With the release of our article on player modelling in Battlefield 3 ‘Know Your Role’, we take a moment to chat with Shoshannah Tekofsky about the PsyOps project, her motivations and interests.
Tommy Thompson: Let’s start with something of an introduction: tell us a little bit about yourself: who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
Shoshannah Tekofsy: I’m a Dutch/American PhD student with a background in psychology, cognitive science, computer science, and artificial intelligence. I came into video game research from a general passion for video games. From the same angle I’ve been a video game tester, video game science blogger, and video game strategy YouTuber.
Tommy: This month we have published a piece looking specifically about your work on the PsyOps project. How did the project materialise? Was the university interested in it straight away or did it take some convincing?
Shoshannah: At the time I was just crazy about the Battlefield series. I had been in multiple game clans for the game, and was starting my own, I had started a YouTube channel about it, and I was active in the online community. This all happened during the last year of my master’s degree in Artificial Intelligence. I had finished all my mandatory courses but was a few credits short. My supervisor advised me to a short research project to gain the remaining credits. Anything involving AI techniques was fine, so I decided to run a project on my favourite game: Battlefield 3.
My initial aim was to see if I could predict personality traits based on video game behaviour in Battlefield 3 using a neural network. Neural networks need a lot of data to work well, and I dreaded the idea of having to ask friends and family one by one to fill out a personality test for my research. I talked to friends and fellow Battlefield players about my project idea, and a lot of them got excited about it. We came up with the idea of setting up a large scale PR campaign for the research to publicly attract volunteers to the research. Two of my friends (coders) and two of my gaming buddies (artists) really loved that idea a lot and offered to help out. Thanks to their contributions, we managed to set up a sexy looking data collection website, with an attractive personalized results page, and an appealing trailer video.
As soon as the participant count started running into the 1000s, my supervisors suggested I might be able to get a PhD working on this data set. We tried to get the funding at my alma mater (Utrecht University), but in the end, the funding came through at a different university: Tilburg University.
Tommy: What drove you towards the Battlefield franchise? Was it always the plan to use that game?
Shoshannah: Personal preference. Playing Battlefield was a huge hobby of mine, and the original project had only been intended as a practice research project to gain some extra credit. It ended up being bigger and more successful than I could have dreamed.
Tommy: As we mention in the article, you managed to get a significant number of responses from players interested in the study? How did that come about? The numbers we are talking about here are largely unprecedented.
Shoshannah: It was all PR and marketing. I think the trailer for the research illustrates the general approach best. You can check it out here:
The language and vibe of our material was activating and inclusive, and had a tone of offering something to the participant, instead of asking something from them. PsyOps offered players not only an insight into their personality, but also a chance to contribute to science. It that sense it had a slight charity-vibe to it almost.
Tommy: You covered a lot of ground in terms of gameplay styles and their intersections with personality and age, were there other aspects of Battlefield gameplay that you wanted to explore but never got around to?
Shoshannah: We’re setting up a new project in collaboration with the MIT Media Lab where we look at more different types of traits across different games. It’s going to be a lot bigger than PsyOps.
Tommy: Are there particular games you would like to explore in the future using your approach? What would make them ‘better’ to gather more useful data about player personality?
Shoshannah: See above 🙂
Tommy: What interests you as a researcher? Is there a big research question you want to answer?
Shoshannah: I’m interested in how existing commercial games already benefit players. For instance, how online games foster social connections and the development of social skills, or how action games improve attention.
Tommy: On a less technical note: what’s your favourite game or genre to play when you’re not thinking about your research?
Shoshannah: Tactical online multiplayer shooters. Like Battlefield! 🙂
Tommy: What’s coming up next for you? Are cool projects you can hint at?
Shoshannah: Yes! [TOMMY EDIT: See below]
Tommy: If people want to learn more about you or get in touch, how can they go about that?
Shoshannah: I tend to keep my LinkedIn page fairly up to date:
Not long after this interview, Shoshannah’s next project has been publicly unveiled. Project GAMR is a endeavour hosted by by Tildburg Univeristy and MIT Media Lab. Participants can record data through the use of four specific games: League of Legends, World of Warcraft, Battlefield: Hardline and Battlefield 4. In the same fashion as the original Battlefield 3 project, you can learn more about how your gameplay styles reflect you personality. You can find out more at http://projectgamr.com/