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Changston avatar 10:47 AM on 05.30.2011  (server time)
P2 Press Start: Tipping the scales

Rinse and repeat.

Hadoukens are my bread and butter because they’re the only thing I know. A kill count of five smells like victory, even if everyone else is playing to twenty. In the battles between orcs, humans, and night elves, I was off in the corner creating my own undead civilization without a care to what my opponents were doing. In the most literal sense, I do not play well with others.

I know I can’t be the only person that feels this way, as a recent paper published in the journal Expert Systems with Applications proposes a way to make gamers like me a little more tolerable to play with. “Two-player adaptive video games”: an incredibly unassuming title with incredibly grand implications. The research comes from Jesus Ibáñez and Carlos Delgado-Mata, two computer programmers at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. Using Pong as their prototype, they encoded a set of parameters that can vary with each player’s gaming prowess. If one player is consistently doing poorly, the game is designed to help out by increasing the length of the paddle or decreasing the speed of the ball as it moves towards that side.

Ten pairs of players were matched so that there was a clear disparity in their skill level. Half played the game with the adaptive mechanism in place, while the other half did not to serve as a control. After ten minutes of game play, all players took a survey detailing their experience playing the game. Unskilled gamers reported less frustration while proficient gamers reported less boredom compared to the control groups. Both parties reported more enjoyment if the game contained the adaptive component.

This is science at work.

Obviously, this kind of handicapping wouldn’t be used at tournaments with prizes on the line, but imagine if this idea could be worked into all sorts of competitive games. Basic punches and kicks do a little more damage. The hit box for head shots is more forgiving. For those of us that wished our significant others played more video games, this could serve as a vital stepping stone towards that goal. Rather than have them watch passively as you decimate online or virtual opponents, they play against you directly and enjoy themselves that much more. Mutual gaming bliss looms on the horizon.

That is, until you look at the game from a philosophical point of view. Are you playing with the person by your side, or are the two of you playing simultaneous single-player games against an arbitrary opponent? If you’re the better gamer, would you get frustrated that you can’t unleash your full potential? If you’re the worse gamer, would the difference in skill level between you and your opponent bother you? They’re all legitimate questions to ask. It ultimately comes down to what you expect from your gaming experience.

Perhaps the most important result in the research study is that both parties were much more likely to play with each other if the adaptive mechanism were in place. Isn’t replay value one of the hallmarks of a well thought out game? Maybe you don’t need that authentic tête-à-tête experience, so long you have fun in the process. Getting rid of that initial frustration lowers one of the biggest hurdles for people unfamiliar with games. Someday, maybe your gaming partners might graduate to the point where they no longer need the automated handicapping. Those days are still far in the future though, so in the mean time, I’m sticking with what I know.

Any takers?

Adaptive Two Player Video Games (journal article, subscription required)

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