University of Minnesota doctoral candidate Kyong Shim was practically laughed off campus when she said she wanted to study video games. But three years later Shim is getting the last laugh as various government agencies and the United States Army utilize her data and expertise for training and research on human behavioral patterns.
The Army has signed on to study and use the teamwork aspect of MMORPGs to improve communications and teamwork when tackling a common goal. Shim and other researchers from universities across the country sifted through terabytes of anonymous EverQuest II user data provided by Sony Online Entertainment to find patterns and communication characteristics. Sony provided researchers with anonymous player communications, game logs, and other game data.
Interestingly enough the data found that female gamers played two hours more a week than the average male gamer. It also showed that there are a fair share of players who do not fit into the male 14 - 24 demographic (like players over the age of 40). Some of the newer data showing different trends could be related to the game going to free-to-play, but not over the long-term.
The reason that MMO's (and some action games) work well for the kind of team-focused training is because the goals in the game require players to work together and communicate clearly to accomplish big tasks.
While the Army uses several games to help train soldiers, Shim says that her goal is to help improve the games so they will better benefit soldiers in training.
Shim and University computer science professor Jaideep Srivastava are attracting attention from other places besides the Army who hope to find connections between virtual and real-world behaviors.
Shim and Srivastava will have filled out six grant proposals — four for National Science Foundation grants that will help the team complete the second phase of their research (the correlation of virtual world behavior to real world behavior).
The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity - part of the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence - are interested in seeing how real-world interactions are connected to behavior in virtual worlds.