for science

Pokemon Go: Increasing physical activity in the US, blockaded in China

Is Pokemon Go making you healthier? Maybe not yet, but researchers from a Stanford/Microsoft team have determined that Pokemon Go play correlates with increased physical activity and exercise. They tracked data from 32,000 Microsoft Band users for three months to determine that “engaged users” increased their activity on average nearly 1500 per day, allowing them to suggest that the MMOARG “added a total of 144 billion steps to US physical activity,” in contrast to other “health” apps.

The paper is published in the high-impact open-access Journal of Medical Internet Research for those who want to read it in full without paywall. The authors do note that their sample is not random, as the Band is an expensive device, and most users were male. They also note that the study cannot comment on the long-term effects of physical activity.

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Tolkien Prof offers free LOTRO course starting today

Ever wanted someone knowledgeable about Lord of the Rings to explain the books and give you a hands-on tour of Middle-earth? Then you’re in luck, for the Tolkien Professor, Corey Olsen, is kicking off a free course today called “Explore the Lord of the Rings — on location.”

In the weekly series, Olsen will be guiding fans and players through the books, chapter by chapter, at a special lecture hall that Standing Stone Games created for the occasion in Bree. After each week’s seminar, the class will then go out into LOTRO’s game world to explore locations related to each chapter.

The first seminar will take place on Landroval at 9:30 p.m. EST (the series will rotate through the servers to give all players a chance to show up in person). There’s also the option to attend the free lectures via Twitch.

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Recapping MMORPG science in 2016

You guys may not have consciously noticed it, but we’ve been working harder and harder on our science-related articles in the past couple of years — even more than in 2015. This past year, we even hired on a staff writer specifically to cover gaming science, especially as it relates to MMORPGs, and we’ve been collecting all of his work along with our other science posts in their very own category.

Read on for a recap of our best science-related MMO articles from 2016, from virtual reality tech and the Gamer Motivation Model to EVE Online’s Project Discovery and the psychology of Pokemon Go. Don’t worry; there won’t be a quiz at the end!

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The best Massively OP MMO polls of 2016

Every week for the last few years, we’ve expanded on our “Daily Grind” theme with a Leaderboard poll. I’ve had a blast taking over Leaderboard; Daily Grinds always get lovely qualitative answers, but numbers! tallies! bar graphs! Polls are a quantitative sort of magic that we don’t often get from our other articles — at least when they aren’t being brigaded.

Let’s take a look back at our best MMO polls of 2016!

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New research suggests head-mounted VR sets are unintentionally sexist

A new research study conducted by University of Minnesota researchers Justin Munafo, Meg Diedrick, and Thomas A. Stoffregen says that head-mounted virtual reality is unintentionally sexist toward female users. At least, the paper, titled “The virtual reality head-mounted display Oculus Rift induces motion sickness and is sexist in its effects,” says “unintentionally”; the title and abstract alone don’t quite make that clear. Having procured a copy of the actual paper (unfortunately paywalled), we decided to explore the researchers’ assertion and break it down to understand just what’s at play here because my gut reaction was to be suspicious, likely the same as you.

See, I’ve been to a lot of VR demos, and I rarely saw people get sick from demos outside of the rare indie. In fact, I actually just had my sister try VR for about 20 minutes, and like me, she used to get sick from that stupid Kirby’s Air-Ride game — we both suffer from motion sickness. That made me wonder whether the results were more about VR’s first-person perspective, as I know more women than men who have their motion sickness triggered by the perspective, in which case, it’s not VR but the POV.

But now that I’ve read the paper, I have eaten my proverbial hat.

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A Parent’s Guide to Video Games: Condensing ‘The Video Game Debate’

Remember The Video Game Debate? The game research book edited by Thorsten Quandt and Rachel Kowert, the latter of whom we’ve been covering here since Massively-that-was? Good. Dr. Kowert’s got a new book out called A Parent’s Guide to Video Games. I was sent an early draft of the new title for review purposes, along with some of the additions going in prior to printing. I originally thought it would be just an updated reworking of The Video Game Debate, but I was very wrong. Dr. Kowert’s new book is much shorter and easier to access for the non-academic than the last one, which might make it even more useful for gamers who aren’t in research fields.

As some readers may know, I spent the past several years in Japan, and while I was there, the only books I read were textbooks, research journals, and manga (language textbooks don’t teach often teach you the slang you need to know to understand high school kids!). For me, The Video Game Debate was typical reading. And when the book came out, I recommended it friends and colleagues, but the journal format was a turn-off for way too many of them. That’s what sparked the idea for me to dissect the findings over my series of articles here on MOP and apply them to topics MMO gamers (hopefully!) care about.

The same won’t need to be done for Dr. Kowert’s A Parent’s Guide to Video Games.

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The Daily Grind: Is Twitch chat just MMO general chat writ large?

Last week, an Indiana University Bloomington team released its analysis of over a billion comments made on Twitch over a two-month period in 2014 (not exactly gaming’s finest year), finding that at least in popular channels, a “streamer’s gender is significantly associated with the types of messages that they receive — male streamers receive more game-related messages while female streamers receive more objectifying messages.” In other words, male streamers are more likely to be barraged with comments about mechanics and combat, while female streamers are peppered with comments about their boobs and makeup, which is something you probably expected anyway and is now confirmed With Science. Sigh.

