These factors are related to inference, in that psychophysiological measurements are sensitive to many different things, but also change across individuals, situations, tasks and times. Always taking baseline measurements and comparing within subjects, rather than between, can address the problem with individual differences.

However, more seriously, these issues also potentially mean that the results you see in your test environment may be quite different in a home gaming setup or for the next game you make (even if it is a sequel to your last one that uses many of the same mechanics).

Again, this raises the importance of correct inference and the use of psychophysiological measures to compliment other subjective and objective measurements. Also as research in psychophysiology and games advances its possible that the connection between certain gameplay elements and certain reactions in physiology may become clearer.

The fourth issue is also somewhat of a benefit. This is that many psychological measures are good at detecting the workload a player is under, and their emotional arousal. But, with the exception of facial EMG, they are not particularly useful for detecting the pleasantness of a player's emotion (valence). This means that you may know that your players are experiencing an intense emotion, but not know if that is a good thing or not.

The final three issues are that of expense, artefacts, and intrusiveness. While the price of much of the technology used to measure psychophysiology is decreasing, it does still typically require specialized equipment and software, and perhaps more seriously given the time limits that often exist in game development can also cost a lot of time to both setup and analyze. Furthermore as mentioned many times above there is always the potential for artifacts in your data -- which could lead to your data being biased or the masking of useful effects.

Sadly, not this type of artifact.

Finally wiring someone up is a somewhat intrusive thing to do and with all of the measures mentioned above extensive movement and talking should be avoided as they produce artifacts. Or if they cannot be avoided, they need to be noted down and recorded in order to be controlled for. Being asked to hold your fingers still if so EDA can be collected is also intrusive in its own way, although thankfully people do quite quickly adapt to being wired up and can often put it pretty much out of their mind.

Also, as time goes on, the technology for measuring psychophysiology is also advancing and its intrusiveness is decreasing -- for example I have heard talk of next generation heart rate measuring sensors that do not have to be attached to the body and can simply be placed in a chair to collect data from anyone who sits down.


This article may seem a little too negative. This is mainly because I want to make it clear to anyone reading that psychophysiological methods are not a silver bullet, even if they do provide nice objective quantifiable data.

However, to finish up, I would like to again note some of the main benefits of psychophysiological methods. First of all, psychophysiological measures can be fully automated in terms of their recording, and can also be pretty much recorded continuously. This means they can be directly related to gameplay events as they happen. This is quite a big advantage over many subjective measures that require you to either stop and start a play experience, add additional load to a gameplay experience, or wait until the end before you can collect data.

Secondly, the other big benefit of psychophysiological measures is that they detect emotions or reactions in players that they themselves may not be aware are present (or detect them before they enter awareness). This can be a great help, especially if players are having problems expressing exactly why they dislike or like a particular feature.

Although, it must be also asked, if players are unaware of these emotions then can they influence their behaviour and their enjoyment of the game? The science around this is currently unclear, although there is a growing body of psychological research that does suggest that unconscious body states (emotions) can have a meaningful impact on human behavior.

Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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