Non-violent video games that capitalise on storytelling have prosocial benefits that could ultimately be helpful to clinical disorders such as autism, a new study suggests.
Daniel Bormann of the University of Freiburg in Germany and his colleague Tobias Greitemeyer wanted to see whether storytelling fosters immersion and changes how players are able to assess the mental states of others (called “theory of mind”).
Immersion, Bormann said, “is characterised by an experience you might have enjoyed while watching your favourite movie for the first time – the sensation of being transported to another time or space, as though you are taking a real journey, or the feeling of being emotionally impacted by the protagonist’s fate.”
To test the role of in-game storytelling, the researchers randomly assigned participants to play one of two video games.
In the first game Gone Home, the player slips into the role of a female American college student, arriving home after a year abroad.
The player comes upon an empty house and has to use various clues to figure out what happened to her missing family members.
For the control condition, the game was Against the Wall, in which the player has to climb up an infinite wall by interacting with the bricks, in surreal but human-made surroundings.
Apart from a brief description of the environment and goals, the game provided no narrative elements.
For the game rich in storytelling (Gone Home), researchers provided one group of participants the game developers’ instructions and provided a second group of participants instructions to register, memorise, and evaluate various properties of the game.
After 20 minutes of gameplay, all participants completed a task in which they assessed facially expressed emotions. The researchers used this task to evaluate the players’ capacity to apprehend others emotional states (theory of mind).
The players also completed a survey to assess the amount of immersion and need satisfaction they experienced while playing.
The researchers found that narrative game elements contributed to a more immersive video game experience.
They also found that being immersed in a game’s story supports players in perceiving opportunities for meaningful choices and relationships. And they found that the narrative elements affected theory of mind.
The results suggest that in-game storytelling contributes to a more immersive and satisfying video game experience while also fostering skills that are useful to players on a day-to-day basis.
The study was published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.