Cat Got Your App

Oh hai, I’m Chewie!

I have been thinking about starting a series of posts called “N of One,” where I observe or interview one person about doing something interesting and report the results here. However, today is my blogging day and I find myself alone with my cat, so it seems like my first “N of One” is going to be about Animal-Computer Interaction. In this episode, Chewie (actually, Chui, but no need to be formal here) experiments with several different cat games for the iPad.

So, here we go. (1) We started out with the free version of the GameForCats laser game. I already knew that this is a game she would enjoy and indeed, she gleefully scored several points in the game. Rating: 10/10!

(2) I upgraded ($1.99) to the full version which unlocked the mouse and the butterfly games, but Chewie was freaked out by the loud noises both animals made when caught and chose to observe the movement from afar instead. Rating: 4/10.

(3) Chewie got bored with watching the iPad and found that my wallet was more fun to bat around.

(4) To get her attention back, we downloaded the app Cat Games for $0.99 ($0.25 to Humane Society). Unfortunately, all the games in this app failed to get Chewie engaged in interacting. The laser and tarantula games didn’t give any feedback when you caught them. Some of the other games actually made dog sounds, which spooked her. The only part that she liked was the cat meow that was the chime whenever I interacted with the interface. Rating: 5/10.

(5) Next, we downloaded Cat Toys Lite (free). This did get Chewie’s attention again. The mouse made funny sounds, that weren’t too loud. Rating: 8/10.

(6) Chewie kept nudging the iPad up with her nose. I think she thought that the mouse was actually underneath.

(7) Okay, so the first app seemed to be the clear winner, but I wanted to make sure that this wasn’t just Chewie getting bored with video games. So, at the end we returned to the GamesForCats laser game … and it still really got her attention and really got her engaged with it!

In conclusion, my cat seems to prefer free apps. Anybody else torture amuse their cat with iPad games? How did it go?

Addiction to Games: Is It Serious?

Breaking rules and lying to play more is a sign of addiction.

Addiction to games like Everquest and World of Warcraft has serious consequences for some young people. More recently, serious consequences of addiction has been noted even among players of casual online games such as FarmVille. Though behavioral addiction (e.g., pathological gambling) are being included in the DSM, online addiction and addiction to games are not formally included yet.

I was curious about this and since I’ve been looking at the players of one casual gaming website for kids, Neopets, I just went ahead and asked some questions. I want to emphasize that this is just me being curious, not publishable research, because I did not have any sort of IRB here. I made a single post on the public Neopets forums asking: “I’ve been seeing a few people talking about being ‘addicted’ to Neopets. How do you know if you’re addicted?” I’ll highlight some of the responses here clustered using the Internet Safety Project questions for Online Game Addiction:

  • Do you play compulsively?

I always have neopets open in a tab when I’m online_ I can spend hours playing. I’ve also tried to quit and never been successful. I also tend to spend a lot on money for neocash or plushies for keyquest. :/

  • Do you play for long periods of time (often longer than you had planned)?

Signs of Addiction: You want to go to sleep but your laptop is right beside you with the neopets main page. YOu go on it for another “10 minutes”(What I’m doing right now XD) You go on neopets for 5 hours a day or more(Hmm…. might be me XD)

  • Once online, do you have difficulty stopping?

Lol I’ve tried quitting and cutting down. I spend nearly half my day on neopets everyday. I haven’t missed a day since….. Uh….. oh! Two days in June because I was on vacation and didn’t have net access. And before that.. er.. I can’t remember lol.

  • Do you play as often as you can?

I am on here every day. Sometimes I am on here for sixteen plus hours and other times I am only on here for a couple of hours.

  • Do you sneak or violate family rules in order to play?

Im not “addicted” I just spend at least 4 hours a day on Neo if I can, usually more. Im very involved in the site however I have taken very very long hiatus which was horrible since I missed so much! I told my family the other day that I would have to run away if they ever “compromised” my account.

  • Do you sacrifice real-world things for your online world?

I would wake up and tune out my family and just exist on Neopets. Neopets was negatively affecting my life. My family and I had a small hitch in our lives because of my time spent on Neopets.  At some point though, I changed. Probably when I got iced a few years ago and never could get my account back. I avoided Neopets for awhile, because it upset me so much. But I had taken things too far. I finally came back, and got caught up in the NC stuff there for awhile, and I seriously wasted a LOT of money. I can’t say at some point I won’t go through this same thing again, but I hope now that I’ve been through it, I will recognize it if it begins to happen and pull myself away.

