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Physiological indicators for the evaluation of co-located collaborative play


Abstract and Figures

Emerging technologies offer new ways of using entertainment technology to foster interactions between players and connect people. Evaluating collaborative entertainment technology is challenging because success is not defined in terms of productivity and performance, but in terms of enjoyment and interaction. Current subjective methods are not sufficiently robust in this context. This paper describes an experiment designed to test the efficacy of physiological measures as evaluators of collaborative entertainment technologies. We found evidence that there is a different physiological response in the body when playing against a computer versus playing against a friend. These physiological results are mirrored in the subjective reports provided by the participants. We provide an initial step towards using physiological responses to objectively evaluate a user's experience with collaborative entertainment technology.
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Physiological Indicators for the Evaluation of Co-located
Collaborative Play
Regan L. Mandryk
Simon Fraser University
School of Computing Science
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Kori M. Inkpen
Dalhousie University
Faculty of Computer Science
Halifax, NS, Canada
Emerging technologies offer new ways of using entertainment
technology to foster interactions between players and connect
people. Evaluating collaborative entertainment technology is
challenging because success is not defined in terms of
productivity and performance, but in terms of enjoyment and
interaction. Current subjective methods are not sufficiently robust
in this context. This paper describes an experiment designed to
test the efficacy of physiological measures as evaluators of
collaborative entertainment technologies. We found evidence that
there is a different physiological response in the body when
playing against a computer versus playing against a friend. These
physiological results are mirrored in the subjective reports
provided by the participants. We provide an initial step towards
using physiological responses to objectively evaluate a user’s
experience with collaborative entertainment technology.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
H.5.2 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: User Interfaces-
H.5.3 [Information Interfaces and Presentation]: Group and
Organization Interfaces- Evaluation/Methodology, Collaborative
General Terms
Experimentation, Human Factors
GSR, heart rate, EMG, fun, collaboration, physiology
Emerging technologies in ubiquitous computing and ambient
intelligence offer exciting new interface opportunities for co-
located entertainment technology, as evidenced in recent growth
in the number of conference workshops and research articles
devoted to this topic [1, 2, 14, 16]. Our research team is interested
in employing these new technologies to foster interactions
between users in co-located, collaborative entertainment
environments. We want technology not only to enable fun,
compelling experiences, but also to enhance the interaction and
communication between players.
For example, we recently created a hybrid board-video game
system to enhance player interaction [16]. Board games are highly
interactive, provide a non-oriented interface, are mobile, and
allow for a dynamic number of players and house rules. They also
are limited to a fairly static environment, don’t allow players to
save the game state, and have simple scoring rules. On the other
hand, computer games provide complex simulations, impartial
judging, evolving environments, suspension of disbelief, and the
ability to save game state. But computer games often support
interaction with the system, rather than with other players. Even
in a co-located environment, players sit side-by-side and interact
with each other through the interface. Our approach was to build a
hybrid game system to leverage the advantages of both of these
mediums, encouraging interaction between the players.
We also created a collaborative game environment on handheld
computers where players work together but individually access a
shared game space, to enhance collaboration [6, 15]. Players
began with a limited set of genetic material for alien beings, and
were encouraged to trade and breed their creatures to create a
target creature. In order to visualize the potential outcome of
breeding two creatures, we created a What-If feature. This feature
semantically partitioned the data across multiple devices,
encouraging the players to collaborate [15].
We created these environments with the goal of enhancing
interaction between players and to create a compelling
experience. Other researchers have used emerging technologies to
create entertainment environments with the same goal in mind [1,
10, 14]. However, evaluating the success of these new interaction
techniques and environments is an open research challenge.
1.1 Evaluation of Entertainment and
Collaborative Technologies
Traditionally, human-computer interaction research (HCI) has
been rooted in the cognitive sciences of psychology and human
factors, and in the sciences of engineering, and computer science
[19]. Although the study of human cognition has made significant
progress in the last decade, the notions of affect and emotion are
equally important to design [19], especially when the primary
goals are to challenge and entertain the user. This approach
presents a shift in focus from usability analysis to human
experience analysis. Traditional objective measures used for
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productivity environments, such as time and accuracy, are not
relevant to collaborative play.
The first issue prohibiting good evaluation of entertainment
technologies is the inability to define what makes a system
successful. We are not interested in traditional performance
measures, but are interested in whether our environment fosters
interaction and communication between the players, creates an
engaging experience, and is fun. Successful interaction techniques
should provide seamless access to the game environment and be a
source of fun in itself. Although traditional usability issues may
still be relevant, they are subordinate to the actual playing
experience as defined by challenge, engagement, and fun.
Once a definition of success has been determined, we need to
resolve how to measure the chosen variables. Unlike performance
measures, such as speed or accuracy, the measures of success for
collaborative entertainment technologies are more elusive. We
want to increase interaction, enhance engagement, and create a
fun experience. The current research problem lies in what metrics
to use to measure engagement, interaction, and fun.
We have previously used both subjective reports and video coding
as methods of evaluating our new technologies, although there is
no control environment with which to make comparisons [15, 16,
27]. Subjective reporting through questionnaires and interviews is
generalizable, convenient, amenable to rapid statistics and easy to
administer. Some drawbacks are that questionaires are not
conducive to finding complex patterns, can invade privacy, and
subject responses may not correspond to the actual experience
[17]. Knowing that their answers are being recorded, participants
will sometimes answer what they think you want to hear, without
even realizing it. Subjective ratings are cognitively mediated, and
may not accurately reflect what is occurring [36]. Although many
studies have shown this to be true, these results may not extend to
the domain of entertainment and games, where personal
preference is essential to the enjoyment of the experience.
