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Analyzing the Data from a Shakespeare Video Game


Virtual reality video games have caught fire in recent years, with such platforms like Microsoft’s Kinect, the Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive popularizing this new kind of gameplay. But a question some academics are asking is this: can these virtual reality platforms be used to conduct scholarly research? Gina Bloom, associate professor of English, says “yes.”

Bloom’s video game, Play the Knave, allows participants to be actors in a virtual representation of a variety of Shakespeare plays. Players assume control of an avatar and, using a Microsoft Kinect motion-tracking camera, direct its movements on stage. Simultaneously, players are prompted karaoke-style to recite actual lines from the plays.

Of course, the game was designed for more than enjoyment. Data is collected from each playthrough, including the voices of the participants and the movements of the avatars.

On May 23rd, Bloom held a seminar titled “Data Bodies at Play: Analyzing Human Movement and Sound Captured by a Videogame,” with the intention of having a discussion of how this data could be analyzed.

The seminar began with a brief presentation during which Bloom described her development team’s current research questions, including: how do players respond when faced with the difficulty of Shakespeare’s language, as well as the difficulty of the Kinect interface? How do the voice and body work or not work together to create an expressive performance? And lastly, how do ideas about the body change when a human body confronts its digital avatar?

Bloom also gave an overview of some of the problems her team currently faces, namely, the fact that the audio data they receive is sometimes garbled, and how it is difficult for the Kinect to discern player movement from “glitched” movement not instigated by the player.

Bloom ended the lecture by noting possible ways to analyze the data her team has collected, including clustering data based on the location where people play the game (i.e. whether in a classroom or at home), or whether the data changes based on how many times people play the game.

The lecture then turned into an informal seminar, with members of the crowd encouraged to offer suggestions as to how Play the Knave’s data could be analyzed.

One person said that it might help to separate “Shakespeare experts” from “Shakespeare novices,” which would allow one to determine whether actors familiar with Shakespeare are better at Play the Knave than gamers more familiar with the Kinect interface.

Another member of the crowd said that it might help to have a more “mathematical” description for “expression,” which would make it easier to determine what kinds of people are more or less expressive when playing the game.

I offered a few ideas, including using Steam reviews (Steam is the most popular video game platform on the PC; Bloom hopes to have Play the Knave featured in that application) as a separate data set to analyze people’s reactions to the game. I also noted that certain linguistic analytical tools exist that might be useful in better understanding the audio data collected.

A professor attending the seminar suggested that some players should be prompted to practice the rhythm of Shakespearean language before beginning the actual gameplay. He said that this kind of “priming” might lead to interesting results, especially if these people have no prior training in such language.

Play the Knave is a project directed by Gina Bloom and Colin Milburn. The team’s software developers are Evan Buswell and Nicholas Toothman. Finally, Michael Neff spearheads the project’s animation research and development.

You can vote for Play the Knave to be featured on Steam Greenlight here.

– Nicholas Garcia, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in the Department of History

This page was last updated: May 30, 2017

 

 

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