Your weekly source for terrible plans and ideas!

## Tag: video games

### Solve your getting-research-participants problem in one easy step with the medium of VIDEO GAMES. Possibly even ethical, who can really say!

The issue:

Gathering data for scientific studies can be difficult. So why not tap into the world of VIDEO GAMES to conduct experiments on willing participants for no additional monetary cost!

Normal scenario:

• Researcher: “I wonder what factors lead to a person trusting Person A instead of Person B?”

or:

• Researcher: “I suspect that—all else being equal—ugly defendants in murder trials are convicted twice as often as attractive defendants”

Then, a ton of work has to be done to design a study and recruit participants for it.

Plus, people are always going to nit-pick your conclusions, for example: “what if ugly criminals are also just worse at committing crimes than attractive criminals? Then you’d expect them to be convicted more often, too, thus invalidating your results!”

But, maybe we can short circuit this process AND get scientifically-valid conclusions!

Proposal:

Instead of making researchers talk to a bunch of undergraduates and/or figure out how to get a sufficient number of participants over the Internet, we can perform research via video games.

A researcher would come up with a scenario that they’d like to test, for example:

• “People with annoying voices are less likely to be helped by a random passerby.”

Then, they’d set up a scenario like:

• Record both annoying and not-annoying voices for a character in a game.
• Later, see if the player is motivated to save the character from falling into a volcano / being eaten by a carnivorous plant / falling behind on their car payments, etc.

This could be done for a variety of scenarios, as shown in Figures 1 through 3.

Fig. 1: We can randomly generate a huge variety of different faces to test how players’ behavior is determined by appearance. For example, upon finding out that the middle guy here is a murderer, does the player let it slide (“well, he had it coming”) or turn him into the police? Maybe we’ll find that EVERY triangle-headed individual is let off the hook, which would raise interesting sociological questions.

Fig. 2: Here is a feature that can be added to any game where the player accumulates money: one of the characters above steals money from the player, but there is evidence implicating all three characters, so it’s difficult to determine the actual perpetrator. The culprit is randomly chosen for each player, and is equally likely to be the colonel, the horse or an octopus. However, players are FIVE TIMES more likely to accuse the octopus, as seen in this fabricated figure!

Fig. 3: For a Cold War spy thriller game, any one of these three characters might be a spy. Despite the fact that all three characters have essentially equivalent behaviors (randomly chosen) and backgrounds, we might find that the horse is usually executed when he is discovered to be a Soviet agent, while players allow the toaster to escape back across the Iron Curtain—thus revealing a widespread callous disregard toward the welfare of horses.

PROS: Probably could be a useful research tool!

CONS: Expensive! Requires very specific programming and art expertise.

### Get exercise without meaning to while playing video games? The impossibly decadent dream of a depraved era.

Background:

There have been a number of historical attempts to bring exercise and video games together.

However, these have mostly required additional attachments and/or gimmicky peripherals in order to function.

But improved computer vision algorithms (plus the widespread availability of inexpensive cameras on laptops, televisions, and monitors) mean that it is now possible for the computer to monitor you and require certain exercises to be performed before some in-game actions can be taken.

Proposal:

This isn’t an entirely novel proposal—the “exercise bike / treadmill that makes your in-game character walk” is a staple of fitness-based modding.

The main difference here is that no equipment is required (except for a computer and camera). The user simply installs the game as usual and then is periodically requested to perform various types of exercise in order to advance in the game, which is then verified by the camera in order to discourage cheaters (Fig. 1).

(If we can trust the player not to cheat, then the camera would not actually be necessary.)

Fig 1: The all-seeing computer eye will require you to do various exercises in order to progress in the game. (This could also potentially use the technology behind the Microsoft Kinect .) The red outline here simulates the computer’s interpretation of the player’s outline. It isn’t melting the player with a red laser or anything, even though that is probably a better interpretation of this specific image.

There are a limited number of exercises that would fit the bill for a setup like this, but it should be possible to think of a wide enough range of options to satisfy any gamer.

Fig 2: Want to activate a “where to go next” marker for the mission that you can’t figure out? The computer will demand 20 jumping jacks before it forks over that information.

The exact amount of required exercise would be tailored to the fitness level of the game-player in question. It would generally be preferable to err on the side of “too easy” so as to avoid discouragement and/or heart attacks among players.