Subjective data yield valuable quantitative and qualitative results.
However, when used alone, they do not provide sufficient
information. In game design, reward and pacing are important
features. Utilizing a single subjective rating can wash out this
variability, since subjective ratings provide researchers with a
single data point representing an entire condition. Think-aloud
techniques [18], which are popular for use in productivity systems
cannot be effectively used with entertainment technology because
of the disturbance to the player, and the impact they have on the
condition itself. Using the technique retrospectively would only
qualify the experience, rather than providing concrete quantitative
data. In addition, the information provided by the retrospective
think-aloud protocol would be reflective, not grounded in the
context of the experience itself.
Using video to code gestures, body language, and verbalizations
is a rich source of data. Analysis techniques of observational data
include conversation analysis, verbal and non-verbal protocol
analysis, cognitive task analysis, and discourse analysis [9].
Coding gestures, body language, verbal comments and other
subject data as an indicator of human experience is a lengthy and
rigorous process that needs to be undertaken with great care [17].
Researchers must be careful to acknowledge their biases, address
inter-rater reliability, and not read inferences where none are
present [17]. There is an enormous time commitment associated
with observational analysis. The analysis time to data sequence
time ratio (AT:ST) typically ranges from 5:1 to 100:1 [9].
Consequently, many researchers rely on subjective data for user
preference, rather than objective observational analysis.
Researchers in Human Factors have used physiological measures
as indicators of mental effort and stress [30, 34]. Psychologists
use physiological measures as unique identifiers of human
emotions such as anger, grief, and sadness [8]. However,
physiological data have not been employed to identify human
experience states of enjoyment and fun. Physiological data is a
high-resolution time series, responsive to player experience.
Using methods like the ones presented in this paper could provide
researchers with a continuous objective data source that can be
used to evaluate the player experience.
Our research aims to uncover whether there are links and
correlations between player’s physiological states, events
occurring during the collaborative experience, and subjective
reported experience. These correlations would enable novel
collaborative entertainment technologies to be tested and
evaluated in terms of enhancing interaction and increasing
engagement and fun. Based on previous research on the use of
psychophysiological techniques (see Section 5), we believe that
directly measuring and capturing autonomic nervous system
(ANS) activity will provide researchers and developers of
technological systems with direct access to the experience of the
user. Used in concert with other evaluation methods (e.g. subject
reports and video analysis), a complex, detailed account of both
conscious and subconscious user experience could be formed.
1.2 Overview of research
The goal of the research is to test the efficacy of physiological
measures for use in evaluating player experience with
collaborative entertainment technologies. We have two main
Conjecture A: Physiological measures can be used to objectively
measure a player’s experience with entertainment technology.
Conjecture B: Normalized physiological measures of experience
with entertainment technology will correspond to subjective
This paper describes one experiment that we designed to test
support for the two main conjectures. We recorded users’
physiological, verbal and facial reactions to game technology, and
applied post-processing techniques to correlate an individual’s
physiological data with their subjective reported experience and
events in the game. Our ultimate goal is to create a methodology
for objective evaluation of collaborative entertainment
technology, as rigorous as current methods for productivity
To provide an introduction for readers unfamiliar with
physiological measures, we briefly introduce the physiological
measures used, describe how these measures are collected, and
explain their inferred meaning. We then describe the experiment
design, setting, and protocol. A presentation of the data analyses,
results, and discussion follow. We familiarize the reader with
related literature on physiology as a metric for evaluation in other
domains. Finally, we present a look forward into the potential of
using body responses as an evaluation of collaborative
entertainment technologies.
Physiological data were gathered using the Procomp Infiniti
hardware and Biograph software from Thought Technologies™.
Based on previous literature, we chose to collect galvanic skin
response (GSR), electrocardiography (EKG), electromyography
of the jaw (EMG), and respiration. Heart rate (HR) and interbeat
interval (IBI) were computed from the EKG signal, while
respiration amplitude (RespAmp) and respiration rate (RespRate)
were computed from the raw respiration. We did not collect blood
volume pulse data (BVP) because the sensing technology used on
the finger is extremely sensitive to movement artifacts. As our
subjects were operating a game controller, it wasn’t possible to
constrain their movements. The measures we used will each be
described briefly including reference to how they have previously
been used in technical domains.
2.1 Galvanic Skin Response
GSR is a measure of the conductivity of the skin. There are
specific sweat glands that are used to measure GSR called the
eccrine sweat glands. Located in the palms of the hands and soles
of the feet, these sweat glands respond to psychological
stimulation rather than simply to temperature changes in the body
[28]. For example, many people have cold clammy hands when
they are nervous. In fact, subjects do not have to even be sweating
to see differences in skin conductance in the palms of the hands or
soles of the feet because the eccrine sweat glands act as variable
resistors on the surface. As sweat rises in a particular gland, the
resistance of that gland decreases even though the sweat may not
reach the surface of the skin [28].
Galvanic skin response is a linear correlate to arousal [12] and
reflects both emotional responses as well as cognitive activity [3].
GSR has been used extensively as an indicator of experience in
both non-technical domains (see [3] for a comprehensive review),
and technical domains [31, 32, 34, 35].
