On 7 December 2006 I succesfully defended my PhD dissertation Plans and Purposes: How Video Games Shape Player Behavior. My main supervisor was Anker Helms Jørgensen and my co-supervisor was TL Taylor. The official opponents were Edward Castronova and Bart Simon.
The evaluation committee wrote:
“Jonas Heide Smith’s dissertation will provide PhD students around the world with a template for conducting theoretical and empirical analyses at a level of analytical reliability and utility that dwarfs the current literature.”
Table of contents
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION 6
MOTIVATION AND CONTRIBUTION 8
A BRIEF NOTE ON PREVIOUS WORK 10
THE THEORY OF GAMES 11
CHAPTER 2: VISIONS OF THE PLAYER 21
THE PLAYER IN GAME STUDIES 21
FOUR MODELS OF THE PLAYER 23
CHAPTER 3: GAMES AND THE RATIONAL PLAYER MODEL 43
GAME CONFLICT AND BEHAVIOUR 44
AN INTRODUCTION TO VIDEO GAME CONFLICT 45
THE RATIONAL PLAYER MODEL REVISITED 57
IMPLICATIONS FOR VIDEO GAMES 64
GAME GOALS 66
GAME THEORY AND VIDEO GAMES 74
MODELLING GAMES 85
CHAPTER 4: PLAYER BEHAVIOUR 160
PREVIOUS STUDIES OF PLAYER BEHAVIOUR 161
THE STUDY: THREE GAMES, THREE PLAYER RELATIONSHIPS 179
DISCUSSION OF THE IN-GAME/OUT-OF-GAME SPLIT 227
SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION 235
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSIONS AND NEW PERSPECTIVES 240
FUTURE PERSPECTIVES 242
VIDEO GAMES CITED 255
Games shape player behaviour by presenting goals which players attempt to fulfil.
This is the most common “folk” theory of the relationship between game design and player behaviour. It is also one central to most game design literature and to much work within the game studies field.
In this dissertation, the simple idea that players try to win is explicated through a “Rational Player Model”, a tool for understanding the relationship between game goals and the behaviour of players who try to reach these goals. The model is discussed and applied in two capacities:
A) As a model for formal analysis which can used to understand and categorize certain aspects of games related to goals. Here, video games are studied through the lens of (economic) game theory in order to determine, for instance, the types of conflict dynamics the games will elicit given Rational Player assumptions.
B) As an ideal type of actual player behaviour. Here, the model is used to derive concrete predictions about video game player behaviour which are then compared to actual play in an empirical study of multiplayer console gaming. The dissertation finds that the Rational Player Model is one of four models of player behaviour common in the game studies/design literature and that it is the predominant model within game design. Also, the model is found to often operate at so deep a level as to be unstated. Applying the model analytically, video games are
categorized as competitive, semicooperative or cooperative and it is shown how the number of players influence a game’s conflict dynamics. This leads to an analysis of “strategicness” of different game types; a combined measure of the degree to which other players matter to the choices of the “rational” player and the range of these choices.
Finally, deriving behavioural predictions from the model and comparing these to data from a study on multiplayer console play, players are found to behave “rationally” within the gamespace itself while working to fulfil various social functions in their verbal interaction.
UPDATE: See also “My research” entries