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What Your Archmage Build Says About You

Michael Cook | 4 Nov 2011 10:00
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"The initial work was successful, but limited," Giel explains. "We wanted to get beyond just difficulty adjustment and into [game] content in general." The problem was that modeling player understanding was fine for simple things like making levels easier if the player wasn't particularly skilled. But in order to adjust all the content in a game - from the story to the graphical style - researchers would need to understand the player on a more fundamental level. This led Giel to wonder about the player's psychology in general, even their entire personality. "If we can unravel the relationship between personality and game content we can start offering content that fits with the player." The question was, how do you tell a gamer's personality from watching him hit goblins with a pointy stick?

The question was, how do you tell a gamer's personality from watching him hit goblins with a pointy stick?

You've probably taken a personality test or two in your time - big long lists of questions about who you are, what you're like and what you feel about this and that. These tests, more often than not, are designed to break your personality down into five key categories, known to the psychological community by the acronym OCEAN - Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Giel's next step would be to try and obtain this information without asking a single question of the player.

To do this, Giel designed a scenario for Neverwinter Nights. In the scenario, players are guided through a short dream sequence serving as a turtorial before they're let loose in a small quest line - a town's water supply has been poisoned and the player must find out how and stop it. The scenario features sidequests, some combat and a collection of characters to talk to - similar to most of the Neverwinter Nights modules available online. The only difference here is that as the player progresses, the module records data for Giel.

Before playing the scenario, each of Giel's 44 participants - a mix of both gamers and non-gamers - took a standard personality questionnaire, so that Giel could compare his game data to the person's real-world personality. Then, after Giel had more than forty hours of gameplay data and another thirty hours of questionnaires to sift through, he began the arduous task of searching for connections between activity in the game and personality attributes in real life. Expecting one or two moderately strong relations, Giel was surprised to find many significant relationships between personality traits and in-game behavior.

The results in his paper, Games as Personality Profiling Tools, highlight the correlations between certain in-game actions and high or low scores in personality traits. The results are fascinating. For example, participants in the experiment who exhibited high Agreeableness in the personality interview - indicating that they are friendly and compassionate - talked less with aggressive or rude characters in the scenario, and were more likely to warn others about the poisoned water source once they discovered it. Those with high Neuroticism scores - associated with nervousness or sensitivity - took far longer to finish the scenario, many exceeding an hour of play time. Conscientious players - a factor that relates to how organized or efficient someone is - explored many of the game's longer conversations to exhaustion.

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