We measured GSR using surface electrodes sewn in Velcro™
straps that were placed around two fingers on the same hand.
Previous testing of numerous electrode placements was conducted
to ensure that there was no interference from the movement
utilized when manipulating the game controller. We found no
differences between responses from pre-gelled electrodes on the
feet and responses from the finger clips we employed.
2.2 Cardiovascular Measures
The cardiovascular system includes the organs that regulate blood
flow through the body. Measures of cardiovascular activity
include heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (HRV), blood
pressure (BP), and blood volume pulse (BVP). EKG
(Electrocardiography) measures electrical activity of the heart.
HR, interbeat interval (IBI), HRV, and respiratory sinus
arrhythmia (RSA) can all be gathered from EKG.
HR reflects emotional activity. It has been used to differentiate
between positive and negative emotions with further
differentiation made possible with finger temperature [20]. HRV
refers to the oscillation of the interval between consecutive
heartbeats. It has been used extensively in the human factors
literature as an indication of mental effort and stress in adults. In
high stress environments such as dispatch [33] and air traffic
control [24], HRV is a very useful measure. When subjects are
under stress, HRV is suppressed and when they are relaxed, HRV
emerges. Similarly, HRV decreases with mental effort [24], but as
the mental effort needed for a task increases beyond the capacity
of working memory, HRV will increase.
Although there is a standard medical configuration for placement
of electrodes, two electrodes placed fairly far apart will produce
an EKG signal [28]. We placed pre-gelled surface electrodes in
the standard configuration of two electrodes on the chest and one
electrode on the abdomen.
2.3 Respiratory Measures
Respiration can be measured as the rate or volume at which an
individual exchanges air in their lungs. Rate of respiration
(RespRate) and depth of breath (RespAmp) are the most common
measures of respiration.
Emotional arousal increases respiration rate while rest and
relaxation decreases respiration rate [28]. Although respiration
rate generally decreases with relaxation, startle events and tense
situations may result in momentary respiration cessation.
Negative emotions generally cause irregularity in the respiration
pattern [28]. Because respiration is closely linked to cardiac
function, a deep breath can affect other measures.
Respiration is most accurately measured by gas exchange in the
lungs, but the sensor technology inhibits talking and moving [28].
Instead, chest cavity expansion can be used to capture breathing
activity using either a hall effect sensor, strain gauge, or a stretch
sensor [28]. We used a stretch sensor sewn into a Velcro™ strap,
positioned around the thorax.
2.4 Electromyography
Electromyography (EMG) measures muscle activity by detecting
surface voltages that occur when a muscle is contracted [28]. Two
electrodes are placed along the muscle of interest and a third
ground is placed off axis. In isometric conditions (no movement)
EMG is closely correlated with muscle tension [28], however, this
is not true of isotonic movements (when the muscle is moving).
When used on the jaw, EMG provides a very good indicator of
tension in an individual due to jaw clenching [4]. On the face,
EMG has been used to distinguish between positive and negative
emotions. EMG activity over the brow (frown muscle) region is
lower and EMG activity over the cheek (smile muscle) muscle
regions are higher when emotions are mildly positive, as opposed
to mildly negative [4]. These effects are stronger when averaged
over a group rather than for individual analysis. In addition to
emotional stress and emotional valence, EMG has been used to
distinguish facial expressions and gestural expressions [28].
We used surface electrodes to detect EMG on the jaw, indicative
of tension. Our previous observations of jaw EMG during
computer game play have shown that jaw clenching tends to
increase when participants are frustrated, or concentrating very
hard. The disadvantage of using surface electrodes is that the
signals can be muddied by other jaw activity, such as smiling,
laughing, and talking. Needles are an alternative to surface
electrodes that minimize interference, but were not appropriate for
our experimental setting.
2.5 Identifying Emotions
There has been a long history of researchers using physiological
data to try to identify emotional states. William James first
speculated that patterns of physiological response could be used
to recognize emotion [5], and although this viewpoint is too
simplistic, recent evidence suggests that physiological data
sources can differentiate among some emotions [13]. There are
varying opinions on whether emotions can be classified into
discrete, specific emotions [7], or whether emotions exist along
multiple axes in space [12, 25]. Both theoretical camps have seen
limited success in using physiological data to identify emotional
states (see [4] for an overview). In addition to the difficulties in
classifying emotions, when using physiological data sources there
are methodological issues that must be addressed [22], and
theoretical limitations to inferring significance [5]. Discussing
these issues are beyond the scope of this paper.
To better understand how body responses can be used to create an
objective evaluation methodology, and to look for support for our
two main conjectures, we observed pairs of participants playing a
computer game. Because this methodology is a novel approach to
measure collaboration and engagement, we used an experimental
manipulation designed to maximize the difference in the
experience for the participant. They played in two conditions:
against another co-located player, and against the computer.
We chose these conditions because we have previously observed
pairs (and groups) of participants playing together under a variety
of collaborative conditions [6, 11, 15, 27]. Our previous
observations revealed that players seem to be more engaged with
a game when another co-located player is involved. The chosen
manipulation should yield consistent subjective results, and thus
consistent physiological patterns of experience. Once we better
understand how the body responds to collaborative play
environments, more subtle manipulations can be explored.
Our previous studies on collaborative play, as well as the
literature on physiology and emotion (see Section 2) were used to
generate the following experimental hypotheses.
