Skyrim, Dissertation-style Resolutions, Brown Bag

The Call of the Dragonborn: Skyrim, by Mike Lang

A collective groan filled the room. In the throes of the December crunch Professor Mark Deuze, curious about the hype, played the official trailer for Bethesda’s fifth installment in the Elder Scrolls series – Skyrim. Released on November 11 to the detriment of every gaming graduate student with some hope of remaining in good academic standing, watching the trailer just salted the wound, a fresh reminder of what we couldn’t yet have. In the following weeks, the internet, buzzing with arrow the knee memes and screenshots of epic dragon battles just added to the sting of Skyrim celibacy imposed by end-of-semester deadlines. December 15th loomed. Circled in red ink, the date not only signaled the end of the semester, but the beginning of my adventures in Skyrim.

Although not a massively multiplayer online role playing game like World of Warcraft or Everquest, Skyrim is massive. Featuring a main quest line that adopts the “epic hero saves the world from peril” storyline, in which the player must save Skyrim from dragons and their vicious leader Alduin, the main quest represents only a small part of the overall game experience. With an infinite amount of side quests, 300 places to find, 150 unique dungeons, and a monstrous world map that can take hours of real time to traverse, no two Skyrim experiences are the same. Just ask Teresa Lynch and Nic Matthews.

Both Nic and Teresa ignored conventional grad student wisdom concerning Skyrim and purchased the game on its release date. Demonstrating a laudable amount of patience, Teresa waited until Nic came home so they could watch the opening sequence together. With only one copy of the game, Nic got to play first.

After a long introduction, Nic got to design his character. Character options in Skyrim extend beyond just name, gender, race, and hairstyle. Instead, a wide array of sliders allow players to determine the distance between a character’s nose and lips, the coloration beneath a character’s eyes, the shape of a character’s eyebrows, and the perfect tattoo. Between the two of them, Nic tends to devour the pre-release material which provides insights into character builds, game mechanics, etc. Teresa then depends on watching Nic to figure out her options so she can design her character. Teresa’s character, modeled to look like a Native American, pays homage to her Lakota mother.

Despite sharing a copy of the game, both children of Skyrim have invested at least 70 hours into the game, and it is precisely because of this sharing that Nic and Teresa have been able to successfully manage both the demands of grad school and the temptation of Skyrim. Each round of Skyrim requires a substantial time commitment. Most quests require at least thirty minutes to complete, and with the amount of distractions between the start of the quest and its completion, they often take much longer. Between the level of immersion, and the length of quests, hours fade quickly, and where I would have drowned, Nic and Teresa stayed afloat. On somewhat opposite schedules, Nic’s play time would be Teresa’s work time and vice versa. In order to not get distracted while working, both would wear earphones that play white noise.

Like most graduate students, most of Nic and Teresa’s play time came over Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks, where they could rack up 10 straight hours of play undisturbed. However, now that school is back in session, the hours alloted to Skyrim have decreased, but that doeesn’t mean there won’t be occasional time for dragon hunting. The game is just too great.  As Teresa states, “it’s worth squeezing in those extra hours.”

Changing the way we say the things that mean we want to change: A (hopefully) humorous spin on resolutions, by Ken Rosenberg

Let’s face it: for all the insistence on clarity and parsimony, academics often confound issues with wordiness. As we exit the first month of this new year, many people have already failed their overly ambitious attempt to alter their life with one simple list. To pay homage to those who have fallen, here is a list of the most popular New Year’s resolutions according to… reworded in the vein of theses, dissertations, and other such scholarly works.

  1. Quit smoking / Drink less alcohol OR Lowering consumption: a post-modern look at the “social substance” phenomenon
  2. Eat healthy food OR Effects of nutritional enhancement in relation to attitude and performance
  3. Get a better education OR Back to school: An exploration of pedagogical alternatives after compulsory education
  4. Get a better job OR Important correlations between vocational and socioeconomic variance
  5. Get fit / Lose weight OR An exercise in exercise: an ethnographic analysis of ground-up fitness programs
  6. Save money / Manage debt OR A less-than-zero sum game: plotting out an optimal budget in the context of financial imbalance
  7. Manage stress OR Strategic balance of  positive and negative environmental stressors 
  8. Reduce, reuse, and recycle OR Improving methods for achieving optimal input/output ratio of material consumption
  9. Take a trip OR Leaving on a jet plane: The effect of agency-driven shifting in place and space on well-being
  10. Volunteer to help others OR Self-motivate to participate: motivations for unsolicited societal reciprocation

Brown Bag

Doctoral students Travis and Bridget presented at this past Friday’s seminar, while Dr. Eliot Smith of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences shared his input after their talks. The audio recording of the seminar can be found here: Brown Bag 2 (January 28, 2012 – Travis and Bridget)

Dynamic disgust: Dimensional underpinnings of responses to blood, brutality and politics – by Bridget Rubenking

This preliminary study explores summative and over time measures of dimensional emotion responses (positivity, negativity, and arousal) and the discrete emotion of disgust to disgust-eliciting television messages. Responses to different types of disgust eliciting content – from body products and gory deaths to higher-order, socio-moral disgusts, such as overt racism, and suggestions of sexual abuse are explored across 102 participants. Additionally, individual differences in trait motivational activation, gender, and political ideology are explored in response to these disgust-elicitors, as well as content featuring opposing political viewpoints and gay male characters.

The Impact of Norms on Player Behavior – by Travis Ross

Research regarding player motivation in video games has typically focused on how the content of games taps intrinsic and extrinsic motivations. However games have become shared social experiences, and so it is important to understand how the social context contributes to the perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors of players. Research in sociology and economics has identified that norms serve a number of roles in social/cultural interaction. They can provide information and/or carry expectations of what is, or is not, socially acceptable. Research also indicates that norms are sensitive to contextual factors such as the network connections, incentive structures, and framing, so therefore only have salience under certain conditions. Beyond their interesting cognitive and economic consequences, norms can provide game developers with a plausible motivational tool. However, if this is to be the case then norms must be understood at both the individual and societal-level.  Research at an individual-level should identify conditions where norms will have an impact and contexts where norms are a better solutions than other motivational features. At the societal-level research should examine if and how the norms of an online social system can be changed, and if early adoption and information cascades can lead a community to a preferred outcome. This talk discusses early results from Travis’ Dissertation, which examines the impact of norms on player behavior.


Bridget Rubenking is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Telecommunications at IU. Her research explores the relevant individual differences of media consumers and the content and structural features of media that influence cognitive and emotional processing of media, as well as attitude change and discrete behavior outcomes.

Travis Ross is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Joint Ph.D. Program in Telecommunication and Cognitive Science at Indiana University. He focuses on two research paths. The first examines the motivational aspects of design – particularly decision structures in game and interface design. The second examines how social and institutional forces shape behavior via social norms, rules, and laws.

Eliot R. Smith, Ph.D., is Chancellors Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, Bloomington. His research interests include the emotions that people experience when they identify with social groups and their role in intergroup behavior; the cognitive processes and representations involved in perceiving other people and groups; and embodied and socially situated cognition.  His research has been recognized by the 2004 Thomas M. Ostrom Award for lifetime contributions to social cognition, as well as the 2005 Theoretical Innovation Prize from the Society of Experimental Social Psychology (SPSP).  He is Editor of Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition.

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