Friday
Nov012013

More Reflections on User Research

Any psychologist can tell you, it's difficult to understand what people are really thinking.  Sure there are non-leading surveys, and GSR dongles, and eye-tracking, and study deception, but these are all still guided behaviors and can be translated in different ways.

Psych is still a relatively young discipline, compared to other soft and hard sciences.  Thus, there are bound to be some growing pains.  User research is an even younger field, and as I get more engrossed, I start to identify some of the behavioral measurement issues in UR that psych once (and might still kinda) faced.

So what's the point of bringing this up?

I am convinced there is more to UR than is currently available.  Web/game/app analytics are getting better everyday.  There is no longer a need to overtly ask a user/participant what they are doing because their behaviors can be tracked with minimal, if any, interference.  Biometrics and VR in gaming is starting to poke its head out to gather even more data on what players are doing and how they are physically responded to stimuli.  Consumer electronics that track physical activity and sleep patterns are getting cheaper and easier to use.  Mountains of data about my body please!

The data is out there.  The problem is making sense of it all.  The even bigger problem is making sure the sense that is made of the data is actually correct.  UR has the tools in place, it just a matter of genuinely understanding what a user is thinking and feeling when interpreting these data since users/participants don't always know what they're thinking or why.

Nibett and Wilson's 1977 article should be required reading for all User Researchers.  This paper helps drive the point home!  


Saturday
Oct122013

Getting Things Done

I've been working on and off for the past couple months and have noticed a pattern.  Getting things done when you don't have all the skills to accomplish these goals is difficult.  I set out to develop a physical therapy application that would track and test hand motion.  By using the large touch interface available on the iPad, for example, I could build an app that would provide various stretches to strength range of motion.  However, I don't know any programming languages, nor have used Xcode.  

I made the decision to pursue psychology during my numerous years in school.  Three psych degrees later, I have limited my abilities to research methodology and technology user research.  If I had changed my mind a little earlier on, I could have had a stronger computer science background, thus providing me with the skills I now desire to get things done.

Moral of the story: it's never too late to learn.  It is, however, too late to be really really good at something you didn't set out to do from earlier on.  I will continue to push myself and grow my breadth of understanding, even if I'm not the best of the best at something I picked up recently. 

Monday
Aug262013

Difficulties quantifying human behavior

I recently listened to a This American Life podcast about helping others in need.  One segment told the story of a charity that gives money, with no strings attached, to some poor residents of Kenya.  Once the residents got over the initial skepticism, they found that some people tended to buy goods that raised their standard of living and simultaneously saved money.  For example, one family decided to replace their grass roof with a metal roof.  This not only helped their livelihood (no more wet puddles indoors during rainstorms), but also saved them the money they would have normally spent on multiple repairs to the grass roof in a given year.  Another family decided to buy a cow which not only gave their family milk, but also produced a surplus that they family was able to sell to others and for a profit.

Individuals from the charity talked with many organizations that exist to help those that struggle.  If they were able to see positive repercussions from merely giving people money, why don't more organizations follow this model?

A woman from Heifer International, one person they talked to from such an organization, said it most eloquently: "we're not about experiments. These are lives of real people. And we have to do what we believe is correct.  We can't make experiments with people's lives, they're just too important. It's just not that linear. It's not an equation. It's an eco system.  Data has its value but it cannot capture everything."

This is the biggest problem with psychological research and user research.  There will always be a divide between what is actually going on and what the researchers are 1) able to capture and record as data and 2) able to interpret from the results.

Questioning the validity of research on human behavior is nothing new for me; I have had this same thought since freshman year as a psych major.  There has to be a breaking point, and there has to be a choice as to whether decisions will be based on some semblance of human behavioral research or merely based on a gut instinct with no supporting evidence.  Human behavior is not linear.  Perhaps shifting more into user research with smaller sample sizes and slightly looser methodological restrictions is a better approach then trying to apply rigid scientific methods to us malleable and emotional human folk.
Tuesday
Aug132013

Defining a new breed of gamer

I recently had a chat with a gamer and psychologist and I found myself defining "hardcore gamer."  This is traditionally a pretty easy term to define: an individual (stereotypically young male) who dedicates hours upon hours of time to playing an MMO, RPG, and/or FPS to the point of mastery bordering on addiction.  However, I want to challenge this myopic definition and include individuals who spend hours upon hours playing casual games as well.  

A hardcore gamer should no longer be limited to the genre of the game, but rather by how many hours the player dedicates to a single game.  Is it possible to imagine a hardcore Bejeweled player?  What about someone who is engrossed in online Poker?  
 
To butcher a sports analogy: You may not be playing professionally in the major league, but you're still playing the same sport.
Friday
Jul122013

How can health and physical therapy inform the future of gaming?

Some gaming companies are using games to improve the physical and mental well being of players/patients/users.  The Kinect and Wii are used in physical therapy rehabilitation.  The lines between playing and healing are blurring.

The echo chamber in the games industry is aflutter: how will the industry change?  Who will get it right and get there first to lead the pack?  

1.  Keep players hooked with what's available: make the coolest, most entertaining, and picture perfect experience to keep players buying the same types of games.

2.  Create groundbreaking experiences: provide players a new approach to games, involve them mentally and physically deeper than the current hardware and software allows.

Option 2 can take a shortcut by paying attention to the innovative approaches mental and physical health teams are doing to games to connect on a different level with players.  Think differently about new uses for hardware and software, and put helping people before making money.

 

It's one thing to have fun playing, it's another thing to change yourself for the better because of gaming.