H1: Participants will prefer playing against a friend to playing
against a computer.
H2: Participants will experience higher GSR values when playing
against a friend than against a computer, due to greater arousal.
H3: Participants will experience higher EMG values along the
jaw when playing against a friend than against a computer, as a
result of trying harder due to greater competition.
H4: The differences in the participants’ GSR signal in the two
conditions will correlate to the differences in their subjective
responses of arousal-related measures (e.g. fun and excitement).
Ratification of these hypotheses would provide support for our
two main conjectures.
3.1 Participants
Ten male participants age 19 to 23 took part in the experiment.
Participants were recruited from computer science and
engineering students and recent graduates. Before participating in
the experiment, all participants filled out a background
questionnaire. The questionnaire was used to gather information
on their computer use, experience with computer and video
games, game preference, console exposure, and personal statistics
such as age and handedness.
All participants were frequent computer users. When asked to rate
how often they used computers, 9 subjects used them every day,
and one subject used them often. The participants were also all
self-declared gamers. When asked how often they played
computer games, 2 played every day, 7 played often, and 1 played
rarely. When asked how much they liked different game genres,
role-playing was the favorite, followed by strategy games (see
Table 1).
Table 1: Results of game genre preference from background
questionnaires. Participants rated their enjoyment
on a scale from 1 to 5. Higher means indicate a
stronger preference for that game genre.
Mean St.Dev.
Action 4.30 .68
Adventure 4.40 .84
Puzzle 3.50 1.1
Racing 3.80 .63
Roleplaying 4.90 .32
Shooting 4.10 .99
Simulation 4.30 .68
Sports 3.90 1.3
Strategy 4.78 .44
3.2 Play Conditions
Participants played the game in two conditions. In one condition,
participants played against another player, in the other condition,
they played against the computer. Participants were recruited in
pairs so that they would be playing against friends rather than
against strangers. Because they were recruited in pairs, one player
would compete against the computer before playing against their
partner, while the other player would compete against the
computer after playing against their partner. This was to
acknowledge effects due to the order of the presentation of
conditions. Participants played NHL 2003™ by EA Sports™ in
both conditions (see Figure 1 for a screen shot). Two of the pairs
were very experienced with the game, while the other three pairs
were somewhat familiar or inexperienced with the game.
Figure 1: Screen shot of NHL 2003 by EA Sports™.
Each play condition consisted of one 5-minute period of hockey.
The game settings were kept consistent within each pair during
the course of the experiment. All players used the Dallas Stars™
and the Philadelphia Flyers™ as the competing teams, as these
two teams were comparable in the 2003 version of the game. All
players used the overhead camera angle, and the home and away
teams were kept consistent. This was to ensure that any
differences observed within subjects could be attributed to the
change in play setting, and not to the change in game settings,
camera angle, or direction of play. The only difference between
pairs was that experienced pairs played both conditions in a
higher difficulty setting than non-experienced players.
3.3 Experimental Setting and Protocol
The experiment was conducted in a university laboratory. NHL
2003™ was played on a Sony PS2™, and viewed on a 36”
television. A camera captured both of the players, their facial
expressions and their use of the controller. Physiological data
were gathered using the ProComp Infiniti system and BioGraph
Software from Thought Technologies™. All audio was captured
with a boundary microphone. The game output, the camera
recording, and the screen containing the physiological data were
synchronized into a single quadrant video display, recorded onto
tape, and digitized (see Figure 2).
Figure 2: Quadrant display including: the screen capture of
the biometrics, a screen capture of the game, and the camera
feed of the participants.
Upon arriving, participants signed a consent form. They were then
fitted with the physiological sensors. One participant rested for
five minutes, and then played the game against the computer.
Both participants then rested for five minutes after which they
played the game against each other. The second participant then
rested again and played the game against the computer. When one
participant was playing against the computer, the other participant
waited outside of the room during the pre-play rest condition and
the play condition. Because the participants were required to rest
in the same room before playing each other, they wore
headphones and listened to a CD containing nature sounds. This
helped them to relax and ignore the other player in the room.
They also listened to the CD when resting alone to maintain
consistency. The resting period was included to give us a baseline
comparison, but also to allow the physiological measures to return
to baseline levels prior to each condition. Our pilot experiment
showed that the act of filling out the questionnaires and
communicating with the experimenter can alter the physiological
signals. The resting periods corrected for these effects.
After each condition, the participants filled out a condition
questionnaire. The condition questionnaire contained their
participant ID, the condition name, the level of play, and the final
score. We also had subjects rate the condition using a Likert
Scale. They were asked to consider the statement, “This condition
was boring”, rating their agreement on a 5-point scale with 1
corresponding to “Strongly Disagree” and 5 corresponding to
“Strongly Agree”. The same technique was used to rate how
challenging, easy, engaging, exciting, frustrating, and fun that
particular condition was. After completing the experiment,
subjects completed a post-experiment questionnaire. We asked
them to decide in retrospect which condition was more enjoyable,
more fun, more exciting, and more challenging. They were also
asked which condition they would choose to play in, given the
choice to play against a friend or against the computer. Discussion
of their answers was encouraged.
3.4 Data Analyses
The subjective data from both the condition questionnaires and
the post experiment questionnaires were collected into a database,
and analyzed using non-parametric statistical techniques.
