Pilot Investigation using Minecraft in VR
The first phase of the project focused on short-term user experience while playing Minecraft on a desktop and in an immersive VR head-mounted display (HMD). The goals of this experiment were to understand whether any rapid changes in participant behavior would manifest during initial experiences with VR applications. Fourteen participants were recruited to complete three play sessions on the desktop and three play sessions in VR. All participants were familiar with Minecraft but limited previous experience using VR and no previous experience with Minecraft in VR. Participants completed the I-Group presence questionnaire, a social presence questionnaire, the Simulator Sickness Questionnaire, and the Gaming Experience Questionnaire after each session. Their motion and behavior in game was also logged during each session, and participants completed an in-depth interview at the completion of the study.
Limited behavioral changes were observed across the three sessions in VR. No effects of time were observed for presence or gaming experience, however a slight effect was found on simulator sickness such that sickness temporarily increased in the second session before returning to its original value in the final session. Interviews with participants suggested that this slight effect was linked to an evolution in players' exploration of VR that took place across the sessions: participants reported that once they felt they had a handle on the basic interactions supported by VR they began exploring more exotic experiences, in particular jumping off tall buildings or mountains, swimming, and climbing ladders in VR, all of which are known to promote sensory conflict that can lead to sickness. Interestingly, while there was no different in sickness between the first and third sessions, in the interviews participants almost unanimously reported that they felt less sick as time went on.
We did not give participants a structured task to complete during the sessions, as we wanted to observe participants natural, self-directed behavior. Unfortunately, this meant that the motion and behavioral data we gathered was too unstructured to yield much useful information. We will return to these questions in future phases of this project.
This project also yielded information that would be useful to developers interested in porting games from a non-immersive desktop setting to an immersive VR setting. Key lessons included:
Immersion, flow, perceived challenge and positive affect were all improved when playing Minecraft in VR. Discussions will participants suggested that these changes were mediated by an enhanced sense of presence, which was also much higher in VR. This link underscores that the key selling point of VR is not necessarily being able to play games better, but being able to get a new perspective on games. VR enables games to take on new life because it enhances players’ sense of scale, presence, and involvement within the virtual world. Game developers should leverage these features to enhance player experiences: play with scale, where narrow caverns open up onto gigantic vistas; make virtual characters that look the player in the eye (or tower over them); and create opportunities for mundane interaction within the world.
Developers need to carefully consider how locomotion will be implemented in their games. Participants generally disliked the use of teleportation to cross long distances in VR. Additionally, teleportation was used (or abused) by participants to achieve behaviors likely not intended by the developers of Minecraft, such as easily escaping enemies or being able to scale sheer cliffs.
Players enjoyed the use of motion controls in the game, but interleaved their use with more indirect input methods (e.g. pushing a button). Which method was preferred was influenced by a number of factors including the reliability of the motion control, the cost/benefit ratio of the different techniques, and the emotional impact of a given activity. Notably, participants frequently referenced using motion controls during exciting moments, such as when a vein of diamonds was discovered.