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Science team talks up an internet games revolution


New technology that lets computer games fans round the world talk as well as play together online makes gaming more friendly, exciting and educational, according to new research.

A team from the University of Sussex Informatics department carried out a social experiment using the voice-enabled XBox Live, one of the new online computer games packages that employs internet-based audio conferencing, also known as voiceover Internet Protocol (VoIP). The introduction of VoIP allows users to chat as they play with other gamers around the world at any time, for as long as they like.

The team looked at whether VoIP made the game a more sociable experience. To do this, they invited ten strangers of differing ages, backgrounds and abilities to game together once a week at a regular fixed time over several months. Each was equipped with a broadband connection, a talk-enabled XBox Live package and several games.

Results revealed that both serious players and people looking to make friends had their experience of gaming enhanced by being able to talk to each other. Chatting made the experience more sociable, while new players were able to learn skills more quickly, either by listening in to more experienced players, or by asking questions.

The experiment, conducted by members of the Human Centred Research Group (HCT), also highlighted possible design revisions that would improve the social experience of using VoIP. These include positioning voices using stereo to more clearly show their relationship with on-screen characters; boosting the volume for voices that users communicate most with; and designing new types of “awareness” tools so that users know immediately who is talking when, and where they are.

Team leader Dr John Halloran says: “Our research shows that there is genuine potential for the new talk-enabled multiplayer games to help people join in and learn, to have a more vivid experience and even make new friends. We feel that with design revisions to VoIP we envisage, the social aspects of online gaming could be developed even further, for example by allowing people to communicate with and recognise each other more easily.”

The XBox experiment is just one of many fascinating projects that will be featured at the Human centred Technology Group (HCT) open day (Friday May 7) at the University’s Falmer campus near Brighton. The day offers a chance to see how technology influences how we work and learn, providing an exciting opportunity to experience the classroom of the future.

Maggie Clune | alfa
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