EKG was collected at 256 Hz, while GSR, respiration, and EMG
were collected at 32 Hz. HR, IBI, RespRate, and RespAmp were
computed at 4 Hz. Physiological data for each rest period and
each condition were exported into a file. Noisy EKG data may
produce heart rate (HR) data where two beats have been counted
in a sampling interval or only one beat has been counted in two
sampling intervals. We inspected the HR data and corrected these
erroneous samples. For each condition and rest period, HR data
were then computed into the following measures: mean HR, peak
HR, min HR, and standard deviation of HR. The same four
measures were also computed on the GSR data, EMG data,
RespAmp data, and RespRate data.
Results of the subjective data analyses are described first,
followed by results of the physiological data analyses. Finally,
correlations between the subjective data and the physiological
data are presented.
4.1 Subjective Responses
H1: Participants will prefer playing against a friend to playing
against a computer.
The chi-squared statistic was used to determine whether
subjective responses were influenced by order of presentation of
condition or outcome of the condition (win, loss, or tie). There
were no significant effects of order on any of the subjective
measures, either on the condition questionnaire, or on the post-
experiment questionnaire. There was a significant effect of
condition outcome on boredom rating, when participants played
against the computer. Participants who lost to the computer rated
the condition as significantly more boring (mean = 4.0, N = 2)
than subjects who beat the computer (mean = 2.0, N = 5), or who
tied the computer (mean = 1.67, N = 3) (χ2 = 12.38, p<.02).
However, there was no difference in boredom ratings depending
on game outcome when participants played against a friend
(mean(win) = 1.67, N = 3, mean(loss) = 2.0, N = 3, mean(tie) =
1.5, N = 4) (χ2 = 4.50, p =.343). As expected, there is some
benefit when playing against a friend that is irrelevant to the game
outcome. The game outcome had no significant impact on any of
the other subjective measures.
In addition, the ratings for playing against the computer were
compared to the ratings for playing against a friend. Players found
it significantly more boring (χ2 = 4.0, p < .05) to play against a
computer than against a friend, but significantly more engaging
(χ2 = 4. 0, p < .05), exciting (χ2 = 6.0, p < .02), and fun (χ2 = 6.0,
p < .02) to play against a friend than a computer (Friedman test).
See Table 2 for a synopsis of these results.
Table 2: Results of condition questionnaires. Subjects were
asked to rate each experience state on a scale from 1 to 5.
Identifying strongly with an experience state is reflected in a
higher mean.
Playing against
Playing against
Mean St.Dev Mean St.Dev χ2 p
Boring 2.3 .949 1.7 .949 4.0 .046
Challenging 3.6 1.08 3.9 .994 1.8 .180
Easy 2.7 .823 2.5 .850 1.0 .317
Engaging 3.8 .422 4.3 .675 4.0 .046
Exciting 3.5 .527 4.1 .568 6.0 .014
Frustrating 2.8 1.14 2.5 .850 .67 .414
Fun 3.9 .738 4.6 .699 6.0 .014
On the post-experiment questionnaire, when asked whether it was
more enjoyable to play against the computer or a friend, all 10
subjects chose playing against a friend. All 10 subjects also stated
that it was more fun and more exciting to play against a friend,
however, half of the subjects thought it was more challenging to
play against the computer. When asked why it was more
challenging to play against the computer, most felt that their
partner was not as good of a player as the computer. Those that
were more challenged by their partner felt that the computer was
too predictable. When asked if given a choice, which condition
they would choose to play, all 10 subjects reported that they
would choose to play against a friend.
It isn’t surprising that the participants found the game fun, and
that they enjoyed playing against a friend more than the
computer. When recruiting players, we asked that they be
computer game players familiar with a game controller, drawing
people that generally enjoy playing computer games (as seen in
the results from the background questionnaire). We recruited the
participants individually, but asked them to bring their own
partner. We didn’t want the participants playing against strangers,
which may have discouraged people who prefer playing alone
from signing up.
Our first experimental hypothesis stated that participants would
prefer playing against a friend to playing against a computer. The
described subjective results confirm this hypothesis.
4.2 Physiological Responses
Means for the physiological data were analyzed using a one-way
analysis of variance to determine whether there were effects due
to order of condition or outcome of the condition (win loss or tie).
Neither of these factors influenced the physiological data. As a
result, the physiological data for each play condition were
compared using paired-samples t-tests.
H2: Participants will experience higher GSR values when playing
against a friend than against a computer, due to greater arousal.
Our second experimental hypothesis assumed that psychological
arousal would be greater when playing against a friend as
compared to playing the computer. As a result, we expected that
GSR would be greater when playing a friend. Overall, mean GSR
was significantly higher when playing against a friend (mean =
4.19µm) as compared to playing against a computer (mean = 3.58
µm), (t9 = 2.6, p < .03). This pattern was consistent for 9 of the 10
subjects, which is a significant trend (Z= 2.4, p < .02, see Figure
3). The one subject whose GSR did not increase felt more
challenged playing against the computer than against his partner
(challenge(computer) = 5, challenge(friend) = 2). He also felt that
it was easier to play against his partner than the computer
(easy(computer) = 2, easy(friend) = 4)). Throughout the
experiment, his partner had difficulty learning the controls to the
game. This circumstance could have contributed to lower arousal
and may explain his anomalous result.
Galvanic Skin Response
Playing Against Computer vs. Friend
Participant ID
Figure 3: GSR was higher when playing against a friend as
compared to playing against a computer. This pattern was
seen in all players with the exception of participant 6.