Here on Massively OP, our chief streamer is a woman (MJ), as is one of our podcasters (me), and while we’ve certainly taken more than our fair share of abuse over the years, I think I can say that in general, our community in specific and the MMORPG community are subject to much less garbage than the average e-sports or shooter channel. That’s probably because we’re one of the relatively small channels with tighter moderation referred to in the paper; the researchers found that in smaller channels, viewers are generally talking with the streamer, whereas on the crazy big channels with chat that flies by faster than you can read it, people are there to talk about the streamer.

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Academics assess Pokemon Go’s value to conservation and education

Let’s cap off the evening with some feel-good, sciency stories about Pokemon Go, shall we?

Zoologists at Oxford University are studying Pokemon Go to determine how the game might be harnessed for conservation efforts. While they’ve noted that obsession with shiny bright pretend Pokemon could negatively impact people’s willingness and desire to interact with the actual natural world, they point to innate similarities between naturalist activities and Pokemon play. With a few tweaks to the game — like more realistic ecology, real species, and a focus on remote settings — it could even become a “citizen science” project and reinvigorate people’s love for the outdoors and exploring the natural environment, especially since the game already encourages people to flock together for rare critters, not unlike birdwatchers. In fact, there’s already a hashtag (#Pokeblitz) for people trying to identify animals and plants they’ve found while out hunting Pokemon on their phones.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond, Arizona State University professor Karen Guerrero already designed a multi-age-bracket lesson plan that uses the game as a tool to teach cartography, “how to use geospatial technologies and communicate geographic information,” and vocabulary skills for ESL students.

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For Science: A third of our polled social media users quit Pokemon Go over trackers

Pokemon Go has received some large updates recently: the buddy system, medals, some big gym changes (twice), and now we’ve got dailies. We’ve been dazzled with two events granting bonus… well, everything, and yet, I’ve been noticing veteran players around me retiring anyway. Casual players are playing less often. During the Halloween event, I was surprised about the number of people that actually didn’t return to the game!

Rather than go on pure anecdotal evidence, I conducted an impromptu survey on social media to get a clearer picture of why people quit the game before the November 0.45.0 update. Here are the results.

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Flameseeker Chronicles: Gaming playstyles, science, and Guild Wars 2

I was curious recently about what specific personality traits or personal qualities lead to my enjoyment of MMOs in general and Guild Wars 2 in particular, especially after reading that Quantic Foundry has just conducted new research into any potential correlation between gender, age, and playstyle. The research referenced in the Daily Grind post was taken from a relatively small set of responses, but I was nevertheless prompted to consider my own playstyle and revisit my Quantic Foundry gaming profile again.

In this edition of Flameseeker Chronicles, I’m going to examine my gaming profile and explain how it might relate to the type of GW2 content I choose to play, giving examples as I go to help other gamers with similar motivations consider whether GW2 might be the perfect MMO choice for them as well.

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Exploring real-life PUGs, the Plus, and the antisocial nature of Pokemon Go

Although Pokemon Go isn’t advertised as an MMO, both experts and players have noted it does present some interesting similarities: Both have tons of players on servers where player locations are tracked. Both games task players with interacting with AI and (in simple ways) other players. And the game worlds in both are directly impacted by player action (remember, Pokemon Go is based on the Ingress map that was sourced out to the players).

Being an MMORPG site, we’ve talked about socialization and how it relates in particular to our genre. However, much like other modern MMOs, PoGo can lead to the sort of “alone together” situation that seems to eternally threaten our genre’s relevance — indeed, its existence.

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The Daily Grind: Does your MMO playstyle track with your age and gender?

Gaming research firm Quantic Foundry posted a new blog last week revealing the results of its surveys cross-referencing gender, age, and playstyle in video games. Among the 1266 gamers polled, the data are clear: The most popular playstyle is “cautious long-range.” Men and women responded more or less the same except on the “rushing in” playstyle category, which was embraced significantly more by men (as well as by younger players).

For me, which playstyle I follow depends a ton on the game. I prefer stealthy ranged pew-pew in The Elder Scrolls Online, for example, but I dislike casters so much in Guild Wars 2 that I’m a rusher-inner there for sure (give me a charge/leap in button and I’m good to go). I also think I’ve become slightly more impatient and more rushy as I’ve grown up — I was so much more timid when I first got into MMORPGs as a kid. Maybe I’m just now approaching equilibrium.

Do Quantic’s data match your own personal gaming experiences? Does your MMO playstyle track with your age and gender in line with these stats?

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The Daily Grind: Which MMORPGs do you play to reduce stress?

If you follow gaming research at all, you’ve probably heard of Dr Jane McGonigal, a professor, gamer designer, author, and pro-gaming think tank researcher. Her work on video games as self-help is the subject of a recent New York Public Radio broadcast; she argues that specific games can be harnessed to do everything from help you lose weight (play a pattern-matching game to “monopolize your visual imagination”) to help you boost energy (solve a tough puzzler to increase dopamine levels in your brain).

But the one that caught my attention was her recommendation to play a simple game that creates the meditative or “blissful state of mind known as ‘flow'” to reduce anxiety and stress. Flow, my friends, is my favorite part of playing a healer and making the bars go up in MMOs where that’s possible. I reduce all of your activities and wounds to simple squares and go into my happy zone. And now I understand why I find that so soothing.

Sure, some folks play MMORPGs and other online games for their unpredictability and dynamism, but others just as surely log in for peace and quiet away from their real lives. If you do that — if you use MMORPGs to reduce or avoid stress — which ones do you play specifically for that purpose?

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