5 September 2006

How computer gamers experience the game situation: a behavioral study

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putting people first
by experientia

Doom, one of the games that defined the first-person shooter genre
Very little is known about computer gamers’ playing experience. Most social scientific research has treated gaming as an undifferentiated activity associated with various factors outside the gaming context.

This article considers computer games as behavior settings worthy of social scientific investigation in their own right and contributes to a better understanding of computer gaming as a complex, context-dependent, goal-directed activity.

The results of an exploratory interview-based study of computer gaming within the “first-person shooter” (FPS) game genre are reported. FPS gaming is a fast-paced form of goal-directed activity that takes place in complex, dynamic behavioral environments where players must quickly make sense of changes in their immediate situation and respond with appropriate actions. Gamers’ perceptions and evaluations of various aspects of the FPS gaming situation are documented, including positive and negative aspects of game interfaces, map environments, weapons, computer-generated game characters (bots), multiplayer gaming on local area networks (LANs) or the internet, and single player gaming.

The results provide insights into the structure of gamers’ mental models of the FPS genre by identifying salient categories of their FPS gaming experience. It is proposed that aspects of FPS games most salient to gamers were those perceived to be most behaviorally relevant to goal attainment, and that the evaluation of various situational stimuli depended on the extent to which they were perceived either to support or to hinder goal attainment. Implications for the design of FPS games that players experience as challenging, interesting, and fun are discussed.

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