• “Fast-travel” between locations: do 10 lunges to simulate the effect of walking.
• Respawn after being blown up: do 10 sit-ups to simulate the resurrection process.
• Recharge your magic spells: hold yourself in a “plank” position for 30 seconds to simulate the focus required for wizard-ness.
• And many more!

Conclusion:

If you own a game company, or are a publisher, you should demand this in your next game!

PROS: Increases the fitness level of decadent citizens of post-industrial economies.

CONS: Might cause personal injury.

### In a follow-up to last week’s game design idea, use this one weird tip to add realism and teach players about the legal system at the same time!

Background:

We previously focused on adding a sense of danger to a computer game by adding new consequence for failure. (Specifically, adding an increasingly-onerous delay to the player respawn timer.)

In this follow-up idea, we suggest two motivating premises:

1.  If a player has no consequences for failure, then they will not as keenly feel the thrill of success.
2. An analogue of the real-world legal system can also punish the player for in-game failure.

The issue:

In a game like the modern incarnations of Grand Theft Auto, there is usually very little at stake with regards to success or failure of a mission. Missions have ample checkpoints, so failure leads to a 60-second setback at most. (Older versions of these games did not have checkpoints, so a 20-minute mission could become increasingly tense toward the end.)

If a character reaches a failure mode in the open-world section of the game (e.g., is arrested, hit with a rocket, or falls off a cliff), the player is just charged an inconsequential fee in the in-game currency.

Proposal:

We propose that a character who is arrested (or otherwise incapacitated by law enforcement) will have to appear at an in-game trial and face the legally-determined in-game consequences of their actions. This can be a complex process—see figure 1 for details!

Fig 1: Upon failing a hypothetical “Casino Heist” mission, the player is faced with many legal woes. Should they pay for an expensive legal team? Take a plea bargain? Roll the dice on a jury trial? Note the un-subtle endorsement of paying tons of money for lawyers in this diagram! Clearly this game was sponsored by a high-profile legal team, and definitely not Nolo.com .

Each of these options will lead to a different in-game punishment (or perhaps the character will get off scot-free). Note that there is the possibility of fractal complexity here; maybe in the “take it to a jury trial” segment, the player must also be involved in attempting to suppress inculpatory evidence, impeach the credibility of opposing witnesses, call their own character witnesses, establish a (false) alibi, etc…

PROS: Adds a dire consequence for failure, making victory sweeter. May provide useful instruction regarding the legal system.

CONS: Requires additional time and money to develop a feature that few players will actually appreciate.

### If you are a game designer, use this one weird tip to annoy your players—it’s for their own good.

Background:

Modern video games are, with a few notable exceptions, generally designed to minimize the amount of irritation and aggravation that the player experiences.

The issue:

However, one flip side to the general “smooth sailing” experience of gameplay is the lack of any “stake” of the user in the gameworld, which reduces the tension and (frequently) enjoyment as well.

Generally, any setback is extremely minor. Careless play leads to your character impacting the ground at 100 m/s? No problem—instantly respawn nearby, or load the previous save. Thus, there is no sense of danger associated with this form of escapist entertainment.

Proposal:

We can add back the sense of danger (and investment in the well-being of one’s video game avatar) by making the consequences of failure more dire. However, this is often difficult to reconcile with game design. For example, if a player walks onto a land mine after exploring a huge ruin, it seems excessive to make them re-explore the entire ruin. But with this proposal, the player can still be punished, yet without making them repeat content that they have already experienced.

Specifically, every time the player encounters a significant setback (i.e., crashes a racecar, gets exploded in a war game, fails to clear the viruses from the Dr. Mario bottle), they are faced with a timer that must count  down to 0 before the game can be restarted. Perhaps this would increase; the first failure within an hour would result in a 30 second penalty, then the second one would result in a 2-minute penalty, until finally perhaps the player has to wait a full hour to resume the game.

Fig 1: The respawn timer increases as the player continues to meet their demise in a short period of time. This would probably work especially well for an open-world game like Fallout (or any other game that allows quick-saves), which otherwise have few feasible ways of punishing the player for setbacks.

PROS: Adds danger and excitement even to the most generic open-world game and/or game with generous save slots.

CONS: Probably would result in lots of whining on message boards.