Personality Analysis in Gaming: An underused effect
Most of the time, when games use any kind of personality evaluations, it feels as though you’re playing a round of 20 Questions. It’s a mere quiz, and it’s not very subtle. Rarely, if the context is fantastic, it might feel a bit more believable. But most of the time, the data the computer gains from the player is patchy, at best.
A key cause of patchy data collection is the game environment. It’s a totally situational variable, dependent on the player’s surroundings at the time. The surroundings can affect nearly every user response. If you’re an introverted personality who would rather curl up with a book than go to the pub, that’s the obvious choice you’d think you would make when given the in-game option. However, depending on the environment and people present (Are you at a party? Is your girlfriend watching? etc.), the same user may potentially pick the “safer” option, to avoid being viewed in a “negative” light.
There are two games I would primarily like to focus on in this article:
Catherine (Atlus 2011, PS3, Xbox 360) and Silent Hill: Shattered Memories (Konami 2010, Wii, PS2)
While playing a videogame, we are typically exploring a fantasy world. I think as players, we feel assaulted when a game very openly asks for our personal opinions or thoughts. Take Catherine for example.
The theme of Catherine is infidelity. The lead character, Vincent, learns that his girlfriend Katherine, is pregnant. This sends the commitment-phobic hero into an internalized panic as he tries to come to terms with this new direction he’ll likely be forced to take.
One night while drinking with his pals at a bar, Vincent passes out and awakens alongside the incredibly beautiful Catherine, a bubbly blonde who seems to be the polar opposite of his own Katherine. The gameplay takes place inside Vincent’s dreams as he confronts his darkest inner demons which force him to choose the direction he wants to take in life.
What the game Catherine does really well is present Vincent as character with his own thoughts, hopes, dreams and fears, while leaving out just enough detail to allow the player the opportunity to inject a little bit of their own personality into the game and, by extension, into Vincent’s choices. My own experience with Catherine left me quite curious about the nature of personality analysis in gaming.
While playing Catherine on my PS3, curled up on the couch alongside my wife (who may or may not at any given time be paying attention), I would find myself unwaveringly making the “Nice” or “Good” decision. Would you cheat on your partner? “Like hell I would!” I’d exclaim and hammer the stick in the opposite direction. Does the concept of becoming a father scare you? “Never! I have a child on the way… !” Silly game.
Now, for the interesting part: When playing Catherine while sitting next to my wife in the living room, my “moral bar” was almost always bang up there in the “Nice Guy” area; however, when she would go to bed and I was playing with no onlookers, I would notice that by the time I’d finished that session, the moral bar would have come down quite considerably.
Not only was I making more “Bad” decisions without my wife present, but the time it was taking me to make decisions had also increased dramatically. This started to get me thinking, “Am I a horrible dirt bag? Is that what this game is telling me?” No, I realised. Sure, this is a game, a fantasy world that allowed me to make decisions devoid of real life consequences. Still, I found this simplistic use of personality analysis fascinating, even if the results were not very accurate, given that my results could be easily swayed by the environment — or lack of wife in the room.
The thing that Catherine is missing is implicit data gathering. It would be more interesting if Catherine had data from your social networks to compare results against “pure data” from times when not under the pressure of a given situation or environment. In Catherine, as in any data collection, accuracy depends on your most honest input. Getting feedback this honest in a fantasy world can be pretty tough.
When I think of the potential application of a sentiment analysis engine in Catherine, I get overwhelmed at the possibilities. Imagine, if the computer weighed up user data of how many female friends you have, how often you interact with them, what type of flirtatious language you use and do you mention your wife or kids much online? As a player, I could make a choice and see if the computer agrees. Maybe I’d choose “I’m okay with becoming a father,” while the computer might respond with, “Interesting, it doesn’t appear to be something you talk about much.”
The more nuances of emotion, preferences, behaviors that can be captured, the stronger the application of SA to games in all different genres. It’s all personal!
Sentiment analysis could be very powerful even in modern day shooters like Call of Duty. COD is treated by many of its evangelists like a competitive sport. Imagine the use of player MindPrints, not simple things like a kill/ death ratio or favorite map, but personality type. Does this player swear a lot? Do they talk about the game much on their social networks? Are their tweets generally happy or angry? Do they exclaim their victories (or defeats) online?
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories uses probably the best personality analysis I’ve seen in a game to date. It doesn’t simply present you with a series of questions. Instead it studies your behavior and interactions during the game and correlates that against data obtained through “psych tests” at different points of the journey. During the end credits, the player is presented with their report card which explains the computer’s reasoning.
Most people I know who have played Shattered Memories say that the result (when played honestly) is scarily accurate. But imagine the type of data you could get if elements of sentiment analysis were used. Referencing family members names, you could playing on fears: If you talk about your family a lot online, the game throws out more family-based problems.
Maybe the game could reward the player with different options based on their online persona, also identified through sentiment analysis.
Another survival horror title, Jasper Byrne’s Lone Survivor (which I recently gave a glowing review) does something similar to Shattered Memories. At the end of the game, you’re presented with a psych evaluation based on your decisions throughout. Did you take a lot of pills to make the game easier? Then you might be susceptible to becoming a drug addict… It’s obviously not foolproof, but it’s a start.
By linking these personality tests with sentiment analysis, game designers can deliver a more connected and personal experience. I’m really eager to see what role sentiment analysis takes in more traditional games.
Community Manager and Survival Horror nut @2PaperDolls