PhD Psychologist Studying Competitive Team-Based Games

Imagine a critical patient who has just entered A&E, where frontliners have 10 minutes to save their lives.

The medical team is trained according to who is available on the shift, with no time for icebreakers before working together on the task.

How do these teams work together in this complex but coordinated environment?

This is something Evelyn Tan is trying to figure out in her PhD, studying a similar type of setting that is happening in a lot of our homes every day.

Competitive team games.

Although digital games do not share such serious consequences for poor teamwork, the demands of the team are very similar, especially in competitive team games like Dota 2, League of Legends, Overwatch. “

Evelyn Tan, doctoral student at the Doctoral Training Center in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI)

From strangers to teammates

It is common to play with strangers that you will probably never meet again.

In these games, everyone has a role to play.

For 15 to 45 minutes, the team must communicate effectively, coordinate their actions and make quick decisions to come together and win.

However, many of these games have a reputation for their toxic communities, which Evelyn found very odd.

Indeed, it would be more effective if people worked together to try to progress in the game.

“It’s so counterproductive. I mean, in what universe has being aggressive and mean to your teammates ever motivated them to cooperate even more? she says.

His study therefore focuses on 2 things:

  • Understand how to improve teamwork between strangers in new teams,
  • Reduce toxic behaviors in competitive digital team games.

She studies commercial video games like League of Legends, Dota 2, portal, and Overwatch.

Some of these games have publicly available game data, which makes them a good platform to understand how team dynamics influence team results.

Riot Games, the developers of League of Legends, for example, has data that is publicly available through their application programming interface (API).

This data provides players with in-depth analyzes of their progress, whether through in-game clients or third-party sites like stratz.com or op.gg.

Evelyn can analyze behaviors like how many goals a team has achieved and which team members have participated in those goals.

“On the other hand, if there is no public API or if the API does not provide relevant metrics for my research question, then I would manually collect these behaviors,” she explained. .

This type of study would typically be in the lab, online, or in person.

For example, in a study she conducted on team communication Gate 2 (cooperative mode), she collected communication data by recording the keyboard activity of players in the lab.

Evelyn’s lab research on a participant game / Image credit: Evelyn Tan

She then wrote a script with the help of her project teammate to turn those raw keyboard inputs into full, time-stamped sentences.

Her research so far has led her to some interesting highlights:

  • When it comes to team performance, it’s the quality and effectiveness of communication rather than the quantity that matters.
  • Lots of positive reinforcement and encouragement can create a positive climate in a team, even if there is a leader-subordinate dynamic.

“One of the most interesting things I’ve observed so far is that even in a short, 45-minute, all-virtual, text-based interaction, strangers can bond to the point that they decide. to go to lunch after my experience, ”She shared.

She is A passionate player herself

Evelyn too, grew up playing video games.

dotawhile he was still known as Defense of the Ancients before it becomes Dota 2was a childhood favorite.

“I started to play League of Legends when i got to college and other games like Splatoon, ” she says.

Although she no longer plays them, she also used to play with first person shooter (FPS) games like Counter strike and Overwatchand real-time strategy (RTS) games like Starcraft.

Evelyn with her Masters Supervisor / Image Credit: Evelyn Tan

During her undergraduate degree, she became intrigued by the idea of ​​researching games at a statistics conference.

During the course, his teacher presented analyzes on League of Legends The data.

“I approached him after the conference to ask if I could work with him on my last year undergraduate project because a video game project seemed like a lot of fun to me,” she said.

His entire academic career has amplified his captivation in team psychology and video games.

She even pursued a study to determine whether video games were more effective than a typical icebreaker at building confidence in newly formed virtual teams for her master’s thesis.

With FOMO and her teacher’s encouragement, she applied to the Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) doctoral program.

She is now working full time on her doctorate in the framework of the IGGI Doctoral Training Center.

Evelyn with her classmates at IGGI / Image Credit: Evelyn Tan

Its tuition and cost of living are also fully funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

“I must note that this doctoral program only sponsors up to 1 international student per cohort,” she explained.

“I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity I have.”

What motivates her to pursue these studies?

“I love applied research and ideally would like to continue to do so in some ways after PhD,” she said.

Although she has no concrete plans at the moment, she keeps an open mind, adapts and has a positive attitude.

These are traits that have also helped her along the way.

I think I have already ‘succeeded’ because I am doing something that is meaningful to me, that allows me to grow as a person, and that can have a positive impact on others.

Evelyn Tan, doctoral student at the Doctoral Training Center in Intelligent Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI)

  • You can find out more about the IGGI Doctoral Training Center here.
  • You can read more about other Malaysian startups here.

Featured Image Credit: Evelyn Tan, PhD Student in Computer Science, Doctoral Training Center

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