H3: Participants will experience higher EMG values along the
jaw when playing against a friend than against a computer, as a
result of trying harder due to greater competition.
Our third hypothesis expected EMG activity along the jaw to be
greater when playing a friend. Although we placed the surface
EMG on the jaw to collect data on tension in the jaw, these results
could be overshadowed by interference created from smiling and
laughing. We cannot separate out these effects, to determine the
EMG scores for jaw clenching alone. With this in mind, mean
GSR When Goal Scored
Participant 2
Time (seconds)
Figure 4: Participant 2's GSR response to scoring a goal
against a friend and against the computer twice. Note the
much larger response when scoring against a friend. Data
were windowed 10 sec prior to the goals and 15 sec after.
GSR Fight Sequence
Part icipant 9
Time (se conds )
Fight begin Fight end
Figure 5: Participant 9's GSR response to engaging in a
hockey fight with the other team while playing against a
friend versus playing against the computer.
EMG was significantly higher when playing against a friend
(mean = 12.77 µV) as compared to playing against a computer
(mean = 6.33 µV), (t9 = 3.1, p < .02). This pattern was also
significant for 9 of the 10 subjects, which is a significant trend
(Z= 2.7, p < .01). Although these results confirm our third
experimental hypothesis, they have to be interpreted with caution.
There were no significant differences in heart rate, respiratory
amplitude, or respiration rate between the two play conditions.
Based on our choice of experimental conditions, we didn’t expect
any differences in these measures, but tested them in case there
were aspects of the two different experiences that we didn’t
4.2.1 Physiological Measures as a Continuous Data
In addition to comparing the means from the two conditions, we
investigated GSR responses for individual events. One of the
advantages of using physiological data to create evaluation
metrics is that they provide high-resolution, continuous,
contextual data. GSR is a highly responsive body signal, and
when collected at 32 Hz, it provides a fast-response time-series
metric, reactive to events in the game. To inspect GSR response
to specific events, we chose to examine small windows of time
surrounding goals scored and fights in the game. Goal events
were analyzed for 10 sec before scoring and 15 sec after scoring.
There were 5 instances where participants scored in both play
conditions. All of these participants experienced a significantly
larger GSR response to goals scored against another player versus
goals scored against the computer (t4 = 6.7, p < .005). An example
of one participant’s result scoring against the computer twice and
against a friend once is shown in Figure 4.
When two players begin a hockey fight, the game cuts to a
different scene and the players throw punches using buttons on
the controller (see Figure 6). Fight sequences were analyzed from
the time when the pre-fight cut scene began to when the post-fight
cut scene ended. There were three instances of participants who
participated in hockey fights both against the computer and
against their friend. One participant won both fights, one lost
both, and one won against the computer and lost against their
friend. Even so, all participants exhibited a significantly larger
response to the fight against the friend than the fight against the
computer (t2 = 6.0, p < .03). An example of one player’s response
to a fight sequence against the computer and against a friend is
shown in Figure 5.
Figure 6: Fight sequence in NHL 2003 by EA Sports™. The
first frame shows the players in a fight. The second frame is
after the Dallas Stars ™ player won.
As discussed in the introduction, subjective data yield valuable
quantitative and qualitative results. However, when used alone,
they do not provide sufficient information. In game design,
reward and pacing are important features. Utilizing a single
subjective rating can wash out this variability, since subjective
ratings provide researchers with a single data point representing
an entire condition. Physiological data is a high-resolution time
series, responsive to player experience. Using methods like the
time-window analysis presented here provides continuous
objective data that can be used to evaluate the player experience.
4.3 Correlation of Subjective Data and
Physiological Responses
We could not directly compare the means of the time-series data
to the subjective results. Physiological data has very large
individual differences, thus individual baselines have to be taken
into account. Generally, one could correlate physiological results
to subjective results for each individual, then determine whether
these patterns were consistent across individuals. In our case, we
only have two conditions, rendering this method unusable.
In order to perform a group analysis, we transformed both the
physiological and subjective results into dimensionless numbers
between negative one and one. For each individual, the difference
between the conditions was divided by the span of that
individual’s results. The physiological data were converted using
the following formula:
where C refers to playing against the computer and F refers to
playing against a friend.
The subjective results were handled similarly:
These normalized measures were then correlated across all
individuals. We weren’t interested in how the subjective results
correlated with each other. For example, it is to be expected that
boredom will be inversely related to excitement. Similarly, we
didn’t correlate physiological measures with other physiological
H4: The differences in the participants’ GSR signal in the two
conditions will correlate to the differences in their subjective
responses of arousal-related measures (e.g. fun and excitement).
Since mean GSR was higher when playing against a friend, and
participants also rated this condition as more fun, and exciting, we
hypothesized that there may be a correlation between GSR and
fun, excitement, or boredom. By themselves, the subjective and
physiological results reveal that participant’s GSR is higher in a
condition that they also rate as more fun. A correlation of the
normalized differences would show that the amount by which
subjects increased their fun rating when playing against a friend is
proportional to the amount that GSR increased in that condition.
We found that normalized GSR was correlated with fun (R2 = .72,
p < .01, see Figure 7). We also found that normalized GSR was
inversely correlated with frustration (R2 = .60, p < .04). Thus, the
amount by which their GSR decreased when playing against the
computer is proportional to the amount by which their frustration
rating increased.