  • Is your school or work suffering because of the time and energy you spend gaming?

Now the problem is that when I can’t handle the pressure of real life (like day before an exam), I rather escape it instead of trying to fix things.

  • Have your sleep patterns changed since you became involved with online gaming? Are you staying up extremely late or getting up in the middle of the night to play?

When you need a 5 hour energy shot the next day because you stayed up all night playing neopets and only got a couple hours of sleep. *drinks 5 hour energy shot*

If you’d like to read more, more anonymized answers are available here. Again, these are all folks who are currently playing the game, none of these people have managed to quit yet. The tendency in these situations is to blame the player for lacking willpower to stop or just being silly. Nobody ever talks about the game designer bearing any responsibility (e.g., this). Yet, games are getting more and more sophisticated at leveraging psychology and the chemistry of addiction to get people to play more. Are we expecting too much of kids and young people to be able to avoid these pitfalls? What can we do to help people find a way out if they become trapped in the cycle of addiction? Who should be responsible for providing these services?

One last thing, I hate to end on a hopeless note. If you or a loved one are facing online or gaming addiction, there are some resources available here. You do not have to be alone!

Making Current Videochat Technologies Work Better for Your Family

Photo from NYT article “Grandma’s on the Computer Screen” (November 26, 2008)

As a family communication researcher, people frequently ask me for ideas on making videochat work better for their families (especially between children and grandparents). While I think there is a lot of room to make new technologies in this space, there are ways of leveraging existing technologies, too.

One of the big challenges for videochat is that setup can be problematic and frequently requires a tech savvy adult on each side. For example, a participant in one of my studies described his experience:

Video is nice, but getting it to work from both the ends wasn’t worth it. We’d have the phone going, and I’d be saying “hit that thing on the right” or whatever. It would take forever to get it set up. Especially with people that are not that technical. Like we tried video with grandparents and my dad is the least computer literate person I know. We literally spent and hour and a half setting up a call which lasted 5 minutes. It gets to the point when it’s not worth it. So, our main method is the phone.

One solution is installing TeamViewer on the remote machine (e.g., next time you visit). This free program gives you really easy-to-use remote access so that now you can start the call on both sides at the agreed upon time and do basic troubleshooting without having to do tech support over the phone.

Skype has a setting for automatically answering incoming calls, with video.

Another solution is setting up a dedicated device (such as an old laptop) at a good location in the remote participants’ home. Set Skype to start and auto-login each time the machine restarts and set incoming calls to auto-connect with video. However, the downside of this approach is that you have to use social conventions to manage availability (e.g., call first by phone and agree on a time to connect before trying to Skype).

Another problem with currently-available videochat is that it really gets boring pretty quick (this is especially true while talking to children). The key to making videochat work is coming up with compelling activities to do together, rather than just talking. There is a lot of great research in this space, as well as some existing stuff out there. So, if you’re struggling  to find something to do to keep your videochat sessions more engaging, try a few of these and see if you like them:

  • Story Visit from Nokia is a great free tool to read books together remotely and even gives advice to make the reading experience more engaging!
  • Once you’re done with those stories, you can try to find other books online (you’ll have to coordinate the page-turning yourself, but at least you can see them easily). I suggest using the International Children’s Digital Library which has a huge collection.
  • Yahoo! Multiplayer games can be a good way to stay in touch as long as you can find somebody to help set it up on the other side (or use the TeamViewer trick above). Or try Rounds, which combines videochat and games.
  • If you want to try something that stretches across sessions, I would suggest trying a virtual world together, choosing one that suits your child’s age and interests. The popular ones include: Petpet Park, Club Penguin, Neopets, World of Warcraft, and Minecraft. Unfortunately, the last two are best played fullscreen, so it may reduce the communication to audio-only.
  • You can use an online whiteboard (like Scriblink) to draw together synchronously, or sign up for a specialized social network like Sesame’s Streets to send asynchronous drawings and messages (this site was made for military families, but is open to everybody)
  • Finally, sometimes it can be fun just to play with regular physical toys over videochat. Some ideas that work well include: puppet show, tea party, playing the game Battleship, showing magic tricks, and dressing up dolls for a fashion show. I’m sure you can come up with other things based on your interests.
If you have other ideas that have worked for you, I would be love to hear them here.