In fact, Giel analyzed found statistically significant correlations in over 180 of out of the 275 variables he recorded in-game. These included conversation triggers, quest choices and progress, time taken to perform tasks and dozens more. Interestingly, although many of the correlations revealed fascinating connections between real-life personality and in-game behavior, there were still things that puzzled Giel. When we spoke about the results, he highlighted the Extraversion trait - associated with outgoingness, energetic tendencies and contact with other people - and how it correlated inside the game.
Extraverts also seemed to delight in "risky" conversations - becoming argumentative with people in the village tavern, for instance.
"What surprised me a lot was that extraversion is not super dominant in our data. All across the literature you see that extraversion in 'normal' life is omnipresent. It determines how much people talk, smile and interact with others. It determines what type of activities people like. It's virtually everywhere." But even in this case, where he found fewer correlations than expected, Extraversion still features in Giel's results. High scorers seemed to spend the most time in the dream sequence at the start of the scenario, which Giel attributed to being easily stimulated by the strange light effects and unusual situation. Extraverts also seemed to delight in "risky" conversations - becoming argumentative with people in the village tavern, for instance.
For the future, Giel will be focusing on finishing his PhD, and then hopefully returning to the question that sparked off his research initially - whether this work on personality modeling can help shape the next generation of videogames. "Our main motivation when starting all this was to find a way to adapt game content based on personality," Giel explains. "But we found out that it takes way more effort to actually do this research than we expected. Collecting data from humans takes a lot of time."
Giel is already planning a new series of experiments to attempt to find a link between a player's personality and their preference for different sorts of content. Early experiments have shown mixed results, but he remains upbeat. "Videogames are an untapped resource. We know very little about the relationship between game behavior and the cognitive processes behind it." And where little is known, there is much research to be done.
Whether we'll be seeing personalized content any time soon is uncertain - as with many research projects, real-world application remains an open question. This year's Computational Intelligence and Games conference was heavily sponsored by MMO developers NCSoft, who also attended a number of talks including Giel's. Giel's passion for his work, however, makes it clear that getting this research into games is not the main concern of his research. Regardless of whether this technology worms its ways onto our hard drives, researchers like Giel remain resolute in uncovering the underlying psychology of the average gamer, and their work promises many more surprising results in future.
Michael Cook is a PhD researcher in automated creative design, including game design. He would like you to lie down and tell him about your father.