Fun and GSR
Grouped by Participant
Participant ID
Normalized GSR
Normalized Fun
Figure 7: Normalized GSR is correlated with normalized fun
(R2 = .72, p < .01).
We also found that respiratory amplitude was correlated with
challenge (R2 = .63, p < .03). We had previously seen this same
correlation when observing people playing NHL2003™ in
different difficulty levels. In the current experiment, respiration
amplitude increased for all ten participants when playing against a
friend. Although half the participants said in the post-experiment
questionnaire that playing against the computer was more
challenging, 9 of the 10 subjects rated the challenge of playing
against a friend as the same or higher than playing against the
computer. In our experiment, participants were neither
encouraged, nor discouraged to talk, but it seemed that there was
more talking and laughing when playing against a friend than
when playing against a computer. Given that talking and laughing
affect respiration, this result needs to be interpreted with caution.
- Mean
MAX{PeakC-MinC, PeakF-MinF}
PhysiologicalNormalized =
SubjectiveNormalized = 5. RELATED LITERATURE ON USING
Although there is no previous research on using physiology as an
indicator of fun, or engagement with entertainment technology, or
as an indicator of collaborative interaction, it has been used in
other domains as a metric of evaluation.
The field of human factors has been concerned with optimizing
the relationship between humans and their technological systems.
The quality of a computer system has not been judged only on
how it affects user performance in terms of productivity and
efficiency, but on what kind of effect it has on the well-being of
the user. Psychophysiology demands that a holistic understanding
of human behaviour is formed from the triangulation of three
fundamental dimensions: overt behaviour, physiology, and
subjective experience [33].
Wastell and Newman [33] used the physiological measures of
blood pressure (systolic and diastolic) and heart rate in
conjunction with task performance and subjective measures
(Likert scales) to determine the stress of ambulance dispatchers in
Britain as a result of switching from a paper-based to a computer-
based system. When normalized for job workflow, systolic
reactivity showed that dispatcher stress increased more for
increases in workload in the paper-based system than in the
computer system. This was consistent with non-significant results
obtained from the post-implementation questionnaires.
Wilson (and Sasse) [34-36] used physiological measures to
evaluate subject responses to audio and video degradations in
videoconferencing software. The authors suggest that subjective
ratings of user satisfaction and objective measures of task
performance be augmented with physiological measures of user
cost [34]. Using 3 physiological signals to determine user cost,
they found significant increases in GSR and HR, and significant
decreases in BVP for video shown at 5 frames per second versus
25 frames per second [35], even though most subjects did not
report noticing a difference in media quality. In another
experiment, significant physiological responses (increase in HR,
decrease in BVP) were found for poor audio quality [36], but
these results weren’t always consistent with subjective responses.
These discrepancies between physiological and subjective
assessment support the argument for a three-tiered approach.
Ward et al. [31, 32] collected GSR, BVP, and HR while subjects
attempted to answer questions by navigating through both well
and ill designed web pages. No significant differences were found
between users of the two types of web pages, which is not
surprising considering the large individual differences associated
with physiological data. However, distinct trends were seen
between the two groups when the data were normalized and
plotted. Users of the well designed website tended to relax after
the first minute whereas users of the ill designed website showed
a high level of stress for most of the experiment (exhibited
through increasing GSR and level pulse rate).
These studies collected both subjective measures and
physiological data, however, did not try to correlate the two data
sources using normalized measures. Using a hovercraft simulator,
Vicente et al. [30] normalized heart rate variability (HRV) to a
ratio between 0 and 1. They determined that normalized HRV
data significantly correlated to subjective ratings of effort, but not
workload or task difficulty. In the domain of HCI, a few other
researchers have also used HRV as an indicator of mental effort
[23, 24, 30].
Partala and Surakka [21] and Scheirer et al. [26] both used pre-
programmed mouse delays to intentionally frustrate a computer
user. Partala and Surakka measured EMG activity on the face in
response to positive, negative, or no audio intervention, while
Scheirer et al. applied Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) to GSR
and BVP data to detect states of frustration.
In the domain of entertainment technology, Sykes and Brown [29]
measured the pressure that gamers exerted on the gamepad
controls while participants played Space Invaders. They found
that the players exerted more pressure in the difficult condition
than in the easy or medium conditions. They did not correlate the
pressure data with any type of subjective report.
Our goal is to create a methodology for the evaluation of people’s
experience with collaborative entertainment technology. This
paper presents initial research testing the efficacy of physiological
measures as evaluators of co-located collaborative play. More
steps are required to create a methodology for evaluation.
We presented results using galvanic skin response. GSR is a very
responsive, salient measure that has been well studied and well
documented. There are other physiological indicators that also
may be relevant to collaborative play. For example, we collected
EMG on the jaw to indicate tension, but our results were muddied
by interference from smiling and laughing. By collecting EMG on
the forehead and cheeks, we may be able to automatically detect
when the participant is smiling or laughing [28]. This would
provide another useful automatic measure, replacing hours of
manual video analysis, or expensive facial expression recognition
software. EMG of the face would also help differentiate between
increases in arousal due to positive or negative activation.
Heart rate variability is another well studied measure, for
measuring metal effort and stress [30]. We did not perform a heart
rate variability analysis on this data, because the spectral analysis
algorithm uses a five-minute time window and some of our game
conditions lasted less than five minutes. Collecting longer
samples in each condition and performing HRV analysis may tell
us in which condition the participants exerted more mental effort.
