I enjoyed reading your interesting discussion of the article Dr. Kalyanaraman and I published earlier this year. I heartily agree with a lot of your points, though I also want to clarify a few things about our study’s intent and implications.
I very much share your opinion that games’ content factors such as narrative are a great influence on the extent to which video game players (and users of other media) find a game experience immersive and exciting. As your post mentions, the Schneider et al. study (published in Human Communication Research in 2004) shows empirical evidence that inclusion of a narrative story in a game can increase players’ physiological arousal and feelings of presence. Your frustration with our own manipulation of only technological advancement while (instead of content-based advancement variables such as narrative, etc.) suggests that you might be more interested in the results of this study than the results of ours.
Given that Schneider et al. had already explored the effects of narrative as a content advancement, though, our study was only focused on the effects of non-content technological advancement ( a”form”variable as opposed to a “content” variable) because we were interested in whether technological form variables would have an effect independent of content effects such as those found by Schneider et al. Further, we were interested to see whether these effects would be consistent across a couple of games with different content (a violent v. nonviolent game). They were, in that players of the newer games were more excited (both in terms of their skin conductance and their self-reported excitement) and felt more involved and “present” in the game. We didn’t find that the newer games exacerbated any effects the games might have on aggressive thoughts or feelings (which is not to say definitely that this does not or cannot happen).
You are very much correct that we did not make story “a factor at all” in our study, because we were interested in the effects of non-content variables. Other studies, such as the one from Schneider et al., do look at story as a factor, and we hope that our research compliments that by exploring other non-content factors. One study, of course, can’t explore all of the myriad factors in the game experience. Experiments are, by design, focused on isolating the effects one (or a very limited number) of variables at a time while holding others constant. In our case, we manipulated only technological advancement by varying “newness” of essentially identical games. In the case of Schneider et al., narrative was manipulated. Hopefully, future studies will continue to manipulate both form and content variables to further flesh out their effects, and with different types of games.
In short, it is tough for scholarship to sort out all the factors in the video game experience, and each study contributes in its own way. Experiments such as ours are extremely limited in scope by exploring a variable at a time, but can also show causal relationships very clearly within this focus. Other methods are also strong at exploring a lot of aspects of media that experiments are not so good at exploring, so I find that humanistic and scientific approaches complement each other very well. Studies such as the one reported in my article with Dr. Kalyanaraman can’t answer all questions in the complicated question of the video game experience, which is why I am glad here are a lot of other scholars, such as yourself, looking at things in a lot of different ways than I am. I hope that we can all help each other out as we go, though, and to that end I hope that the strengths and weaknesses of our investigation can inform other investigations from across disciplines.
Thanks again for an interesting discussion of our article,