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  • Forging Bonds Between Players & NPCs Via Group Conflict

    [07.16.20]
    - Jonas Pastoors

  • Proving applicability

    To see if this would be applicable to game design, we recreated a previous psychological study from 2014 in a gaming context. We made participants aware of the video game setting (participants in the 2014 study believed they were competing with real people), both through text as well as cartoony 2D profile pictures for the NPCs. With our research prototype complete, we paid 116 people to play it via Amazon's online tool Mechanical Turk. All participants played through the research prototype and had their empathetic reactions recorded via a questionnaire.

    We used 2D representations of our NPCs to make their fictionality clear to the player

    Between gameplay sessions we asked participants how they felt about certain scenarios that happened to the NPCs. These were either positive (e.g. "Monica ate a really good sandwich.") or negative (e.g. "Andrew stepped in dog poo.") and happened to members of both teams in equal numbers. Participants indicated their feelings of empathy on sliders, which asked how good and how bad they felt about the NPCs' experiences. We predicted that participants would react to the experiences of fictional characters similar to what was observed in regard to real people in the previous study.

    We used 2D representations of our NPCs to make their fictionality clear to the player

    Data says...

    As we expected, our participants felt more empathy towards their own team than they did towards opponent-NPCs, for whom they in turn had more counter-empathy. Not only do these results mirror observations from previous research that bias will appear within novel groups, they also show that this is the case in a fictional and game-like setting (i.e. with NPCs, not real people). This shows that intergroup conflict could at least be a useful tool to enhance emotional reactions towards both teams, as it clearly appears in regard to NPCs in a game. What also should be pointed out is that we were able to observe an empathy bias around text-based, very low impact scenarios. It is conceivable that player reactions to actually seeing a friend or foe being shot in the face with a shotgun should be more pronounced.​

    Differences in participant ratings about their empathetic reactions (different scales used for better readability)

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