The GSR signal revealed that players are more aroused when
playing against a friend than when playing against a computer.
However, we do not know whether this elevated result can be
attributed to a higher tonic level or more phasic responses. Using
methods like the time-window analysis presented here provides
continuous objective data that can be used to evaluate the player
experience, yielding salient information that can discriminate
between experiences with greater resolution than averages alone.
In this experiment, we graphically represented continuous
responses to different game events, and calculated the magnitude
of the response. In the next phase of the research, we plan to
manipulate game events and hope to take advantage of the high-
resolution, contextual nature of physiological data to provide an
objective, continuous measure of player experience.
We have compared physiological data to data from subjective
reporting. Current objective methods of analysis include video
coding of facial expressions, gestures, and verbal comments. We
would like to compare the objective physiological results to
objective data gathered through video analysis.
With a validated methodology, more subtle experimental
manipulations can be explored, answering outstanding research
questions in this domain. For example, what kind of entertainment
experiences do ubiquitous and ambient technologies provide?
And do the user’s concerns with privacy overshadow the play
experience? How can technologies enhance communities, both
co-located and online? These questions cannot be effectively
answered by subjective reporting alone. We would also like to
extend the methodology to evaluate novel interaction methods
and environments where suitable comparison systems do not
The evaluation of enhanced interaction provided by collaboration
technology, and the evaluation of fun and engagement with
entertainment technology are both areas ripe for advancement.
Physiological measures have previously been used to evaluate
productivity systems, especially to reflect a user’s stress or mental
effort. The application of physiological measurement and analysis
to collaborative leisure technology has exciting potential.
Our experiment tested and confirmed four experimental
hypotheses. The confirmation of these hypotheses provided
support for our two main conjectures: that physiological measures
can be used as objective indicators for the evaluation of co-
located, collaborative play; and that the normalized physiological
results will correspond to subjective reported experience.
Although we do not currently understand how the body physically
responds to enhanced interaction, or increased enjoyment, a
continuation of benchmark studies like this one will ultimately
provide researchers with a methodology for objectively evaluating
collaborative entertainment technology. We foresee that objective
evaluation, combined with current subjective techniques will
provide researchers with techniques as rigorous and valuable as
current methods of evaluating productivity systems.
Thanks to Tom Calvert, Kelly Booth, and Stella Atkins for
discussion. Also thanks to Thecla Schiphorst, Alan Boykiw, John
Riedl, SFU Surrey, Gruvi Lab, Imager Lab, and EA Sports.
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Gamification of learning material is becoming popular within the education field and the possibilities of designing edutainment games are being explored. This project compares a single player and a two-player game experience in a collaborative Virtual Reality (VR) edutainment game. The two versions of the game had exactly the same information, where in the collaborative game the information was divided between the two players in an asymmetrical format, where one player is outside of VR. The evaluation of the two versions compared only the experience of the participants in VR using an independent measures design. The results showed that the two-player version scored higher in questions related to positive game experience with a significant difference to the single player version. Furthermore, participants using the two-player version rated significantly lower on questions related to annoyance. In the setting of an edutainment game the results suggest that incorporating a collaborative aspect through asymmetrical game play in VR increases enjoyment of the experience.
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Since the publication of William James's (1890) Principles of Psychology, most of James's questions about the relation between physiological events and molar psychological or behavioral processes remain unanswered. The slow progress in using physiological signals (PSs) to address general psychological questions is due in part to problems in quantifying PSs in humans and to the way in which investigators have been thinking about the relation between PSs and psychological operations. A framework is provided to foster analysis of psychological phenomena based on PSs. Psychological operations and physiological responses are defined in terms of configural and temporal properties, and psychophysiological relations are conceptualized in terms of their specificity (e.g., one-to-one vs many-to-one) and their generality (e.g., situation or person specific vs cross-situational and pancultural). This model yields 4 classes of psychophysiological relations: (a) outcomes, (b) concomitants, (c) markers, and (d) invariants. The model specifies how to determine whether a psychophysiological relation is an outcome, concomitant, marker, or invariant, and it describes limitations in inferences of psychological significance based on PSs when dealing with each. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Conference Paper
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We explore how computer games can be designed to maintain some of the social aspects of traditional game play, by moving computational game elements into the physical world. We have constructed a mobile multi- player game, Pirates!, to illustrate how wireless and proximity-sensing technology can be integrated in the design of new game experiences. We describe Pirates! and its implementation, and report insights gained during a demonstration at a scientific conference. Observations of test users indicate that Pirates! can be deployed in a social setting where co-located people play together in order to promote social interaction between players and non-players alike.
The stressful nature of computer-based work is often highlighted in the research literature. In this study, we argue that a well designed computer system should realize the twin aims of enhancing performance and lowering stress. This paper reports on a psychophysiological field study of the implementation of a command-and-control system in an ambulance service. The evaluation revealed both improvements in operator performance and a reduction in stress levels. In particular, it was found that computer support reduced both systolic blood pressure and subjective anxiety during conditions of peak workload. These findings are discussed in terms of Turner and Karasek's integrated model of the relationships between computer system design, task performance and well-being. The success of the computer system was attributed to the support that it gave operators; by enhancing their degree of control it enabled them to cope better in a highly demanding work environment. The study shows that psychophysiological techniques have a valuable role to play in system design/evaluation; and more generally, that systems development methodologies should take greater account of applied psychological research, especially in areas such as stress.